Spanish Needle in the haystack

25 Apr 1999 - by Arun Mahajan

The year is 1969. A climber from Ridgecrest teams up with a group of his friends and they try to climb Spanish Needle. Near the summit, upon discovering the need for a rope and having none, he passes up on the summit attempt. Since that abortive attempt, he has always wanted to bag this peak.

It is the 25th of April, 1999 and thirty years have gone by. The same climber from Ridgecrest teams up with a different group of friends to try his luck on the Spanish Needle once again.

This climber is Don Peterson and this group of friends includes Dee Booth, Scott Tillman and Arun Mahajan.

They ride in Don's 4WD on the jeep road that starts a few yards PRIOR to coming to the fork on the Canebrake Road whose left arm leads on to the Long Valley. After 1.8 miles, the jeep road is blocked off and they start walking on it as it gets gets faint in spots and eventually ends and there is a faint trail that starts to their right at this point which climbs steeply and soon drops them onto the PCT. They take a left (north) on the PCT and within half a mile are at a broad open saddle.

Faithully following the description from Jenkins's excellent book and the couple of trip reports and trusting their compass skills they drop down on the east of the saddle and traverse south accross the slopes strewn with loose boulders. This section is rather tedious as they head towards the most prominient of the summits that they see to their right. They climb up the slopes to top out on the crest. They head towards the highest point by going up and then down over a series of humps. They find this to be easy class-3 and there is no snow.

Finally, they face the summit hump. On their left is the exposed slab mentioned in Jenkins. Scott traverses a snowfield and then climbs a few blocky ledges to the exposed slab. It is low angle but severly exposed and there is some snow on it and the snow melt has made it slick. He is concerned about the downclimbing on this slab. While he is on it, the others try out the narrow gully to the right of the slab. It seems to be class-4 atleast but the rock is solid and there is lesser exposure so they all climb this gully instead. Everybody is comfortable in climbing this unroped, and then, from the top of this gully they traverse right and then up over a friction slab and then over and around some large boulders to the summit.

It has taken them 5 hours. They gaze over to the high Sierra to the north and the surprisingly snow covered Telescope Peak to their east.

The gully looks hard to down climb. Don has brought along a 7mm rope and Scott, who is an experienced rock climber, shows everybody the dulfersitz (ouch) and they rappel down thusly. The subsequent traverse back to the saddle seems to be more tedious than before, perhaps everybody is a little worn out. But even this is over and after 2.5 hours of having left the summit, they are back at the saddle and about an hour and half later, they are at the cars.

To the others it is yet another peak attained, but to Don, it is the fullfilment of a tryst made thirty years ago with the Spanish Needle and now, when he sees it from Ridgecrest, he will have no regrets.

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