Trip Report: weekend warrioring at the needles, CA

I love cragging in the Socal canyons in the summertime.  Clipping bolts and dripping sweat is great, but sometimes a guy just needs a break.  Thus was the case after weeks spent in Malibu Creek State Park climbing, teaching and battling chronic sunburn and dehydration.  After hearing about a remote outcropping of granite spires covered in yellow lichen tucked away in the southwestern Sierra, I hatched a plan to check it out myself.

There is no guidebook available for The Needles.  I assembled a mish-mash of printed topos and directions from all over the web – mostly from here:

On the approach, shuffling through my improvised guidebook

Failing to mention the repeated references to bold, runout climbing and sandbagged ratings, I proposed a weekend trip to my buddy Chris.  Chris lives up in SF, is a fellow east coast transplant and my oldest climbing partner – we learned to lead climb together way back when (1997 to be exact) in NC at Camp Carolina.  Oh the good ol days.  15 year-old climbing history aside, semi-remote trad multi-pitch would be new for us.  A gas station rendezvous and several dirt road miles later we pulled up at camp around 1AM.

Waking up after an embarrassing amount of snooze clicks, we packed our bags and hit the trail.  2.5 miles on trail and another half hour scampering down a faint climber’s trail put us right smack in the middle of the action: the saddle in between the Witch, Charlatan and Sorcerer formations.  It is nothing short of glorious, and looks something like this, through the lens of an ancient Iphone 3:

The Witch - Igor Unchained (5.9 - 3 pitches) takes the plumb line straight up this hunk of granite.

The Sorcerer. Next to the Charlatan and facing the Witch

Top half of the Charlatan and the Sorcerer far left. This completes an amphitheatrical setup that will have any climber drooling and slack-jawed

The next day and a half saw us leisurely enjoy 6 of the best pitches of climbing I’ve ever had.  Steep, splitter cracks on routes with incredible position and exposure for the height.  Igor Unchained, a logical first route at the needles due to its classic status and moderate grade of 5.9 takes a clean line up the Witch.  Fancy Free is another proud line, with a short but stout 10b pitch up a hands-fingers crack that switches abruptly from a left facing to right facing dihedral halfway up.

Chris, stoked to get on Igor Unchained's perfect hand crack first pitch

Chris on Igor

Paul on pitch one of Fancy Free

Topping out on the Charlatan after climbing Fancy Free

At 4 hours from LA and 5.5 from SF, the Needles is a drive.  But for some of the finest granite in the Sierra with none of the crowds of Yosemite, it’s well worth it.  I’ll be back soon.  Hope to see some of you there.


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