Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Needles Holiday

Luke leads up Atlantis (5.11c).

Two weeks after our previous weekend out at the Needles, Lin and I decided to join a bunch of friends heading back to the Needles for Labor Day. Luke and Lizzie (from were there, as was the "Josh and Josh" show and the rest of the gang. After driving up Friday night, Saturday we headed back out towards the crag with much better weather than a couple weeks prior. As the Needles tower came into full view, I finally started to get truly excited about the weekend's upcoming adventures. We had a list of climbs we wanted to try, but weren't too certain yet about what that would be. Luke and Lin and I talked about our theories on when it is best to try your harder objective - early when you're fresh and ready, or later when you're used to the rock, but maybe not quite as strong. Being one who normally feels he burns out quickly and doesn't have much endurance, I was in favour of just jumping on the hard stuff to start. Lin, on the other hand, definitely believes in warm-up climbs to get the blood flowing, and get used to the rock. Luke... well, it depends on the climb. This all came up as I had aspirations to try the sustained 5.11b climb "Don Juan" on this trip, and was trying to think of when it would be best to try it.

Arriving at the crag, we quickly noticed that there were a lot of people there. Especially on the popular climbs around the "Witch", "Sorcerer" and "Charlatan" walls. We decided not to start directly on Don Juan, and instead headed for Lin's wish - "Fancy Free", a classic 5.10. Unfortunately, arriving at the base we saw there was already a party of 3 on the route, and they were moving SLOW. So, while waiting for them, we looked through the book, and saw another nearby route called "Bad Fortune" which has a 5.11c face crux, or can go at 5.10 A0 by aiding on bolts through the crux. I led up, and actually found that the climb wasn't too bad with my long reach, and enjoyed the first pitch immensely. Unfortunately, while statically looking at the crux moves while at a smearing stance, my foot slipped, and I lost the onsight - too bad, since none of the moves were very hard. Lin followed up, having more problems due to her smaller reach, and then we rapped off the first pitch thinking that the party of 3

Lindsey follows P3 of Fancy Free.

had moved far enough off Fancy Free and we could start climbing that. In the meantime, Luke and Lizzie were making fast progress up another route, 5.11c Atlantis, and it was fun to watch Luke just cruise the pitches on lead. Lin wanted the classic second pitch, so I took the first. A fun pitch, not trivial despite it's 5.9 rating. Lin then took the second pitch, cruising it and running it out a bit at the end to make it to the anchors on a few small pieces far below... anchors unfortunately still occupied by the other group. Soon they had moved on though, and I followed up and led the last pitch - another fun, varying pitch with fingers, off-widthing, diagonal hand jams, and a fun exposed top-out move.

After some lunch (friggin' wasps were ridiculously aggressive at getting their share), we decided we'd traverse in to

Sunset at our Needles camp.

another 5.10 classic, "Airy Interlude" on the witch, and climb the classic pitch of that route before calling it a day. Unfortunately, once we had traversed halfway to it, we realized there was another party hang-dogging their way up it piece-by-piece. Not realizing how long they too would take, we hung around for probably about an hour and half or so until they were far enough along for us to start up. In the meantime though, we were able to watch Josh lead, and Luke follow, up Pyromania (5.13), an impressive line below the Sorcerer. They headed out, and then we finally blasted out our route, myself leading both pitches (Lin had led the upper one 2 weeks prior as part of Igor Unchained), and finishing just in time to reach the packs as darkness hit. A later day than we'd hoped for thanks to our hold-ups, but a lot of fun... so we stashed our gear for the next day, and headed back the 2+ miles to camp by headlamp.

Back the next morning, we had one main mission for the day, and that was "Thin Ice" (5.10b) on the Sorcerer... and I still had hopes for Don Juan (5.11b), which shared the same start. We got to the base a little late again, but racked up and headed to Thin Ice. Talking with others, it sounded like Lin would be the

Lindsey leads P2 of Thin Ice.

strongest for the second pitch, so I led up the first pitch to the base of the OW section. Quickly upon starting up the very steep route, I realized I was actually a bit tired and sore from the day before, and today was not going to be the day for Don Juan. Leading clean, I still rested whenever a good foot allowed and took way too long to lead the first pitch. While belaying Lin up, I had a great view of Luke and Lizzie on sport book, and now would really like to go back and do that climb. Lin followed in good style, and soon she was at the base and ready for pitch 2... a 60-70M rope stretcher (depending on what tree you belay from) to the top. She really made me proud working up through the crux start OW with a hand-ish crack in the back, and then ran it out at the top (all while wishing she had another #2 camalot). A proud lead. I followed, blowing my foot right at the beginning, but catching myself on a finger jam... as usual, my well-scarred hands cracked and were torn open, and I painted the rest of the jams on the OW a nice crimson red. Then up to the top, to finish another awesome climb, before meeting some really kind Aussie's who were about to rappel off the top at the same time. That was it for that day though, and then we headed off to camp - still light out this time, but still rather late by the time we'd socialized and had lunch.

