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10 Days in the Needles
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mreardon


Jul 20, 2003, 8:54 PM
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10 Days in the Needles
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Warning Ė The following contains spray, slander, and the complete truth about a ten day trip in the Needles that just ended yesterday. I hope you enjoy it. Broken into four parts to complete bore you to death.


ROUND ONE Ė THE RC.COM CREW

We all know when itís time to leave. Thereís a blank stare at the computer screen, doodling during work, sleepless nights, sweaty dreams, etc. For me it came when I opened the front door of my house to walk the dog, and a mountain lion stood in our path. Rather than go back inside, the dog and I gave chase. Stupid? Yup. But it was better than domestic suicide via remote control. We returned muddy and out of breath, to which my wife scolded us and promptly told me it was time to cure the restless beast. Two months later I was driving to the mountains.

At 8,000 feet in altitude, with seven miles of round trip hiking, the ratings are stout, the leads are long, and the weather is in constant flux. But hey, at least the mosquitoes are enjoying the Deet appetizer smeared upon the skin. Welcome to the Needles.

On Thursday, Adam and Matt met me at the primitive campground and we hiked our stuff in. For those that havenít done the hike, itís best described by understanding that Adam, who convinced Matt to carry his stuff, ran out of breath and couldnít talk. No easy feat! But the hike is worth the expressions of wonder they both expressed upon seeing the prominent towers covered in the yellow/green lichen weíve all drooled over in the magazines. The Charlatan, Sorcerer, Wizard, Witch, Warlock, Magician, and half a dozen others with similar names further the enchanted feeling one gets upon arrival. And like all newcomers, you canít just show up and do nothing, so the two convinced me to jump on the first pitch of THIN ICE (10b), with the intention of Adam taking over the second pitch. It was during this first climb that both of them learned THE rule - ratings donít mean a thing at the Needles.

Where most sport areas tend to be soft, the Needles is a place that redefines the word "hard". Most of the climbs were established from 1976-1984, back when 5.11 was pushing the standards. Combine this with the sheer exposure, wind, lack of hands-free rests, and the pitches running 140-200 feet in length, and you get what more than one Yosemite bard has called, "real climbing where bullshit doesnít walk, it runs."

After a couple tumbles, Adam made it to the belay, promptly looked at the next pitch of groveling off-width, with a foot dyno above the belayerís head (itís only 5.9Ö), and calmly stated Ė "maybe another day." Matt grunted a couple times, but being 20 and gifted has itís advantages, and he arrived with blood on his tips and a grin on his face. A quick rap and the three of us ran a quick lap on the opening pitch of ATLANTIS (11+), then headed back to camp to meet up with Tim.

By the next morning, Tim showed up and Adam was back to form. I smiled to Matt as we listened to Tim and Adam bicker about what climbs they wanted to do, and who was going to lead what the whole way to the main notch. Apparently Adam wasnít paying attention during class, and though Tim claimed to be schooled, I had a feeling that spray was in the air. So I grabbed Adam for myself and sent him off on IGOR UNCHAINED (5.9). Now I adore Adam (and Ms. Karen more!), and appreciate the 5.12 climber he can be, but nothing made me chuckle harder then the sound of the engine inside him huffing and puffing before blowing a fuse. Of course that was when I also found out how solid that boy is! Damn near ripped my spleen out as he dragged my carcass halfway to his first piece. Two more damaging rips later, Adam set a belay and I led him up to the base of the second pitch of AIRY INTERLUDE (10a). AIRY earns itís name because halfway up the second pitch, thirty feet of traversing ends with a heart-stopping highstep to a knob in the middle of the lichen sea, followed immediately by a lie-back that threatens to pitch you back from where you came, and all of this with 300 feet of air below you! Knowing Adam would enjoy it, I ran the third and fourth pitch together (with about 60 feet of runout and 20 of simul-climbing), all ending with a 360 degree view with nary an ounce of civilization in sight. Adam walked it all in style and we headed back to the notch for lunch.

During our intermission, Mattís smile got bigger as he and Tim sent SPOOKY (5.9), but Tim looked a little rough-to-wear as an attempt on AIRY ended with a bail and a break to recover (a common occurrence at the Needles). Matt quietly mentioned that he was looking forward to pushing his limits, and without hesitation, I grabbed his butt and dragged him over to the rarely done BAD FORTUNE (5.11+). Long and dirty, this bastard child was brought to fruition by Greg Vernon (guidebook author), with rusted buttonheads and huevos the size of my ego. And it was when I made the mistake of combining the first pitch with the second for an onsight attempt that Matt chided me through the crux with, "is this when I get to hear the infamous Reardon whine?" to which my 13-year-old inner bitch responded the only way she could Ė "AAGGGHH!" Now I would like to say it was Mattís jokes that helped me get the climb clean, but part of it may have been the sheer fear of knowing that the last piece I placed before running it out 20 feet was a yellow alien that I pushed into a pile of dirt under a plant in need of a garden trowel, in the hopes of finding the granite underneath. Matt claims it would have held, but the 3:00 a.m. shivers tell me otherwise. Two more pitches later, we sat on top of the Charlatan and shared a few laughs of what we went through. And Matt claims he fell somewhere on the route, but I never felt the weight of the rope which means the next lead is his! My partner Mark showed up on the hike out and promptly showed us that the seven miles of round trip altitude was nothing for an old man like him as he passed us in both directions during his nightly jog.

