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!