Monday, August 9, 2010

Adventure Climbing

Vedauwoo marked our entry into the land of afternoon thunderstorms, and the trend would continue at our next destination: The Needles, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We saw some sort of precipitation pretty much every day we were there. Thankfully you can get on the rock before the storms form and they usually blow over pretty quickly.

The Needles is a fascinating place to climb, and is unique in its seemingly endless number of spires.

One day we did a popular peak linkup called the Cathedral Enchainment, which has about 400 feet of climbing and takes you to the top of three awesome peaks in the Cathedral Spires area. It was a pretty interesting day that didn't have the most promising of starts. The approach description in the guidebook was a little lacking, so what should have been a nice easy 30 minute approach turned into over 2 hours of trying to figure which spire was which and which gully we should be hiking up. Eventually we found the climbs, and though we were a little leary of the late start, due to the potential for afternoon storms, off we went.

These three peaks were right beside each other, so after getting to the top of one, you could rap about halfway down and start climbing the next one. Getting from the first to the second peak involved the single most committing move of the entire trip. Here is Kristal doing the 'stem of faith'.

What you don't see in the picture is the 80+ feet of air between Kristal and the ground.

While Kristal was climbing the second peak I was nervously looking at the sky to the south and north of us, the only parts I could see from the gap between the spires. I wasn't too pleased with the darkening clouds I saw rolling by. Kristal was climbing the east face, so she couldn't see what was approaching. As she topped out, this is what she saw.

Once I got up there we rapped down as quick as we could to the gap between the second and third spires. It was the first time we'd been genuinely afraid of getting struck by lightning. We decided to wait it out a bit in our relative safety. Thankfully the center of the storm blew over just north of us and within half an hour the sky was clear again. We counted ourselves lucky and proceeded to the last, and highest of the spires.

One of the cool things about the Needles is that many of the peaks have summit registers. It's pretty cool to read some of the notes people write and be able to add your own entry. Here is Kristal filling out the register on the top of the third spire.

We spent 5 days climbing in the Needles and topped out many spires. Here's Kristal on the top of Gnomon.

And here she is on the top of Tent Peg, the top of which is only about 1 foot wide and 3 feet long.

Here's me at the top of the last climb of our stay, Picture Rock, with the Cathedral Spires area in the background.

The history here is also incredibly interesting, and reading about it in the guidebooks is as entertaining as climbing the routes themselves. Many of the climbs were put up in the 50s and 60s, and the style of some of the climbs are very much from that era, including committing moves and a healthy number of runout sections. More so than at any other destination we've been to our mantra was 'do not fall'. Adventure climbing at it's finest!


  1. OMG, looks scary... (yes, I admit it, I am a wuss).

    You both look seriously hot (and I am not talking temperature here0 ... but no amount of money in the world would ever make me want to do that!

    I am happy to live vicariously through your posts from my comfy armchair.

  2. Awesome, thanks for the comment Janey!!

  3. I want to know where the Citi Card commercial was filmed--what is that formation that looks like a Devil's Head?

    thanks for your respons--very impressive--I do hope they paid you GOOD!


    1. Pls tell us where it was filmed. I travel by RV all over the USA and I have this peak on my Bucket List. TY Geri

  4. I am thankful that I am not your mother having to watch such escapades!

  5. after searching google - this is what I found...

    "The commercial features two real life professional climbers: Katie Brown and Alex Honnold. They are not "actors" nor "stunt" people. They are both very accomplished in the sport of climbing and arguably some of the best in what they do.
    The "narrow pile of rocks" is not a pile nor a stack of large boulders. It is a single rock formation. The formation was shaped from 100s of years from wind blowing sand across and around the spire in the deserts of UT. If you look closely in the commercial, there aren't cracks or gaps between the bulges.
    This is real. The use of ropes and gear ensure the safety of the climbers. Her standing on the top is not uncommon when climbing spires such as these. Honestly, Citi bank probably saved money on insurance by using professional climbers rather than stunt people. Climbers are used to the heights and the exposure of the climbs. Therefore, Citi banks is using people more accustomed to these situations and decreased the overall risk of the situation. Plus, since they are well known individuals in the sport, Citi avoided the backlash from the climbing community as a whole for using stunt people or non-real life climbers...
    Pull up youtube and put in these climber's names to see videos of their exploits. Or do a search on their name and "climbing" in google and read up on their accomplishments. Pretty impressive stuff......"