The Witch, The Needles, CA

June 15 &18, 2008 / Igor Unchained (5.9, 3p) & Airy Interlude (5.10a, 4p)
West Face of the Witch

The west face of the Witch is home to several good climbs and at least two mega-classics: "Igor Unchained" (3p, 5.9, and the most popular route in the Needles) and "Airy Interlude" (4p, 5.10a). We'd climbed them in the past, but they are so good that twice is probably not even enough...

The approach from the trailhead to the base of the routes takes about 80 minutes. Igor Unchained and Airy Interlude stay in the shade all morning.

The formation is located right across the gully from the east face of the Sorcerer. It is worthwhile to bring your packs to the base of the route if you're planning to climb on the Sorcerer as well. Otherwise, it's better to leave them at the col (the descent takes you back to this point). It is a 5-minute hike from the col to the base of the face.

The descent involves a short (80ft) rap to a blocky ledge, then some (4th or low-fifth class?) downclimbing to easier terrain in a small gully. This leads back down to the Witch/Sorcerer col.

 

Igor Unchained (5.9, 3p):

"Igor Unchained", is THE striking classic crack line on the face. All three pitches are 5.9, long, sustained, and terrific. The first pitch is pretty physical; left foot on the slab, right foot in the corner/crack, and either jamming or sidepulling the crack. Same moves for 100' or so. The crack gets wide in places.

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Taking a break on the approach, near the stairs to the fire lookout.
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"Igor" follows the striking crack system in the middle of the photo.
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Lucie starting the first pitch (5.9).
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Pretty physical: same moves for 100' feet or so.
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Approaching the belay stance just below the roof.

The start of the second pitch may be the crux of the route, with moves over a deep overlap (or small roof), using the very wide crack for purchase (4"). Tricky, especially for smaller hands! The rest of the pitch is no gimme either. Lucie belays me up from a large ledge a few feet below the steep headwall. I move the belay a few feet up, to the base of the steep wall, in preparation for the very long third pitch (which can also be split into two).

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Eric following the first pitch.
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The start of the second pitch is probably the crux of the route if you have small hands.
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Higher on pitch 2.
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Following pitch 2.
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Starting the gorgeous 3rd pitch.

The final pitch is simply gorgeous, starting with very steep, intimidating moves on good holds, then continuing with steep fingers and hand jamming up the yellow rock. The second half of the pitch is more delicate, with smaller holds and balancy moves. If you start from just below the steep headwall, you can just make it to the final bolted anchor below the rounded summit with a 60m rope.

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Higher on pitch 3. Look at that awesome granite!
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A 60m rope will get you to a bolted anchor at the end of the route.
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Eric getting close to the belay on pitch 3.
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Two climbers on the short rap that begins the descent.
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Downclimbing back to the Witch/Sorcerer col, with the Sorcerer in the background.

Airy Interlude (5.10a, 4p):

"Airy Interlude" follows a right-facing corner and the obvious diagonal crack across the gorgeous yellow-green face to join Igor's central crack half way up. The first pitch is easy: up a low angle crack with only a couple of 5.9 moves. Instead of belaying part way up this crack as is customary, I decide to combine pitches 1 and 2 and pull a superlong pitch all the way to the base of the dihedral of p3. Even with 60m ropes, this is too long, and Lucie is forced to climb up and through the crux (maybe 10m off the ground) before I reach the ledge. I set up a quick anchor and get her on belay. Two other parties are now at the base of the super-popular "Igor Unchained". No time to loose since we'll connect with that route at the end of p3.

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The classic traverse of "Airy Interlude" can be seen in the center of the pic.
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The first pitch is easy, mostly 5.8 or easier, with a couple of 5.9 moves.
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Starting the signature pitch (5.10a).
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On the traverse.
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Lucie following the pitch.

The third pitch starts with a very steep corner with a sharp crack (small hands, 5.9). Then the traverse starts, following an obvious diagonal crack (small hands, green Camalots), and occasionally thin feet. Exciting 5.9. At one point, you reach a black inclusion that makes a perfect foothold, just where the crack thins to finger size and kinks up. This is the crux. I just deleted my description of these moves... figuring them out is half the fun! A few tricky sidepull moves above this (balancy) before things mellow out some. A few more feet of climbing with much better footholds under a small roof, and you reach the finger cracks of the third pitch of Igor. Up the steep section past the right side of the roof, and I set up a semi-hanging belay on a small stance. Lucie follows without much trouble, although the crux move proves a bit reachy for her.

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Tackling the hand traverse.
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Gaining the semi-hanging belay.
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The last pitch (5.9) joins "Igor".
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Lucie following the last pitch.
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Looking back at the fire lookout and the Charlatan from the summit.

The rest of the route follows the last pitch of "Igor" to the bolted anchor just below the summit.