Trip Report
Going to battle with the Romantic Warrior, a Needles TR
Thursday November 7, 2013 1:20pm
My muscles are wrecked and my mind has already given in. But my body hasn't even left my couch yet. I'm going to bail. I can't take another weekend of failure. Why do I keep trying climbs with such a small margin for success?

I can't stop the weekend from approaching. The days and hours quickly tick by. I'm still lost in neverland, so excited at the prospect of going to The Needles and at the same time so emotionally empty and completely unable to climb at my limit. During the week I've been hang-boarding and my body is breaking down and trying to get stronger. I don't recover in time for the weekends and the lack of fitness has eaten away my confidence. It's been almost a month since I flowed easily over rock.

Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you'll regret the things you didn't do more than the ones you did.
 H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Reality hit me. I couldn't stand the thought of bailing. Sure I was weak, but that was a poor excuse. I HAD to know what it was like to climb Romantic Warrior. Kai and I had been talking about going to The Needles for months and I had been thinking about this route for years.

Kai bushwacking around the Necromancer

Round 1:

Going to The Needleswas about getting down to business so there was no warmup, no foreplay, straight to the objective, the inevitable ass-kicking. We hiked out the familiar trail to the Witch - Charlatan notch and romped down the gulley, traversing under the Necromancer. I'd never been down this far and the brightly colored walls pushed the psyche up further. Some say that it is best to park on the lower road, but I had also heard that rapping the route was a pain...

Finally at the base, with the Warlock towering overhead, I was at ease. This was exactly where I wanted to be, and we were going to try a route that dreams are made of. Sure we were getting in over our head, but perhaps that is the point. Failure seems to be the theme of the summer, and I was alright with that.

Starting up the funky first pitch

Kai leads living corner.

Kai and I swapped leads up the route with him getting the sharp end for the first of four 5.12 pitches. We fell on every one, both on lead and on follow. The humble pie just kept piling up. As I nervously climbed, and hung my way up the book of deception I was still content with my decision to climb. The earlier pitches I could have onsighed with a bit more fire and fitness but this blank thin corner was not in the cards.

Kai is still all smiles!

Kai following the third pitch.

All of the failure put the route into perspective. It was hard, but far from impossible and a much more difficult onsight than redpoint. I had been falling off 5.12 routes all summer and this one seemed just within reach. After summiting the Warlock as night fell we were zombies on the long hike out.

The next day we came back with drill and hammer and dropped in by climbing the Howling, a fun route. We pulled old 1/4" bolts, updated an anchor and added some rappel rings. Doing a little cleanup made me feel better about all the falling. The route got a summer cleaning, and was much less haggard looking than I was.

Kai following the uber-powerful campus pitch

After the cleanup we got down to business and tried the last two "5.12" pitches. The dreaded 5.11+++ and the Book of Deception.It was great to work on the movement without dealing with any external factors.

Almost done with the Book of Deception

A big epiphany on this trip is my unwillingness, or inability to stem. Sure I can do easy stemming on footholds, but I struggle when forced to palm and smear on blank walls. The 5.11++ is so thin that I was unable to layback or jam the crack. Only through insecure stemming and palming was I able to get through the two cruxes. The same was true for the Book of Deception. When hang dogging I had been able to rest and power layback most of the pitch, but trying to link it together was much more difficult. Little stemming tricks on both pitches made a big difference!

On our second day I was able to climb both of the upper pitches clean on TR. Kai managed the top pitch without falling and surprised himself with a one hang of the crux pitch, a marked improvement over his attempt to follow the pitch the previous day. Both pitches required a full gamut of corner skills separated by a midway rest on each pitch. While the cruxes on the first two 5.12 pitches can be overcome by power, I found the upper pitches to be all about technique and insecure movement. The climbing is safe but the gear is consistently small and sometimes difficult to place.

Romantic Warrior seems to be very similar to Venturi Effect, but a step down in overall difficulty. I was surprised to deal with grainy rock, old hardware and lots of tattered slings on RM. All belays have two solid 3/8" bolts but the route is littered with random 1/4" relics.

