BETA PHOTO: From the Lookout
Breathtaking and shrouded in mystery, the Needles are a series of enormous granite spires that stand watch atop a narrow ridge that sits high over the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest. This is a climber's paradise: perfect rock, beautiful scenery, minimal crowds, and adventure in abudance.
The area was originally explored in the early 70's by Fred Beckey and a handful of other Californian climbers, and in the late 70's more and more new routes, including many of the classics, were put up by climbers like Herb Laeger, E. C. Joe, and Dick Leversee. During this time then youngsters Randy Leavitt and Tony Yaniro got wind of the area and in a matter of months some of the hardest and most beautiful lines in the Needles were established. New route development continued into the 80's with these two and their partners, as well as guys like Mike Lechlinski and Tom Gilje. Even today new routes are going up, as well as the updating of aging hardware by Greg Barnes and the ASCA.
Climbs like Igor Unchained, Airy Interlude, Thin Ice, Spook Book, Don Juan, Atlantis, and The Romantic Warrior characterize Needles climbing -- long, steep, and sustained crack lines, but so do outstanding face climbs like White Punks on Dope, Magic Dragon, Love Potion #9, The Howling, and Scirocco. Yaniro also established some of the area's test pieces like Sea of Tranquility, Titantic, and Pyromania.
Unfortunately the only comprehensive guidebook to the area, "Southern Sierra Rock Climbing: The Needles Area," by Moser, Vernon, and Paul, has been out of print for some time now and is a hard to find item. Some details exist in "???", as well as online resources such as this site, Clint Cumming's personal website, and on the Summit Post. You can also find beta specific to the Romantic Warrior and Scirocco in "Fifty Favorite Climbs." A new guide has supposedly been in the works for several years now.
Perhaps the lack of published information has kept the crowds at bay, but more likely it is the hour long approach hike from the trailhead and the steep and intimidating nature of the climbing. Either way, the Needles has a mystique and ambiance that is unlike any other area in the country, and that feel is augmented by the names of the features and routes themselves: The Magician, the Sorcerer, the Witch, the Warlock...
The Magician is the first and largest of the Needles, and when it first comes into view after hiking along the ridgeline it inspires awe. Perched at its top is a historic and beautiful USFS fire lookout tower that is usually staffed through the summer months by the aimiable Marge, who is known for baking cookies for climbers every Sunday morning. The central "cirque" of the Needles is the area situated between the Witch and the Sorcerer, and many of the most classic climbs are located here. The crowning tower of the ridge, however, is the Warlock. It is here that the big routes -- the Romantic Warrior and the Sea of Tranquility lie. There are many other smaller formations such as the Wizard, Djin, the Necromancer, and the Charlatan. Separate rock formations such as Dome Rock, the Hermit, and Voodoo Dome lie nearby and can provide a change of pace if needed.
The ideal climbing season at the Needles is May through November, but it can be very hot in the summer months. Early season FS-21S05 is closed due to snow. Call the Ranger Station at Kernville (760-376-3781) or Porterville (559-784-1500) for current conditions.
Campsites (Needles Spring area) exist at the trailhead which is at the end of FS-21S05, a three mile dirt road. From this trailhead it is a quick 3 mile hike along a beautiful ridge to the Needles themselves. Primitive camping can be had amongst the formations (you must obtain a fire permit from the Lookout Tower), but it is more common to simply stash gear and hike back out to the main campsites.
Supplies, water, and even cooked meals can be had at the Ponderosa Lodge (559-542-2579), located by the Quaking Aspen Campground, 1/2 mile N of FS-21S05. Please don't dump your garbage in their dumpsters. There are pay sites at Quaking Aspen with pit toilets and water available.
Directions to the Needles proper:
From Bakersfield, CA (and points S, SE, E): Head NE on 178 (Kern River Road) towards Wolford Heights/Kernville/Lake Isabella. Continue N on 155 around the W side of the lake. This eventually turns into M-99 (Kern River Highway); follow this N through Fairview, then W through Johnsondale where it turns into M-50. After a few miles, turn N on CR-107 (Western Divide Highway). From this turn head 15 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.
