September 6th marked the one year anniversary of mine and Jeds wedding day. Jed and I were not only ready for some time alone, and not only ready to climb our butts off, but we also are required to celebrate on this special day. Our solution? The Needles, California! The Needles are these towering needle-like spires of granite covered in lime green lichen way in the middle of nowhere on the western side of the Sierra. They are said to be steep, stout, and a little run-out. To make a long story short, this was probably the best climbing trip of my life. Steep? Yes. Stout? Solid. Run-out? No. We spend 4 days in The Needles; two of the days in the popular area doing "hard" climbing and two days taking turns mock guiding on bigger, more adventurous routes. For those who know the area we climbed: Thin Ice, Fancy Free, Spooky, Igors Revenge, White Punks on Dope and Strange Brew. All of them were incredible. On our anniversary we climbed a 14 pitch route (Strange Brew on the Magician) that took us to a fire tower where there was a ranger who was rumored to bake cookies for climbers on Sundays. Well- the rumor is true, and they are not just cookies, they are the best cookies I have ever had. After our climb and cookies we headed out to a creek to rinse off and then had dinner at a little lodge down the road from the climbing area. After our burgers and sodas we drove to Dome Rock, a prominant make out point with a grand view of the Needles. Up there we carefully unwrapped our lovely champagne glasses ettched with our names and wedding date and partook of a sweet bottle of Dom Perignon bought for us by our dear friends Steven and Lauren with the strict instuctions to drink it on our 1 year anniversary. It was a lovely day to celebrate a lovely promise.What gnat to do:
Now that you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I want to tell you about the bad part of the trip. On the last day we decided to drive to the um...other side of the Needles to try a classic route called "White Punks on Dope." The only thing that got me through the day was the following mantra: it will make a good story. it will make a good story. it will make a good story. First off, you should know that I suffer from a very serious condition called the Alpine Memory. This means that I can expereince the most heinous shit in the mountains and totally forget by the time I get home and may even feel like going to do whatever it was again despite how miserable I was at the time. Such is the case with this climb but I will do my best to remember the horror of it all.
Now, most of you know that I am no stranger to discomfort. I have slapped at mosquitos in the Arctic, I have bushwacked with the best of them in Alaska, and I have scrambled and climbed up countless scree, moraine, and talus slopes. Perhaps it was the fatigue of climbing for three days but there was nothing that could have prepared me for this. Enter the gnats. Enter the heaps of dried leaves and pine needles. Enter the steep slope. Enter the 90 degree heat. Enter the shrubbery. Exit the sanity. There is nothing quite like making your way up a trail-less slippery slope where every step you make you slip back one. There is nothing quite like having about 500 buzzing gnats desperately try to gain access to every hole on your head. The thing about gnats is that they don't seem to have a purpose in life but to annoy you. At least mosquitos take some blood to be able to pass on their genes (AND they are polinators). In my most zen moments I realize that mosquitos probably don't want to annoy you, perhaps they even hate the taste of blood but they just can't go against their biological directions. Who could blame them really? But gnats? They are just evil. Anyway, as you are sliding your way up this slippery slope, and the gnats are trying to get in your face holes, you have to remember that it is also hot out so you are sweating and when you sweat, you get sticky, and when you are sticky all of the dirt, leaves, needles, and dead gnats stick to you. Oh yeah, to keep the gnats from entering your earholes you might wrap your shirt around your head. This makes you hotter of course and then occationally as you are wrestling with a tree of shrub, a branch may decide that it is a funny joke to pull your little capilene turbin off your head so that the gnats can instantly fly and buzz their little anoying laughter at the funny joke in your ears. Deep breath. Internalized scream. Frantic swatting at the air. Repressed anger upon seeing that Jed is not nearly as annoyed by the situation. Why doesn't he go join a monestary somewhere? Deep breath. So by the time we get to the climb, I am over it. Jed mock guides the whole thing. Every wonderful pitch of different sized cracks, and clean face climbing, all the way to the beautiful summit will not do much to make that approach worthwhile unfortunately. On the way down we found an entire rope at the base of the rock. Perhaps someone had a worse time than we did. This makes me feel a little better. Plus a breeze has picked up a little. My advice? Don't approach from the "other" side.