Text and pictures © 2002-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"What's the real name of South Dakota ? Zip Da Coat Up..."
Left: That's me soloing the Needle's Eye.
When Max called two weeks earlier to say he would be coming to Colorado for a week of work and a WE with us, I didn't think much of it. But when he arrived on friday we were annoyed: it was Labor Day WE and none of us had thought beforehand that we'd rather go for a 3 day WE of climbing far away than stay home and drink beer. He's a climber too, I mean I took him climbing 15 years ago and he uses his shoes and harness regularly... about twice a year. So where could we go that wouldn't bore us and that wouldn't scare the living shit out of him...? Let's go to Devil's Tower... Nothing easy there but the routes are straightforward, the rock excellent and it's one of America's landmark he hadn't seen yet.
After he made it twice to the summit and we'd left enough knuckle skin in harder finger cracks, we decided to go to some other major American landmark. Why not the Needles in South Dakota ? They have a fierce reputation of being runout, but we'd also have the opportunity to see the 4 presidents carved at Mt Rushmore.
Left: Here on the 5.10 variation of the Needle's Eye. Way runout.
In the morning we are the first to arrive on the Needle's Eye parking lot. Harder to imagine a shorter approach: we can belay from the car. Before the tourists arrive en masse I do a little solo inside the Needle's Eye while Jenny and Max take pictures. Then as we prepare to do the 5.8 route to the summit a local climber recommends the 5.10 direct start. Let's see: there's a bolt 6m off the ground (5.10, don't fall), a sling 6m higher (5.9, don't fall) and two pitons 40 meters up (5.4, don't fall). I manage to place a tiny brass offset a meter above the bolt but that's it. The good thing is that falling off may not be as deadly as it seems: I'll either hit a fat tourist or crash through a RV. Both Jenny and Max have to give plenty of Climbing 101 explanations while I lead the pitch and prepare their belay from the summit. Max is enjoying the role while Jenny is nervous of falling of the direct face (without using the left edge) after all those explanations... The guidebook has plenty of scary sections like: "in the Needles, protection is often done by tying off crystals with a sling", or "there is a strict ethics of opening routes from the ground up, without undue protection", but I find that route quite likable.
Right: Jenny raising herself away from the touristy mass down below.
When we make it back to the ground, there are too many tourists blocking the road and another party of climbers advises us to go climb something not visible from the road. Good idea, let's get spanked on a much harder 5.10 tower behind those trees...
Left: Here's Max following the 5.10 variation of the Needle's Eye. Way runout, but not too bad.
Left: Jenny on the summit of the Needle.
Left: Max on rappel on the Needle.
Right: Jenny on rappel on the Needle's Eye
Left: First glimpse of the faces from a tunnel while driving towards Mt Rushmore.
Right: I though there were 4 presidents on Mt Rushmore... And when did they ever have a female president ? I need to review my American history...
Left: Some of the many towers of Mt Rushmore
Right: 5.8 pitch of beautiful granite crystals
So when a climber carves a hold it's a major ethics and/or ecology problem. But when an entire mountain gets carved into some president's faces, it's OK ? If we at least could climb on it... Like Jenny said, in Rome they have some 2000 year old ruins still standing. No such thing in the US, but in 2000 years they will have theirs. I guess they have to start somewhere. Anyway the climbing at Mt Rushmore, on the back of the Presidents, has a more relaxed ethics than in the Needles: bolts everywhere, easier lines, plenty of large crystals that make even the steepest lines quite easier than they look.
Left: Jenny and Max following on that same pitch
Right: Sunset on Mt Rushmore towers while Max and Jenny are rappelling.