California Climber | Issue 17 | Summer '16

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tions a u l o s e l b a stain

s n o i t a v Inno ng hardware. Su

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NO. 17 SUMMER 2016



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Kevin Daniels climbing the Nautilus (5.12), Witch Needle, the Needles. IMAGE + GREG EPPERSON THIS PAGE

Ben Pope bouldering at Chipmunk Flat, High Sierra. IMAGE + DEAN FLEMING


Andrea Pesce climbing the Crocodile Boulder (V2), the Needles.

CALIFORNIACLIMBERMAGAZINE.COM PUBLISHER Dean Fleming ART DIRECTOR Alton Richardson SENIOR CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Jerry Dodrill, Jim Thornburg SENIOR CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Fitz Cahall, James Lucas CONTRIBUTORS Victoria Jarvis, Charlie Barrett, Ken Etzel, Ben Ditto, Fanny-Jane Pelletier, Austin Siadak, Greg Epperson, Jim Thornburg, Kristian Solem, Anthony Lapomardo, Ethan Pringle, Cheyne Lempe, Alton Richardson, Ty Foose, Alex Hernandez, Dean Fleming, Cameron Maier

MOST, IF NOT ALL OF THE ACTIVITIES DEPICTED HEREIN CARRY AND PRESENT SIGNIFICANT RISKS OF PERSNAL INJURY OR DEATH. Rock climbing, bouldering, ice climbing, moutaineering, alpine climbing and any other outdoor activity are inherently dangerous. The owners, staff and managment of California Climber do not recomend that anyone partcipate in these activities unless they are an expert or accompanied by an expert. Please seek qualified professional instruction and/or guidance. Understanding the risks involved are necesassary and be prepared to assume all responisbilty associated with those risks.


CALIFORNIA CLIMBER 22502 Colorado River Dr. Sonora, Ca 93570 Phone: (209) 768-0110 Email:



ridge top campground provide inspiration in heavy doses. It’s a psyche fueled by the crystalline sunshine and the scent of the endless pine forest that surrounds you. The feeling intensifies for most of the friendly, hour-long hike along the remote, wooded ridge to the colorful domes. Nearly there, as you round the steep shoulder of the needle called Magician, you might notice a change in the warm summer breeze: cold drafts waft up, hinting at the deep canyons ahead, at a benevolent land changing into something darker, wilder. Inspiration dwindles, and new feelings prevail: Respect? Maybe. Wonder? Probably. Terror? Definitely. Some say the Needles’ wild green domes are haunted by the spirits of Native Americans, or by something even older. You’ll feel it at the airy notch between the intimidating spires called Sorcerer and Witch. The elements are intense: the metallic odor of skull-crushingly hard, sun-baked granite, the perfume of Ponderosa pine, giant Sequoia, and ancient decay mingle and waft on a tireless wind full of spirits, some friendly, some not, whispering invitations and warnings, caressing the steep

walls, giving voice to the exposure. All but the craziest human spirits realize the Needles is a place to stay well within your limits. And as is often the case in climbing, many Needles climbs were pioneered by people with spirits tending toward the wild side. But there are offerings less wild, as well. Cracks that eat protection and sunny, windsheltered faces and climbs of mellow character and length – welcoming portals to another world where you move with greater thought and respect. The Needles granite might be the best in the world for climbing. In plentitude, you find chocolate-colored faces sparingly featured with small, cutter edges, or soaring thin cracks on huge faces glowing with lichen. Between the domes, cavernous chimneys exude frozen air in the heat of summer. Whichever route you choose, the rock will likely be flawless; solid and painted in enchanting colors. If you climb to the top, a nearly 360-degree panorama affords views of the tips of many Needles, the 5,000-foot-deep Kern River Canyon and the distant, looming peaks of the High Sierra. In the warm afternoon, inky shadows creep across the green and yellow walls below. The low sun reveals a new perspective on the stone: ancient dikes now look like teeth and give shape to ghoulish faces. The names of the domes make more sense in the darkening light; a witch, a sorcerer, a demon, a warlock, a charlatan. – An excerpt from “Stone Mountains” by Jim Thornburg +++ Climbing in the Needles and other parts of Sequoia National Forest is speculated to date back as far back as the 1940s, shortly after the construction of the Needles Fire Lookout Station in 1937. In the course of the Needles’ nearly 80 year long climbing history, the area has gained a wide spread reputation for its unusual and often intimidating ambiance – an essence of mystery that has grown stronger as guidebooks and topos of the Needles have become increasingly harder to find.

For the past two decades the most current guidebook to the Needles has been “Southern Sierra Rock Climbing: The Needles” by Sally Moser, Patrick Paul and Greg Vernon. This manuscript has been out of print since 1999 and as available copies steadily diminish used editions have been sold at prices higher than $100 through online venders. Although folks like Clint Cummins have kept the flow of information alive with online websites that offer some free information about climbing at the Needles, the California climbing community has eagerly awaited the release of an updated comprehensive guidebook. In the early 1980s Monrovia resident Kristian Solem began climbing at the Needles. In 2009, in the midst of a thirty year affair with Needles climbing, Solem began to compile information for a complete Needles climbing guidebook. As the ink dries on this edition of California Climber, copies of Solem’s finished Needles guidebook are steadily making their way across the Pacific to the ports of Southern California. This book, a nearly decade long labor of love, is scheduled to distribute to outdoor retailers and climbing gyms across the state by midJuly. In this summer 2016 edition of California Climber we celebrate the unique and aesthetic granite climbing of the Needles in Sequoia National Forest. Its strange atmosphere, colorful history and bright future are highlighted in this issue’s cover story on Needles climbing found on page 36. Penned by guidebook author Kristian Solem, this story is steeped in history and is supported with spectacular imagery from some of California’s best photographers including Greg Epperson, Jim Thornburg, Ken Etzel, Ben Ditto and Austin Siadak. Deservingly, this special feature is the largest single article we’ve published in California Climber. Hell, at 22 pages in length, it’s possible that it’s the largest destination photo-essay to be published in any rock climbing magazine, anywhere. We hope you enjoy it and we hope that it inspires you to visit this wonderful area. Above all, if you do visit the Needles we hope that you will treat this area with the respect, admiration and stewardship that all of our climbing areas so desperately require. —DEAN FLEMING


EDITOR’S NOTE 1-707-255-1500 849 Jackson Street #5A Napa, CA 94558

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Rob Kennedy climbing the second pitch of Airy Interlude (5.10a).





Herb and Eve Laeger were an instrumental force for Needles climbing in the 1970s. After climbing a large number of routes at the Gunks of New York and Seneca Rocks in West Virginia, and pioneering some climbs of their own in the Northeast, the Laegers moved to California in the mid 1970s where they began establishing stacks of brilliant new routes on the imposing spires of the Needles in the Southern Sierra. The Laegers’ list of first ascents in the Needles includes some of the areas most iconic lines, including Igor Unchained (5.9), Thin Ice (5.10b), Spooky (5.9) and Fancy Free (5.10b). In 1976 Eve Laeger paired up with local climber Pete Steres to establish the incredible three-pitch route Airy Interlude (5.10a) on the West Face of the Witch. Today Airy Interlude is well known for its spectacular second pitch of perfect jamming that cuts through a vibrant green streaked sheet of solid granite and stands as a testament to the Laeger’s keen eye for classic first ascents. Eric Berghorn climbing the upper portion of the Bear Arete (5.11b).

