The Needles used to be one of California's best kept secrets. The cat has now been out of the bag for long enough, hence the decision to include this stellar climbing destination on our website. Not to worry though, the remote location, relatively long approach, and the stiff grades should keep the crowds at bay. If you're looking for steep cracks on awesome granite in a magical place far away from the maddening crowds of the Valley, this is the place.
Stellar crack climbs in the 5.9 to 5.10 range (2 to 3 pitches long) can be found on the East face of the Witch. The most popular are "Igor unchained" and "Airy Interlude". They're so good that we've climbed them twice so far.
Right across the same gully, the East face of the Sorcerer hosts more mega-classic lines (5.10b to 5.11+). The easiest and most popular is "Thin Ice".
Also well worth climbing is the "Magic Dragon" (5.8), on the Magician Needle, a more moderate line with mostly 5.5 slab climbing. It starts at the toe of the West butress and goes all the way to the fire lookout. We climbed this one a while back but did not repeat it this time around.
"Spooky" (5.9) is another popular climb on the east face of the Charlatan. Never done it so I can't comment on it. Easy to link-up with "Thin Ice" as a rappel from the summit of the Sorcerer pretty much deposits you in a notch at the base of the route.
"Broomsticks" (5.9) and "Love Potion #9" (5.10) are two nice face climbs on the South face of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. We've climbed them before but it was just too hot this time around.
For a longer adventure, go climb White Punks on Dope, a 6-pitch line on Voodoo Dome. Good and varied climbing makes it another Needle must-do.
Guidebook: "Needles" by Moser et al. is out of print. An electronic copy of an older guidebook is available: look for ads at the general store in Ponderosa (along Hwy 190, about 1 mile south from the intersection with road 21S05), or search the web.
Season: The best time to climb at the Needles is late spring (May-June) or early fall. Summer is also an option if you stay in the shade. When we climbed WPOD on Voodoo Dome in late June '08, it was a bit too hot. Early Spring (April-early May) or Fall would probably be better for Voodoo Dome, which is South facing.
Camping: A good climber's campground (free as of Summer 2008) is near the trailhead at the end of Road 21S05. No water there, but a vault toilet at the trailhead, and wooden tables at the sites. Water and trash dumpsters can be found at the Quaking Aspen Campground (another camping option), 0.8 mile north on Hwy 190 from the 21S05 road turnoff. Plenty of dispersed primitive camping can also be found throughout the area. Fire bans are usually in force throughout the area. Please observe them. In my book, campfires are ethically questionable anytime & anywhere, anyway.
Planning the California section of this bus trip while at Red Rocks.
|Leaving Tahquitz for the Needles.|
|Driving the very winding road from Kernville to Johnsondale.|
|Stopped in Johnsondale while looking for a good camp spot with the jeep.|
|Eric getting psyched for climbing...|
|Camping in the forest near Ponderosa.|
|The approach to the Witch/Sorcerer col takes about 1H20, most of it on a good trail.|
|After about 50 minutes, the trail passes by the base of an amazing fire lookout (still staffed in summer).|
|Glimpse of the Magician Needle and its fire lookout from the approach.|
|The approach has several ups and downs. Going up the hill just below the steps leading to the fire lookout.|
|The staircase leading to the lookout. A good place to take a break before continuing to the Sorcerer/Witch notch, the main access to climbing routes.|
|The Witch, home of two mega-classic lines: "Igor Unchained" (5.9) and "Airy Interlude" (5.10a) .|
|Climber following the 3rd pitch of "Igor Unchained". The classic traverse of "Airy Interlude" is just to her left.|
|Looking back at the Sorcerer (left) and the Charlatan (right) from the summit of the Witch. "Thin Ice" is the steep line on the left side of the Sorcerer.|
|Climber on "Thin Ice" (Sorcerer), one of the area's mega-classic lines.|
|Another one for our "only in America" series... This said, please don't burn it!|
|Views from the summit. Note the fire burning in the distance.|
|Visiting the fire lookout after a day of climbing (open from 9am to 5pm, WED thru SUN).|
|Another large forest fire (from the highway, on our way to Bishop).|
The Needles, California