Monday, June 30, 2008

Needles Trip Report

I'm just now starting to recover from the exhaustion of our recent weekend at the Needles, which was fun and challenging at times.

We started our trip Wednesday night, picking up Gordon at LAX around 9pm and heading straight towards the Needles. We stopped in Bakersfield for gas, somehow avoiding the terrible air quality that the fires up north have caused there (the smoke gets blown towards and trapped around Bakersfield). After a little bit of hallucinating on the Great Divide Highway (seeing deer or other small animals...), we finally reached the campground some time after 1:30am.

Needless to say, we were tired. So we took a more relaxing morning on Thursday, not worrying too much about sprinting out to the crag. After organizing and divying out gear, we headed out the 2.5 miles of hiker trail to the fire lookout.

At the fire lookout

We stopped on the climbers' trail between the Magician and the Charlatan to warm up on Poof, a 3-pitch 5.7 on the east face of the Magician.

Gordon follows the 2nd pitch of Poof

Luke and Gordon shared the leads, with fun moves and manageable, but still exciting, runouts. There were also tons of tiny reddish orange mites that we got squished all over our hands and feet.

West Face of the Sorcerer and Charlatan from the Magician. The air is hazy because of the fires.

After eating a late lunch, we headed up the fire tower stairs to chat with Margee for a while. Afterwards, we re-hiked the climbers' trail to our packs and continued to the notch between the Witch and the Charlatan, where we re-racked for an afternoon/evening ascent of the classic Airy Interlude (5.10a, 3 pitches). I got the first lead of a long (Luke and Gordon had to start climbing so I could reach the belay ledge and we were using 60's) 5.9 pitch that was marred by some intimidating moves above questionable gear and long-ish runouts near the top. This really tired me out, so I asked Luke to lead the crux "Airy Interlude" pitch, which was pumpy, wild, and fun. I definitely want to go back (skipping the first pitch via a 3rd class scramble) so I can lead it. I did lead the final pitch (5.9), which Luke and I had climbed before via Igor Unchained. It was fun, with interesting moves and nice fingerjams, much more fun and less stressful than the first pitch.

After successfully rappelling to the ground after sunset, we headed back to the campground (with the car keys, this time), arriving around 10:30pm to cook dinner - another late night.

Gordon leading the 3rd pitch of Poof

The next morning had another slightly late-ish start because of our late return on Thursday. However, armed with only our refilled camelbaks and more food (we stashed our packs at the Witch-Charlatan notch), the hike went much faster. Our plan was to climb Thin Ice, a classic 5.10b (3 pitches) on the Sorcerer, Fancy Free (5.10a, 3 pitches, on the Charlatan), and Spooky (another classic, 2 pitch 5.9 on the Charlatan).

Luke and I at a belay on Poof

Another party was just starting on Fancy Free, so we decided to start with Thin Ice. Luke headed up the tricky layback, rested on the ledge, and pulled through the powerful 10b crux sequence for jugs that lead to the anchor. As Gordon and I followed the pitch, my camera somehow unclipped from Gordon's harness and fell at least 40 feet to the ledge we'd started on. (R.I.P. camera... although it wasn't totally obliterated, the lens cap mechanism is broken and the compartment that holds the memory card was damaged). Oh well. I've always thought that one should never be really attached to anything that you clip to your harness, so I didn't let it stress me out.

Leading the 1st pitch (5.9) of Airy Interlude.

Gordon hasn't done quite as much crack and trad climbing as Luke and I have, so he found the steep cracks a little challenging, but still managed to make it up the pitch with only one fall. The second pitch started up an intimidating-looking flare. Luke thrutched his way up the flare before it yielded to easier moves. I had a size advantage on the pitch since my narrow shoulders allowed me to reach both hands and both feet into the finger and thin hand jams in the crack in the back of the flare, while Gordon's wider shoulders meant he had to use the insecure layback instead of the flare. The last pitch headed up some easier, though still awkward, corners to the top of the Sorcerer, where we relaxed for yet another late lunch. By the time we got to our packs, it was already past 5pm and we were pretty tired from the route, so we decided to call it a day early and get back to camp before dark.

Luke leading the 1st pitch (10b) of Thin Ice

We decided to try something a little easier for our last day so Gordon could lead more pitches, so we selected Magic Dragon, a 9ish pitch 5.8 that heads up the long southwest face of the Magician. Having re-stashed out packs in the saddle before the fire lookout, we had even less far to hike, which was nice. We managed to make our way to the base of the route without too much trouble. Luke lead up the first 2 pitches, which had a ton of loose rock on the belay ledges. He also nearly pulled off a torso-sized block at the top of the second pitch. Worrying that it would become dislodged on Gordon or I, he decided to trundle it (there were no parties below us). Although Gordon and I were out of the fall line of the block, I still got hit on the nose by a high-velocity ricochet fragment, which lead to a little cut and some bruising, but thankfully no broken nose. Gordon lead the next pitch to the base of a 5.4 slab. Although I had planned on leading this, I was getting a headache from my rockfall collision, so I asked Luke to lead it instead. With a little confusion about belay placements, we made our way onto the easy slabs on the upper part of the Magician and one final, fun pitch right up onto the fire lookout (to the surprise and pleasure of the tourists up there at the time). We stopped there to have lunch at 4pm (late again) before heading back to the campground for a final time.

Since we had some extra time (back at the campground by 5:30pm), we decided to take advantage of our location in Sequoia Nat'l Forest to go see some giant sequoias. We drove down the highway a bit to the "Walk of 100 Giants", where we saw a ton of HUGE trees.

Luke in front of a huge Sequoia


All of us inside one of the trees!

A final early morning on Sunday got us on the road back to LAX, with a few stops on the way, including a trip to In-N-Out to complete Gordon's California experience. It was a great trip!

1 comment:

DSD said...

Great trip report!
That is an area we must get to...
DSD