The Needles – Trip Report

Holly & Clare Freaky Friday the 13th in the Needles Black Magic-The Diagonal Crack The top part of Black Magic (5.8)

On Friday 13th, climbergirl drove up over Walker’s Pass and down into Weldon. A climbing partner was acquired, along with her subrack containing THE largest tri-cam I’ve ever seen! We cleared out of the wilting and withering heat, hoping to reach the Needles Lookout Parking area by sundown.

The parking lot was empty-not even the rangers vehicle was to be seen. As well as the nearby campground. Perfect! Sorting through gear, and slurping the last of our “non water” drinkables, we headed down the trail. I was psyched, the sun was just now slinking below the distant domes, and we were in high spirits.

About half an hour into the hike, we ran into a Sprite. No a pixy. No wait, a powerful climber chica who filled our minds with beta about Airy and Igor. It was not going to happen this trip-but Holly & I picked her brain anyways. What an inspiring conversation we had with her on the trail! The rest of her party was coming behind her, and she wanted to get back to camp and get food started-so we let her get away without even finding out her name.

It soon got dark, and sure enough the rest of her buddies showed up. Hiking along one by one in silence. They had gone out to stash their gear for the next day. A-hAh, so that’s how the *locals* do it! I’ve always wondered since the hike back to the best climbs is so dang far.

Before long, we were at our secret spot. Holly scoped out a good place for her hammock, and I found a flat spot for my bivy sac. As we chatted, the forrest around us got quiet and the stars came out. We had a bit of dinner, consisting of an avocado, egg, cheese, & crackers. Yummy. Soon, we were cozied up in bead and doing our best to drop off into dreamland.

We agreed to get up at 5:10am and planned to leave our site by 6am. Time flew by, and we decided to gear up at the site. We started walking around 6:30am, and after a moderate paced walk, we got to the climb around 7:30am. It was a bit sticky out, and there were dark clouds overhead. We didn’t know for sure how the day would go, as the forecast called for gusts in the afternoon up to 15 mph. (Wouldn’t that be scary at the top O the dome!!!).

Clare prepares for battle against Black Magic Holly about to succumb to Black Magic

I roped up, ate a snack, and took a long swish of gatorade. The first pitch we would be doing is an alternative start to the Magic Dragon Route, it has it’s own name, Black Magic. It’s rated 5.8, and it feels every bit of that rating. Maybe even 5.9 at times! Also, the largest cam we had was a #4, and so it was approximately 20 feet of nervewracking scootching until the first placement went in. Luckily, there was a spot for a smaller cam (on of my TCUs), so at least I had some redundancy.

The entire pitch kept me on edge, and I never really got a chance to relax. I was stoked when I got to the belay, and was able to bring Holly up. She started upwards, but was not as fast as when we were on Tree Route. Admittedly, she did her best, but was also relieved when she got to the belay. It took us about 1.5 hours to climb the pitch (reaching not quite halfway of her 70 meter rope). Slow going, the dark skies, and the fact that I was not feeling super strong led me to decide to bail.

Holly Hiking Back to Camp Clare Standing at the roots of a Sequoia

So many climbs start out with just one thing askew, and then one more, and then one more. Next thing the climber knows, the sun is going down, and it turns epic. Holly & I want our epics to be fun, not an exercise in survival. It was a really difficult decision to make, but we vowed to come back with bigger gear, and better readiness. The hike back up the gully was harder than the climb probably would have been, but we were both happy to get back to our packs and have lunch.

Go Left of the Sign and downwards to get to IGOR & AIRY IGOR & AIRY from the lookout tower Holly & Clare on the Lookout Tower Complex

With the rest of the day, we walked over to the lookout tower, explored the path to IGOR & AIRY, and met up with a very gregarious young ranger. The 12 year old was staying with Grandma (the lookout ranger), and happened to know quite a bit about the needles area. He even took our picture!

Before long, the winds kicked up, and we were both happy that we didn’t decide to go for it. We were being pushed around up at the lookout, and we can only imagine how tricky rope management would have been had we tuffed out the climb!

Filthy Legs Filthy Torso

When I got home, I realized I had not been this dirty in a long long time. Climbing at the needles is a total adventure! The weekend was exciting, lots of hiking, great conversation, and got us both psyched to climb more. We got 1 pitch in which was quite satisfying. Maybe next time well conquer the Magic Dragon.

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