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Trad, 3 Pitches



Doubles, small to 3”




Needles, Sequoia NF

1.5 hrs.

Short rappel off NF of the Witch


Pete Steres and Eve Laeger - August, 1976


Airy Interlude

Summer & Fall

GUIDEBOOK The Needles Climbing by Kristian Solem

DESCRIPTION THE NEEDLES are located in the Southern Sierra just north of the town of Kernville. The crags sit right around 8,000 feet and offer perfect mid-summer climbing temperatures. The rock at the Needles is revered for its colorful lichen streaks, perfect cracks and flat edges. The spires at the Needles poke out of the top of a steep hillside, exposing them to the elements and adding beautiful exposure to many of the routes. Airy Interlude (5.10a) is one of the best climbs of its grade in Needles, and can be found on the West Face of the Witch formation in the gully east of the huge Sorcerer Needle. The Sorcerer is one of the more popular sites to climb in the Needles, hosting area classics like Thin Ice (5.10b), Atlantis (5.11c), Sirocco (5.12a) and Pyromaniac (5.13a/b). Although the true start of Airy involves a 5.9 crack system just left of the iconic Igor Unchained (5.9), it is possible [and usually preferred] to take the far-more-splitter first pitch hand crack on Igor

to reach the belay ledge at the start of the second pitch of Airy Interlude. Whichever first pitch option you choose, make your way to a slopey ledge/ ramp at the base of a big, clean headwall. The second pitch of the route is the business, a 5.10a pitch that climbs a right facing corner via a hand and finger crack. This corner then leads you to a right leaning 1.5” crack. If you’ve climbed even a single pitch in the Needles, you know about the solid edges and horns that pepper almost every climb in the area. Airy is no different, so as you get almost to the end of the right leaning crack, be sure to look above the crack of some of those ubiquitous features. Another nice hand crack will take you to a small belay alcove above. From here, a short but exposed hand crack (5.9) will take you top of the Witch formation. Before rappeling off the north end of the Witch, take a moment to soak in your surroundings and the expansive view of the Kern River Canyon to the south.



“CHARLEY” Victoria Jarvis and her 1975 Toyota Chinook CCMAG: Where did you find Charley and how much did he cost you? VJ: I bought Charley off a guy near Pismo Beach.... I believe I’m his 7th owner. I paid $7,500 which sounds like a lot for a 40 year old rig but I’ve been living out of him since I bought him and so considering the money I’ve saved in rent (when you factor in Bay Area rent costs which is where I was living at least for a portion of the year when I bought him), he’s already paid for. I haven’t had to pay rent since I bought him. I had been searching Craigslist in a 500 mile radius for many months before I found a Chinook that was right for me, most of the ones you see need a lot of work and if they are in good shape the tend to sell very fast. Why is he named Charley? He’s named after the dog from “Travels with Charley,” my favorite Steinbeck book. What modifications have you done? I haven’t made any unique modifications, I needed something I could move into immediately for my next season of ranger work and didn’t want a project. I pretty much made some new curtains. I did have the engine rebuilt this past winter so I’m hoping that will keep him running another few decades.

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How’s the gas mileage? Charley consistently averages 20 mpg. How does Charley do off road? We definitely push him on dirt but he’s not 4WD. The biggest thing is probably all the rattling of stuff in the camper when we are on dirt, real annoying. We did get stuck this spring looking for a crag in Nevada. All of a sudden the packed dirt road turned to sand and we were spinning in place. We got the floor mats out and put them under the wheels to make traction. It had not been more than five minutes and someone comes driving down the road. We were really in the middle of nowhere so it was very surprising. We see this truck and it’s three abreast of guys in full camo. So of course we’re thinking “oh great some conservative good ‘ol boys to laugh at us California hippies.” Turns out they were bighorn sheep biologists out there studying birthrate success of the lambs. They put a strap on Charley’s bumper, pulled him out and told us if we wanted to try the road again they would be back the next morning and could pull us out again if we needed. They even offered us their phone numbers. We tried to offer them beer for their help and also just to get them to stay a little longer and talk about the sheep but we had just come from Utah so it was all 4% stuff, a tough sell and they didn’t want it. What is the worst place you’ve slept in Charley? Our worst sleep spot was up near Donner Pass. We were in this icy lot prepping for an early ski tour the next morning. We were lying down to go to bed and some teens drive into the lot and start doing donuts. We let them go at it for awhile but the lot is pretty small so it’s super annoying and they were real close to the camper. So my boyfriend Al gets out, shirtless, and starts yelling and waving his arms in the air which scares them off. About 15 minutes later it happens again with different car of kids. Apparently we were trying to sleep in the unofficial donut lot that teens like to go to after the ski resort closes because three different car loads came through to mess around right after Boreal closed. We scared them all away. What is the nicest place you’ve slept in Charley? Valley of the Gods. I really feel like that’s the day we fell in love with Utah. Amazing towers and no one else around. The wind was insane there though. Luckily the bed is in the lower part of the camper so you can drop the top and still hang out and sleep in there if the wind picks up or you need to keep a low profile. I wish we had come into the valley from the north instead of the south because trying to drive up the crazy switchbacks of the Moki Dugway on Cedar Mesa was no easy feat for Charley.



Ye a r s o f Innovation



Ty Foose


Have you had any technical difficulties? Last summer the alternator went out going up Snoqualmie Pass. I called AAA and they wouldn’t help me because Charley is an “RV” which is absurd because he’s really just a fancy pickup and weighs less than most modern SUVs so there was no good reason for them to leave me in the cold. Of course it was dusk and raining a little. Luckily I had some interns who lived up at the pass. They came and picked me up and I stayed at their bunkhouse that night. I talked a local tow shop into bringing me a new battery the next day because the cost of a tow is nuts and luckily I work just east of the pass so I just needed enough juice to get back to the ranger station. What is the longest trip you’ve taken in Charley? I guess our longest trip was about a month in Utah, Nevada and eastern California. There’s never been more than a month at a time on the road because sometimes I do contract work or this past winter we spent a lot of time cleaning out and fixing up a house, then with visiting friends and family, cat sitting... our time in Charley in our off-season from work is always broken up like that. Which is nice, we’re very lucky to have such amazing and welcoming people in our life to break up time on the road.

Do you have any plans for trips this summer? Charley puts on the most miles in the spring and winter because Al and I work seasonally for the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest in the summer so our off-season is when longer road trips happen. I’m a Wilderness Ranger so I’m out in the backcountry camped out for about four days at a time. Since I do have three day weekends I usually take off to do more hiking or climbing around either Washington state where I work or Oregon where my boyfriend works. This summer I want to get up towards Canada, Washington Pass and North Cascades National Park.



