Hermit Spire, South Face. An interesting edifice of nature highlights the rolling subalpine hills west of the Little Kern River, closely north of Lloyd Meadows (several miles north of The Needles). Its base is shaped like a typical Sierra dome, but about 600 feet higher its walls slenderize to form a crest-like spire. Dan McHale and I spent Nov. 29 and 30, 1969 climbing the south face, which had to be reached by some cross-country effort. The climbing was spectacular but with a rough (unglaciated) surface of minute horns, hollows, knobs, and spikes. We began up a chimney and jam-crack system that brought some early strenuous moves to the climb. After three pitches and some awkward moments, the route eased through some zigzag ledges to the base of the face’s principal feature: a great dihedral system that carried up to a platform just east of the thin summit crown. First there was delightful face climbing to its right, then a full pitch–mostly a dog-leg crack–hanging onto the dihedral. A pitch of semi-overhanging bonging provided some workmanlike aid maneuvers.
From the platform a smooth face on the left (very small holds) went to the crest of the south arête. In a biting wind and approaching darkness we climbed an awkward aid route on the frontal-right corner of the summit tower. There was no sign of an earlier visit, and the rappel down the “back” led us to believe Hermit had not been climbed before our visit. NCCS IV, F8, A3.
Stan Searfus was a surf legend and mentor to our community, father of six, and had a Fred Beckey sense of adventure. He died of a heart attack while surfing this past winter.
Stan had asked to do a route with me and Mike a year ago- He was in our thoughts.
You catch a brief glimpse of the Hermit, through the trees from a saddle driving in on a narrow forest road. Holding fast to it's namesake the Hermit is literally cloaked by the more renown Needles, a few miles to the South. The lonely formation is perched above the Freeman Creek drainage to the South and the Kern River Valley to the East.
Gary, Mike and I left San Diego at 7pm, drove in shifts though the night and pulled in to Quaking Aspen at 2am.
After 3 hours of sleep we rambled up to the West Face for a day of zombie cragging. Kris was nice enough to check with one of the original developers, (Mark Robinson) for the condition of the hardware. We found the bolts to be generally in good condition.
Some of you may know Gary, he is one of the most humble and generally cool guys around. I call him the Peruvian Mummy- at 64, he requires no water and just get tougher with age- he still pulls on 11's.
6 years ago Gary was stupid....I mean nice enough to help teach Mike and I to climb- we were 46 at the time.
Mike and I have been best buds since 1st grade. We played football, surfed, partied, traveled and created mayhem together ever since...I never thought we would be climbing partners. Mike was a punishing All-League defensive end and fullback in our home town of Coronado. A good fullback protects your blindside and moves the ball downfield every touch- So it goes with Mike's climbing- reliable and tough.
I'd be remiss not to mention my Mom and Stepdad (Alpha Squad). My Stepdad, was a Navy Frogman/Seal and served 3 or 4 tours in Vietnam, so to keep the folks active and out of trouble we usually send them in early to reconnoiter and establish an advanced camp. He has a special skill of making contact with the "friendlies" and gathering valuable intel- this is usually the camp host and we can count on preferred treatment throughout our stay.
Ron (pictured on the left) is a local climber, artist and cowboy poet and has become a special friend to our family. On our visits over the last 4 years, Ron has toured us around the Needles and Dome Rock and shown us some very special places and things. Unfortunately he couldn't join us on our climbing activities this trip- it was nice to catch up though.
Due to red wine, beer and a few pipe loads the night before, we got a gentleman's start on Saturday morning for our approach to climb the South Face.
After walking a few hundred yards though a few open spots and a couple of patches of trees the cairns will lead you on a long traverse up and to the left. We did much trail work on our two days of walking the trail.
We racked up on the notch saddle, left our packs and headed down the steep gully towards the toe of the formation.
Look for this splitter as you scramble up the recess- it marks the start. Much of the beta describes climbing the dirty cracks to the right of the splitter....why? The splitter is 10 something and protects well, just make sure after about 15 feet you exit and stem across to gain the ledge to the next crack system.
The vegetated chimney on the second section of the first pitch was a little more strenuous and run-out than I expected but solid kick-stepping in the ferns helped immensely.
To save time, Mike and I swapped leads and fixed a tag line for Gary to follow on a TR solo rig-this worked well. I had burned through my large gear by the time I got to the ledge at the base of the second pitch but a chockstone at my feet worked fine (a #4 and #3 would have been nice here).
The second pitch has many options but I believe the easier climbing is out on the face to the right of the cracks. A well placed Big Bro by Mike tamed down the run-out here.
Mike pulled up to a huge ledge and slung a big boulder to set the belay for the third pitch. This pitch involved some scrambling up a short face and loose blocks, left towards the massive dihedral. A couple of exposed zigzags up ledge system lands you at the base of the dihedral and a perfect hand crack start.
What can I say, pitch 4 was amazing!
Pitch 5 was fantastic as well with slung knobs and a tricky blind placement. After the angle of the dihedral backs off and you find yourself walking on the east edge of the dome, the dogleg crack appears on your left. There is a nice comfy belay right at the base of the start of pitch 6- this is marked by a thin horizontal seam about 8 feet off the deck.
To start pitch 6, move up and though the seam to gain the dogleg corner crack.
The dogleg will eventually trend up and right, though some blocks and along a walk-way with a short wall on your left side- soon you will see the summit block. Step up and left onto the flat patio and setup a belay.
For pitch 7 there are a few options to the summit block. Gary went to the right side of the tower and lead through an airy traverse that protected very well. After 25 feet of traversing under a roof, a nice angling lay-back crack with solid finger locks lead Gary to the summit and a bolted belay.
From the summit belay bolts, you walk to the north end of the summit block where you will find a couple of rap bolts. From here it's a 30 meter rap to the notch and a few steps to your packs.
Is the Hermit Spire a Needle- yes!
Alpha Squad (Mom and Dad) had hot grub when we returned to camp- thanks for being there!
No Needles trip is complete without a TR session on get-away day in the Amphitheater at Dome Rock.
Then followed by a cold beer and a bath at Nobe Young Falls.
Pitch 1. 160
Pitch 2. 110
Pitch 3. 110
Pitch 4. 160
Pitch 5. 200
Pitch 6. 180
Pitch 7. 100
1- set of medium to large nuts
a few aliens
1- set of doubles to #4
It seemed that #4's and #3's were handy at the belays so having extras would have been nice- we didn't have extras and much of the territory requires wide stuff and although the climbing is not too hard the pitches are long.
a big bro in the 8" range was nice