<-- Map of summer 2017
     climbing roadtrip 
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JULY
1-6
2017
Category: California
Trip Report #: 245
Partners: Dow Williams & Danny Urioste
Rock Type: Granite
Elev: ~8,000 ft
A Week at THE NEEDLES
Climb 1: South Face Route, Hermit Spire (5.8+, 6p, 950')
Climb 2: Tobin's Dihedral, Dome Rock (5.10+, 1p, 160')
Climb 3: Arch Bitch-Up, Dome Rock (5.8, 3p, 450')
Climb 4: Airy Interlude, The Witch (5.10a, 3p, 400')
Climb 5: Imaginary Voyage, The Warlock (5.9, 4p, 600')
Climb 5.5: The Howling Pitch 1 (original line), The Warlock (5.9, 1p, 160')
Climb 6: Fancy Free, The Charlatan (5.10b, 3p, 400')
Climb 7: Spooky, The Charlatan (5.9, 2p, 175')
Climb 8: South Face w/ S Crack start variation, The Warlock (5.9+, 8p, 800')
Climb 9: Igor Unchained, The Witch (5.9, 4p, 400')
Climb 10: S Crack, The Warlock (5.10, 7-8p, 800')
Climb 11: Yellow Brick Road, The Wizard (5.9, 3p, 300')
Climb 12: Summit spire aka Our Lady of the Needles, The Charlatan (5.7, 1p, 45')
My first trip to The Needles. This might be my new favorite place to climb.
The Wizard, The Sorcerer, The Magician (behind), The Charlatan as seen from high on The Witch.
The Witch and The Warlock as seen from top of The Wizard.

INTRO

For the first week of July, I joined my friends Dow and Danny for 6 days of climbing in The Needles. The Needles are a group of granite spires that stand watch atop a narrow ridge that sits high over the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest in southern California. This is a climber's paradise: perfect rock, beautiful scenery, reasonable summer temperatures (due to higher elevation), minimal crowds, and adventure in abundance. With names such as The Warlock, The Witch, The Sorcerer, the area has an aura of mystery. The climbing at the Needles is known to be stout at the grade, and there are few easy routes and many hard routes. This was my first time climbing in The Needles, and it most certainly will not be my last. It might be my new favorite place to climb.

I climbed a dozen awesome routes over the course of the 6 days, sometimes climbing as a group of three and sometimes climbing with just Danny on Needles classics that Dow had already climbed. We spent a day each at Hermit Spire and Dome Rock, and then the next four days climbing in Needles proper. Below is a list of routes we climbed, linked to their photos and color-coded by formation (we climbed multiple routes on some formations).

PHOTOS

CLIMB 1 - JULY 1 
(/w Dow & Danny & Joanne)
South Face Route on Hermit Spire (5.8+, 6 pitches, 950')
This classic route climbs the most prominent feature on Hermit Spire: a gigantic dihedral rising up the south face.
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1. It takes about 20 minutes to hike from the end of the road to the notch beside Hermit Spire.
2. The notch on the west side of Hermit Spire. Hermit Spire has much more prominence on its south side than on its north side. To get to the South Face Route, we descended about 500 feet along the west side. Then you climb back up to the summit, with a very short descent back to the notch. Leave any extra gear at the notch since the descent comes right back to here.
3. Descending around the west side of the spire to the base of the route.
4. Dow starting up Pitch 1. The start to the route cannot be seen from below but it is fairly obvious when you get there. The splitter hand crack in the photo is called The Hand Crack and is rated 10a.
5. Pitch 2. You can climb it as an offwidth or use face and flake features (at least the left side, which is the side we climbed).
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We discovered that the left side can be protected by small- to medium-sized cams in a flake feature on the left wall. Otherwise, a #6 would probably work. 
7. Looking up the awesome dihedral that forms Pitches 4/5 in the guidebook (we had linked Pitch 2 with 3, so the dihedral was actually our 3rd and 4th pitches). 
8. Dow climbing the dihedral.
9. The last bit of the dihedral involved some of the more burly moves of the route, perhaps the 5.8+ part of the route. It might be possible to climb the entire dihedral with a 70m rope, but it would have been a rope-stretcher and there was a nice belay about 215 feet up the dihedral, so that is where I belayed. 
10. Hex in the corner where I set my belay.
11. The easier terrain above the dihedral. (Photo by Dow.) 
12. The dogleg crack of Pitch 6.
13. There are a few ways to surmount the summit block: a 5.10 offwidth around left (guidebook said it was around right which is a typo), a 5.10 on the prow, and a 5.6 around to the right. The prow looked a bit hard to protect, so we went around right, looking for the offwidth. Not finding the offwidth (since it was actually around left), we went up the 5.6 crack.
14. Dow on top of the cool summit of Hermit Spire.
15. To descend from the summit block, make one 30m rappel on the north side to easy terrain. This anchor has 2 bolts.
16. A photo of Joanne and Danny on the top of Hermit Spire, a bit after Dow and I finished. 
It was fun to be able to climb with Dow, Danny, and Joanne as two teams of 2.
17. Joanne rappelling from the top of the spire. 
18. A cool mushroom.
19. Enjoying refreshments and shade back at the car. George was nice enough to save us a few beers.
20. Pepper, the Urioste's dog. He's getting up there in the years, but still quite peppy!


