Peak(s):  Needle Ridge  -  13,500 feet
Date Posted:  09/05/2010
Date Climbed:   09/04/2010
Author:  san juaneer
 Needle Rock (10,656') ~ a walk on the wild side   

2010-09-04 ~ AaronIhinger

80' tower
w/ Shawn Smith
gear: full rack, cams to #4 (double #.75, double #2) / full rack, long draws / 70M rope

Having recently completed all the ranked peaks over 10k' in my home county, I had a choice to make... I could either start working on my 10k'- list of 28 remaining sub-alpine peaks ranging from 6,103' to 9,980', or I could endeavor my greater goal of finishing everything ranked & unranked in the county (per LOJ) by climbing my remaining unranked 10k'+ peaks while the late summer weather is holding on and save the lower peaks for later in the year when the snow flies. Well I wasn't overly eager to tear into the low country peaks while it's pretty hot out still and the high country peaks are generally much closer to me anyhow... I opted to finish the summer out on the high unranked remainder. Well, even after Saint Sophia Ridge is behind you, there are still some tough peaks left to contend with in the SMC. Namely... Needle Rock and North Pole Peak, I can only be thankful that other technical towers such as Mill Creek Spire, Gertrude Bell spire, and Psycho Tower don't make the cut or I might never finish this most serious 'county list'. North Pole goes free at 5.6, and though I have scampered half way up it without gear in 2003, I was unable to surmount the crux and therefore must return to claim it at another time. Not a great concern, I can come back for a fun alpine moderate anytime... but what about the Needle Rock, it's a 5.9 upgrade since conglomerate holds that used to be there have fallen out leaving shallow dishes in their place to cling to... could I lead that?

Two weeks ago, I didn't believe I could. I called up my pal Shawn who has climbed it twice before. The perfect weapon for success and safety on such a notorious climb. He accepted my request of accompaniment but we did not even broach the subject of 'the lead'... I figured it was implied that it would be his. A week later and a week ago he suggested we plant a flag up on the summit for everyone's enjoyment during the ski season as Needle Rock sits right on the edge of the ski area boundary. I remembered that Charlie and Damon's book showed a Jolly Roger on their topo... that would be pretty cool. I ordered an 18"x24" from immediately. As the week progressed we met up and put our flagpole ideas together. We arranged Shawn's battery powered hammer drill with two charged batteries and some concrete epoxy. We also wanted a flag that would not bind up and rap itself around the pole in the wind, never to come undone again. What we would devise would be a free spinning design which would blow whichever way the wind blows without binding up at all... perfect! I finally mentioned my uneasiness about the lead and Shawn said "come on, you gotta at least give it a try". I agreed and let it ride, fully expecting that I would fail and have to be lowered and trade spots on the rope in the heat of the moment.

Saturday morning came and I still had a ladder to return to the rental company which didn't open until 9:am. This slowed our departure a bit but the forecast was looking great and it had been stable for several days as well. We dry fit the flag realizing there were still some minor adjustments to be made. We rectified them with a dremel tool until the desired specifications were met and then began the hike through town toward the Gondola. Film fest was underway and the streets of Telluride were packed with people and Shawn was carrying a 9 foot long steel pole. We found it somewhat comical as we set up for a quick photo shoot in front of the court house but we did not yet fly our colors. The nine foot pole was too wide for the bike rack on the gondola but the operator was nice enough to hand it through the window and at that angle it would fit... awesome! My friend Ajax called to tell me he had a spare ticket to the world premier of Aron Ralston's 127 Hours at the film fest tonight at 9:00pm... sweet! We left the G at 10:45am following the Telluride trail toward chair 9 terrain, crossing the East Drain and bushwhacking up toward the ridge thereafter, popping up just 100 yards to the right of Needle Rock. Anyone ever have the butterflies before... I sure did at that time, you see I am a confident and competent 5.7 trad. leader and this thing is at least two grades harder than anything I have ever lead traditionally... and I'm about to attack it!

