Monday, June 20th, 2005

Climbing at the Needles

Man, that was the best climbing trip I’ve ever been on!

When I think about this weekend’s trip to the Needles, I somehow have a cartoon of Hamid bubbling out those words with excitement. They are my words, but they sound best coming out of Hamid’s mouth — if you know him, you’ll know what I mean.

I rendezvoused with Allen, Jesse, Chris, and Hamid in Livemore and joined them in the worst traffic I’d ever witnessed in the Bay Area. The cause was unknown to us, but the consequence was visible when we finally drove by the scene — a van smashed and burned down to its bare skeletons piling on the side of the highway. By the time we reached the Needles, it was almost two in the morning. Jeremy from Kansas City, the reason for Allen, Jesse, and Chris to make this trip out there, and Alex from LA, with whom I climbed at Indian Creek, were already there sound asleep.

Day One, June 18:

Since Jeremy enthusiastically suggested it, we packed up all our camping gear, climbing gear, food and water, and started marching in to a camping spot three miles away from the car. It might have sounded simple, but almost took us two or three hours to get ready — after all, we were going to spend three days and two nights on the supply we carried on our back. I weighed my backpack at home with all the gear without water — 60 pounds. Sweet, as a hardcore climber would probably say. One mile later on a fairly flat trail and one inch shorter under the influence of the gravity, I had started regretting bringing the Jetboil stove. I spent the remaining of the hike dreaming of throwing stuff out of my pack to keep my mind off of the battle with the top heavy backpack (that will teach me) that constantly threatened to tip itself over and drag me down with it. The endeavor was rewarded with a nice camping area with a nice view of the snow capped mountains in a distance. We pitched tents and caught our breaths, and then broke into smaller teams and headed out to our different destinations for the rest of the afternoon. Alex, Hamid, and I got on Yellow Brick Road (5.9, two pitches) on West Face of Wizard Needle, and flirted with Valley Guy (5.10a) and Lady of the Needles (5.7/5.8) on West Face of Charlaton Needle. After dinner, I pulled out the package of double chocolate cookies that I secretly carried in my backpack (Oh, I never thought of throwing those out even at the toughest moment of the hike in) and couldn’t help but announce that it was my birthday. Five seconds later, the Happy Birthday to Mei song roared from the mountains as high as the bright moon — imagine, five hardcore climbers put their energy in singing in harmony. What could be better?

We are hardmen and Mei!
(From left) Jeremy, Jesse, Chris, Mei, Allen, Hamid.

Don’t you agree?

Day Two, June 19:

Since Alex went back out last night to meet his friends, Erika and Clint, from the Bay Area, the six of us who stayed re-grouped into three teams. I decided not to let down my partner, Jesse, who somehow got stuck with me for that day. We had our mind on nothing else but the classics in the Needles. The 6-pitch White Punks on Dope (5.8/5.9) on Voodoo Dome was the first one on our list. The approach started with a steep and long descent. Driven by the momentum, we plummeted (in control though) about 400 feet further down than the base of the climb and had to scramble back up through the bushes, but it went fairly quickly. Another party beat us to the base by a few seconds, but they kindly let us go first. I’m not sure if that was because they knew we were not stoppable when they looked into our eyes. Jesse took the first pitch and we swung lead. The six pitches were soon below us. When we topped out, the other party were out of our sight and earshot. With enough day light left, we decided to tame Igor Unchained (5.9) on the West Face of Witch Needle, and it soon fell to our control just as expected.

What could be a better setting for yoga?

Hamid and Jeremy in sync.

Jeremy slacklines high at 8000 ft elevation. Does this make it highlining?

Chris on Airy Interlude.

Mei on the sixth pitch of White Punks on Dope.

Mei on the third pitch of Igor Unchained.

Day Three, June 20:

It would be a short day because most of us needed to pack out and return to our various jobs the next day. While Jeremy, Jesse, Chris, and Hamid decided to go have fun with the Magician (5.8), Allen decided to take on the challenge of 4-pitch Atlantis (5.11 b/c/d depending on which topo you look at) on the East Face of Sorcerer and handpicked me as his follower. I failed to talk him into doing another less intimidating route, but the climb turned out to be very enjoyable despite my two falls at the beginning and the end of the liebacking crux section. We did the climb fast enough for Allen to run up and stand (emphasis on STAND) on top of Lady of the Needles before we called it a day.

Experiences had taught me that a perfect climbing trip had to have some sort of epics involved. Sure enough, Allen and I got hopelessly lost on our hike out to meet the other guys waiting at the car. Maybe if I hadn’t changed my long pants into shorts, we would have stayed on the trail fine and wouldn’t have had to go through all the terrible bushes. Eventually, after a long detour skirting the peaks and climbing some loose gully, we managed to get back on the trail back. At that moment, all I could say in between short breaths was “Oh, boy!” But of course, Hamid would have said “Man, that was so epic!”

Allen on first pitch of Atlantis.

Allen turns into a surfer on top of Lady of Needles.

I have a lot more cool photos from the trip. And They are only one click away. What are you waiting for?And there are even more cooler photos from Alex. My favorite is the fire lookout.