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mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 29, 2014 - 09:31pm PT
I am curious as to why you all think that the Black Hills have hosted so many great climbers. From Fritz, to Kamps, to Robbins, to Bein, to Pratt, to Barber, McCarthy, to Gill, to Skinner and Piana, to Hong, to Becky, to.......


They all came to this backwater place full of rednecks and mystery to sample the towers and spires. They aren't the tallest or hardest, but many of the great climbers came here and left their mark. Sometimes I am baffled about the attraction, but am grateful that they came. There are no mountains here there are are no cities just some lonely hills and some great rocks, but there has to be more to it than just that. I have my own theories but I would like to know what others think.
Picket Fence in the Black Hills
Picket Fence in the Black Hills
Credit: mike m
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Aug 29, 2014 - 09:35pm PT
Cause it kicks ass?

And Harney Peak is the center of the universe
Byran

climber
San Jose, CA
Aug 29, 2014 - 09:57pm PT
Probably because you can belay from the bumper of your car. Climbers hate hiking.
johnboy

Trad climber
Can't get here from there
Aug 29, 2014 - 09:58pm PT
Maybe some of them came just to visit the Conns?


Is that a fairly recent pic of the Picket Fence?
Haven't been in the Cathedral Spires area for a while and was
wondering whats left for trees.
Byran

climber
San Jose, CA
Aug 29, 2014 - 10:23pm PT
No, here's a recent pic

Picket Fence and Spire One
Picket Fence and Spire One
Credit: Byran
johnboy

Trad climber
Can't get here from there
Aug 29, 2014 - 10:27pm PT

Thanks, though sad to see.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Aug 29, 2014 - 11:39pm PT
I can't speak for any of the great climbers, but I can make some guesses. I think Fritz was the first climber to visit in 1936 and 1937. He wrote an article in Appalachia, predicting that the Needles would become a major U.S. climbing venue. Ha!

Fritz climbed Khayyam Spire in 1937. A young (I think teenage) Fred Beckey came along and, unaware of Fritz's free ascent, used two bolts of aid on the same route (or a variation of it). The short but steep bolted wall turned out to be 5.6 or 5.7, which Fritz would certainly have climbed without pro.

More articles on the Needles in Appalachia by Herb and Jan Conn followed in 1948 and 1953. I found these articles in the Geology Library at the University of Chicago while an undergraduate there and decided to visit, in 1963 I think. I became enamored of the place and made numerous return visits over the next ten years or so. Later, I brought McCarthy and talked up the place to Kevin Bein and Barbara Devine, who also fell in love with it and lived in Custer for a while.

I think the original draw of the Needles was that it lay on the route from points East to Devil's Tower and then the Tetons. (We've forgotten that for many years the Tetons were the epicenter of American climbing.) Once Herb and Jan Conn established themselves in the Needles, they became a focal point for visiting climbers heading West.

John Gill ended up visiting the Needles because they were the closest climbing area he had when he was in the Air Force and stationed in Montana. Gill was friendly with Kamps in the Tetons and I suspect that it would have been Gill who persuaded Bob and Bonnie to head East to the Needles. They in turn brought Mark and Beverly Powell and Dave Rearick and started the post-Conn era.

Edit: I got a note from Bonnie correcting me on part of this. Dave Rearick knew the Conns and he convinced Bob and Bonnie to visit the Needles. They met him there on their honeymoon in 1958.

My guess is that Pete Cleveland ended up in the Needles as a result of heading to the Tetons from Wisconsin, just as many others had done years before. Henry went out there because news of Pete's amazing ascent of Superpin traveled around the country.
ionlyski

Trad climber
Kalispell, Montana
Aug 30, 2014 - 12:06am PT
And don't forget, I started going there too when I heard it was fun.

Mike, I will be looking you up soon for a tour of Devils and the Needles. In truth I've been to each place just once, and of course I'm a nobody.

Arne
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 30, 2014 - 01:54am PT
Love to Arnie and Rich I know you're one of the greats that have climbed there as well. I very much appreciate your contributions. You very much were a pioneer in the area. I have been watching Honnold videos and I wonder if he could do all 89 Cathedral spires summits in one day. You would have to think he would love the area with all the history and the cool summits that are easy 5th class.

Any time Arne.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 30, 2014 - 02:04am PT
Didn't Fritz visit there shortly before he went to K2 and damn near summitted.
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Aug 30, 2014 - 02:54am PT
Before I read r golds nice piece I was going to say that it was on the way to the Tower and Tetons from the east.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Aug 30, 2014 - 06:29am PT
I am curious as to why you all think that the Black Hills have hosted so many great climbers.

Simple,
because they/we are climbers, if it's worthy they/we will come.
Cliché but, "Because it's there".

Carry on,
Tad
WyoRockMan

climber
Flank of the Big Horns
Aug 30, 2014 - 06:57am PT
Aside from the wide variety of pegmatite textures and cool mineralogy, the biggest draw for me it the unquantifiable magic of the area.
The sheer number of independent features, each with their own character is very special. Perching on top of the skinny ones or lounging on top of large ones gaping at the micro ecosystems that reside there. Weisner and Conn whispering in your ear to quit being such a pussy, "it's only 5.8" they say.
The grading is a hoot. The current theory I'm using is unlike the YDS system, you take the hardest move and discard it. (Didn't we agree that route on Khayyam was a 5.8 with just a couple .10 moves?) A "5.0" on Picture Rock starts out with a 12' vertical 5" splitter.

It is a place to reset my ego and just enjoy the climbs for their native beauty and personal aesthetic. It's good for the soul.

Mike M, slinging horns on Gossamer.
Mike M, slinging horns on Gossamer.
Credit: WyoRockMan

edit: Didn't answer your question. Probably for the same reasons we all like it.
franky

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Aug 30, 2014 - 09:32am PT
The climbers come to see bear country USA and the reptile gardens. They climb on their tourist rest days.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Aug 30, 2014 - 11:17am PT
There's what gets you there in the first place, and then there's what keeps you coming back, which is a bit different. WyoRockMan mentions the magic of the place, and I think he's right. Although things are small and compact, there is a maze-like quality to the area that seems truly unique. You can get (sort of) lost in an extremely small region. Everything looks different as soon as you move a little, and there are surprises around every bend. It isn't at all like the cliff-face or wall-and-arete structure of most climbing areas, it is more like a fantasy landscape from a movie or video game.

Then there are the climbs themselves. Real summits are, nowadays, a novelty for rock-climbing. And a number of climbs have "horizontal" as well as vertical exposure. The pinnacle is slender enough to curve away from you on both sides, leaving you feeling perched in midair, a sensation that isn't as intense on buttresses and walls.

I can't help feeling, from a distance, that the loss of the forest has taken some of the magic with it, since greater visibility leads to less mystery and makes it easier to anticipate what you will encounter. But the formations themselves endure, and what is gone is only known to those of us who were there when things were different.
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Aug 30, 2014 - 12:01pm PT
Yes the place is magcical! Those Tolkien names seem so natural and one expects to fine real Elfs in the woods and often feels the need to keep a sharp eye out for Orcs.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 30, 2014 - 12:48pm PT
Credit: mike m
Magic Ed

Trad climber
Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Aug 30, 2014 - 12:56pm PT
The Needles have always been one of my favorite all-time places to climb and camp and hang out.
goatboy smellz

climber
लघिमा
Aug 30, 2014 - 12:58pm PT
A better question would be what good area hasn't hosted well known climbers in the US.
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Aug 30, 2014 - 01:02pm PT
In the days before the internet articles in the Alpine journal and mountain mag carried a lot of weight.
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