Climbing in the Needles with Zac

page 1 page 2 page 3

I'd arranged to meet Zac, a climber from Rapid City, at Sylvan Lake for a day of climbing. I'd met him on the internet, which was a first, but it all worked out wonderfully. I told him we should climb Conn Diagonal, a route Curt from Devil's Tower had recommended, and the first thing Zac said was, "You have to lead it" Fair enough I guess. As long as there were no jams, the backs of my hands were still pretty grazed.

We wandered around the Lake, though some very Girraweenesque country, and came to the back of the Outer Outlet, where the route is located. It looked pretty gnarly. Up some rising flakes for a while, with dubious looking gear placements. "Keep the rope inside the flakes, and then make sure you fall out, and it'll catch." said Zac. Then a severe looking traverse under a roof, and finally up and into a chimney to the summit. Established in the dark ages by Herb and Jan Conn, who ticked most of the accessible summits, then got bored with rock climbing, and moved into Jewel and Wind Cave.

Would have been a very impressive lead in the 40s/50s. Very solid 5.7, with some quite committing moves. The first pitch protected better than it looked, and is absolutely full of committing step acrosses from flake to flake. The second pitch is worth doing just to look at the old pitons in various places across the traverse. Positive holds the whole way, which is just as well, as it's pretty steep. The third pitch has a very fun hand traverse and roof to get up into the chimney, which then turns into a very straightforward body chimney, great holds, easy going, like a face climb with a back rest. No gear though :) You end up on top, and do a beached whale belay. A nice view of the surrounds, the other needles, Harney Peak, an extremely pleasant climb.

A word must be said about the rock at the needles here. Apparently the second oldest exposed mountain range in North America, (after some sea cliff on the canadian atlantic) the rock is Extremely coarse grained. They call it Pegmatite, which as far as I can tell is just mega crystal granite. Lumps of Feldspar as big as your fist, chunks of mica two inches across, and an inch thick, absolutely enormous crystal structure. I thought tuolumne had coarse granite, but it was nothing on this.

For the afternoon, we decided to go and do another classic, and one of Zac's favourite climbs in the Needles, the Fourth Cathedral Spire. This was another mega classic. (The needles rocked pretty hard if you hadn't noticed, simply stellar scenery, awesome climbing) This is the highest of the spires, and has a superb view of the surrounding area. It's a bit of walk in, (compared to some) at about 40 minutes or so. A fairly exposed first pitch, which we roped up for, takes you to the the gap between the third and fourth spire. It really is cathedral like. Deep rectangular voids between the rock walls. Pretty cool stuff.

The first pitch is probably about 50% 4th class, then some steep moves which take you to a choice. Do you bust a move onto the face, at 5.4 (looked a bit harder than that to me, or at least more committing) or do you go up and into the "wormhole" at 5.0?

At this point someone else made the decision for me. There was some booty up in the wormhole, so up I scampered, coming into an almost new #4 metolius cam. Came out just by pulling on the triggers, it looked like it had just been unclipped and left there. Score for me, my first booty cam. And the wormhole was fun anyway. I ended up having to leave the rack clipped just under the hole so I could get through. It's quite a squeeze. Fun though :)

From there a short roped scramble up and over to avoid rope drag, then I got the last pitch which is even easier than the first pitch, leading to a step across a gap to the summit of the spire. The summit log was missing, which was a shame, but we tried to play silly buggers anyway, with me even attempting a photo of me in the air. I gave up on this pretty quickly. The top is pretty small for that sort of stupidity. Rapped down and out, and then Zac treated me to dinner at the Alpine Inn. What a guy. I'd had him over for lunch, and somehow that covered dinner at a nice restaraunt. A fine day's climbing all in all.

Conn Diagonal, Pitch 1 (5.7)

Classic Needles view, behind Sylvan Lake

Looking back across and down pitch 2 to Zac

Eye of the Needle. I'm not ballsy enough to climb the runouts on it

The Picket Fence, oldschool needles climbing

The top of the wormhole. 5.tight

Zac wriggles and squirms

Zac pops out of the wormhole