"there's the horcrux!" called tomas, pointing to the next carin up the scree gully marking the approach to voodoo dome. the dome, just out of view behind thick ponderosas, is a massive granite formation rising a few thousand feet from the kern river below. a small cirque of these domes makes up 'the needles', a remote climbing destination nestled deep in the south sierra. we were there on our first trip ever to the area. the day before, we had climbed several routes on 'dome rock', a nearby formation with bnna who was recovering from a cold in a hammock on the valley floor.
we were intent on climbing what has been called 'the best moderate route in california', a 5.8-pg13 route called 'white punks on dope'. we were psyched. the weather was incredible with benign cloud cover and low-70s temps. we saw no other parties in the area. the approach was a complicated but short line of tomas's "horcruxes" up some wooded drainages and some talus fields. at the base of the formation we organized our gear and flaked the ropes.
addy threw paper, I threw rock. he would get the first lead. on the sharp end, casting out up a beautiful left facing corner crack addy climbed smoothly up the first pitch. a few minutes later, he had set the belay and it was time for tomas and I to start climbing. we marveled at the amazing crack, and addy's impressive confidence to climb on above the last of his hand-sized pieces. we worked our way up to an alcove where addy was belaying us up. it was my turn to lead.
i struggled left over an overhang, onto a face. the face a short way up to another alcove with a nice ledge. uncertain of the next move, and sufficiently intimidated by the massive granite face, I placed an anchor and brought my friends up. after consulting our i-phones for beta, we picked our next line and addy again cast off on lead. he tunneled thru a chasm, chimneyed up its sides, and arrived at an expansive ledge beneath another beautiful left facing corner. tomas and I joined him, towing our small backpacks below us as we chimmneyed up the sides of the chasm with our backs pressed to one side and our feet pressed to the other.
looking up at the corner, I was vibrating with nervous anticipation for the next lead. addy put me on belay and I started up, liebacking the seemingly endless corner crack. the granite started as a clean dihedral, forming an open book. as the pitch went higher and higher, the right hand side of the book began to curl over, forming a giant wave of granite which enveloped me as I climbed. the endless fingerlocking and liebacking at the thin corner eventually gave way to a transition. instead of continuing up vertically, the crack made a sharp left turn and went out horizontally 10 feet to the left, before turning back upwards to continue vertically. to add to the complexity, the crack widened here from the friendly finger-sized crack to a gaping foot wide off-width crack. I placed the last of my protection for the pitch, creating a mini anchor, and set off horizontally into the unprotectable off-width. underclinging the horizontal crack with my feet pasted on the slab, I reached the end of the horizontal and continued liebacking up the off-width crack. chalking up after every move to counteract the sweat which was coming faster every moment, I focused on moving steadily upwards, trying to avoid thinking about the distance to my last protection in the fingercrack below. the belay ledge approached, and I silently begged my forearms to let me make it. three moves away, two moves, away, I threw for the ledge and felt it solidly hit my hand. yes! mantling out onto the belay I gave a involuntary shout to my friends below. I was safe at the belay. what an incredible pitch!
addy and tomas worked their way up the pitch, hooting for the fun of the climbing as well. we regrouped and drank some water when they joined at the ledge. the crux of the pitch was behind us, with only two more pitches to go to gain the summit. the next pitch looked pretty horrendous, so I was relieved it was addy's turn to take off on lead. with no crack to place cams and nuts, the next pitch was bolt protected. unfortunately, the traditionally bolted pitch had only 4 bolts for ~150 feet of climbing. this meant that the leader needed to climb as much as 40 feet between bolts, facing the possibility of an 80 foot fall down the slab, a fairly harrowing proposition. the pitch also featured a fairly insecure style of climbing, with small ripples in the rock to climb rather than positive holds to grab on to. tomas and I watched on with baited breath as addy stepped out onto the slab and started up.
a strong and confident climber, addy smoothly tic-tack-ed up the slab to the first bolt. tomas and I let our our breath together as addy clipped the bolt (a direct fall onto the anchor is a very bad scenario in climbing). he eyed the slab, and padded up to the second bolt. clip! he headed out left. he looked right. he looked left again. he continued up. addy stopped, the climbing looked difficult ahead, he moved his right foot up, pasting it on the slab, and swung his weight onto it. it slipped. "falling!" his shout pierced the air as he fell, sliding and scraping down the slab before coming to a stop after a 40 foot ride down the face with massive exposure. I lowered him back to the belay, unhurt but shaken. It seemed like I would have to lead this pitch after all.
I headed up following addy's path until the second bolt, where he had aimed straight up the face. I went right instead and found nicer ripples and divots to place my feet. inhale. exhale. step through. pull down. step up. the third bolt. step up. reach left. pull down. the fourth bolt. the ledge. "off belay!". we had one pitch to go!
a beautiful splitter finger crack off the ledge led to low-angle scrambling as the dome rounded out at the top. we unroped and hiked up the final ridge to the summit! it was about noon as we exchanged hi-fives and smiles. it was the best climb of our short climbing careers so far!
a rappel of the back side and a fun hike down thru the forest to the car rounded out our afternoon. with perma-grins we drove back to the campground to pick up bnna to continue down the road to some pizza.