Fourth of July at The Needles

7 07 2008
It’s Monday again and we’re again recovering from another trip to the Needles. This time, we headed out with Stein, Luke’s friend from the gym, and Stein’s visiting friend Traian. After a brutal 9+ hour drive from San Diego (complete with horrendous LA traffic) and a stop at Bakersfield’s sketchiest grocery store and gas station, we arrived at the trailhead camping just before midnight. Luckily for us, Traian’s friend Olivier, who had driven down from the Bay Area, had already arrived and staked out the last campsite for us.

The next morning, we packed up the gear and water and headed off on the long approach (the first hike is always the hardest because there are more hills on the way in and you have all the gear the first day). Luke and I left with a little headstart so we could rest and wait at the base of the Fire Lookout stairs.

Taking a break on the hike in.

After finally reaching the Charlatan/Witch notch, Luke and I racked up and walked up to the top of the Charlatan, where we rapped in to the base of Spooky, a classic, wild 5.9. Stein, Traian, and Olivier headed up the 3rd class approach to the base of the 2nd pitch of Airy Interlude, which they planned to do as a warm-up since their objective on the Sorcerer was still in the sun.
Luke at the base of Spooky.

Since we managed to rap to the base of Spooky in one 60m rappel, we figured we could probably climb it in a single pitch (although it’s usually 2 pitches). Luke headed up the initial handcrack/layback corner, grunted up the offwidth, and had a blast on the money part of the pitch, wild climbing between granite tufas. I struggled on the offwidth, but still enjoyed the upper part – quite unusual climbing for granite.
Looking up at Spooky from the base.

Meanwhile, the trio made good time on Airy Interlude. We had a great (though distant) view of them from our position on the Charlatan. I was pretty tired from the approach hike and grunting past the Spooky offwidth, so we relaxed on the summit of the Charlatan for a bit to eat our sandwiches.

View of the Witch from the top of the Charlatan.
Chillin’ atop the Charlatan after climbing Spooky.

Afterwards, we all met back in the notch and headed over to the east face of the Sorcerer to try 2 classic routes. Stein and crew planned on climbing the Don Juan Wall (5 pitches, 5.11b), which had a reputation for being challenging and sustained. Luke and I wanted to do Ice Pirates (2 pitches, 5.11b), a dead-end variation to Thin Ice, which we climbed last weekend with Gordon. The first pitches for both rope teams went well and Stein and Luke set off on their respective crux pitches. Stein powered and finessed his way through a pumpy layback for the send! Traian took a big whipper on the next pitch (pulling out a cam), but Olivier finished the lead for him. After this, the route took the trio around the corner, so they were out of view until summiting. Meanwhile, Luke was making good progress on the crux of Ice Pirates, managing the fiddly gear and balancey layback moves. However, near the top, the gear became sketchier and more spaced out (the flake becomes quite thin and fragile) and Luke became worried about falling and ripping pieces, so he pulled on cams a few moves until he could do the last move to the anchor, a crimpy sport-climbing-ish move. I was able to follow cleanly until this move, but fell here once before reaching the top. The route was definitely challenging and a little weird and intimidating (with tricky, questionable gear).
Olivier leading the first pitch of the Don Juan Wall.

Stein, Traian, and Olivier on top of the Sorcerer.

The Don Juan Wall was a much longer route, so Luke and I finished early than the other three. We waited for a while in the notch, which was getting quite cold, before attempting yell-o-phone communication with the other party that we were taking the car keys and hiking back so we could start cooking dinner (tofu and veggie stir-fry, one of my favorites!). It was a nice time to be hiking back – not too hot anymore and beautiful, pre-sunset views!

Beautiful view on the hike back to camp.

After struggling a bit on Ice Pirates, Luke and I decided to take an easier day on Saturday. We started the day with Witch Doctor (3 pitches, 5.10a), a route recommended by some other climbers we met. Although we were wishing we had brought our 70m rope, the pitches were fun and varied. Luke struggled a bit with route-finding on the last pitch, which wandered through crazy, often questionable rock. As we were summiting on the Witch, we saw Stein, Traian, and Olivier, who had left camp a little later than us that morning, topping out on the Wizard after climbing Yellow Brick Road, which is a classic 5.9.

On top of the Witch after climbing Witch Doctor.

Luke and I ate our sandwiches and headed back down to the notch to wait for the other three. Stein had gotten a look at the classic Tony Yaniro route Scirocco (5.12a) from the Don Juan Wall and had wanted to climb it with Luke while I took a midday break and photographed. However, when the trio finally reached the notch (they had decided to climb Spooky on their way back), Stein said he was too tired for Scirocco today. Since I had gotten a break and a short nap anyways while waiting, Luke and I decided to go for our planned 2nd route of the day, Fancy Free (3 pitches, 5.10b) on the Charlatan while the others squeezed in one last pitch (the first pitch of Thin Ice). Although the first pitch of Fancy Free was a little weird (there was some oozing at the base of the crack), the crux pitch was amazing! After a weird start, the pitch ascends a beautiful thin hands crack in a corner. The corner then changes (from left-facing to right-facing) and the crack shrinks to fingers (yellow and grey aliens, so big fingers for me) and powerful moves with only smears for feet lead to the anchor. My calves were so pumped from pushing on smears! It was definitely nice to climb a normal jam crack after doing so much laybacking on all the other routes in the Needles. The last pitch was a little weird, but it brought us to the summit just before sunset. As always in the Needles, it was beautiful.

View just before sunset from the top of the Charlatan.

Although tired, we were both psyched to have climbed such a cool route. We headed back towards camp with full packs and arrived exhausted. We were excited to find Traian and Olivier still awake, with warm dinner ready for us (returning the favor from the previous night). We enjoyed a relaxing morning of sleeping in on Sunday while Traian and Olivier woke early to hike out for one last route. Thankfully, the drive back was much less traffic-y, taking only 6 hours.

Overall, it was a pretty good weekend. I didn’t end up doing any leading, which I think was due to me being especially tired from the altitude and the hiking and especially intimidated by the Needles (I do hate being so easily intimidated – I really need to work on this), but I had a lot of fun on the routes we did.

Also, I recently got a new camera to replace my dropped Olympus. I got a Canon Powershot SD1100 IS Digital Elph (in pink!!) and a sturdy waterproof and shockproof hard plastic case for it (the kind they make for kayakers). Although I still have some work getting used to the camera, we’re pretty happy about the quality of the pictures we took. Hopefully this camera will accompany us on many adventures to come.

Best,

Lizzy

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One response

10 07 2008
DSD

The pictures look great.
Really nice climbing there too…
DSD

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