We contoured to the base of the route on the West face and ditched our gear there. Unencumbered, we set off to encircle the tower and see the East face. It was rumored that there was SAR training going on at the Needle lately and a new anchor had been established on the East face, so we went to see if we could find any bolts... nothing, but it was good to unwind after the heavy haul in anyway. We geared up and I accepted as much advice from Shawn as he would offer before departing on my toughest trad. lead to date. It was 1:10pm, and the 5.9+ crux comes early at 12 feet off of the deck. I started left of the crack placing my #4 cam. just 6 feet up, then it was time to stem to the right of the crack and shift aspects. I plugged in a #.75 and a #2 below the crux bulge and took stock of my surroundings... Yep, this looks harder than anything I've ever climbed before. I reached deep within myself for whatever might be available and then pulled up, placed another piece of pro. and committed myself to the climb. I thought the difficulty above the bulge would decrease but it was relentless for the next 25 feet. Regular gear was available but I had burned all of my larger pro. down low. I jammed my little heart out, found a sweet knee bar (unfortunately it was so sharp it bloodied my knee), then a couple of nice arm bars... and I generally impressed myself. My climbing was not clean per se, I pulled on my cams at times but remember, I climb a full two grades below this regularly... I will bear the shame. I had to keep a sharp eye out for gear now and I ran out the middle a bit but the difficulty now was finally relenting. At 55-60 feet there's a ledge which you might think would provide a breather, but it's so loose and stacked with boulders that you just want to push past it anyhow. I was able to plug in one last #.75 at the base of the final 20 feet which was fine because the climbing eases to 5.6 with the now standard 'watch the looseness' modicum. There was a really cool right side layback to play with in this upper section, then anchors... OFF CLIMB, I yelled.

It looked as though Hayme (one of our local heroes) had equalized the 3 point anchor last March, even donated a locking caribiner as well as several others. I didn't haul in on the rope as I typically would at this point, Shawn tied in mid-line and readied the gear pack and flag pole at the end of the line behind him before setting off to climb. In retrospect, I believe I had the easy end of things even on the sharp end of the rope. Shawn had a heavy load to haul. At 2:15pm, Shawn and the load were on the summit with me. We unclipped from the anchor and walked over the true summit of a massif approximately 35 feet long averaging 8 feet wide, obviously wider in the middle and narrower at either end. We wanted to erect the flag as close to the North arete as we could get and sure enough, about 6 feet back from the end, there was a nice firm piece of capstone standing in relief from the rubble around it... perfect! We thumbed through the register and found a place to scribe of our adventure, and called a few different people to see if they could see us... and they could. My buddy Conrad called, he's a paraglider thinking of flying that afternoon. We talked about how he could film us and we could film him back. I talked to Ajax down at the market and he could see us. My son called me and said that he could see me too... this is pretty cool!

We set to the task, Shawn was drilling and I was blowing. The dust was filling my beard and mustache and nostrils teeth and tear ducts and I was all dry and gritty... yuck! After draining two 18V batteries and an hour of hard labor, we were finally there. 6 inches deep and wallered out to an inch wide, ready to receive a 9 foot steel pole. Oops, guess what we forgot... the epoxy gun, dohhh... we had to push the epoxy tubes with a nut tool backed by a climbing shoe as well as opposing pressure. By the time we were done, we had not only filled the hole with epoxy, but also the base pieces of the rock cairn that presently surrounds it, which is also where the ledger jar now resides. When it was all said and done we sat back to relax a little. The weather had been perfect, but that being said, we had suffered some solar abuse and I was ready to get back down to earth and into the shade. We enjoyed the best tasting mango I can remember in years, wiped off the sticky and readied for the rappel. I shot one last photo of the flag and shipped off into the forest below. We scooted down the ridge below and looked back occasionally to see the flag flying up top behind us. We were heading straight for town through dense virgin forest. The game trails crossing our path were hammered into the forest floor as though they'd been used for centuries. Shawn kept an amazing compass under the dense canopy and lead us right to a secret 3rd class downclimb through the big cliffband above town park, and by 6:30pm we were back to his house where we had started... on foot. We sipped a tasty beer looking up at our handiwork on the late day skyline. The flag was small, but distinguishable above, flapping freely in the breeze... Arrrrrrrghh.

I went home, washed my face and made some dinner and left in a hurry for the film festival. Ajax was taking me to see the new Danny Boyle film which was world premiering at the Palm Theater... 127 HOURS featuring James Franco, the new movie depicting Aron Ralston's tale of desperation in Blue John Canyon a few years back. What a way to end the day. I was exhausted and hadn't even had a chance to change my clothes. Boyle, Franco, and Ralston were there for the show and apparently will be appearing at the film festival in Toronto next week as well. Both appearances of the film are surprise predecessors to the official world premier of the film at the BFI in London in October. 127 HOURS will be released in theaters during the first week of November.

An amazing day for 'ol double A...

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
san juaneer
09/06/2010 15:38
Someone passed out at the Ralston movie when he cut off his arm, but an ambulance with EMT's was at the ready...

san juaneer
09/17/2010 02:45
Why did this post as Needle Ridge???

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