CLIMB 2 - JULY 2 (/w Danny & Dow)
Tobin's Dihedral on Dome Rock (5.10+, 1 pitch, 160')
Striking 200 foot tall dihedral. Bring 3 #5's and prepare for a laybacking/stemming/offwidthing workout.
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1. Approaching the base of Dome Rock in the morning light.
2. Dow starting the long lead up the dihedral...
3. Moving up....
4. And up.... (nice lead Dow).
5. Danny belaying at the base of the dihedral.
6. Looking down while toproping the dihedral. What an awesome pitch of climbing.



CLIMB 3 - JULY 2 (/w Danny & Dow)
Arch Bitch-Up on Dome Rock (5.8, 3 pitches, 450')
A great moderate route, featuring great interesting climbing: a thoughtful traverse, an offwidth/chimney, and featured slab.
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1. On the traverse of Pitch 1. Thoughtful for 5.8. (Photo by Danny Urioste.)
2. Danny nearing the top of Pitch 1, enjoying the Dome Rock knobs.
3. Dow heading up the Pitch 2 offwidth. It was nice to have a #4 and #5 for this.
4. The chimney at the top of Pitch 2. There is pretty good gear at the back.
5. A tied-off chickenhead for protection on Pitch 3. The flare is above.
6. Dow in the flare. It's a cool feature.
7. The slab climbing to the top (well, close to the top).
8. The final scramble to the top.
9. Lunch break on top of Dome Rock. The Needles proper are in the distance, obscured a bit by smoke from the Schaeffer forest fire.


CLIMB 4 - JULY 3 (/w Danny)
Airy Interlude on The Witch (5.10a, 3 pitches, 400')
A popular route to the top of The Witch, with a classic hand traverse pitch.
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1. Sunrise on the hike into the Needles. We hiked in early every day to beat the heat. 
2. This boulder alongside the trail is going to slide off eventually...

3. Stairs leading up to the old lookout site on top of The Magician.
4. The old lookout site on top of The Magician. Needles Fire Lookout Tower burned to the ground on July 28 2011 after an ember escaped from the tower’s wood-burning fireplace and landed on the structure’s wood-shingle roof.
5. The climbers trail goes around The Magician from the base of the stairs.
6. The climbers trail around The Magician.
7. A cool boulder. Looks like a giant dinosaur egg.
8. Climbers tend to leave packs at The Main Notch to avoid having to carry gear in and out every day.
9. Danny ready to tackle Pitch 1 of Airy Interlude.
10. Danny is climbing Pitch 1 of Airy Interlude on the left, and another climber is on Pitch 1 of Igor Unchained on the right. Both are popular moderate routes to the top of The Witch and share the same final pitch.
11. Looking up the nice steep corner crack that starts off Pitch 2 of Airy Interulde.
12. Looking down Pitch 2, just before making the wild hand traverse.
13. The hand traverse on Pitch 2.
14. Nearing the end of the hand traverse, where the route intersects Igor Unchained.
15. Danny at the top of Pitch 3 of Airy Interlude/Igor Unchained. I ended up linking Pitches 2 and 3, but I would not recommend this given the rope drag, running low on gear, and having to simulclimb about 20 feet.
16. Danny on the boulder problem to the summit of The Witch.
17. The cool bullet-shaped summit of The Warlock, as seen from the summit of The Witch.
18. The east faces of The Sorcerer and The Charlatan shining in the morning sun, as seen from the summit of The Witch.
19. Climbers on Pitch 2, taken from The Charlatan the next morning.


