Needles the climbing area, not to be confused with the town of the same name, is possibly one of the most memorable places we have ever climbed. Temperatures in the summer months may be too high to climb comfortably, but come in the fall and there is some wonderful climbs to do. An article in Rock and Ice reccomends may though October, but climb early in the day on Voodoo and Demon domes to avoid the direct sun. The article also warns of run out pitches and the importance of a helmet which we took seriously.
One attractive aspect of this area is the number of moderate climbs:
- Summer Sojourn
- The Number of the Beast
- Magic Dragon
- White Punks on Dope
Some people may find that they tire quickly at the higher altitudes of the climbs. We decided to take it slow so we did not have problems. Some areas are around 8000 feet above sea level. It is cooler at these high altitudes, especially when the sun goes down, so bring a warm sleeping bag if you plan to camp overnight. You can camp for free along the Lloyd Meadow Road, but a permit is required for campfires (559 539-2607). The climbs are long and the sun can be taxing, so bring plenty to drink, too.
There is a restaurant at about 8000 feet (or was it 6000?). The food is excellent after a long day of climbing, but the gas is very expensive, so fuel up before you go.
White Punks on Dope (5.8)
White Punks on Dope on Voodoo Dome is undoubtedly one of the greatest rock climbs we have ever done. This climb has a flake, a (small) overhang, a chimney, a finger crack in a dihedral, and two beautiful pitches of friction slab at the top. The hike in is not absolutely clear, so use the guidebook and allow extra time for getting lost. The climbing seemed pretty easy for a 5.7 as we are used to 5.7's, but for someone who is not good at friction this can be a scary lead and a scary follow with a potential of penduluming. The rock formation is taller than the trees, but getting to the right part of the base is the trick.
The first belay is a hanging belay, which is the only truly uncomfortable belay. The belay ledges get nicer as you get higher. From this belay, you can see the lead as he/she makes it over the roof (for lack of a better word - it is not like the roofs at the Gunks) and dissappears.
One of our favorite pitches was the finger crack that ran on forever. Larry and Bill laid it back and Cori stemmed it. Because the crack was so long, either technique can allow muscles to strain. Protection is good, and you can rest on pieces as you go.
We were using information from two different route descriptions. One marked the 5.7 friction pitch as an R (fall will probably result in injury). It marked where the two bolts were placed. The other guide said the protection was OK. As Larry climbed beyond the first bolt (the route travels up and right), he found a new bolt that was now above).
The descent is a hike (and perhaps a rappel, but I don't recall one) down the back of the dome. From the base of the dome we did not find the trail, so we bushwhacked back to the road to where we had parked our car.
Igor Unchained (5.9)
Igor Unchained is a serious climb for its rating. I would say that Igor was a bit strenuous and reachy on some if the pitches, where White Punks on Dope had more frictional stances.
We started out as two parties on this climb, but after a very short leader fall, one of our friends had to walk off to the trail and we continued the climb as a party of three. (The first pitch's belay ledge is even with the hiking trail.)
The climb was a high quality climb and very recommended if 5.9 is a comfortable leading and following level. The high altitudes may suck a bit out of your usual performance and strength. Parts of this climb are very vertical.
As you get higher on the climb, the rock become more angled but the climbing can still be strenuous. One pitch was almost all stemming the entire length of the pitch (shown on the left).
When we reached the top of the climb, we rappelled off to the side above the hiking trail that we came in on. This is one of the climbs that you can leave stuff near the base and still be able to retrieve it at the end of the day. In our case, we had left our friend there.