The next day, Adam was out of gas and took pictures as Matt and Tim took off on IGOR and Mark and I did a few repeats to get Markís head on (10 pitches that included INNER SANCTUM). Adam, Matt, and Tim left with smiles and a good introduction to the Needles. Our only near mishap was a brush with a two foot rattlesnake that curled and hung out by the trailhead as our friends Mike and Willem joined Mark, and I to challenge the other to become the Crocodile Hunter - "Crikey, I will now insert my finger into the snakeís anus to determine itís sex." But of course, the snake wouldnít let us.

con't...


mreardon


Jul 20, 2003, 9:01 PM
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ROUND TWO Ė THE MASTER, CUJO, AND THE BEAR

The next day was my fourth in a row as Mark and I did FANCY FREE (10+) with none other than one of the hardest grey-beard climbers in existence, Herb Laeger, below us. Laeger is responsible for getting the FA on such classics as AIRY (1976), IGOR (1976), SPOOK BOOK (1978) and is still putting up great lines which I watched two years ago as he put up two 11+ multi-pitches on lead. Not bad for a guy getting close to 60!

My wife and daughter showed up that evening and we took a rest day at the Kern river with a couple other climbers we knew from other trips. Nothing better than having a beer, soaking up some sun, cannonballing in the water with your child and friends, and watching 75 pounds of wet dog roll in the sand. Oh wait, there was one thing better, it was watching my wife and daughter both make the hike and onsight 200 feet of 5.8 with barely an effort. Pretty soon this proud poppa is sending the youngíun out on lead to ropegun my projects! And the dog? I left him at the notch while we were climbing with his girlfriend Ula (a rott/lab mix who came with a hardman named Steve who was still living in his van after 12 years and climbed out mst of Indian Creek and decided to test himself at the Needles). During my daughterís send, I heard plenty of barking, and for those that have met the mutts, know these two rarely, if ever, bark. So I ran up to see what was happening and popping around the corner found two guys who came in late and were about 20 feet away from where everyone had left their gear. Iím not sure what was going on, but there was Ula sitting on my pack while my dog Reno, had every white hair on his husky/german shepard body standing on end, teeth showing, and generally doing his best Cujo impression as he pulled on his leash. Apparently since these guys came in late, they werenít part of the pack (about 10 of us at this point in the trip) and protection was in order. Or maybe they were just jerk-offs. Either way, it was an interesting intermission.

Next day, the family took off, Willem almost got bit by a different rattlesnake, and Mark and I decided it was time to go after DON JUAN (11b). The first pitch had kicked us both a bit the day before and the devil rope created a knot behind a crack that had to be cut free. It was time for redemption. I headed up the first 11 pitch with the wind howling at my back. After 60 feet of perfect finger locks, I hit the handjam rest before heading into the last section of rattly fingers when it happened. The wet sound of my fingers slotting into guano! I pulled my hand out and almost screamed off the rock, but caught myself by slotting back into the sticky mess. I peered into the crack and there she was, beady little eyes peering back at me Ė a sparrow from the past ready to knock me from the nest. Five years prior this same spot had forced me to exit the crack and lie-back thirty feet on an arete above a horribly placed nut because of a bird nest, and apparently it was back. "Donít make eye contact" I told myself. Instead, I quickly slotted a piece and rather than repeat the past, prepared to be hit by the bird as I made my way over. As luck would have it, she never popped out and I made it safely to the belay. And it was on this belay that I got to watch a friend named Char from Pennsylvania onsight SCIROCCO (12a) with 30 footers waiting if he blew it, and Steve sent GORILLA WARFARE (off-width rated 10+++ or 11c depending on who you believe) and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (11+). Mark showed up at the belay and the devil rope changed our plans again. The wind cause the rope to snag a bush to our left, creating an hour of aggravation and the superstitious mindset that maybe we should pass after two in a row. So we rapped off and ended the day with a couple other runs.

