Cruising the Zodiac
Climbing in Autumn
The Golden Spires
Jason Campbell at the Needles, Then & Now
I remember my first trip to the Needles in California's southern Sierras. The Reagan administration was developing Star Wars (a satellite armed with lasers used to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles), glam-rock had reached its peak of popularity with Bon Jovi rocketing to the top of the charts, and it was no longer cool to keep a jumbo comb in your back pocket. I had three months of summer vacation ahead of me and enough testosterone-generated psyche to fuel an Everest expedition. Rock climbing was consuming more and more of my free time, and I was hungry for new adventures. One day, Joe, a favorite climbing partner of mine (fulfilling the schedule and license requirement), suggested a trip to the Needles. I responded with an exuberant, "Yes."
Along the grueling hike, the cliffs remained hidden until we rounded the very last corner. After descending the trail to a saddle between two prominent hillsides, we were rewarded with one of the most awesome vistas I had ever experienced. On either side of us was a gigantic granite spire sweeping hundreds of feet below and looming hundreds of feet above. The two granite monoliths sit perched on a mountainside giving the feeling of exposure even more power. I remember thinking to myself, "Needles?" These cliffs are more on scale with the great pyramids of Egypt! Between the two formations, a view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range below extended as far as the eye could see.
After three miles and eight pitches, Joe and I stumbled back to camp hungry, tired and bloodied, but deeply satisfied. My mind racing, I stayed up late that night thinking about our adventure. With so many climbs in such a unique setting, the Needles is truly amazing. Our three-day road trip could barely scratch the surface of what this place had to offer. I knew I'd be back some day.
More than a decade later, I have just returned from a climbing trip to the Needles. A lot has changed since my first visit to the great golden spires: electronic mail, techno music and baggy pants trademark the last year of the 20th century. Now, my main climbing partners are my wife Tiffany and dog Cayla. What hasn't changed though, are the long adventure-filled days, ended staggering back to our camp hungry and with bloody fingers, but deeply satisfied. Or the way I feel rounding the last corner that drops into the saddle between those two towering spires.
I feel like a kid again.
Jason Campbell, MountainZone.com Correspondent
Jason Campbell's dedicated road tripping has placed him at the forefront of American rock climbing for almost a decade. He's amassed numerous 5.14 redpoints and 5.13 on-sights in both the U.S. and Europe, as well as a top record in competition.