Luckily the season was not over and I got to go back in October for another round with Romantic Warrior!

Round 2:

Ben was passed out in the front seat as Blue Thunder whipped around yet another bend on the road to the Needles. Alix, in the back seat, was queezy from motion sickness and Cory was regaling us with another story from his most recent trip abroad. With the Government Shutdown in effect Yosemite was closed and we were on Plan B.It was yet another trip for us weekend warriors and the crisp mountain air told of the changing seasons.

Sometimes I suffer from single-mindedness, but on this trip it was to our advantage. Ben was happy to play along with the extra dose of hauling and hard work that I had planned in addition to the rock climbing. Pushing myself and my limits brings about internal change, but I often seek to leave a more lasting impression on the places I visit. I can derive equal parts enjoyment from my partner's success and the experience of those to come.

Ben on the free-hanging 60m rap to the Warlock

Climbing Romantic Warrior was about fulfilling my potential and finding the line where my body can push past the limitations of my mind. We are almost always stronger than we think, and given the right circumstance can do great things. I wanted to see if I could overcome my doubts.

Ben cruises up the "chossy" third pitch.

As Ben and I climbed up Romantic Warrior I supplemented his power and raw enthusiasm with my knowledge and previous experience on the route. Ben took the sharp end and flashed the first two pitches in an impressive show of power and determination.

Sending was our first priority but we also took extra time to clean up tat and replace bolts on Romantic Warrior. Now every anchor has two 3/8" bolts that are setup for rappel. The second part of our mission was setting up a couple of static ropes so we spend the following day re-bolting Sea of Tranquility.

Ben on the first 5.12 pitch.

I took over the sharp end for the Book of Deception but faltered and couldn't execute the crux sequence. I lost my self-belief and hung on the rope. A few efforts got me through the sequence and I was determined to try the pitch again. As I lowered off I couldn't figure out how I had stayed on the wall the second time around.

Luke laybacking up the Book of Deception on Romantic Warrior.
Luke laybacking up the Book of Deception on Romantic Warrior.
Credit: Kai Ewert

I pushed the doubt out of my mind. Breath, execute, layback, send. Simple thoughts as I fought further and further up the corner. I snagged the rest jug with a yell and tried to relax for the final crux. My arms were cramping but I was almost there. More power laybacking, stalling at the final rest and I was clipping the anchor. Such a big improvement over the last attempt and previous trip up the route.

Ben on the Book of Deception

Luckily the small gear was easy to clean and Ben cruised pitch making good use of the tricky stem rests. Ben's enthusiasm was still overflowing and he wanted to get scared and took the sharp end for the 5.11+++ pitch. He loaded up with micro-nuts and small cams and launched off on the final hard pitch of the route. Last time this pitch had totally destroyed me with the technical stemming and palming. I was hoping to do better in this rematch.

Somehow we both held it together and Ben ticked another pitch first try and I grunted my way up clean on follow. Soon enough we were running up the easy slabs to the upper summit of the Warlock. What a stunning day!

Tiny dots on top of the Warlock. Photo by Cory Hall

After climbing Romantic Warrior we should have taken a rest day or done something casual. Instead Ben and I returned to the Warlock to mini-traxion and re-bolt Sea of Tranquility. This route had twenty-something old bolts that ranged from bomber to down right terrifying. The scariest were the bolts (on the right in the photo below) that were just studs with rivet hangers of unknown strength.

Old Bolts from Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquility!

We were both too worked to do the route clean, even on "top rope", but did manage to change out all the bolts. All 3 anchors are now equipped with Fixe Double Ringer hangers courtesy of the ASCA.

The route is definitely an exciting undertaking but is well bolted in the hardest sections. On the final pitch there is big fall potential in the 5.11 range but the fall is clean.

Ben starting up the crux on the 2nd to last pitch of Sea of Tranquility.

Get after it!


  Trip Report Views: 6,363
About the Author
Luke is a trad climber and occasional runner from Sunnyvale, CA.

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Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Nov 7, 2013 - 01:25pm PT
Way to go Luke!


Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Nov 7, 2013 - 01:44pm PT
Such a magnificent piece of stone!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Nov 7, 2013 - 01:55pm PT
Pretty gnarly. Thanks for the community service too!
Dapper Dan

Trad climber
Redwood City
  Nov 7, 2013 - 01:58pm PT
wow , what a killer route . It's hard to imagine Reardon soloing it ... did he solo it onsight?

  Nov 7, 2013 - 02:00pm PT
nice report what incredible looking rock. so after climbing it yourself what do you think about Reardon soloing it?

edit : the dapper one beat me to it

Social climber
Southern Arizona
  Nov 7, 2013 - 02:13pm PT
Best rock ever. TFPU.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Nov 7, 2013 - 02:25pm PT
You and Ben KICK ASS. Your psyche about rock climbing is contagious Luke. People who don't want to get sick with desire to climb at all times STAY AWAY FROM LUKE!

Trad climber
Mountain View
Author's Reply  Nov 7, 2013 - 04:59pm PT
From what I understand Reardon up and down soloed the first 3 pitches a few times and had looked at all the pitches via telescope. Not sure if he talked to people about specific beta.

I've climbed a bunch of the long 5.11 and 5.12 routes that Honnold has soloed and it blows my mind that he has done some of those pitches without a rope. I can understand that he is way stronger, and doesn't get pumped. What usually gets me is the insecure holdless climbing.

I can imagine Reardon soloing Romantic Warrior. He was a super strong dude and I expect that he trained specifically for RW doing huge days in the needles and made sure he was ready the style of climbing (stemming and laybacking). If strength/pump wasn't an issue you can just power layback or power through much of the route. The final sequence on the first 5.12 pitch is a little tricky, but mainly because you are pumped. I think only the 5.11++ has mandatory stemming and palming that would be scary while soloing. You also get a nice big ledge to sit on before the book of deception.

PS: Thanks V. You need to write some more TRs!! It has be great to hang out beyond the interwebz.

  Nov 7, 2013 - 02:51pm PT
Yeah Luke! Rad TR. What a proud line!

Get ur stem on yo!!! Just cuz u got big pipes don't mean u gotta layback everything :-)

I seem to remember u ignoring the stems on perspective at nightmare too!

Super cool dude, I gotta get some needles.

  Nov 7, 2013 - 02:56pm PT
thank you for the response

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Nov 7, 2013 - 04:09pm PT

Thanks for posting this, and fixin old bolts.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Nov 7, 2013 - 04:28pm PT
Gak, I don't remember hearing of Reardon's solo.

Some guys are not of the same planet as I......

Anyway, double congrats to the TR team!

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
  Nov 7, 2013 - 05:23pm PT
Great effort and thanks for the anchor service!
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Nov 7, 2013 - 05:26pm PT
Cool report!
Mad props for the rebolting work.
handsome B

Gym climber
  Nov 7, 2013 - 06:03pm PT
thanks for the hard work rebolting
Johnny K.

  Nov 7, 2013 - 10:40pm PT
Awesome stuff Luke!Very inspiring.

Big Wall climber
  Nov 7, 2013 - 10:53pm PT
Cool story & photos! I failed to bring a camera on this gem of a route so I never had any photos of the Book Of Deception or any other pitches on R.W.. That being said, I always found the B.O.D. to be a bit grainy/ licheny and tough to protect without any fixed gear. I remember that two of the best & strongest granite climbers on the face of the earth, who shall remain nameless, got shutdown twice on R.W.. Greg Epperson went out there with this team twice & both times, they failed to make a clean ascent of the B.O.D., which later on, led myself & others to seriously question whether Michael Reardon (RIP brother!) had indeed free soloed it. I found it to be insecure & too grainy/loost to even contemplate soloing it. Nowadays, I hear tales of honed parties cruising it in an easy day. Standards keep on rising & the climbing up there is spectacular!

Well done!

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
  Nov 7, 2013 - 11:04pm PT
Summer before last a team from Canmore did the Warrior and Don Juan in a day, and Ankles Away and Pyromania the next. I was there. The times they are a changing.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 9, 2013 - 09:31pm PT
Way to go!!,
Those were some scary looking old bolts you pulled , great job!!!!