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ocket change funded Ty Foose and Ian Powell’s first climbing road trip. On the road there were many experiments with “safe” belays, swami belts, fishing wire and hot-pink fashion. Foose spent six years supporting his climbing habit by playing roulette tables in Reno, route setting and shaping holds for various companies. Foose created the first quality pocket with African Venhatico wood, the first tufa with a sliding bolt hole and invented “Grip Differential,” now known as Duel Tex. Powell, who came from a fine art background in sculpture, moved to Boulder, Colorado where he also began work for Straight Up, creating the first foot chips for a buck and the 2-part rotating hold. Powell soon began marketing his ‘E’ grips with Keith Fletcher. In 1996 eGrips was officially born in a small, windowless studio where Foose and Powell illegally took turns sleeping on the couch or the bed. They endured late nights with too many chemicals and soviet winters without heat, phone or an exit. eGrips grew through incredible shapes, the durable polyurethane magic mix, unofficial Outdoor retail show attendance and cold calls. Although Foose and Powell’s innovative work created a strong underground following, the tiny company lost the struggle to survive. The sad remains of what was once eGrips was finally buried under a trampoline in a Boulder, Colorado climbing gym. But Jessica Franco wouldn’t let it end that way. In 2000 she created the “Choke Holds Distributors of eGrips.” She insisted on a professional catalog, magazine ads, official show attendance, extensive event sponsorship and a new manufacturer. Jessica found Chuck Demarest, Himalayan Alpinist and president of Aragon Elastomers. Chuck’s manufacturing breathed new life into eGrips and the company was resurrected from beneath the trampoline. Soon after, Great Trango Holdings Inc. took eGrips under its wing where it thrives now, shaping for over 400 new gyms and playgrounds, distributing internationally and sponsoring major climbing events and organizations. This year eGrips celebrates its 20th anniversary and introduces its largest lineup of new designs. The brand will debut special sets as well as new selections to their already legendary Bubble Wrap, Myorcan, Dish, and Drop Art styles. Included in this release is the incredible new Foose Weave line, which we’ve had the pleasure of testing at a few local gyms and home woodies over the past 12 months. We found the Foose Weave Crimps to be great examples of the diversity of the weave type in this style – where each grip has slightly unique texture type, with different weaves wrapping over and around the holds. In this crimp line, the smallest of the Foose Weave sets, there are five pinch-crimp shapes of various sizes and five one or two-pad flat and in-cut crimps. Our testers raved about the quality and comfort of the holds, and we found this set to be capable of producing a wide variety of route styles in a relatively minimal hold set; with huge variations in grades and styles that could be set on extremely different angles. The Foose Weave Crimps allowed routes to be set on everything from nearly 45 degree roofs to slabs and slightly overhanging bulges. Foose says that the signature line

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is his “PHD” in shaping, the intricacies involved in the various weaves took months to perfect. eGrips shapers Ty Foose and Ian Powell were among the first to begin carving artistic elements into climbing hold designs, but the core of eGrips is still a utilitarian function with comfort at the forefront. With their subtle textures and ergonomic shapes, it is obvious that the Foose Weave line has been designed so that the holds will be relatively friendly to the fingers and skin after repeated climbing. Although the Foose Weave crimps are shapes that can be excellent for training finger strength, you will find these generally to be among the most comfortable designs on the market. All of eGrips designs are still produced by an incredibly experienced shaping team, and their designs are still carved in foam with precision and detail. “Creating fresh climbing hold designs is what keeps us motivated and we are constantly striving to create new sets,” said company co-founder Ty Foose.




e’ve all seen them. Folks of all ages climbing at the sport crag with a daisy chain looped under their butts culminating in a huge gob of bundled webbing thrown into a locking carabiner that is clipped to their harness’s rear gear loop. It seems clever, utilitarian, almost recyclable, to use something that was not designed for cleaning anchors as a personal anchoring system. But it’s not. It’s actually really dangerous. Thankfully, the folks at Metolius have provided us with a safe and lightweight solution to personal anchoring. The Alpine PAS is a lightweight Personal Anchor System designed for fast belay changes, multiple rappel stations and belay clutter management. This Alpine version is over 40% lighter than the original Personal Anchor System from Metolius. It is a safe and adjustable alternative to slings or quick draws that also stores compactly. Chainlink-style construction eliminates the risk of pocket failure that is inherent in daisy chains. The Alpine PAS is made from incredibly burly 11 mm Monster Sling Webbing. We tested the Alpine PAS for about six months on a number of bolted clip-ups and single pitch crack climbs. We also took it up a large selection of multipitch routes that require arduous rappelling. Overall, the Alpine PAS worked beautifully at hanging belays and small stances with bolted anchors as it easily and quickly allowed testers to get off belay and comfortably anchored into two points. In almost every situation the Alpine PAS preformed perfectly and in a no-frills manner. A few of our testers even remarked that they quickly forgot what they used to do at anchors before the PAS. However, a few testers did note

that in some situations the Alpine PAS was a little bit too short for comfortable use, mostly when using the product at large ledges where anchors are positioned high above the stance for clean rappelling. If you find yourself in this situation, Metolius does offer a longer (and stronger) version called the PAS 22. It’s important to note that the Metolius Alpine PAS is for use as a personal tether only, and is not designed for belaying or any other climbing application.



hy fix something if it isn’t broken? Unlike most shoe companies, La Sportiva doesn’t release a new performance shoe every year. So when they do, it’s usually something worth investigating. Case in point; the Genius, the newest addition to the “No-Edge” category, which first debuted with the now discontinued Speedster followed by the award winning Futura. The slip-lasted lace-up Genius is marketed as “the highest performance climbing shoe on the market” and is also the most expensive climbing shoe on the market. But you get what you pay for and with the Genius that is a fine-tuned, highly aggressive climbing shoe equivalent to a Ferrari. Once on your foot, you’ll notice a heel cup reminiscent of the Testarossa, while the toe box is that of the Futura. The inclusion of laces creates a more comfortable fit and makes the shoe easier to adjust to your needs throughout a full day of climbing. The No-Edge technology means just that, no edge, which at first seems counterintuitive to most climbing shoes. However, this actually allows for more rubber to contact the surface of the rock when smearing and edging. It also means less break-in time, performing at 100% upon first wear. Outside, you’ll find the Genius best suited for steeper

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terrain, think Jailhouse steep, or, if fit tighter, the shoe is perfect for almost any steep bouldering application. The Genius is not particularly endowed for slab climbing, however, if you do find yourself pulling the lip of a Buttermilk boulder and facing a looming slabby headwall above, they’ll do just fine. The rounded toe of the Genius likes to dig deep into pockets, Malibu Creek anyone? But with a slight softness to the 3mm Vibram XS Grip2 sole, the Genius will also bite into crystals and adhere to small feet with confidence while heel and toe hooking through limestone and granite features equally well. Generally, it takes a bit of time to get used to climbing in No-Edge shoes, specifically in the gym where it will likely feel harder to stand on small feet at first. However, like the previous models, over time the Genius will improve your footwork, making you more aware of how and where you place your feet and how to better direct power through the tips of your toes into the edge - a process that will bring your technique to the level of the shoe.

Far North climbing Gym

Humboldt County’s Premiere indoor climbing center

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Images + Dean Fleming


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Ethan Pringle on the first ascent of Constant Gardener (IV 5.11R A3), a route he established with Cheyne Lempe on Higher Cathedral Rock in 2014. IMAGE + Austin Siadak



THIS PAGE Ethan Pringle completing the second ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b) at Clark Mountain, California. IMAGE + Anthony Lapomardo OPPOSITE PAGE Pringle on the first ascent of Old Greg (V11R) at Little Egypt near the Buttermilks. IMAGE + Cameron Maier

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n March of 2015 I drove out to Clark Mountain to document Pringle’s attempts at Jumbo Love, back when he was still intimidated by the line, his history with the climb and his own personal doubt. Nine years had passed since Pringle’s first attempts at Jumbo Love in 2007 and the idea that more could be compounded upon that time was always in the rearview. Yet new psyche was brought day in and day out by friends and area locals, all there to lend moral support to Pringle’s attempts. The

day of my last visit our group was driven up the overgrown 4x4 trail by a longtime friend of Ethan’s. The truck rocked and our bodies shifted in the cab as we made our acquaintances intermittently, slowly crawling across the desert terrain. Clark Mountain loomed in the distance from the front of the cab, even further when we considered the steep and dusty hour-long hike to the cave’s mouth. The static line swayed with the wind inside the belly of the cave as I looked out into the desert and retraced the road to the trail we had hiked earlier in the day. Hundreds of feet off the deck, my mind shifted and adjusted to the exposure, looking to find a hold to mentally support myself. Several feet below me, Ethan was clipped in directly to a lead bolt, wringing his forearms out and shaking his head as he looked down the line. He glanced up at me as I hung from a higher bolt, my camera in one hand and a half unclipped quickdraw in the other, my mind teetering with the strength of the rope I was about to swing from. Ethan laughed at my indecision to unclip the quickdraw.