That evening, around the campfire with Char, Mark, Willem, Vermont (Emily who climbs 10+ Needles trad and disarms every boy with her blonde Barbie smile) and a handful of others, two Italian couples showed up for their first visit to the Needles. We shared introductions and found we had similar friends which immediately brings comfort for those away from home. They asked if there were any bears around. Looking at our cars full of ripe fruit, and tables of dirty plates I loudly proclaimed "never in twelve years have I seen or heard of a bear up here." They gave a sigh of relief and spirited their seven and three year old children to the tents on the other side of ours. You know what had to happen...

Around 2:30 am, I heard Char clapping loudly and proclaiming there was a bear! Having had the pleasure of a bear I nicknamed Darth Vader (for the heavy breathing he snorted directly into my ear when I was sleeping), try to bunk into my tent with me in Tuolomne, I jumped out of my tent half-thinking it was a joke as the Italians bounced down with their headlamps on. Then I heard the rip of nylon as the bear did a surgical cut into Charís girlfriendís pack for the powerbar inside (a Yosemite bear would have used the zipper, obviously this was an amateur). Willem and his compadres started yelling and banging pans. I ran down to join them just as the bear trampled into the woods deciding if it wanted to come back for more. He was a good sized one, probably close to nine-feet tall when standing, but luckily he decided we werenít worth the headache and moved on. Or, as Willem stood next to me and shined the light up and down, we realized the bear may have been frightened off at the fact that I was naked, except for my ugg boots.

The next day brought plenty of slander and more climbing as Mark and I tackled the intimidating SPOOK BOOK (10+). This classic is the best climb in the Needles. Period. I wonít spray, but I will say this, bring many small pieces, and donít fall. That evening the bear came back again, and I left my clothes on, which might be why it took him longer to leave. Another rest day at the river found Mark and I playing cards under a canopy of trees as a heat driven rain cooled the ground around us. That evening Mark and I joined Char and a couple others at the Ponderosa Lodge (the only restaurant for 50 miles around) and got the family night special. There we were, watching Chuck grill up the ribs and fish, as the locals came by, bringing a toothless "Deliverance" feeling to the place when none other than Ned Beatty showed up. Yup, the man who squealed like a pig apparently spends his Thursday evenings there. Donít even get me started on the jokes that followed. However, there was payback as the Ponderosaís Potato Salad worked itís way back up when I got to camp and I spent three hours hunched over a log getting a second taste in a technocolor yawn. The bear showed up again, but as Willem put it, "Michael must have been sleep walking because all he did was walk down the hill, grab his keys Ė chirp chirp Ė went the alarm and back to bed he went." I figured that if the bear wanted anything in the car, he could have it, but at least Iíd know.

con't...


mreardon


Jul 20, 2003, 9:06 PM
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ROUND THREE - ATLANTIS

A light sprinkle stays in the air, but Iím in the groove. I donít know if its because of so many days living at camp and climbing, puking, or just the coolness in the air, but today is a good day. Mark and I hike in, and without a warm-up, I saddle up the iron kilt and take off on ATLANTIS. The first pitch is perfect. Thin fingers stretch to open handed underclings with a rest that I normally need, but this time punch my way through with a single piece. The next 40 go by too fast and I find myself slowing down to enjoy the movement.

I combine the first two pitches, and Mark pushes his way up to find me sitting and dangling my feet over the most exposed ledge on the Sorcerer. This is a moment climbers live for. The exposure is extreme, the clouds are thick, the air heavy and hard to breath, and the acoustics so clear, I can hear our friend John on the other wall muttering to himself as he runs out the rp placements on INNER SANCTUM. Mark and I sit, whispering encouragement to him until he finally gets the nerve, and twenty feet above his last brass placement, makes the smear move and finds the crack just as the rain comes in. "5.9 my ASS!" he hollers as we laugh and slander each other in the sticky air.

Itís raining, itís windy, itís cold, and itís my turn. Looming before me is the 11+ pitch. Two years prior I had gotten on this pitch in prime conditions and promptly fell because of the thin placements and lack of mental game. This time will be different.