CLIMB 5 - JULY 3 (/w Dow & Danny)
Imaginary Voyage on The Warlock (5.9, 4 pitches, 600')
A nice route to the top of The Warlock featuring a variety of great 5.9 climbing on wonderfully featured rock.
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1. The descent to the base of the route.
2. Looking up Pitch 1.
3. Dow leading Pitch 1.
4. Danny enjoying Pitch 1. There are lots of features to make climbing fun.
5. Pitch 2, a mellow corner to a steeper crack and bucketed face to just below a chimney.
6. Looking down at Danny on the steep juggy face just below the belay.
7. Danny leading the chimney of Pitch. There are several jugs and features.
8. Dow starting off Pitch 4.
9. Steph starting the final short pitch to the top. This is actually part of Pitch 4 but Dow had stopped a bit short to make sure we were on the correct route. (Photo by Dow.)
10. The final bit to the summit is up an exposed arete. There are two options: a 2-bolt way further out on the arete (easier) or a 3-bolt way more back on the face (harder). I had led up the 2-bolt way.
 (Photo by Dow.)
11. At the rap anchor on the summit of The Warlock.
12. Rappelling from the summit of The Warlock. You either want a 70m rope or double ropes for these rappels.
12. Voodoo Dome as seen from The Warlock.


CLIMB 5.5 - JULY 3 (/w Danny)
The Howling Pitch 1 (original line) on The Warlock (5.9, 1 pitch, 160')
A 2-pitch climb up the NW shoulder of The Warlock and probably the easiest way to the summit (with a bit of exciting runout on the last pitch). We just did the first pitch.
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1. On the descent from The Warlock after climbing Imaginary Voyage, we rapped right down the Howling and ended up at the base of the route. So we decided to climb the first pitch. The 2nd pitch is apparently fantastic but quite runout so we opted not to climb that. The original line goes up the left crack system while the variation goes up the splitter crack about 30 feet to the right. We went up the original line. The splitter on the right looks pretty awesome though....
2. Danny starting up The Howling (original line). The original line is moderate climbing by Needles standards.
3. Danny at the top of the first pitch of The Howling (original line).
4. Looking up at Pitch 2. Fantastic exposure, but apparently only a few bolts in a hundred feet.
5. The perfectly-wedged chockstone at the top of Pitch 1 of The Howling. This is also the rap route from The Warlock.


CLIMB 6 - JULY 4 (/w Danny)
Fancy Free on The Charlatan (5.10b, 3 pitches, 400')
A high-quality crack climb to the top of The Charlatan featuring a steep and sustained layback/finger crack midway up.
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1. Fancy Free climbs up the middle of the east face of The Charlatan. This photo was taken from The Witch.
2. Looking up at Fancy Free from below.
3. Danny starting up Pitch 1.
4. Nice sustained 5.9 crack climbing on Pitch 1.
5. The sustained layback/finger crack on Pitch 2. This is a short pitch but the crux of the route.
6. The start of Pitch 3.
7. Halfway up Pitch 3, we went right when we should have gone left. We found a nice crack over to the right, though. Danny belayed shortly below the summit because of bad rope drag.
8-10. A powerful (but cool) finish to get to the top, if you go right as we did.
11. The cool summit spire of The Charlatan (aka Our Lady of the Needles). We did not have time to climb to the top since we had to meet up with Dow, but a couple of days later I climbed the 5.7 fingercrack to the top (scroll down this page for photos of that).
12. A tree on the side of The Sorcerer next to The Charlatan.



