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Atlantis the Sorcerer
Photo by Arch. Michael Lerjen
Atlantis. 1st pitch. The Sorcerer.
Photo by Arch. Michael Lerjen
Fancy Free The Charlatan
Photo by Arch. Michael Lerjen
Charltan Spire Our lady of the Needles
Photo by Arch. Michael Lerjen

The Needles and the magical climbing in California

The Swiss Michael Lerjen-Demjen presents climbing at The Needles in California. A magical place for climbing in the USA.

I've spent many a spring and autumn in sunny California, climbing Yosemite's big walls and bouldering in Bishop, and this spring I was lured once again to the "country of cracks." Along with talented Maria Roldan from Argentina I wanted to climb, only climb, no matter what! Unfortunately though I didn't find what I was looking for: in Yosemite it felt like being at the zoo, and with only seven days available my desire to climb almost disappeared! So what should we do? The High Sierra was nearby, of extraordinary beauty, but in May it's often still clad in snow and the routes still wet. Then a picture of Tony Yaniro moving across golden granite sprung to mind. What was the name of that place? Ah yes, The Needles!

The guide was now out of print, everyone I knew had heard of it but no one had ever been. Hmmm... After some searching on the Internet we found enough information and the photos
made our mouths water! Not many people, plenty of climbing history, this could be perfect!

When we arrived on the south side of the High Sierra we were speechless: thick fog enveloped the forest and it felt like we were in a jungle! We followed the directions through the dense forest and the rain and the wind made us feel completely lost. In addition, the phone didn't work either. When we finally arrived at the campsite the weather was not in the least inviting: wind, rain and temperatures around zero! Then two people emerged from the mist and asked how the climbing had gone and then replied "Fantastic, it's beautiful up there!" How was that possible? We had to find out for ourselves and there was no time to lose.

The approach winds its way up through the forest and after 1 hour we finally saw The Needles and everything we had read previously didn't do them justice. What a magical place! We literally ran to the base and the sheer steepness of these beautiful granite towers, with their perfect lines, literally took our breath away.

We prepared our gear and reached the base. Looking up, heads arched backwards, we began to feel a shudder... the atmosphere and everything around us commanded respect. But after the first meters this gave way to pure joy. After two 60m pitches up perfect rock we reached the top, for a moment we were uncertain as to where we were, the panorama, the spires were simply breathtaking. And this is what I love about our sport, it takes you to places that take your breath away as you climb in harmony with nature, far removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, of other people, as you immerse yourself in adventure!

Every route we climbed, each summit we reached was pure magic! And on the last day, as we descended, I remembered a question I was asked by two small girls, Katarina and Anastasia. Long ago they had asked me whether I believed in magic. Now I know the answer! The Needles are quite simply magical!

Thanks to: Hans Hobi, Betta Gobbi and Herve Fontbonne

1. Atlantis 5.11c

Atlantis was first freed in 1981 by Tony Yaniro & Randy Leavitt and that says it all. Maybe on of the best lines of its grade! Atlantis has everything, from straight jamming to liebacks, and some balancy face moves. Sometimes even a cool head is helpful!

2. Igor Unchained 5.9+
Igor Unchained follows a straight line up perfect cracks with hand jams and finger-locks. The protection is tricky for the first 10 meters, then bomber until the top! A hard but amazing route for the grade, up the steep golden granite on the West Face of the Witch! An amazing line to begin with and to get used to the rock! Beware though, this is not Europe, the cracks are steep and need refined crack climbing techniques.

Southern High Sierra, California
Rock: perfect granite
Altitude: c.a 2500m
Route length: 2-9 pitches
Style: Mostly trad or runnout climbing, very few sports climbs
Recommended routes: Igor Unchained 5.9+, Fancy Free 5.10b, Thin Ice 5.10b, Airy Interlude 5.10b, Atlantis 5.11c, Don Juan Wall 5.11b, Romatic Warrior 5.12b, Spooky 5.9+, With Punks on Dope 5.8+,
Guidebook: California Road Trip. A Climber's Guide Northern California. By Tom Slater and Chris Summit
Topo online: monsteroffwidth.com/NeedlesMiniGuide/
Gear: 70m rope for all routes. Double rack, a full set of nuts, take extra gear depending on which route you climb
Best time of year: Spring and autumn





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