THIS PAGE Pringle nabs a rare ascent of Sacred Fire (5.13) in Tuolumne Meadows. OPPOSITE PAGE Pringle climbing Stars and Stripes (5.14a) at the Zebra Wall near Lake Tahoe. IMAGE + Anthony Lapomardo (ALL 3)

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“Scary huh,” said Ethan. I nodded in response. “It always is,” he replied. Years on the route, hundreds of falls into open air, indecision, doubt and the seemingly impossible redpoint; he wasn’t hiding that fact that it scared him. As he sat patiently, waiting for me to unclip, that concept made it easier for me to open the draw. The rope cleared the lip of the draw and I swung out into open air, the floor spinning beneath me as I set my foot in the aid ladder to find balance. A few months later, as Ethan enjoyed his moment atop Jumbo Love and news spread about his ascent, my mind flashed back to that moment in the belly of Clark Mountain. I thought about the difference between someone still battling with a climb and Ethan, who deservingly sat atop it. They both acknowledged fear, yet Ethan somehow embraced it. The doubts, regrets and mental tenacity that led Ethan to this moment culminated as he topped out the cliff, and then, appropriately, he put his fears to rest with a 90 foot long victory whip into the open air of the California desert.


orn in the Mission District of San Francisco in 1986, 30 year old Ethan Pringle is one of very few climbers to redpoint 5.15 sport climbs, 5.14 crack climbs and V15 boulder problems. Pringle’s ticklist boasts redpoints of over 50 climbs 5.14 or harder and includes ascents of world renowned testpieces like Thor’s Hammer (5.15a) in Flatlanger, Norway, Realization (5.15a) in Ceuse, France and Wheel of Life (V15) in the Grampians of Australia. Pringle has also completed many difficult,

remote and often frightening first ascents like Run for the Bolder (5.12R VI), [established in western China with Mike Libecki] and the Constant Gardener (5.11R A3) [established in Yosemite Valley with Cheyne Lempe]. Although Pringle spends large blocks of time climbing outside of California, he always makes a habit of returning home to pay homage to the iconic lines of his home state. Ethan is far more a gypsy than one who takes up roots and never ventures far from home. He spends a great deal of his time across the globe, tackling bold lines, racking up flyer miles, swimming his way through an untold number of cultural encounters and then fighting jet lag on his short trips home. Yet in more than 20 years of climbing he’s completed plenty of California’s hardest and boldest climbs, including Too Big to Flail (V10R) and the Beautiful and the Damned (V13X) in Bishop, Iron Resolution (V13) in Joshua Tree, the stunning Ron Kauk line Sacred Fire (5.13) in Tuolumne Meadows and a near flash of Freerider (5.12d VI) high on Yosemite’s El Capitan in a spur 36 hour push to free all 35 pitches.


y first mentors were my parents,” said Pringle. “They were real badass outdoorsy people. I saw them confidently do a lot of brave stuff when I was little and they were definitely the first people I looked up to and emulated. Because of their influence, I developed a solid foundation of athleticism and a huge appreciation for the outdoors, both of which really helped me once I started climbing.”

Pringle began climbing in his hometown of San Francisco at the young age of eight. The boyish grin he most likely wore at a young age is the same one that crosses his face the moment he steps foot back into his home gym in the Mission District. As he surfs his way through the Thursday night crowd at Mission Cliffs, members both young and old congratulate him belatedly on accomplishments they’ve seen in news headlines. More conversing is done than climbing, but Ethan never hesitates; he takes the time to speak to everyone and reacquaint himself with his community. “I walked into Mission Cliffs with my dad on the way home from a roller hockey tournament at the Bladium in 1995,” recalled Pringle. “I remember seeing the bikes lined up on the railing above the entryway, looking up at the wall and thinking, “How the hell do people bike down these walls?” Then I saw people climbing and was like, ’Whoa, that could be really fun!’ My brother and I got memberships immediately. We were hooked.” With tenacity and a natural aptitude for climbing Pringle quickly accelerated through the grades. At age 11 he began participating in indoor climbing competitions. By the age of 15 Pringle had won four consecutive Junior Nationals and Junior International competitions. “Once I started climbing, there were a bunch of people in the Bay Area who I climbed with at the gyms on a semi-regular basis, who took me out rock climbing for my first few experiences and, whom I eventually was lucky enough to be a little competitive with,” said Pringle. “They were all pretty strong and psyched. The gym scene back then was way different than it is now. Everyone knew each other since there were much fewer people around and there was a level of respect for the masters and for the culture that is largely gone in the gym scene today. Brig Willis, John Dickey, Derek Powell, Rowan Jimenez, Sean and Evan Stitt, Craig Mclanihan, Chris Bloch, Steve Deluca and all the setters and gym rats of the late 90s were my teachers.”


ringle’s first experiences climbing outside took place at crags near his home in San Francisco. Pringle recalls visiting Donner Summit’s Star Wall in the mid 1990s; a cliff near Lake Tahoe that hosts a high concentration of difficult single pitch climbs. “Seeing the Star Wall at Donner for the first time was pretty inspirational,” said Pringle. “It’s relatively tall, in a really beautiful spot, and it has history. When I see it now it doesn’t seem all that impressive, but back then it represented the possibility of what I could do with my climbing.” After visiting the Star Wall, where Pringle would eventually redpoint Fathers Day (5.14a), Steep Climb Named Desire (5.13d) and Taste the Pain (5.13c), Pringle began to visit some of the larger sport crags in the Central Sierra. Pringle recalls his first trips to Jailhouse; an incredibly steep volcanic cave feature located near Jamestown, California where he began to push himself mentally, learning to take big falls on the cave’s severely overhanging routes. Pringle would go on to make headlines after redpointing the Jailhouse testpiece Alcatraz (5.13c) in 1997 at the age of 12. “My jaw straight hit the floor when I saw Jailhouse for the first time,” said Pringle. “I never imagined a wall that tall and overhanging could exist, let alone host as many hard lines as it did. My mom took my friend David and I there in the summer for the first time. We were ultra-stoked and didn’t know or really care that it would be a furnace. It must have been 110 degrees. I think the first few times I climbed at all those crags, I wasn’t quite ready and I was pretty intimidated. I remember not wanting to give 100% on lead. I had to go take some big practice falls in the gym with David to get comfortable really going for it above the draw.”