CLIMB 7 - JULY 4 (/w Danny)
Spooky on The Charlatan (5.9, 2 pitches, 175')
A short 2-pitch climb that has it all: slab, splitter hand crack, offwidth, and juggy face.
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1. Splitter hands on Pitch 1. I got to lead this pitch a couple of days later when we got our rope stuck on a horn while rapping Spooky to get to the Sorcerer-Charlatan notch.
2. Short but powerful offwidth at the start of Pitch 2.
3. Featured face to finish the route. There is gear if you look for it.
4. Great view of The Sorcerer from the top of Spooky.
5. Danny on the summit of The Charlatan. The shaded west face of The Witch is behind.
6. View of Spooky from top of The Sorcerer taken a couple of days later.



CLIMB 8 - JULY 4 (/w Dow & Danny)
South Face w/ S Crack start variation on The Warlock (5.9+, 8 pitches, 800')
An adventurous route with good climbing up interesting features and a psychological crux at a face traverse above the Pedestal. The S Crack start variation to the first 3 pitches adds some challenging and excellent chimney and stemming climbing.
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1. The 3rd class gully that brings you to the start of the S Crack. The standard start to the South Face route is about 50 feet left of this. We started on the S Crack route, planning to climb S Crack, but after Pitch 3 got onto the South Face route by accident and finished via the South Face. The climbing on the first three pitches of S Crack is very good and probably a bit harder than the first three pitches of South Face, so this provides a good variation to the South Face start. 
2. The chimney of Pitch 1 of S crack.
3. Pitch 2 of S Crack. Nothing special, but brings you to a nice belay ledge.
4. Pitch 3 of S Crack. This is an awesome pitch with wild 5.9 stemming.
5. We took a tempting crack off left halfway up Pitch 3 of S Crack and ended up at the belay at the top of Pitch 3 on the South Face. It would have required some sketchy downclimbing or a rappel to get back to the S Crack route, so we figured it best to just continue up the South Face route. We came back and climbed the entire S Crack route the next day. This photo shows Pitch 4 of South Face route (there could also be a Pitch 4 around left of this, but I think this is one of the Pitch 4 options on the South Face route).
6. We should be in that shaded chimney system...
7. Nearing end of Pitch 4 of South Face.
8. Pitch 5 entails climbing down and left and stemming across a wide chimney to get to the left side of the arete. There is an option to head straight up a crack to a roof but apparently this is quite hard and the left side is the actual route.
9. The psychological crux of the route is making the few moves up to the single bolt on the face on Pitch 6. 
10. Featured wide crack of the second half of Pitch 6.
11. More featured wide crack continues  on Pitch 7.
12. Pitch 8 climbs a wild groove to below the summit block. The climbing here is pretty moderate (5.6) and fun.
13. A final handcrack to below the summit block on Pitch 8.
14. Climbing a groove/chimney to the top of the Middle Summit of The Warlock.
15. Featured face climbing to the top of the Middle Summit.
16. The awesome view from the Middle Summit: The Magician, The Sorcerer, The Charlatan, The Witch.
17. To descend from The Warlock, you have to get to the Main Summit, so we had to downclimb from the Middle Summit (unprotected, 5.8?) and then climb up to the Main Summit on the last part of Imaginary Voyage.
18. Dow climbing the arete to the top of the Main Summit of The Warlock. There are 2 bolts to protect the arete. This is the last part of Imaginary Voyage we had climbed the previous day.
19. Schaeffer forest fire to the east.


CLIMB 9 - JULY 5 (/w Danny)
Igor Unchained on The Witch (5.9, 4 pitches, 400')
A long and sustained hand to fist crack to a steep and juggy crack. A classic introduction to the best of Needles 5.9+. 
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1. Perfect summer day and we are the only car in the parking lot. We felt like we had an entire rock playground to ourselves. 
2. Looking up Igor Unchained. 4 pitches of fun ahead!
3. Danny enjoying the hand crack on Pitch 1.
4. An old bong at the belay spot at the top of Pitch 1.
5. Danny starting up Pitch 2, which starts with a roof and then continues up a fist crack.
6. Looking up Pitch 3. The wall steepens but there are lots of jugs to keep the grade moderate.
7. Looking down just off the belay on Pitch 3.
8. Danny nearing the top of Pitch 3.
9. Danny leading Pitch 4. This is also the last pitch of Airy Interlude which we had climbed a couple of days previous.
10. Tree shadow on The Charlatan.