From Ducor, CA (all points S (possibly including Bakersfield), SW, W, NW, N): Head E on J-22 (Avenue 56/Sierra Avenue) past Fountain Springs and past the intersection with M-109. Continue past California Hot Springs; the road changes to Hot Springs Drive and then to M-50. After a few miles, turn N on CR-107 (Western Divide Highway). From this turn head 15 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.
From Portersville, CA (all points N, NW -- probably slower than the Ducor directions but a great drive): Head E on 190 past Lake Success and then past Camp Nelson. Continue past the Quaking Aspen Campground for 0.5 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.
From Ridgecrest, CA (all points E, SE, NE): Head W on 178 towards Wolford Heights/Kernville/Lake Isabella. Before reaching Lake Isabella, turn N on Sierra Way and head NW along the E side of the lake. This eventually merges into M-99 (Kern River Highway); follow this N through Fairview, then W through Johnsondale where it turns into M-50. After a few miles, turn N on CR-107 (Western Divide Highway). From this turn head 15 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.
Voodoo Dome and Dome Rock are two popular formations that are in close proximity to the Needles proper. Dome Rock has an entirely separate approach, trailhead, and camping, as does Voodoo Dome (while Voodoo Dome can be approached via a descent down past the Warlock, it is more expedient to use a different approach (the lower Needles approach). This approach may also be a good way to reach routes that begin on the lower flank of the Warlock.)
Directions to Dome Rock: Click Here
Directions to Voodoo Dome (the lower Needles approach): Click Here
Browse More Classics in The Needles
Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for The Needles:
Featured Route For The Needles
BETA PHOTO: Overview of the Needles
An aspiring climber works on her tick-list. Locat...
Mike Newheart with a turkey drumstick.
Looking back towards the lookout from the summit o...
BETA PHOTO: Lookout Beta
Lookout on the Needles
View of the Needles, CA
Leopard Lilies, seen in the meadow at the Needles ...
The Needles, in rain.
A mostly accurate and intact sign...
The Witch and the recent fire (7.24.2010).
The Dijin, Charlatan, Sorcerer, Wizard, and... Th...
Looking north from camp...
Good advice for a dry climate...
The West face of the Charlatan and the Wizard...
The Sorcerer, the Lookout, and the Charlatan from ...
Matt Grieger nears the summit of the Magician Need...
Bring a stick on hot days - these guys are everywh...
East faces of the Sorcerer and Charlatan Needles
Sorcerer and Charlatan
Just a nice shot here
The Needles from Dome Rock
Remnants of the Needles Lookout.
Photo: Corey Ga...
The Needles, Voodoo Dome on the far right
just another nice shot
|By Andy Laakmann|
From: Bend, OR
May 29, 2009
Just returned from my first trip ever to the Needles. Wow! If you haven't been, just find a way to make it happen! A truly magical place.
|By Darren Mabe|
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Mar 19, 2010
can you get an RV to the trailhead? and camp with one at the campsites?
From: Altadena, CA
Mar 19, 2010
Depends on the RV. Sadly, it may be possible in years when the road is not rutted badly enough. Happily, I've not seen it very often. If you are daring enough you can probably get a small to medium sized RV to the trailhead. The odds are that you will wreck the thing trying to pull a full sized RV into the campground, and/or kill someone(s). Please consider camping at Lower Peppermint Springs or off to the side of 21S05 instead of trying to park an RV at the usual campsites.
|By Kurt Burt|
Jul 8, 2011
Great alternative to camping in the needles... here is the link to supertopo .
link to the b&b
From: Prescott, AZ
Aug 27, 2012
As of 8-25-12, the road into the Needles is in pretty rough shape. A high clearance vehicle is recommended, although we did see a party with an Audi driving out as we drove in. During the week, the fighter jets were very active, flying low over the domes- ear rattling loud, but pretty cool to see them screaming by in an inversion. They seemed to take the weekend off.
|By Chris Blanchard|
From: Hanford, CA
Mar 30, 2013
I happen to be one of those pilots and the needles is point bravo on a popular low level route .. Although I will say climbing the needles is sometimes just as cool as being inverted over the needles