Pushing the Limits at the Needles

18 09 2009

After many months of great climbing my body is feeling very fit and I have practically recovered all of my strength from the end of 2008.  My crimping power is coming back and my left pinky is relatively pain free. I find a big mental advantage is added when one is feeling strong and powerful. I am more willing to try hard and the extra 10% makes a bigger difference.  I had a big dose of fun Labor Day weekend at the Needles, committing to a few routes that I have thought were too difficult to try in the past.


Looking at the Witch with the three points of the Warlock in the background.

One of the biggest things I deal with in climbing is fear. Fear of failure, fear of falling and fear of not knowing what to do. The more years I climb the more I realize how important a positive and relaxed mental attitude is. There is a time when you need to be able to turn off the brain, control the fear, and just go for it.  I tuned into this mental state this weekend a few times and was happy with the results.

Living further apart now, Lizzy and I made some magical carpool arrangements and both got rides to the Needles. This was pretty weird for us since we had to plan according to others schedules instead of doing everything in Luke and Lizzy time. This worked out well and we had a blast making new friends and hanging out. There was a big crew from San Diego in addition to the many Bay Area climbers that Lizzy came with.


Relaxing on Labor Day in the windy Sorcerer – Witch notch.

I drove out with Robb and Lindsey and Labor Day traffic coupled with a slightly slow  route put us in after midnight.  Even with a late start there was nothing to stop my psyche!  Our normal Needles procedure is to bring out our big climbing packs the first day as well as a small climbing pack. Then the next days we only have a tiny day pack for the 3 mile hike in. This makes it much easier hiking wise and you only have to carry all the gear in and out once.

Saturday was the most crowded day and there were people on all the classic routes. My two main goals for the weekend were Spook Book and Atlantis with some other harder routes lined up if we somehow made quick work of the two main objectives. I had read that the first pitch of Spook Book was pretty serious so Atlantis seemed a better way to get re acquainted with the rock. There was already a party on the route so I waited a while before launching up.


Starting up the unusual first pitch of Atlantis.

A bit of mistiming on my part coupled with some goofing around by the other party and I was biting at their heels for much of the climb. I’m sorry if this approach harshed their mellow but I wanted to do another route after Atlantis and thought they would have been moving a bit more quickly.

Another memorable photo from  RockClimbing.com that I saw many year before I  heard of the Needles.

I linked the first two pitches and got my head in gear for the crux pitch.  The moves are hard right off the belay and its good to just keep laybacking until an obvious jug. This puts you a bit far out from your first few pieces (placed from the ledge) but seemed ideal for sending. I pasted my feet and made it to the jug, placed some gear and kept going  amazed how pumped I was. Sticking the final sloper crux felt awesome since I had seen a dude whip off the same more a year before. Lizzy was able to follow clean and this put us below the last pitch. I opted to do a dead end variation, Lost at Sea, since the other party was still on the final pitch. Lost at sea offers some more laybacking with an exciting hand traverse at the end. The finish is just mental since the flake gets so thin I doubt a cam in the last 10 feet would hold a fall.


Getting high above the gear on the crux pitch of Atlantis.

Photo thanks to Darshan

After lowering back to Lizzy, having sent the variation, I was ready for the final pitch. Some exciting laybacking past some dubious gear gained a ledge and a final cruxy corner. The climbing in this section was phenomenal as I stemmed my way up slapping the right arete which had perfectly sculpted holds. The crack was more or less pinched out so I was crimping on the lip working my way up. The granite was just sooo good! A final reachy move and I found my self mantling the top ledge,  totally psyched to have sent Atlantis without falling.


Josh making the crux throw on Pyromania


Josh Higgins  sticks the dyno!

Lizzy was pretty tired after Atlantis but I was able to hook up with Josh Higgins, one of the many friends who were at the Needles from San Diego, for a final climb.  Josh had been projecting Pyromania and had finally redpointed the climb a few weeks before. In his normal no big deal attitude he decided it would be good to run another lap on lead. With one cam less than normal he fired the route cruising the first dyno crux and keeping it together though the super endurance undercling finish.


Working towards the powerful undercling  finish.

I had never tried a 5.13 trad route before and was curious how I would fare. In my mind there are 3 crux sections with a few other hard moves thrown in. The hardest move of the route for me was a tricky dyno. On my many attempts I couldn’t snag the jug, coming 3 or 4 inches short and couldn’t quite work out the alternate traverse beta.  The finish is quite strenuous with very tricky moves as you undercling a thin flake that makes a leftward arch. The body positions were so strange to me but once the flake became more horizontal I made good progress and made it across. I think with some effort this could be a doable project IF I could stick the dyno…


Luke gives Pyromania a burn 😉


Luke stares at the high first bolt on Spook Book.

Sunday was a bit of a late start since we now had a full group. Julie and Josh had arrived midday on Saturday and met up with us at the end of the night.  I convinced them to stick around on Sunday and I lucked out with the awesome photos of Spook Book.  I was pretty scared of this route since I had heard stories about the runouts and even my friend Stein had taken a nice long fall on the second Pitch.


Committing to the crux on the first pitch of Spook Book.

The main idea is that you make a nest of gear and then with no hand holds get your foot up on this big knob. Lizzy made this look casual with a hand foot match but I had trouble committing to the left foot smear. I yelled with joy when my right foot got on top of the knob and I was able to clip the first bolt. While I had placed 3 pieces I was not sure if they were high enough to prevent me from cratering into the granite slab below. Lizzy, aware of my situation, was ready to run down the slab to try and keep me from hitting the ground.  While the following knob mantels were harder I was in a better mental zone and onsighted the first pitch.