CLIMB 10 - JULY 5 (/w Dow & Danny)
S Crack on The Warlock (5.10, 7-8 pitches, 800')
A wild and adventurous route following an "S" shape of chimneys and grooves and flares and squeezes to the top of The Warlock.
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1. The 3rd class gully to the base of the route. This was easy to find because we had been there the previous day. It is about 50 feet right of the South Face route start.
2. Danny leading the chimney on Pitch 1. We had climbed this pitch the previous day so it went pretty quickly.
3. Dow leading up Pitch 2. We had climbed this pitch the previous day.
4. Looking up the second half of Pitch 2 (this might be Pitch 3 in some route descriptions). This is where the routefinding is tricky. We were a bit unsure if we were supposed to go up the corner on the left or the flake/corner on the right. 
The previous day we had climbed the corner on the left and exited on a tempting crack system that ended up going leftwards onto the South Face route. We decided that the corner on the left is probably the route (the climbing is good and protectable) but just don't exit it.
5. Climbing the awesome corner on the second half of Pitch 2 (some route descriptions might have this as part of Pitch 3).
6. This is where the previous day we had exited off left to get to the South Face route, but to stay on the S Crack route, continue upwards. As you can see from where the rope goes in the photo, we ended up traversing across slab to a crack system off right. 
In my opinion, this traverse and crack system on the right was off route. I think the S Crack route continues up the corner on the left in the photo, but is unprotected for about 20 feet. 
7. Unfortunately, the corner is a bit unprotected for a stretch (which is why Dow traversed off right trying to find more protectable terrain). But I think the S Crack route does indeed continue up the corner in the photo, but is unprotected for about 20 feet. This would be somewhere on Pitch 2 or 3 depending on how you break it up.
8. The vegetated crack system on the right that was our Pitch 3 instead of the corner system on the left shown in the previous photo. I don't believe this is the actual route. It was not protectable because of all the vegetation, but it was fairly easy.
9. Stemming above the vegetation on Pitch 3.
10. Climbing the corner above. We are back on route here. This was also quite vegetated and kind of a spooky pitch. But a cool system. This would be Pitch 3 for us. 
11. Climbing the corner at the top of Pitch 3.
12. A splitter crack that starts Pitch 4. This is the only really splitter section of this route as the route is mostly climbing wide and wild climbing up flares and chimneys and grooves.
13. A clean flare system higher up on Pitch 4.
14-15. A rather wild "chimney" (not sure what else to call it) on edge of the face higher up on Pitch 4.

16. Danny starting the squeeze chimney the route is known for. This was Pitch 5 for us. We had brought a Valley Giant for this pitch and it fit perfectly. A #6 might have worked in a few places but the Valley Giant was the perfect piece to have. It would be a scary lead without.
17. Danny inching up the squeeze chimney on Pitch 5. 
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Danny at the top of the squeeze chimney. He cruised up faster than either Dow or I was able to follow it. Danny has about the best chimney and offwidth climbing skills I've seen.
19. Dow starting up the squeeze adventure. Hang the gear and don't wear a helmet...
20. Pitch 6 follows the "S" system to the right. (There is a direct finish that instead goes straight up from the top of the squeeze chimney; but this did not look as good and it also did not maintain the "S" feature that was part of the original route, so we went rightwards on the original line.)
21. Some fun exposed climbing on Pitch 6.
22. Pitch 7 continues up blocky terrain to the ledge that intersects the last pitch of Imaginary Voyage. Seemed about 5.7 to me.
23. We had already been to the summit twice over the last two days, so we decided to rappel from the ledge below the summit. There is a bolted rap route (2 double rope raps; could also probably rap with a single 70 is 3 raps).
24. The fire was really creating its own weather system.
25. Close up of the fire. It better not jump that ridge or we might be in trouble.....