Pringle making quick work of Keep the Muscle, Loose the Fat (5.13b) on the Knobby Wall, Yosemite Valley. IMAGE + Anthony Lapomardo

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s his impressive catalogue of ascents continued to grow, Pringle began to transform from a gangly kid into a prominent figure of the California climbing community. His dedication to the sport sparked product sponsorships and opportunities to travel farther from home to explore more of the West’s iconic crags. “When I was 12, after my first Jr. National win, Scott Franklin gave me my first clothing sponsor,” said Pringle. “I got to go stay at his house in Bend and climb at Smith Rock for the first time. I sent Churning in the Wake (5.13a) in a couple days and his wife Gia belayed me while he took photos from a rope, right before I had to get dropped off at the airport. I was stoked out of my mind.” “When I was 13, I spent a couple weeks at The Hood at Mt. Charleston trying (and eventually sending) Soul Train (5.13d),” said Pringle. “I got to climb a little with Liv Sansoz, Beth Rodden and a few others. On that trip I watched Axel Franco nearly send Hasta La Vista (5.14c) a couple of times. Watching Axel try that hard on that difficult of a route had a huge impact on me, I wanted so badly to climb that hard one-day and I think in the back of my mind I knew I would. It really planted a seed.” In November of 2012 the seed planted by Axel Franco grew roots, as Ethan returned to The Hood at Mt. Charleston to redpoint Hasta La Vista (5.14c); a meaningful mile marker on his quest to tackle the most difficult pitches in North America and beyond. Pringle would soon branch out well beyond his comfort zone to tackle difficult, remote and complex big wall first ascents at home and around the globe. In 2014 Pringle returned to Yosemite Valley to partner up with Cheyne Lempe to establish a new 1,000 foot route on the North Face of Higher Cathedral Rock. The Constant Gardner (5.11R A3) involved complex route finding, epic run-outs and several pitches of difficult aid climbing.

“The Constant Gardener actually turned out to be a lot of fun and was a valuable learning experience… at least for me,” said Pringle. “The route basically has two money pitches, the one getting to the base of the big roof and the pitch out the big roof. I think maybe with a different start, a couple well-placed bolts to protect some sketchy sections and some anchor bolts, it would be an awesome free route. The big roof pitch is really fun and exposed and probably goes at 5.12+ or 5.13-. There is more pretty rad potential on Higher Cathedral Rock, not to mention all over the Valley that I really want to spend some time investigating at some point. I bet there is a single pitch 9a in the Valley, but nobody has really looked for something like that… everyone’s too focused on bouldering or big walls.”


n May 17th 2015, after 90 days of effort spanning nine years, Ethan Pringle redpointed the hardest climb in North America; Jumbo Love (5.15b) at Mount Clark, California. Pringle began working on Jumbo Love with Chris Sharma and Chris Linder in 2007. Pringle’s redpoint of this monster 250 foot limestone pitch marks the route’s second ascent since Sharma established the line in 2008. “The fact that Chris did the first ascent of Jumbo Love definitely makes it more significant to me,” said Pringle. “I think it’s so awesome that the hardest sport pitch in North America, which is also the most impressive single pitch route I’ve ever seen, is in my home state! Not in some well-established area, but in the middle of the desert. Sadly, I don’t know if it will ever get the attention it deserves.” Shortly after his ascent of Jumbo Love, Pringle flew to Spain to attempt and ultimately redpoint La Reina Mora (5.14d), a stunning 40-meter long test-piece in

Ethan Pringle on La Reina Mora, 14d. P: PaoloSartori

Distributed by Trango | |


Pringle high on Freerider (VI 5.12d) during his near flash of the route. IMAGE + Cheyne Lempe

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the famous El Pati sector of the Spanish mega-crag Siurana. Although the distant countries of China, Greece, Norway, Spain and Greenland have served as home for Pringle, he always returns to the Golden State, where he marks his visits by establishing new lines and continuing his pilgrimage to ascend the iconic routes that highlight California’s colorful climbing history. Upon his return this past year Pringle revisited Tuolumne Meadows to climb the classic Kurt Smith route Electric Africa (5.12c) on the South Face of Pywiack Dome and Ron Kauk’s incredible Sacred Fire (5.13a) on the South Face of North Whizz Dome. Pringle also spent some time this past winter in his old stomping grounds of Bishop, California, where he established the first ascent of Old Greg (V11R) at Little Egypt near the Buttermilks. “This thing was so stunning, from the moment I saw it I knew I had to climb it,” said Pringle of his first ascent of Old Greg. “It’s a pretty serious rig involving a V8ish section down low followed by a spanned-out V9 crux with some very insecure moves up high.” “I really haven’t done a ton of developing during my career,” added Ethan. “Climbing has mostly been about the climbing for me, whether it’s first ascents or repeats. I’m not sure why I haven’t been fully infected by the first ascent bug like others have. Maybe the competitor in me is drawn to established lines because I want to know

how I compare to others, or just because it’s a known quantity. It’s a much more approachable challenge. When the line is chosen by the developer or Mother Nature, or a combination of the two, then all you have to do is climb.” Pringle’s ascents have bore a pilgrim’s voyage to retrace the steps of the pioneers before him that cleaved the way for others. As he retraced their steps he has authored new lines for those who come after him to follow. Although Pringle is not singularly motivated by first ascents, he is still looking deep within the Sierra Nevada for a new chapter in California’s climbing history. “In December I fell off the last hard move of a really difficult, undone sport climb near Bishop, after just a couple days of effort,” said Pringle. “Again it was a line someone else found and bolted, but I would really like to finish it because it’s special and unique for California. Working on it and realizing it was possible really opened my eyes to the potential California still must have for those kinds of climbs. To find something that hard and quality just ten minutes from the road, in an established area, on a buttress with climbs that have been there for a decade, tells me that there must be dozens more difficult and stunning lines to do in areas that are further off the beaten path. One thing on my bucket list is to find and establish a 9a in the Sierra. I know there are some out there and I will keep looking.”


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Mike Roberts climbing Shaman Skyway (5.11a) on the West Face of the Sorcerer. IMAGE + Greg Epperson

Kate Rutherford climbing the Don Juan Wall (5.11b). The name of the route refers to the Don Juan made famous in Carlos Castaneda’s writings. IMAGE + Austin Siadak

“...cracks that run uninterrupted from the base to the top, the green and orange streaks of seemingly luminous lichen, and the dizzying exposure...”


rom its source in the high country west of Mount Whitney the Kern River cuts a dramatic canyon, following an ancient fault line straight south for 60 miles. This canyon splits the Southern Sierra in half. To the east stands the Sierra Crest. To the west is the Great Western Divide summiting at Mount Kaweah. Thirty-five miles south of Mount Whitney a prominent ridge juts out into the Kern Canyon from the Great Western Divide. The spires and domes of the Needles stand atop the eastern edge of this ridge, towering thousands of feet above the whitewater below. This setting treats climbers at the Needles to breathtaking exposure. Tales abound of climbers doing ascents in the Needles as far back as the late 1940s, following the construction of the Needles Fire Lookout station in 1937. It is not known what routes these early pioneers climbed, but I can imagine them doing ascents of many of the spectacular summits. Speculation? Perhaps, but the lure of these lofty aeries must have been strong, and several summits are accessible by easy fifth class routes. I try to imagine what it must have been like for rock climbers to explore the Needles at this time. I always enjoy walking down the trail into the main notch with a climber who has not been there before. They will be saucer-eyed at the sight of the vertical East Face of the Sorcerer and the expanse of granite of the Witch; by the cracks that run uninterrupted from the base to the top, the green and orange streaks of seemingly luminous lichen, and by the dizzying exposure. <~~~> In 1969 two young men from Los Angeles completed the first documented climb in the Needles. Dan McHale and Joe Brown hiked up from the lower road and climbed the long fin of granite to the Fire Lookout. This feature was called the Whale’s Back by locals. Today it holds the name given to it by climbers: the Magician. McHale and Brown named their route Sidewalk Magic (5.8). In November of 1969 Dan McHale returned to the Needles with Fred Becky to establish the South Face Route (5.9) on Hermit Spire, the Needle’s sister crag to the north. Climbers walking out the trail to the Needles cannot miss seeing this mysterious granite spire. If geology had placed it among the Needles it would be every bit an equal. Instead

