It’s day two at The Needles and the breeze is a godsend, sweeping away the heat of an intense sun. Kris and I have 12 miles of hiking and 1200 feet of tough, tenuous climbing under our belt. Though only two pitches remain to the last summit, our trip is far from over. I’ve placed a red C3 as far as my frame could stretch and am staring up the Atlantis crux, trying to convince myself to launch into a barn door tips layback sprint. The adrenaline acts as pain relief and for the first time all day my feet don’t hurt. Several times I feel out the moves, waiting for that magic moment of stability, but more than anything realizing the commitment I’ll need to muster to pull that second foot off the edge. Kris is just to my left on the belay ledge. He doesn’t say anything. He knows.
The arguments play out in my head but I know the winner the whole time. Finally I core up and pull on for the ride.
The powerful moves sail by and I race through to a decent hand. There are still no feet and no time to think and I wedge in a psycological yellow C3 that’s easier to just leave dangling in the rock than to put back on my harness. I manage to find a better green C3 before cranking a high foot and meeting the next negotiation: 15 feet of pumpy, sequential seam climbing. I place a #2 stopper and seed it to live, reminding myself that sometimes the best pro is to not fall. A few more forearm draining moves later the RP is well below my feet and I’m staring up at a granite blob that may be a jug and may be an illusion. I slap the top – sloper, damnit! No going back now. I set my feet on the first features I notice and stab to a good incut. Whew. Almost immediately my feet start complaining again but the laser cut thin hands 400 feet off the ground is too good to care.
Kris swings through and takes on the sparse gear and tenuous 5.11a climbing on the finishing pitch, at one point leaving a marginal .4 15 feet below while cranking away at dicey rounded underclings. I am so happy to be on top rope when I realize exactly what he dealt with. A big, fun mantle gains the Sorcerer summit and caps off a weekend that included some of the best The Needles has to offer.
The day before we had climbed Spook Book (5.10d R), an endless dihedral on The Witch, linking pitches 1 and 2 into a 60 meter gem and pitches 3 and 4 into a 70 meter journey. Virtually every move on the route is tenuous 5.10 pieced together by careful feet, shallow openings in the dihedreal and tactful use of the perfect arete.
We made our way back to the base, the conversations of other climbers amplified in the yellow granite bowl, echoing like an attention starved stadium announcer. After sorting gear we followed the shade to the Don Juan Wall (5.11b) on the Sorcerer, another testpiece of balance, horrible jams and calf-burning shallow feet.
We summited as the sun dipped behind the distant Western Sierra backdrop and trudged the 3.5 miles back to camp by moonlight blowing through rustling leaves, each of us cleaning the sand out of our ears after the last “5.11a” pitch on Don Juan.
The beer was miraculously cool when we got back to camp that night and tasted even better after retiring our bones the next day, three spectacular routes in the bag and the only miles ahead pavement back to civilization.
We spent just two days in The Needles but it felt like a week. Big days bookended by long hikes with heavy packs left us sore, tired and happy. Over the years, Kris and I have teamed up for many of the most memorable routes and trips I’ve experienced and this was just par for the course. I have no doubt we’ll be back at it soon.