CLIMB 11 - JULY 6 (/w Danny)
Yellow Brick Road on The Wizard (5.9, 3 pitches, 300')
A somewhat obscure—yet still awesome—and stout Needles 5.9 that climbs up the beautiful yellow lichen streaked face of The Wizard through face, offwidth, corner, and roof.
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1. The Sorcerer and The Wizard as seen from the top of The Charlatan. The Wizard kind of hides behind The Sorcerer and cannot be seen from many of the spires.
2. The Wizard as seen from the gully approach. Yellow Brick Road climbs on the right side seen in the photo.
3. We rappelled Spooky to get to the Sorcerer-Charlatan notch. From the notch, we scrambled down the gully to the base of the route. Another way to get there is to go through the Djin-Charlatan notch and not rappel Spooky. We went this way on the hike out.
4. We got our rope stuck on a horn just left of the top of the handcrack on the first pitch of Spooky. Bad news was our rope was stuck. Good news was I got to lead up the excellent hand crack of Pitch 1 of Spooky.
5. The excellent hand crack on Pitch 1 of Spooky. I was almost glad our rope got stuck so I could climb this crack again, this time on lead.
6. Descending the gully to the base of The Wizard. We rappelled down the 5.4 slab section.
7. The base of Yellow Brick Road. The start can be a bit difficult to identify but look for this tree. You start Pitch 1 by climbing through the tree.
8. Danny on the somewhat exciting face traverse at the start of Pitch 1. This can be protected with offset cams, aliens, and nuts.
9. Looking up Pitch 2, an offwidth. You could link this with Pitch 1, but I preferred to let Danny-the-offwidth-king lead the offwidth.
10. The offwidth on Pitch 2. It takes #4 and #5 cams (we had one of each). I climbed it mostly as a layback and face-like moves using the edges and nearby knobs, and only did a few offwidth-type moves. Danny climbed it more as an offwidth using some hand-stacks and knee jams.
11. Higher up in the offwidth. It is long enough that you'll want to walk the large cams if you only have one of each size.
12. Salad bottle on Pitch 2. Legend has it a member of the second-ascent party, while following, lodged his knee in the wide crack and could not get it out. His partner rappelled and ran to the nearby fire lookout, got a squeeze bottle of salad oil from the tower attendant, and used this to help free his partner's knee. The bottle remains wedged in the offwidth to this day.
13. Corner starting off Pitch 3. This took small cams (red-yellow offset and blue alien were particularly useful) and small stoppers (brass offsets were particularly useful). The corner felt 5.9+ to me. Typical Needles 5.9.
14. Roof on Pitch 3. Takes great gear but is a rather committing move on lead. Also felt 5.9+ to me.
15. The rap anchor on top of The Wizard. We rappelled to the notch between The Sorcerer and The Wizard. You can rappel to the ground below The Wizard from here (there is a bolted rap station close by) but we chose to climb up to the top of The Sorcerer instead.
16. The climb to the top of The Sorcerer from the Sorcerer-Wizard notch is about 200 feet of low 5th.
17. A perched block on the south side of The Sorcerer.
18. From the top of The Sorcerer, we rappelled to the Sorcerer-Charlatan notch, and then scrambled out via the gully to the Djin-Charlatan notch. There is a chockstone blocking the head of the gully.
19. A burly move to surmount the chockstone.


CLIMB 12 - JULY 6 (/w Danny)
Summit spire aka Our Lady of the Needles on The Charlatan (5.7, 1 pitch, 45')
The short but fun fingercrack to the top of the cool summit spire on top of The Charlatan.
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1. The cool-looking summit spire on top of The Charlatan. We had climbed The Charlatan (via Fancy Free and Spooky) a couple of days previous, but did not have the time to climb the summit spire. The summit spire is also known as Our Lady of the Needles.
2. Climbing the 5.7 fingercrack on the west side of the summit spire. This is the easiest way to the top and a really good (albeit short) pitch.
3. Rap bolts on top of the summit spire. Without these, you'd have to lower the leader off the other side, I guess.
4. Sitting on top of the summit spire. What a way to end an awesome trip to The Needles.