Monday - the last day of the trip. We thought about getting an early start, but again failed at that venture. So, arriving at the crag a bit late again after the nice hike in, we arrived at our gear only to look up and see Josh making a proud onsight of the sporty sport route Scirocco (5.12), which has some long run-outs at the top. The Aussie's had also gotten an early start on Don Juan, and were cruising it while taking pics of Josh. It was really inspirational to watch him work his way up the climb, and I loved watching the determination with which he made each hard move. Luke ran down to TR it after him, and so Lin and I also headed down, but with plans of taking a mellow day and climbing Innersanctum (5.9), another Needles classic. On the way down, however, I really started to wonder about possibly leading Atlantis, a classic 5.11c with

Lindsey coils rope while admiring the Needles.

short cruxes. I didn't think I'd be strong enough after already climbing 2 days, but headed to the base just to check it out anyhow.

Arriving at the base, I looked carefully at the climb - taking a long time to finally decide that it just looked too pumpy for my tired condition. In the end though, I took too long and as we continued to descent toward Innersanctum, we noticed two Italians hanging out at the base. "Allura ragazzi, cos'e' vorreste fare" I asked them. "Il 5.9" they told.. the 5.9... the route we were planning on, and not it's neighbor "Spook Book". That left us one choice... Atlantis.

Back up to Atlantis, and a Lin a little flustered at delays having cost us the route, I borrowed a water bottle from Josh M., and thin nuts from Josh H., and up to the route we headed. I was nervous, I'd never led a proper 5.11+ before (supposedly a 5.11/5.12 PG13 mixed route in red rocks, but I swear it's graded wrong), and scared I was going to pump out and take a whipper in an inconvenient location. Lin helped me get psyched and get my head together though, and up the first pitch (5.10c) I went, hurrying through the pumpy lieback, then slowing down to take it one move at a time and properly warm up the rest of the way up. By the time I'd finished leading that pitch, I'd finally gotten my lead head back on, and was ready for the next 5.10 pitch. That pitch was a little awkward off the start, but after pulling on a couple thin flakes, I merged with my previous lead from "Thin Ice", and then traversed over to our stance at the base of the crux pitch.

Josh leads up Scirocco (5.12).

As I belayed Lin up, I eyed the crux pitch and was a little nervous about it. Basically it goes something like this: traverse 8 feet to the right, place 2-purple, or a purple and blue TCU a little over head high from the ledge you're standing on, then start some strenuous tips lie-backing until you're 10 or so feet above your pieces. Try not to fall, as you'll take a ride, and possibly straddle your rope on the way down.

Lin was soon up at the stance though, having cruised the 5.10 pitch, and soon it was my turn to head up the hard stuff. Am I on? Alright... traverse over, place two pieces, look up and cringe, return to wider part of ledge and wimper. Repeat, 1, 2, 3 times or more, mixing in a half-hearted attempt at starting once or twice. Finally I got over there though, and knew it was time to rock. 1, 2, 3 moves and above the gear. Keep moving. Wind, shizer, I'm barn-dooring, hold-on... close the door, continue up. Yey, a jug! Shizer, I'm too pumped to place gear without a decent foot. Don't want to pitch off. Keep climbing to a better stance. Ikes, those going to take a ride if I pitch now. Alright, I can place gear from this stance. Place two pieces, still pumped, keep moving...

After the tips lie back, you get an uncomfortable stance to cool your forearms for a few seconds before continuing up some 5.11b diaganol up and right traverses on thin gear. Make the moves, the end of the hard stuff is near. I see a ledge, YES! Reach up and... what? Sloper! F-it, I'm not going to pitch, mantle up, and hooray! I'm on a big ledge! Bummer, my arms are so pumped I'm not even sure I can do the easy 5.9 lower angle hand crack in front of me. Place a piece, clip the fixed gear, and go...

Robb, starting up Atlantis (5.11c).

Finally arriving at the stance after the fun crux pitch, it took me a few seconds before I could even get up the energy to belay Lin up. She followed up though, having some troubles in the lie-backing, but doing great... fingers frozen from being in the windy shade and all. Then, it was time to shake out and do the next crux, some funky 5.11b lie-backing on funky pro before getting a fixed nut, and eventually a nice #2 C4 before pulling what I thought was the really insecure move. Up some 5.easy to the last 5.11a dihedral (an awesome finish... don't cheat yourself and do the 5.10a finish), and viola'! Atlantis onsight! Although not sustained, I was pretty stoked to lead it onsight for my hardest trad lead yet, and on the last day of the trip. Lin followed up in great style, cruising it after a hang to get my wedged #2 out, and back to San Diego. What an awesome end to the weekend, and thanks Luke and Lizzie for your company! Check out their site at for more pictures, and info on their sends, as well as Josh's proud leads.

For the next trip? Hopefully Innersanctum, Spook Book, and Don Juan.

At the crux on Atlantis.

At the crux on Atlantis.


Eliot said...

Badass Robb! Good to see you yesterday too.

Chugach Man said...

Thanks Eliot!