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Southern Sierra Rock Climbing, Needles

Southern Sierra Rock Climbing, Needles. Sally Moser, Greg Vernon, Patrick Paul. Chockstone Press, Evergreen, CO, 1992. 230 pages, 118 photos, 69 drawings. $18.00.

It was with mixed feelings that I first opened the new guidebook to the Needles. Although the original Stonemasher Guide to Kern River has been out of print for several years, the area still hasn’t caught on with the majority of California climbers. Certainly, most have heard about this magical place of spires, knobby faces, and steep, difficult cracks; yet, until recently, few have come to climb.

For Needles aficionados, keeping the place at minimum impact and in the same timeless condition has been the most important consideration. Will the new guidebook change that? I hope not.… But with Joshua Tree, Tahquitz, Yosemite and Tuolumne becoming rapidly overrun with climbers, the need exists to disperse those climbers who seek solitude and wilderness experience into new areas. The vast area of southwestern Sierra Nevada with its domes, spires and rock walls offers a huge climbing potential, as well as a lifetime of exploring. It was this understanding that led Greg Vernon, Sally Moser and Patrick Paul to compile the region’s climbing history. The Needles guidebook is the first of the three guidebooks for Southern California. It covers the rocks in southern Sierra from Trilogy/Jordan Peak and the Needles off Highway 190 on the north, to the town of Kernville on the south.

There are many things to like about this volume. It will guide any first-time visitor very well. The southern Sierra can still be considered backcountry climbing area, with spread-out locations, lack of “scene” and until recently, scant literature on the area. A good, thorough guide is essential for enjoyment here. The Needles guide is not only that, it’s comprehensive as well. Its 118 quality photos, 69 maps and drawings will make it almost an effort to get lost (but you will, trust me). The authors also thoroughly researched and documented the sometimes tricky descents off these formations. Routes in Needles can be extremely satisfying but also bold and lacking in protection. Some creative styles have been employed on routes sporting large knobs, i.e., throwing ropes over them or lassoing them. The authors have given consideration to these varied techniques and each area is prefaced with general information about its routes. An “R” and “X” ratings signifying protection possibilities have been added.

The authors are well qualified to write about Needles. They’ve spent many years and done numerous first ascents there. Their combined effort, at least in this climber’s opinion, can be considered a complete success.

So buy the guide and have fun in Needles. But please treat the place as the gem it really is. Act responsibly, don’t litter, climb in the tradition of first-ascent pioneers and be friendly to your fellow climbers. Needles locals, in my experience (especially one of the authors of this guidebook), have not had a possessive attitude and been generous to newcomers. Let’s hope that continues.

Alois Smrz