Balance and stand up on your feet with no hand holds! A typical move on pitch one.


Figuring out the final moves before  the first belay!

The next pitched involved very cool stemming, smearing and arete moves up a mini dihedral. I placed a ton of small nuts which were too bomber, causing Lizzy some trouble when she cleaned the pitch. I thought the climbing was neither crazy hard or run out and I had a bunch of fun. I did however run out of slings so I was unable to link this pitch with the next one, which was much easier. After the easy pitch which was rated 5.8, though some of the moves off the belay felt almost 5.10, I got psyched for the final hard pitch. As with the 2nd pitch the 4th was quite sustained with no really hard moves. I think 5.10d is fair with every move round 5.10+ making conservation of energy really important. I took my time slowly onsighting and spacing out my gear over the 150 ft pitch.


Lizzy easily does the scary stand up move on P1 of Spook Book aka Welcome to the Needles


Lizzy gets past the many knob cruxes and into a relaxing layback.

The final pitch was really cruiser as the crack opened up and the angled slabbed out towards the summit. I made a belay as high as possible and sprawled out in the sun to belay Lizzy. The first pitch had likely been one of my more bold onsights to date. Before committing I had down climbed to place another piece or two before going for it. I was just on the verge of down climbing all the way but I knew I had to try. Standing on the smear was not that hard technically but mentally it was difficult to not have any hand holds to pull on when I was far above my gear.


Luke leads off on the amazing and thin second pitch.

Five pitches was a good day of climbing and we decided to head back early instead of getting benighted. Our friends Robb and Lin had hiked back in the dark the day before so we opted for dinner and beer. This was a pretty mellow day and I was really happy to have climbed Spook Book. It’s interesting how sending projects can really drain motivation. I was so happy to have survived that I didn’t want to put my self out there for failure…


Robb leads up Atlantis with while a chilly Lin belays

When Lizzy and I showed up on the final day Josh Higgins was in the middle of his onsight of Scirocco. The wind was blowing but he was calmly making his way up the arete. I do not have the cajones to try and lead this route yet but I had been itching to climb it. Josh braved the 20+ foot runouts and clipped the anchors while I frantically made my way down from the notch to give it a go on TR.  Sirocco is a Needles classic and when Tony Yaniro did the first ascent he decided to make a statement with the 15 and then 20+ foot gaps between the final bolts.


What a beautiful route!

Without a warmup the first steep crimp moves were shocking and I took a few times in the “first pitch”. The climb is usually done by linking the two pitches to provide a more continuous experience. The hardest moves are all in the first section and involve technical crimping. I really enjoyed the climbing and it would have been even better after a warmup and without the flash pump.  The second half of the route changes dramatically as the holds blank out and you move onto the arete. The sequences become much less secure as you slap up with you left hand some times smearing both feet on nothing.


Lizzy straddles the summit after climbing Lady of the Needles.

My left arm was getting terminally pumped and my mind could barely wrap around the technical moves. About a third of the way up the arete I encountered the crux, a long sequence of slapping and squeezing with both hands on the arete with both feet trying to apply as much rubber to the wall as possible. This section of arete pinching was started barely above a bolt and moved past another bolt and  is well protected. However as the holds grow, post crux, the excitement builds as you work up the arete further and further from your last bolt. Mentally you hit a peak as you switch sides on the arete (very insecure)  20 feet above the previous bolt.   This pitch is brilliant and with a bit of work on body tension and commitment I plan on coming back to lead it.


Rob and Lin top out Atlantis.

While I climbed this route Robb and Lin went up Atlantis which was awesome. They sent and in the mean while I got sun burned and onsighted the very fun Tradewinds. This climb is similar to Scirocco but a bit more closely bolted and easier. It would be a good warmup since it is so close. With our energy running low Lizzy and I hiked up and climbed Lady of the Needles. This was a fun summit and a relaxing way to end the weekend. My ride, Robb and Lin, were still going on Atlantis so I lowered down and did a TR lap on Spooky. This is a must do route and while the offwidth section is hard and slick  the rest of the climb makes up for it.


On top of the Charlatan with the fire tower in the background.

I am very happy with the progress that we made this trip and how far I have come in the last year. I am very excited to go back and work on some of the harder routes including The Don Juan Wall, Ankles Away, Davy Jones Locker, The Raven and Romantic Warrior. There is still a full helping routes to do and I am psyched!





5 responses

18 09 2009
choss master

man I have got to check that place out one of these days…

18 09 2009

what an awesome trip! very stoked for you… what a treat to get the nice TRs setup on top of your great leads. that second pitch on spook book sent me flying – i was too tired at some point after whincing and whining on the first pitch which was much harder than i had anticipated, and my legs were tired from the day before. running probably helps…

21 09 2009

I thought the 2nd pitch was quite sustained but I was so happy to have lots of gear. I placed a ton of small nuts which helped my lead head. There were hard moves for sure but I thought it was going to be so much harder… I hear many people fall on that pitch!

The hike at the Needles always makes it interesting. I’m sure running and climbing in the Sierra helped me this year. Made the elevation less of an issue as well.

21 09 2009

No mention of the card game?! (I’ve already forgotten the name of it…) Inconceivable! 🙂

I had a great time, couldn’t have asked for a better Labor Day! I’m glad all the carpooling worked out, and it was so great to meet you Lizzy! Can’t wait for Indian Creek!! 😀

21 09 2009

The name of the card game is “The Card Game”. I think it has a real name, but it was not terribly memorable.

I’m looking forward to the Creek too 🙂

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