  Nov 10, 2013 - 07:51am PT
Thanks a ton for this one Luke. Super stoked in my lazy hour. Pics, the read, the determination and the willingness to do some work for all of us is quite inspiring to me. Well done!!!

Bob J.

  Nov 10, 2013 - 09:16am PT
wow Luke. good job for sending, that thing is gnarly.. awesome replacement work!!
looking forward to going back and maybe have a better chance and check out the Sea. That thing looks rad.

thanks for all the work and the tr.


  Nov 11, 2013 - 07:33pm PT
you gotta go back. that was NOT the first pitch start. seriously. you are too far too the left.


Trad climber
Mountain View
Author's Reply  Nov 12, 2013 - 01:45pm PT
Thanks for all the comments. A great pair of routes!

The book of deception is still a little grainy as are a few of the other dihedrals. Good to hear they have cleaned up over time!

EC, my internet humor meter is off. Are you rly serious? Perhaps you could start FURTHER to the left... I don't think you could start up to the right...


Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Nov 12, 2013 - 01:49pm PT
Thanks for the write up!

Looks hard on the fingers

Trad climber
  Nov 12, 2013 - 03:07pm PT
tx for the tr--

and the replacement work. sea looks amazing

Trad climber
Mountain View
Author's Reply  Nov 14, 2013 - 07:46pm PT
Looking up at Pitch 1 of Romantic Warrior
Looking up at Pitch 1 of Romantic Warrior
Credit: cultureshock

Another few shots.

Solid shoe shot of Sea of Tranquility
Solid shoe shot of Sea of Tranquility
Credit: cultureshock

A big thanks to Greg Barnes and the ASCA for providing the hardware to re-bolt Sea of Tranquility
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Nov 15, 2013 - 05:55am PT
Holy crap that looks like it was fun
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Nov 15, 2013 - 09:12am PT
What a beautiful place. Great tr. I hope to make it there some day.
Josh Higgins

Trad climber
San Diego
  Nov 15, 2013 - 10:18am PT
Luke, I don't remember if I asked you this before, but did you get all the moves clean on Sea of Tranquility? I'm wondering if it's worth attempting as a lead in the future. When I got on it, TRing down from the ledge on RW, there was at least one move that my partner and I couldn't do. I was pretty fit, and my buddy was running laps on Pyromania and Equinox on lead. I found SoT MUCH MUCH harder than the advertised "5.11+" in the guidebook.


Trad climber
Monrovia, California
  Nov 15, 2013 - 03:46pm PT
Josh, The Moser, Vernon, Paul guide gives the Sea .12b.

beneath the valley of ultravegans
  Nov 15, 2013 - 06:30pm PT
"...running laps on Pyromania and Equinox" ~That's a new index of bad ass!

Trad climber
Mountain View
Author's Reply  Nov 18, 2013 - 01:06pm PT

I think that 12b or 12c would be a more reasonable grade. All the moves were done by my partner or both of us.

First two pitches are pretty reasonable no harder than 11a or b. The next two step it up a lot.

This photo shows the intro moves to the first crux of P3. There is a 5.12 section lower down on fragile holds but the final moves going to the anchor were the hardest, IMO. I did all the moves here, but didn't link them. Ben linked more sections than I did. Sport shoes are helpful here since the holds are pretty good but the feet poor.

On the next pitch, the fourth, there was one section where I fell off a few times and then pulled through. Ben did these moves but fell at least once or twice on that pitch. Seems like one or two 5.12 slab sections. The hand holds are also brittle here and the rock is kinda grainy. So all the moves were done, but the pitch was not done clean.

I think that it is worth going for the lead. The first two pitches are super fun and then third is a pump fest. The last one has some great movement after the bolts run out climbing up some thin seams with small gear and micronuts for pro.