it stands alone across the Freeman Creek Drainage, which is home to the largest un-logged Giant Sequoia grove outside of a National Park. Occupying 4,000 acres and home to many hundreds of giant trees, the Freeman Grove is a spiritually powerful place to visit on a rest day. <~~~> It was in the 1970s that new route development at the Needles began in earnest. As climbers started to frequent the Needles they gave the formations mystical, perfectly suited names: the Wizard, the Sorcerer, the Magician, the Witch, the Warlock, Voodoo Dome… 1970 saw Beckey, McHale and Mike Heath back in action at the Needles, where they set their sights on the tallest and steepest of the towers, the Warlock. Their climb takes a bold natural line up the southeastern aspect. As on Hermit Spire the name of their route is the South Face Route. This is typical Fred Beckey, as he has probably established and named hundreds of climbs the “South Face Route.” At the top of their climb Beckey, McHale and Heath found evidence of the boldness of earlier pioneers. In their American Alpine Journal entries, Beckey and Heath mention the discovery of a cairn on the south summit of the Warlock. In the mid-1970s outstanding climbs were low hanging fruit for climbers like Fred Beckey, Dave Black, Steve Eddy, Herb and Eve Laeger, Pete Steres, Mike Jaffe, Vaino Kodas, Patrick Paul, E.C. Joe and Richard Leversee. These early pioneers established classic routes like Inner Sanctum (5.9), Igor Unchained (5.9), Airy Interlude (5.10a), Thin Ice (5.10b), Spooky (5.9), Fancy Free (5.10b), and White Punks on Dope (5.8+). <~~~> I made my first visit to the Needles in the 1980s. I had more than a decade of experience at the Gunks, Joshua Tree, Idyllwild and Yosemite, but when I saw these stunning granite spires in the sky I knew I had found my nirvana. These were exciting years to be climbing at the Needles, and formative years for me as a climber. The prolific climbers from the 1970s were still active and at the same time a new group began to make their mark at the Needles.


“I studied the sea of granite above. The belay was up there somewhere and if I didn’t find it I would be in real trouble.”


n the 1980s Mike Lechlinski, Tom Gilje and Mari Gingery were the core of an ensemble of strong, bold climbers that included Dave Bruckman, Ron Carson, Erik Eriksson, Roy McClenahan and Andre Olobri. These climbers sought out steep athletic lines at the Needles and climbed them in bold style. Routes like Straight to Hell (5.12X), the Predator (5.12bR/X) and Liquid Sky (5.11c/dR) stand as testaments to their no nonsense ethic. As if the 1980s weren’t exciting enough already, two of the best climbers in California showed up at the Needles: Tony Yaniro and Randy Leavitt. These two quickly established Atlantis (5.11c), Davy Jones Locker (5.12b), Ankles Away (5.11c), Sirocco (5.12a), Pyromaniac (5.13a/b), the Avenger (5.13a/b), Romantic Warrior (5.12b) and the Sea of Tranquility (5.12b). These climbs represent some of the highest achievements of Needles rock climbing. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s I climbed one classic Needles route after another. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I also watched the route development at this time, and I knew I was witnessing something special. On one occasion I had just lead Ankles Away (5.11c), a technical thin crack on the West Face of the Witch. While belaying my second I watched Erik Eriksson, Mike Lechlinski, Mari Gingery and Dave Bruckman complete the first ascent of Superstition (5.11dR). This grade might not seem impressive compared to today’s high numbers, but the cool head and traditional skills a climb like this demands are another story altogether.

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OPPOSITE PAGE TOP With granite splitters everywhere, Viren Perumal and Maarten Harris find their place on Fancy Free (5.10). IMAGE + Ken Etzel OPPOSITE PAGE BOTTOM Jim Herson entering the crux of Davey Jones Locker (5.12c). IMAGE + Jim Thornburg THIS PAGE Jeff Schoen climbing Prescription (5.11+), Charlatan Needle. IMAGE + Greg Epperson

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Tony Yaniro, a visionary climber in the Needles, takes a lap on Spontaneous Combustion (5.12b). Yaniro established this old school masterpiece on the Fire Wall in the 1980s. IMAGE + Jim Thornburg


THIS PAGE Ben Moon has clipped the new bolt and the old bolt in hopes of easing the fright factor on the teetering, always windy crux on the second pitch of Scirocco (5.12a). IMAGE + Jim Thornburg OPPOSITE PAGE BOTTOM Katie Lambert climbing the 5th pitch (5.12a) of Romantic Warrior (5.12b). IMAGE + Ben Ditto

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ne beautiful fall day in 1995 I found myself walking out the trail with Erik Eriksson. He had proposed that we do No More Mr. Nice Guy; a face climb on the Necromancer graded 5.10c. We’d been climbing hard for a few days so I welcomed the idea of kicking back on something more moderate. The fact that Erik wanted to do it should have made me suspicious. The fact that it was put up by the Gilje / Lechlinski posse should have been a red alert. The route climbs four pitches up the perfect granite on the south face of the Necromancer, a fat pinnacle which stands as a sentry at the bottom of the main notch. When we arrived at the base Erik looked up at the climb. “I want to lead the second pitch. It has a reputation.” I feigned disappointment, but he would have none of it. “Dude, you’re pipe.” I led the first pitch, a nice 5.9 crack. Erik led the money pitch, 160 feet of 5.10c with three bolts. As I watched Erik climb the steep, thin, technical moves I could see that this rig was a serious sandbag. Following the pitch I knew that if I fell it would spoil the day. Erik has a strict code; if either climber falls, the ascent is tainted. Arriving at the belay, I complimented Erik on his lead. The next pitch is a rope-length of 5.8 with no protection, ending at a bolted belay. I climbed quietly, sneaking up the face, following a line of least resistance. I studied the sea of granite above. The belay was up there somewhere and if I didn’t find it I would be in real trouble. The call “30 feet” drifted up on the wind. I was running out of rope. I kept climbing. The belay had to be up here. I moved up into a shallow depression in the rock which featured a walnut sized knob at head height. Delicately pinching this knob, I leaned out looking for the anchor. Nothing. Then I saw it, a bit of sun-bleached webbing lifted up and showed itself in the breeze. Jesus, I had passed it. It was eight or ten feet below me and

about 15 feet right. I could climb back down easily enough, but getting across looked hard. Falling here meant certain death. A tumbling, flailing, shredding death ending with a long red streak down the rock face. It’s a wonderful feeling, in a situation like this, to know with absolute certainty that your partner will not fall. I hung a thin runner over the knob and clipped in. I was standing on my toes facing the rock. “Off belay!” Being careful not to weight the knob I gingerly pulled up the slack. “That’s me.” Calm and steady. Erik knew something was up. “On belay!” Erik arrived. He gave the knob a quizzical eye. “Dude…” Without another word he wandered up one more unprotected pitch to the top. <~~~> The Needles demanded that I step up my game. I wanted to lead some of the area’s challenging routes. The easier ones like Atlantis (5.11c), Ankles Away (5.11c), and the Don Juan Wall (5.11b) were within reach and I did them several times with different friends. John Bachar once said “work each grade horizontally until you’re solid, and then move up.” I was following his sage advice. Randy Leavitt said that he and Tony Yaniro approached their climbing like it was a job they loved. I could relate to that. My alternate life required professionalism, and I brought that attitude to climbing.


