Rated R Climbs and Rated Fun Climbs: The Needles & Dome Rock

It was going to be a mountaineering-in-Utah kind of weekend, but last minute (after looking at the weather conditions and understanding the mountain we were headed to may be more of a hike than snow mountaineering) we opted to stay local, and go climbing with some friends in The Needles instead. 

This place is pretty close to home for us located in the Sequoia National Forest , but I've never been before. It's more of the real deal when it comes to trad climbing, and we are just starting to get a bit better at it. We went with a big group, but I forgot my camera, so we only took a few with Michael's phone, and ironically didn't grab any with our group.

Saturday morning began bright and early, 5am, with a long approach hike into the Needles toward the old fire lookout tower (that many people were out doing a day hike to). The fire lookout tower is on the formation known as The Magician, which is where Michael and I were headed.

Once we reached the tower though, we continued along the side of the mountain for some easy soloing until we reached the other side of The Magician where we would be climbing on the east face on a route called Poof (5.7 R).

This route was recommended to us by a friend, and we hadn't done much research prior to the climb. I wasn't sure what trad climbing in The Needles would be like so I let Michael start us out. Unfortunately the first pitch was probably the only pitch till the end I would feel comfortable leading, so Michael ended up leading the whole thing. He's a beast, and he did awesome.

Below is a picture I borrowed from mountain project, but it shows a good visual of our route. I drew in the blue line because I think we did a slight variation of what the picture shows.

The route was 4-5 pitches long. we brought some food, and 1 liter of water to share.

Pitch 1: This was the kind of crack that has flakes sticking out of it, and it was an easy climb to the first belay which was at a tree. I'm not sure how much I'd trust all the placements since they were resting between flakes, but the climb is simple enough. There are good feet the whole way up. We set our anchor around the tree.

Below we are looking up beta for the second pitch on mountain project, and I am sitting at the belay.

Pitch 2: We were told this pitch would have a bit of a runout. We thought this was the only rated R pitch. Heading directly up from the belay was about 30 feet of slab climbing to the first bolt, but there were plenty of juggy handholds and good feet. A little more slab climbing to some trad placements. The crux of the pitch was at the end where you had to make some delicate slab moves to the 2nd belay station. Not as bad as we thought it would be. Michael did fantastic. We set a trad anchor here. It was a little creepy because it was a hanging belay on a trad anchor, but 3 pieces of gear ought to be redundant enough.

The view...

Pitch 3: Pitch 3 is where things got hairy. The route wasn't straight forward and we opted to traverse left and then head up. The gear placement options were limited and not very good. The crux is a protruding lip overhang that you have to maneuver your body over. The move wasn't so bad, actually kind of fun. The not so fun part about it was that the last gear placement was 20 or so ft away and was a tiny crappy crack pocket. This was not a good place to fall. Michael did an awesome job leading this one. Following his lead I kept shaking my head thinking, oh my god, I would've been freaking out on this. After the lip there was a bit of slab climbing until you reach the next crack to place gear in... a potential 30-40 ft. fall if you make a mistake. Michael set up a trad anchor on the horizontal crack.

We were happy to see each other at the belay. Hoping the run outs were over.

Rated R climbs are not really our thing, but I'm happy to be climbing with someone that has great composure and confidence. I hope to get some more of that the more I climb with him. :)

Pitch 4: From belay 3 we climbed a little right until we saw a hand sized crack. This crack looks more intimidating than it is. It appears to "disappear" in spots, but there are little pockets where you can reach, then you connect up and left and maneuver into a little alcove. Then we climbed out of the alcove onto the top of the route, where micheal set up a final trad anchor. 

There is a pitch 5 variation where you can climb up an off-width crack, but we had enough spice in our day and opted to look for the rappel station to get off The Magician.  I'm sure most people could solo down to the rappel station, but we pitched it out as a final pitch. The rappel rings are to the left of the tower if you face it at the top of Poof. It took only one rappel on a 70m rope. 

Unfortunately, we were now on the opposite side of the Magician and had left all of our shoes and packs at the bottom of the climb where we started. We had to hike/solo climb all the way back around to get our stuff, and some more water because we ran out.

We were tired after this. So we started the long hike back to camp after the climb. It took us most of the day to finish with all the hiking. Got back to camp around 5pm maybe.

We were the first group back to camp and we gorged on some chips, beer, and candy. Then we passed out for an hour or so until the rest of the group came back.

We swapped war stories, cooked some food, drank more beer, listened to  Alex play guitar, and then off to sleep.

Not interested in doing the approach hike into the Needles again, we decided to go to Dome Rock to climb the classic Tree Route (5.6) multi pitch route that I have never done before.

This has a much easier approach (down hike) to the base of the dome. This climb was lovely.

Pitch 1: Nice crack to lieback on up to a set of bolts.

Pitch 2: Another nice crack that is consistent and long. There are features on the face for your feet, but I found myself getting really tired toward the end of the pitch. We belayed at this sort of triangle block in the wall.

Pitch 3: A bigger crack, we could've used some number 4's for this one, but it was pretty easy and short. It lead to another set of bolts for the 3rd belay.

Pitch 4: Slab climbing to a bolt, and then more slab climbing to a lip that has a piece of protection in a crack below it, and then more slab climbing to the top... where you basically are walking upright at the end. Michael belayed me up the 4th pitch from a tree at the top. We had a 70m rope.

The picture below is creepy of me, but it has a good view of The needles where we were the day before.

My hero.

Maaannnnn. I didn't lead anything this weekend... trad still scares me because I'm not as confident in cracks, BUT, I really want to lead tree route next time we  come out to do it. I had a blast on it. As far as the rated R climbs go, I'll try to avoid those.

We drove home and stuffed our faces with burgers and fries.

Another great weekend. Another reason to love it here in California.