"I'm terrified of needles! Oh my gosh!" followed by uncontrollable awkward laughter. Alright...she really is afraid of needles...
Mollie and I have been doing a lot of driving lately and a lot of long drives, too. We've gotten in the habit of asking questions to keep each other occupied while driving late at night and early in the morning. It helps keep the mind occupied, busy and awake. Works for me!
The Needle's Highway is situated in the middle of the only good thing in South Dakota - The Black Hills. This place is amazing on many different levels but most importantly its home to hundreds of amazing climbing route that ascend up free standing spires covered in crystals. This is where we were headed now: The Needles.
I keep saying that the Black Hills area of South Dakota is my second favorite place that I've ever been too and now I stand behind that statement more than ever. For a climber that loves to stand on top of pillars, mountains, bluffs and every other rock formation out there but could do without the sweltering desert heat the Black Hills are for you. Cool temps (although year round climbing is hard to come by), shade, water and trees are abundant. Why would I ever go back to the desert? I was in love and I had two days to indulge myself in the ways of the Black Hills.
Our first stop was the Cathedral Spires area. Lots of spires, lots of summits. Perfect. I picked out a handful, planning on doing as many as possible. Classics like the East Face of Spire 1, God's Own Drunk on the Khayyam Spire, the Eyetooth & many others were on this to-do list. So many summits not enough time!
We started out on the East Face of Spire 1, hopped over to the summit of Balcony Point view a short but sweet tight hand crack (North Crack). Fun and easy summits. What more could you ask for? How about a 150 foot dihedral?
We found our way to the base of the hard-to-pronounce Khayyam Spire to summit via God's Own Drunk (5.8+). The first 150ft were amazing text book dihedral climbing with fun runouts. The last 50ft, however, was ruined by heinous rope drag. After this first pitch it's a short jaunt over to the actual summit via exposed 4th class & easy 5th class climbing.
We were quite tired and with the realization we didn't bring any of our lunch food we hiked back out to the car. On our way out I remembered hearing about a "rickety looking tower" by the parking lot that had an "easy" route to the summit. Rickety? Sounds sweet!
We got back to the car, ate some food and I talked Mollie into giving the onsite of Sandberg Peak (5.9) a go. Now, you have to understand Mollie's mind (I don't but I'll try and explain anyway...) and how it works. She can climb pretty hard, she has climbed pretty hard. She also can handle runouts quite well (most notably the 200feet of unprotected easy 5th class pitches she led on Infinite Bliss). The caveat, though, is that she can psych herself out on stupid easy things. This makes Mollie's life quite challenging and frustrating at times. I know she can do this. Why can't she just do it! Come on! Sack up and send it!
She gave it a go, got half way up and just didn't want to fall so she called it quits and left it up to me to summit. We did and with quite the audience as well. We got back down to the car and were bombarded with questions, comments and praise. Ahh, just like Garden of the Gods...
Mollie did redeem herself that night by leading the Moonlight Rib (5.3 R) by twilight. Not only was it runout - it just didn't have fixed protection or opportunities for "modern" trad gear. She had to sling and girth hitch knobs, horns and crystals to protect herself from hitting the ground. She onsited this classic with just two pieces of protection. What? Why couldn't she climb a bolted 5.9? I don't get it....
"Just sack up & send it!"
Alright, Mollie didn't say it out loud to me but I imagine that's what she was saying in her head.
There I was, standing at the base of one of the area's super-classics and a route that I have wanted to and dreamed of climbing for years. The Needle's Eye is aesthetic no matter which way you look at it and I've always wanted to climb to the top. After my transfiguration in The City (see You Say One; I Say None) I was feeling confident with the 5.8X rating (the X stands for serious injury and consequences are probably in the chance of a climber fall).
Off I went! ...and there I stood. Stemmed in the chimney, only 30, maybe 40 ,feet off the ground. I was stuck. I didn't know where to go. I know exactly where I need to go - I just don't want fall in this chimney. Like I said, I didn't know where to go. I see where I need to be - I'm just a bit nervous to make the move. I wasn't scared, just "off route". I'm kind of scared, I'm on route and it's hard! So I down climbed, looked at the route from the ground like a baseball player looks at his bat when he strikes out. "Alright, I'll give it another go..."
Off I went! ...and there I stood. Stemmed in the chimney, only 30, maybe 40, feet off the ground. I was stuck. But this time I followed everything I tell everyone else. Just keep calm. Climb on. You wouldn't be on the route if you weren't OK with the consequences. Well, alright, that's definitely true. Just focus on the climbing. There's no pro, you can't do anything about that. Well, ok, that makes sense. Just sack up & send it already! Alright!
I pulled the move around the corner found some crystal jugs, was able to get a small (not cam) that I wouldn't want to fall on, and made my way up to the horn to belay from.
I mean, what was I scared of? Falling? From 30, maybe 40, feet off the ground? I'm scared I'll get wedged in this chimney. I moved passed that fear pretty quickly. What else? I'm afraid this thin diameter sling that I found resting on a rock at Turkey Rocks isn't going to hold the belay...Alright, let's just throw another one on there...just in case.
By this time a crowd had gathered to watch Mollie and I climb the Needle's Eye. She got to the belay, switched everything over and off I went up the second pitch, runout and airy arête - my favorite! After about 25 feet of climbing with no protection you get to clip an old piton traverse right and then climb up to the summit. Once I stood on the summit, I was met with uncontrollable hootin' & hollerin' from the parking lot below. Woah, I think they're more excited then I am!
Mollie got up to the summit, we had our moment, rappelled down, drank a beer (at 11:30 in the morning) and joked about how it was about time I had to just sack up & send it!