A single rack from 00 TCU to #2 camalot should work. I think you need at least that much gear for P1 of Romantic Warrior. Micronuts would also be useful for the 4th pitch of Sea of Tranquility. I also added some other pitch by pitch beta to

Trad climber
  Nov 21, 2013 - 11:35am PT
Cool report Luke.
Thank you very much for the public service with the bolts. These two routes are two of the most interesting routes in the state, in one of the best climbing areas anywhere in my opinion.

  Nov 21, 2013 - 12:39pm PT
Josh, The Moser, Vernon, Paul guide gives the Sea .12b.

Kris, the topo in the Vernon guide on page #114, shows the two crux pitches on Sea of Tranquility as "11+". I always figured that the 12b rating was if you continued up the big corner on R.W. that is rated 12b. I've never been on either one though.

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
  Nov 21, 2013 - 06:06pm PT
Worthy, BBST

A friends backyard with the neighbors wifi
  Nov 21, 2013 - 08:52pm PT
Great TR guys, thanks for sharing pictures. Can't wait to climb this route, been waiting for years...

Trad climber
Clovis, CA
  Nov 22, 2013 - 02:00pm PT
Much thanks Luke! Gonna give those bolts a good workout.
Do you think the lower approach is the better option now?
Myles Moser

Lone Pine, Ca
  Dec 1, 2013 - 09:46pm PT
I read this awhile back, but now it's time to bring up and front... Climbing rocks!

Trad climber
Mountain View
Author's Reply  Dec 3, 2013 - 01:16pm PT
Thanks for all the comments and the bump Myles!

I would say the rap in approach from the Witch/Warlock notch is the fastest but requires you have two 60m ropes. This is also most logical if climbing other routes on the Witch, Sorcerer, etc.

You scramble up near the Howling up about 80 feet of 4th class and traverse around to the other side. The last move getting to the anchor is airy!

The first rap is 30m, then you scramble down a few hundred feet and traverse skiers right to a rap station. A few 4th class moves up a slick slab leads to two good bolts.

The second rap is 40m and make sure you keep a little swing going. The last rap station is on a small ledge.

The final rap is a FULL 60m and mostly free-hanging (see photo in the TR) to a small ledge from which you can downclimb through trees to the ground. Double 70m would get you to the ground.

I still haven't done the approach from the lower road.

Have fun!!

Trad climber
  Dec 3, 2013 - 02:36pm PT
Great work!! I await a trip report(with pics)of The Nautilus. You look like the team to get'er done.

Trad climber
Osteoarthritis Shouldervile
  Mar 26, 2016 - 09:12am PT
Spring is here and the Warrior awakens.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Mar 26, 2016 - 10:18am PT
Great report. Closest I've gotten is the South Face of Warlock. Sitting atop the Pedestal, waiting for a slow party in front of us, gives one a great opportunity to scope that amazing wall.

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
  Mar 26, 2016 - 01:23pm PT
Replacing the bolts on Sea of Tranquility is a really big contribution to the area. And not an insignificant amount of work. My hat is off to you, and I hope everyone understands the value of this contribution. Thanks guys!

Trad climber
  Mar 26, 2016 - 03:10pm PT
I remember encountering similar questionable studs and strange hangars further down the mountain. They were scary even on an easy route. Well done on the bolt replacement.

This statement is pretty jawdropping in my opinion based on my experience......

Summer before last a team from Canmore did the Warrior and Don Juan in a day, and Ankles Away and Pyromania the next. I was there. The times they are a changing.

Trad climber
  Mar 26, 2016 - 03:27pm PT
Went to the needles twice solo. Scared the jeebus out of me.

Nice TR.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Mar 26, 2016 - 03:34pm PT
Wow.....great job!

right here, right now
  Mar 26, 2016 - 05:02pm PT
Luke wrote:
I can't stop the weekend from approaching.

Super, super fun reading about the details of this route.

I was around during the time of the FFA. I knew it was just too hard for me to try to on-sight, and that's what we were all about at the time. But it always hung out there on the long list.

The bolt replacement on Sea of Tranquility was much needed. Good job, Luke.

I don't mind being broken and getting old and eventually dying so much, it is all part of the deal.
but threads like this remind me that I still want more life!

Thanks for the reportage!
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