Spanish Needle

10 Apr 2000 - by Eric Beck

After a week of climbing in Joshua Tree, bagging a peak seemed like a nice respite for the fingers and forearms. Spanish Needle would complete a project begun in April 1961. Then I went with Henry Mandolf who needed only a handful of peaks to finish the SPS list. My hazy memory of this is ascending to a saddle from the east and then climbing a ridge to the south to a bump which we didn't think was the true summit. Henry died without finishing the list.

As a reference I used Matthias Selke's writeup from the Jul/Aug Echo. This proved to be easily sufficient as I had no map. Driving up the Chimney Creek road, the turnoff toward Spanish Needle is 100 yards south of the turnoff to Long Valley and Rockhouse Basin. It is unmarked, but there is no chance of confusion. It didn't look like a nice place to camp, so I continued north another two miles to Chimney Creek campground, free, nearly deserted and with water.

Monday moring dawned frosty with ice in the water bottles. I found a nice parking spot off the road ( room for 8 vehicles ) just 60 feet north of the Long Valley turnoff and began hiking up the road. The idea is to follow it east to the large saddle north of the Spanish Needle massif. Hiking this road was to prove a mistake. The writeup describes it as 4wd, but after a short, mogulled section at the start, it is excellent for the two miles to the wilderness boundary. Those who might consider driving it can check the initial 100 yard crux section on foot before starting down.

Beyond the wilderness boundary, one is supposed to follow the faint jeep track/trail to where it vanishes and then pick up a use trail leading up the right side of the valley to the PCT. Since this trail vanishes repeatedly, here are some guidelines. Continue another two miles past the wilderness boundary. The track is usually absent and one just follows the pine needle covered bottom of the canyon. Sometimes it exits to one side or the other. The final exit is to the right and at this point it heads seriously uphill, finally vanishing in an area of dirt. The use trail begins here ( I added several ducks for reference), and is followed surprisingly easily up 600 feet to the PCT. Turn left (NE) and walk one half mile to the saddle.

The unpleasant part of the climb starts here. Drop 100 feet on the east and then contour south across five chutes and intervening ribs. This section is loose dirt and rock with some brush. Chute five is small. Crossing the chutes took 30 minutes. One's target is chute six which is huge compared with the others and filled with reasonably stable talus. I followed this halfway up and then exited left, gaining another 200 feet on easy dirt. Then I started up and left, through forest interspersed with small rock bands. In this section, fresh footprints appeared which I surmised were from Arun's group on Saturday. These led to 50 excellent steps kicked in the snow for which I was grateful as I was in my smooth soled approach shoes.

I crossed the crest and gained another several hundred easy feet just on the west side to the ridge north of the summit. Here one gains the first view of the true summit. A little 3rd class led across the ridge and down into the notch. Across the slab to the left, up a short gully with a blue rappel sling on a tree to a smaller notch and a little more 3rd to the summit.

The register revealed that Arun's group was just Steve Eckert and himself. Thanks again for the steps. The descent went expeditiously.

Round trip stats: 13 miles, 3000 feet, 8 hours. If one drives to the wilderness boundary, subtract 4 miles and 400 feet.

Arun Mahajan adds:

> In this section, fresh footprints appeared which I 
> surmised were from Arun's group on Saturday.  These led to 
> 50 excellent steps kicked in the snow for which I was 
> grateful as I was in my smooth soled approach shoes.  ....  
> The register revealed that Arun's group was just Steve 
> Eckert and himself.  Thanks again for the steps.  The 
> descent went expeditiously.

Er....that was Aaron's group. So they deserve the thanks.

We have been confused before. That is but natural. A lot of people think we are twins. He is the handsome one, whereas having expressive eyebrows is, alas, my only talent.

Excellent report and congratulations on summitting.

I was there too, but just about a year ago, 25th April 99, I think.

Aaron Schuman adds:

That was me, Aaron, not my twin brother Arun, who left you those footprints.

Steve and I climbed Spinach Noodle on Saturday. (Others had signed up for the trip, but for various reasons missed out on a great climb).

We came up from the locked gate 3 miles east of Rodecker Flat, climbing from 3160 feet in the desert, up to the 7841 foot summit. Judging from the register, it is very rare that SN is climbed from the east, maybe 3 or 4 times in its history (and only a couple of climbs a year from the west). The east side of the mountain has many gullies cutting through a cliff band. Most of them seem to have waterfalls and other intimidating obstacles. We escaped one barrier into the next gully, which was filled with talus the size of barrel cactuses. The summit block itself was a fierce monolith, with steep slabs covered with a few inches of snow. We left those useful footprints there for you. I'd say that for a class 3 peak, it was quite challenging.

Steve will write a detailed trip report, with waypoints and directions.

We bagged Sawtooth Sunday morning from Canebrake, and got home to Mountain View by 8:30 pm. You should have been there, friends, you should have been there.

Debbie Bulger adds:

I understand from a conversation some time ago with David Harris that climbing Spanish Needle from the east used to be the preferred route until the wilderness boundary made it a very long day hike.


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