Patrick Odonnell and Brian Russell make their way up Atlantis (5.11c). IMAGE + Ken Etzel

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“Today The Needles host more than 200 routes ranging in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.13. The majority of climbs fall in the 5.9 – 5.11 range.”


n 2009 I began work on a new guidebook for the Needles. For several summers I spent weeks at a time living in the campground. I hiked out to all sorts of spots to take pictures, met and hung out with climbers from around the world, and did some of the obscure and easier routes I had ignored in the past. I had a great time. I also began to get a picture of where climbing at the Needles is heading. There will be no more explosions of new route activity at the Needles. Climbers might find a new line here or there, but short of doing squeeze jobs there’s just not much that hasn’t been done. One interesting newer route is Pulp Friction (5.12+R), a very bold route done in 2008 by George Ullrich and Mason Earle on the west face of the Witch. “As for the grade, we settled on 12+,” said Earle. “The route felt miles harder than the Romantic Warrior (5.12b), which we onsighted without much trouble.” Today climbs like the Romantic Warrior (5.12b) and Pyromaniac (5.13a/b) which even in the 1990s saw very few ascents, get done many times each season. In 2010 a pair of climbers did the Romantic Warrior (5.12b) and Don Juan Wall (5.11b) in a day.

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If you think about it, there are some pretty fine link-ups to do at the Needles. How about starting with Love Potion #9 (5.9) on the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A 60M rap takes you to the base of the south face of the Wizard. Next, do the Demon (5.10) and its alternate finish to the summit of the Wizard. From there a short rap gets to the notch from where you can take the easy 5th class ridge to the summit of the Sorcerer. A 35M rap sets you up to finish on Spooky (5.9). While the “golden age” of discovery, the chance to climb one new route after another cannot repeat itself, the Needles will always offer climbers adventure and an opportunity to test themselves. A day of climbing at the Needles begins with a scenic hike of two or three miles. Then comes a full day of heady climbing followed by the hike back to camp, perhaps guided by the light of your headlamp. The day ends as you enjoy the comradery of your friends, and perhaps that of climbers from faraway places. If this is your idea of fun then the Needles is where you belong.

OPPOSITE PAGE Jeff Schoen hand traversing on the exposed second pitch of Airy Interlude (5.10a). THIS PAGE Jeff Schoen has a go at the rarely visited summit of the Warlock via the incredible crimpers on the Titanic (5.12c). The Howling ascends the arête in the sun / shadow line at 5.10a. IMAGE + Jim Thornburg (BOTH) CALIFORNIACLIMBERMAGAZINE.COM | 51

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OPPOSITE PAGE Rob Raker climbing Sea Of Tranquility (5.12), Warlock Needle. IMAGE + Greg Epperson THIS PAGE Jason Campbell has negotiated the tricky to protect and cryptic lower face moves on Pyromaniac (5.13a) and now bears down for the straightforward but gutbusting flake that foils many would-be ascents. IMAGE + Jim Thornburg


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OPPOSITE PAGE Tiffany Campbell climbing the first pitch (5.10c) of Atlantis (5.11c). With varied climbing through strenuous laybacks, tips cracks, flakes and roofs, this beautiful four-pitch route is widely considered among the best climbs in the Needles and is likely one of the finest climbs of its length and grade in California. Pitch one begins in an overhanging right-facing flake a few feet to the right of the start of Thin Ice (5.10b). Atlantis briefly joins Thin Ice, but quickly traverses on flakes to the right to a bolted belay below the crux pitch. The crux third pitch is an amazing tips crack that leads to a gorgeous hand crack and a belay at a ledge. The fourth pitch involves a steep bulge to a corner that leads to the summit of the Sorcerer Needle. A highly

recommended variation to the fourth pitch of Atlantis called Lost at Sea (5.10d) follows a gradually thinning flake that arches delicately up the smooth granite headwall. IMAGE + Jim Thornburg THIS PAGE Brian Russell treads lightly on the first pitch of Thin Ice (5.10b). This spectacular three-pitch route is steep and physical, yet is also the easiest route to reach the summit of the intimidating Sorcerer Needle. Pitch one is the crux and starts in a rightfacing corner that climbs past a ledge to an incredible splitter on the steep, colorful headwall. Above, a strenuous flaring V-slot (5.10a) and a low angle 5.9 hand crack lead to the exposed summit. IMAGE + Ken Etzel


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THIS PAGE Tony Yaniro thugs up the burly 5.10 hand crack on the lower section of Davey Jones Locker (5.12c). A desperate, much harder crux lies above. IMAGE + Jim Thornburg OPPOSITE PAGE Kevin Daniels climbing the Nautilus (5.12) on the Witch Needle. IMAGE + Greg Epperson


OPPOSITE PAGE Anne Kern climbing the first pitch of White Punks on Dope (5.8+). With featured cracks, chimneys, laybacks, gaping offwidths and heady slabs, this incredible six pitch route is widely considered among the greatest climbs of its grade in the Southern Sierra. IMAGE + Jim Thornburg THIS PAGE Austin Siadak takes a lap on the Charlatan Summit Needle. IMAGE + Ken Etzel

THE BETA GETTING THERE From the city of Bakersfield head north on Kern River Road. Continue onto Highway 155 which eventually turns into the Kern River Highway. A turn north onto the Western Divide Highway leads you to Forest Service Route 21S05. Turn east on 21S05 and follow this dirt road for approximately three miles to the campsites and trailhead. A three mile hike on a well-warn path takes you to the crags. WHERE TO STAY Excellent free camping can be found at the ridge-top campground at the Needles parking area. Please respect all National Forest rules and regulations. This will be another hot and dry summer in California. PLEASE BE CAREFUL WITH FIRES AND RESPECT FIRE REGULATIONS AND/OR RESTRICTIONS. GUIDEBOOK “The Needles Climbing” by Kristian Solem

Welcome to the Needles. 5-STAR ROUTES Igor Unchained (5.9) Airy Interlude (5.10a) Thin Ice (5.10b) Atlantis (5.11c) Romantic Warrior (5.12b)

Chris Lorimer on T-Crack (5.10c), Gibraltar Rock.

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LEGO LAND Kyle O’Meara on the first ascent of Guardian Angel (V8).




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Noah Kaufman makes the hard on-arm mantel to reach between the rails of Guardian Angel (V8).


