Needles LaborDayWeekend 2010
|Date: September 4, 2010|
|Distance from Caltech: 206 mi|
|Type: Rock Climbing (Trad)|
|Rating: 5.8 - 5.10b|
|Approach Distance: ~4 miles|
|Route Length: ~150'|
The Needles of the Southern Sierras is a fantastic place that has to be visited at least once a year. It has a remote feel to it, outstanding views of the Southern Sierras and world class climbing. The weather conditions are conducive to the growth of a particularly abundant yellow lichen that makes almost any picture taken there a quality picture. Every formation has an anthropomorphic shape of a medieval wizard with a robe. Perhaps because of that reason, the pinnacles - or Needles- all have characteristic names like The Sorcerer, The Witch, The Warlock... The weather can be extreme either ways at times, so chasing or avoiding the sun is key.
I went to the Needles for my yearly pilgrimage with Cristiano, a Bay Area climber that I meet in the Planet Granite gym.
You can find a good selection of topos on the MonsterOffWidth site. This is a highly recommendable site affiliated with the Stanford climbing club.
The Needles map:
Camping there is a ranger-danger-free, near the car affair. Most folks are highly motivated climbers, conscientious of how privileged they are to be there. This place needs to be conserved in its impeccable state to avoid future regulatory burdens. If you visit, do your share to preserve the place in its pristine state. There are public restroons nearby, but that's about it. Your need to bring all the water and food you are planning to use. The Ponderosa lodge is conveniently located 3 mi south on road 190 for those that need a beer and a burger after the hard day's climb.
On Saturday, Cristiano and I climbed the Fancy Free on the east face of the Charlatan. It has three pitches on impeccable granite. Cristiano led the first and third pitches, and I took the 5.10b second pitch. It involves some thin hands and finger cracks of the strenuous but well protected type.
From this route we had a great view of the west face of the Witch. We took this picture of a climber in the Airy Interlude, a route we would do on the next day. The top of the Charlatan is, like the top of every other needle, unreal. Only that this one has an oversized trophy looking block that you can fancy as your price. The views are also outstanding, you can see the lookout tower in the enormous Magician needle. It is no wonder that the lookout tower is in this location, a perfect place to spot fires in the area.
From the top of the Charlatan, we rappeled south into the notch with the Sorcerer, to climb a two pitch 5.9 climb called Spooky. The first pitch is a great hands crack that is super quality. Cristiano led it and I followed it. The second pitch starts of a humongous ledge with a bolted belay station in the ground. Right off the ledge there is a 5.9 offwidth that provides for an excellent upper body workout. Bring a #4 camalot and move it with you, the business section is short. After the OW, there is a juggy section, kind of run out. I guess you could sling the juggs...
The next day, Sunday, we went to the Airy interlude, but Cristiano climbed the first two pitches of Igor Unchained. That has to be one of the best 5.9 climb anywhere, by the way. It goes up a left facing leaning corner with a good hand crack in it. Occasionally you are forced into some face moves. The protection is great. The traverse pitch of the Airy interlude is its 5.10 counter part. It goes up on a steep right facing corner, also with a crack in it. This crack is of variable width, from fingers to hands, heavy on the thin hands. But the traverse part is what we go there for. Super exposed and absolutely non-chossy. We were lucky Asa and Gil where there ahead of us to take some pictures of us. Gil is in a multi-year walkabout. He mantains an excellent climbing blog.
Later on the afternoon, we went with Asa and Gil to the Howling, in the north face of the Warlock. You need two ropes to get off the formation, so we teamed up. The first pitch looks like an offwidth, but it is a great hand crack.The second pitch has an sketchy bouldery move over an exposed flake to a slab. Here it was out turn to take pictures of Asa and Gil .
Javier climbing the Airy Interlude, photo by Gil