Trip ReportTwo December days at THE NEEDLES
or more specifically... at Demon Dome & on the route 'White Punks on Dope'.
Heralded as a (southern .. ish?) California classic ... and nestled in the wilderness area my older brother had been taking me since long before I began pursuing climbing... the route seemed perfect as a way to help me gain confidence and prepare myself for my list of hopeful summer sends I had made during the winter and spring of this past year...
Taking my first lap up it this summer at the end of May with a relative newbie, I found it super pleasant, straightforward, beautiful, rewarding, and then some. Sneaking two more laps up it after a long summer & alpine season, both in December- unveiled new characteristics of this rock and this region to me... that it gets quite snowy up there... that it can be cold, and slick when moisture abounds... and that in general the needles aren't meant to be messed with 'out of season'.
The first visit, on December (3rd?) wen't something like this...
Hit up a homie whom I'd climbed whitney (east face) with in late September and ask if he'd be down to meet up for one more rock-send. Convincing each other that the snow wouldn't have made it all the way to that southern of the sierra and figure if it did, it'd be about two inches of crust and maybe some seep and nothing more...
Let me credit some of the HYPE we had about going to Kristian Solem - who's new guidebook really shows how much labor, love, and talent went in to all the other amazing, and STEEP routes in this wonderful area. It can be purchased here: http://kdanielspublishing.com/new/
We were mere mortals trying to survive a lap up the lowest dome and the friendliest route...
sidelined by an unexpected road-closure (he was coming from the north and I the south) we had to convene in Kernville (using ESP, no cell service : ) and postpone our objective by one day. This was kindof nice and we got to warm up a bit at the kernville slabs, a lap on 'the lieback' (my first ever trad lead 2 years ago) and i made the 10d 'initiation crack' for the first time, with the help of a bouldering pad I lugged up to the slabs... lapping it on TR had me more confident in my fingerlocking.
as we approached camp for the night, it became apparent that it was much snowier... and more icy than we had expected. Looking back, it probably would have made sense to not freeze our asses off up there but camp in kernville and finish the drive in the morning. Beautiful seclusion though, and the stars were as bright as ever, with a few good shooters passing.
Here are the photos. I didn't color/process them, but they are film scans I'll give them some love & care eventually <3
the approach was accomplished by following deer-tracks, which seemingly were working there way up and out of the now snow-covered valley to find the sunnyer western slopes. Situating where to take off from fot the P1 start became more complicated with the snow... and the delays had us a little behind, and concerned for temps & conditions ahead. Luckily I followed p1 this time (convincing my friend it'd be best for him to not miss a chance at leading it) and while following some snow / ice chunks rained down at random intervals. We should have known to expect some seepage or ice up high . . . on the next visit I'd bring a tagline in case of the need to bail. moving up the rock was super sticky, and conditions were great.
it wasn't until the p4 lieback that things started getting touchy...
Long story short, my friend Jared pulled some hero maneuvers to ensure we wouldn't have to bail. As he got up past the p4 dihedral, to where you have to do a bit of an undercling / under-palm and traverse under a buldge, then lie-back the big/gaped/flared final 5.6 for 30-feet but with no gear type moves... he let me know that he was encountering some ice...
Sh#t, I thought... It'll be a bitch and a half to lower down from here with one rope and the daylight that we've got right now... I said some silent prayers that he would manage to pull through. He told me that the feet were 'really slick' and that there was thin ice (route pun : ) and he wasn't sure if he'd make it. I gave my best motivational speech, and he went for it... slipping a foot and taking a bit of a swinging fall into the dihedral. He hit back-first but luckily had alot of warm layers on. On the next try i told him from below to try to step really wide, around and past the ice, and see if he could make it.
luckily Jared is quite strong, and tall... and he pulled through. What followed (the runout section) was nothing short of legendary. by the time I got up following, I realized not only was the step-across-the-ice serious, it was about 3 feet wide... once you got past it- thin ice covered where the slabby 'feet' usually are for the entire runout section. He managed it slowly but surely, with his feet way further left- an odd off-angle lieback thing that kicked the difficulty way up. Let your feet get anywhere close to the feature or where they normally would go- and you'd pitch off and be on a serious sled-ride.
the views were stupendous, the day still. The rap-off had a nice 2+ feet of snow on it, and made for a cool BC ski esque rap-off, and plenty of thigh deep postholing during the walk down. following more winding deer-prints through the snow we made it back to the car. The snow actually made the walk-off a bit more pleasant. The trip back to LA would be long. I slept from about 11pm to midnight outside of a gas station before committing to the rest of the way. Thanks Jared for the memories we wont soon forget.
VISIT TWO: December 13th
another homie who's friendship i solidified over a mid-summer send of Charlotte dome in splendid conditions. I had a feeling the snow would have melted and that this would be a calmer, dryer version... with an earlier start, and a less snowy walk-off... We did it as a one-day trip from LA.
well, the walkoff was less-snowy... but the day was a bit colder. a high near 50, and heavy moisture passing through, with the chance of precip reaching 33% by 1pm. The plan was to be ontop by 1. Sadly being the gumby that I am, I'm rarely ahead of schedule. The p4 corner was nice and cold by the time we reached it around 2:30, and only getting colder. Luckily there was no ice, just heady winds... cold fingers... and the worry that if it poured on us while we got ready to send the p5 slab that we might be a bit stranded.. or at least have to find our way to a rap down.
pushing on we were rewarded with fun and challenging winds on the slab... and a moment of complete 'swallowed-upness' on the p4 dihedral as the clouds coming over the ridgeline swarmed through and finally touched and swallowed the dome, though It was only for mere moments. I'll never forget having to lay-flat on my stomach on the slab between bolts when the winds would pick up... choosing little windows between the approaching gusts and clouds to make my moves.
On top we were graced by the godly winds of the approaching winter... the wonderful and ephermal shapes of birthing and dying clouds, and the sidey sun that you get when approaching the solstice. All the snow that had fallen weeks earlier seemed to be steamed up into moisture in the air, a whole different feel than just two weeks prior. The walk off ended up being more strenuous with less snow... and my angry partner kept cursing his loose and beat up salomon trailrunners as he mashed toes and stubbed heels the whole way down the walkoff.. his tennies beat from way too many SPS missions in them...
We could feel the conditions... the whole area becoming more threatening with the approaching winter. I understood why they close those gates, and the road above dome rock- which as seen from the route looked like a safety risk- someone walking to the top who slips and continues to sled over the bowling-ball edge of the inviting crown. I won't bore you with more elaborate details from the second send, but it was another timeless blessing of fun and expansion, and a fitting end to the rock-season.
I took these photos on ISO 400 & then 100 film.
Thank you all for protecting our natural spaces and keeping these areas sacred.
Please be safe out there...
Time to hole up for the winter, get some work done... and train <3
PS - if you want to see higher-resolution versions, glance here:
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