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t 7 a.m. he shivered awake, his sleeping bag covered in a hard frost sparkling in the rays of morning sun filtering through the camper windows of his 1993 Toyota Tacoma. You could say the boy was homeless, but that would be missing the point. The 17-year-old had recently moved up from the warmer clime of San Diego to settle in the much colder mountain town of South Lake Tahoe, a budding bouldering mecca. Aside from his truck, sleeping bag, and a few changes of clothes, Harrison had only two other worldly possessions: a bouldering pad/bed and the iPhone he’d recently purchased in an uncharacteristic moment of indulgence, figuring it would be helpful for finding housing in South Lake. The phone lay buried in his sleeping bag. He powered it up and burrowed deeper into the bag to check the apartment listings. The Google Earth app was still open from late the night before. With fresh eyes, he zoomed in on a promising boulder and applied the app’s measure tool. The rock was 40 feet long. There were dozens of this size. He scrolled further. Adjacent to a small cliff band was a perfect rectangular block that appeared to be twice the size of the others—90 feet long if the measure tool was accurate. He zoomed further in. A telltale shadow hinted that at least one of the long faces was vertical or beyond. Finding an apartment could wait. Eberlin snapped out of the cyber-world, slapped some peanut butter and jam onto a few slices of bread, fired up the truck and began the intricate task of finding the real-world boulders. <~~~> “Even when you know where to look, this area is hard to find,” says Eberlin. Alone on the approach—three trackless miles across rugged terrain—Eberlin experienced a stout dose of bushwhacking, droves of hungry mosquitos, and a growing sense of unease as he headed farther and farther out. “You never know if you’re going to find any worthwhile boulders,” he says. “Sometimes you just find scruffy little blobs.” This time was different: Eberlin forged ahead up the rocky hillside that he knew from Google Earth, and down into the hidden draw he’d studied so carefully. On cue, the boulders appeared—50 gigantic granite blocks, jumbled about like a child’s random Lego set, scattered over an area the size of two football fields. He knew instantly that he’d struck gold.

OPPOSITE PAGE Kyle O’Meara fights through the highball crux of No Drama (V5). THIS PAGE Noah Kaufman climbing Getting Shacked (V3).

Eberlin carried only one small pad that first day, but still found himself climbing some “very high” problems. He couldn’t resist: “The boulders were too cool not to climb.” Eberlin soon introduced his friend Kyle Foster, a Tahoe resident of seven years, to the virgin boulder field. The pair spent over 30 days hiking, camping and plucking plum lines on over 30 stellar boulders while soaking in the beauty and quiet of their own little kingdom. “Harrison is the guy who always has one more effort in him regardless of how late it is or how hungry you’re feeling,” notes Foster. “It’s why he was able to find such a gem. Most people would scoff at the idea of bushwhacking for miles with no promise of success and no expectation of safety.” Even with directions and a developing trail, the hike is long (1.5 hours if you’re fast and you don’t get lost), but the golden patina edges and the austere and clean highball lines found on the big boulders should entice at least a visit or two from any devoted boulderer. “Half the experience is simply [having taken] the 3-mile trek out there,” says Foster. “You appreciate every send down to your easiest warm up. I find myself taking more in rather than simply working problems: the fresh air, the peaks as far as you can see, the wildlife. And the granite.” Eberlin, now 21 and safely housed in South Lake, has since introduced dozens of others to Legoland, sharing many of the best potential lines in a selfless fashion.


Gabe Metzger climbing an unnamed (V1).

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Anne Raber climbing Indiana Jones V7


5-STAR ROUTES Getting Shacked (V3) No Drama (V5) Ninja Gaiden (V5) Indiana Jones (V7) Guardian Angel (V8)

THE BETA GETTING THERE Legoland involves a two hour approach on complex trails that start from a parking area 2.1 miles onto Forest Service Route N901 just above Meadow Lake. Forest Service Route N901 is located off of Blue Lake Road 2.5 miles west of Pickett’s Junction at the Highway 88 / Highway 89 Junction in the Tahoe National Forest. The approach directions are far too complex to describe in this sidebar. Your best bet is to go with a friend that knows the way or pick up “Lake Tahoe Bouldering, Outlaying Areas” by Dave Hatchett. WHERE TO STAY Many different State Park or Forest Service campgrounds offer pay camping. Better still are the countless free bivi spots found on Forest Service land throughout the region. Be sure to leave no trace and have a permit if you need to build a fire. GUIDEBOOK “Lake Tahoe Bouldering, Outlying Areas” by Dave Hatchet.

Noah Kaufman climbing Ninja Gaiden (V5).

AAC BENEFITS IN YOUR BACKYARD Members of the AAC enjoy some pretty rad benefits, including discounts on gyms, guide services, gear shops, and more.


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Carlsbad Carlsbad, CA (760) 689-2651

Climbing Diablo Rock Gym Concord, CA

> 18. Granite Arch Climbing Center

(925) 602-1000 > 24. Touchstone

Rancho Cordova, CA (916) 852-7625

Climbing Great Western Power Co.

> 19. Rocknasium Davis, CA

Oakland, CA (510) 452-2022

(530) 757-2902 > 20. Touchstone

> 25. Touchstone Climbing Metal Mark

Climbing Mission Cliffs

Climbing + Fitness Fresno, CA

San Francisco, CA (415) 550-0515 > 21. Touchstone Climbing Berkeley Ironworks Berkeley, CA (510) 981-9900 > 22. Touchstone Climbing Sacramento Pipeworks Sacramento, CA (916) 341-0100 > 23. Touchstone

(559) 229-7900 > 26. Toutchstone Studio Climbing San Jose, CA (408) 998-4000 > 27. Touchstone Dogpatch Boulders San Francisco, CA (415) 800-8121 > 28. Touchstone LA Boulders Los Angeles, CA (323) 406-9119

Major Events

Sunnyvale Sunnyvale,

Marcos San Marcos,

> 29. Uli Steck: The Swiss Machine Yoshi’s, San Francisco, CA—Dec. 16, 2014 > 30. Uli Steck: The Swiss Machine Mountain

CA (408) 991-9090 > 8. Hanger 18 South

CA (760) 480-1429 > 13. Solid Rock Old

Hardwear HQ, Richmond, CA—Dec. 17, 2014 Richmond, CA

member card for the latest details.

Bay L.A. Hawthorne, CA (310) 973-3388

Town San Diego, CA (619) 299-1124

> 31. Joshua Tree Spring Cling—March 2015 > 32. International Climbers’ Meet Yosemite

> 1. Flagstaff Climbing Center

> 4. Sanctuary Rock Gym Sand City, CA

> 9. Hanger 18 Riverside Riverside,

> 14. Solid Rock Poway Poway, CA

National Park—Oct. 2015 > 33. Craggin’ Classic Fall Highball, Bishop,

Flagstaff, AZ (928) 556-9909

(831) 899-2595 > 5. Planet Granite

CA (951) 359-5040 > 10. Hanger 18

(858) 748-9011 > 15. Vertical Heaven

CA—Nov. 7-9, 2015

> 2. Phoenix Rock Gym Tempe, AZ

San Francisco San Francisco, CA

Upland Upland, CA (909) 931-5991

Indoor Rock Climbing Gym Ventura, CA

> 34. Alpine Skills International with its AMGA/

(480) 921-8322 > 3 Boulderdash

(415) 692-3434 > 6. Planet Granite

> 11. Threshold Climbing Gym

(805) 339-9022 > 16. Vital Climbing:

IFMGA trained/certified guides offers all-terrain backcountry ski mountaineering, avalanche

Indoor Rock Climbing Thousand Oaks, CA

Belmont Belmont, CA (650) 591-3030

Riverside, CA (951) 742-8479

Murrieta Murrieta, CA (951) 251-4814

education and climbing program Truckee, CA. (530) 582-9170 (June–

(805) 557-1300

> 7. Planet Granite

> 12. Solid Rock San

> 17. Vital Climbing:

November) and (530) 582-9170 (December–May).

Gym Discounts Discounts vary. Call, check discounts, or head to your local gym with your AAC

Guide Services

AAC member Truc Allen Media




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