Ten feet right of the belay the third pitch is in my face as a thin, slightly overhanging crack, spits out everything but the smallest of gear. Iím lucky, I manage to fit a dime-thick stopper and the edges of a blue alien. Now if only I can do that for the next 30 feet. I canít, so I stop thinking about it. Instead I raise my left hand as high as I can and lightly hold the edge, press my right hand palm below it, then leaning hard until my right hip is against the rock, I press my right foot high on the wall and launch upwards into a gut-tightening lie-back. The water is dripping down the rock, but my feet hold the smears Iíve got them on. Gently I move my right hand up, then left, feet move up in unison, and repeat the motion three more times before I realize that I need to get a piece in. With a gunslingerís motion, my left snatches a green alien from the harness and slams it into the crack. Another quick motion and the rope is clipped. I donít have the energy to lean around and see if itís any good, instead I count on the past 50 pitches worth of climbing Iíve done in the last few days to be my guide. Four more moves and the crack goes horizontal. Itís steep and my feet refuse to stick, but I manage to get another piece in before matching my left foot to my left hand on the horizontal. My right hand goes straight up and latches onto a sloper. Itís wet, and five pieces separate me from the belay. Doesnít matter, gottaí move. I turn my head right and everything goes into slow motion as I gently pull my body upwards. "Sniff, Sniff Ė is that stink me?" - is all I can think as my nose passes my armpit. Everything comes rushing back to speed as I come back into the game, stand up, and lunge for the crack behind the sloper, and just miss peeling off. A head shake to clear the giggling fear thatís trying to creep up, and 40 feet of perfect handjamming is my reward to the next belay.

The smile on Markís face shows heís in the groove when he joins me on the belay. "One more, Bubba. Finish it clean." Off I go, heading back into the perfect hand crack for a few moves before twenty feet of thin placements send me back to smearing techniques on the slick. Just as my feet are about to blow, I reach up to a perfect handjam undercling with a slight edge inside. I match hands, smear my feet in front of my waist, and reaching far left, wrap my hand around a horn and cut my feet free, howling at the wind, and mocking the gravity that tried so hard to weigh me down. Another half pitch of thin fingers and Iím at the top. Itís amazing up here. A gnarled tree thatís been shattered by lightning and wind, but refuses to give up, holds me tight as I dangle my feet back over the lip and watch Mark follow the last pitch clean.

A quick rap, followed by two more pitches of climbing when the sun tried to break free and Mark and I were done for the day, and this trip.

con't...


mreardon


Jul 20, 2003, 9:09 PM
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ROUND FOUR Ė TKO, THE NEEDLES WINS

We arrived back at camp with plenty of daylight and while sharing stories with the rest of the gang, watched as three teenagers and their experienced leader gave us dirtbags a disparaging look as they set up camp, then promptly lit a fire in the wind. Now Iím no expert, but when thereís wind in a dry area, I donít believe itís recommended that one light a fire, but they had a fire permit, and sternly told me that they knew what they were doing. After all, what could a handful of climbing dirtbags Ė and we did look the part as we groveled in our filth and shared a bottle of cheap wine around the circle Ė know about camping?

Of course, these same wise folks didnít have a tent and were thereby roughing it in the wild by laying out their Target Special bags and spreading their food as far as the eye could see. It was sprinkling at the time, and the sun was permanently hidden behind the clouds, but instead of putting their tarp above their heads, they chose to place it below them to keep their bags clean, and the pretzels off the ground.

Having been chastised accordingly, Mark and I, satiated by the previous climbing, quietly ate our meal, then in our respective tents, Mark drifted off to sleep with his heavy snoring as I read my book, and laughed quietly through the night as the bear came back one last time, pouncing on the camperís food, scattering their pans, and generally setting the pace for what would be a fun six hours in the rain. Yup, it was a perfect week that ended with a perfect day.

The end.

If you made it this far, you have got way too much time on your hands... :D


kalcario


Jul 20, 2003, 11:19 PM
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*I peered into the crack and there she was, beady little eyes peering back at me Ė a sparrow from the past ready to knock me from the nest. Five years prior this same spot had forced me to exit the crack and lie-back thirty feet on an arete above a horribly placed nut because of a bird nest, and apparently it was back. "Donít make eye contact" I told myself. Instead, I quickly slotted a piece and rather than repeat the past, prepared to be hit by the bird as I made my way over. As luck would have it, she never popped out and I made it safely to the belay.*

I did the Don Juan several times in the 80's, including onsight-leading the whole thing with a 15 year-old Jason Campbell in tow, and that bird's nest was always there. You just climb around it, I mean, that bird's not gonna attack you or anything, it's just a little unnerving because that's the crux of the route as well...


Partner rrrADAM


Jul 21, 2003, 5:15 AM
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That's gotta be the best TR I've seen.


mreardon


Jul 21, 2003, 11:57 AM
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I did the Don Juan several times in the 80's, including onsight-leading the whole thing with a 15 year-old Jason Campbell in tow, and that bird's nest was always there. You just climb around it, I mean, that bird's not gonna attack you or anything, it's just a little unnerving because that's the crux of the route as well...

I'm not sure about the attack part. During my last trip up the Juan, I had the little ones inside pecking at my fingertips and the parents dive-bombing me from behind. Mostly from my point, I just hate interrupting them as much as they hate me being there, so I try to avoid the conflit when possible. As for the crux of the route, personally I think the upper pitch of really thin gear is more unnerving than anything else! You going back there this year?


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