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The Warlock
Routes Sorted
L to R R to L Alpha
Dragon's Back T 
Flying Warlocks T 
Ghostbumps T,S 
Howling, The T,S 
Imaginary Voyage T 
Planet Waves T 
Romantic Warrior T 
Sarcophagus, The T 
Sea of Tranquility T 
South Face T 
Spell, The T 
Titanic, The T 
Unknown T,S 

South Face 

YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a PG13

   
Type:  Trad, 8 pitches, 800', Grade III
Consensus:  YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a [details]
FA: Fred Beckey, Dan McHale, Mike Heath, April 1970
Season: Spring and Fall
Page Views: 3,047
Submitted By: ttriche on Aug 22, 2008

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BETA PHOTO: The South Face of Warlock Needle

Description 

This route has a very distinct psychological crux on the 6th pitch leaving the Pedestal; a technically easy but nervy face traverse with plenty of exposure and great position. Lower pitches contain a number of "don't screw this up" moves with dubious protection available, par for the course on the longer routes ascending the south face of the Warlock. There is also a goodly ration of wide crack climbing and some chimneying thrown in for fun.

While the climbing is not technically difficult, the route has the notable distinction of being the first recorded technical ascent at the Needles, and retains a good deal of 'backcountry' feel compared to more popular routes like Igor, Airy, or Thin Ice. After the Pedestal, most of the climbing is easy; the thin face moves on the summit block can be aided if necessary, and the rap from the top of the Howling can be completed with one 70m cord if you are careful.

Your reward for the bushwhacking adventure at the base will be a fine route with excellent position and moderate climbing, which ascends the tallest spire in the Needles by an oft-ignored aspect, and affords much gawking at seemingly unclimbable sheer faces on golden granite, zebra-striped with water streaks, painted with bright yellow and crimson lichen. Beckey did not ignore aesthetics in choosing a first ascent here; this side of the Warlock is visually quite dramatic, and even now these routes are seldom climbed.

The route faces south (duh) and gets plenty of sun, so it is best to climb this in the cooler months before the road opens (April-May) or towards the end of the Needles season (September-October).

Location 

Finding the right crack system at the base may be the true crux of the route -- a crack in a left-facing corner/groove which is not without dirt, lichen, and occasional stinging insects. (I will try and post a photo of the start, since it's difficult to describe well -- one attempt can be found here. Note that the small tree at the junction of two cracks near the end of the first pitch is a good landmark regardless)

Approach as for the Howling, Ghostbumps, etc. but keep descending around the base of the Warlock. The top of Voodoo Dome will come into view and then you will keep descending a rather unpleasant talus gully to arrive near the base of S Crack, Shadows in the Rain, and finally the original south face route.

If you have a copy of the guidebook, try to make sure that you don't go all the way around to the Styx (overhanging pillar thing that leans against the Warlock near its lowest point) or, worse, all the way around to the other side of the Pedestal. Good luck!

Protection 

Full rack to 5" or so, depending on how comfortable the leader is with wide cracks; many slings (the route wanders a good bit on the lower pitches, and I do not recall there being any bolted belay stations on the route). It should be possible to retreat below the Pedestal with a single rope, but you would be leaving a lot of gear behind. Once you have passed the Pedestal, retreat may be problematic.


Photos of South Face Slideshow Add Photo
South Face topo
BETA PHOTO: South Face topo
Jeff K. on the tricky face traverse.
Jeff K. on the tricky face traverse.
More wideness. Rob Beno following P4 (above The Pedestal) on the South Face
More wideness. Rob Beno following P4 (above The Pe...
Rob Beno following P3 to the top of "The Pedestal" on the South Face.
Rob Beno following P3 to the top of "The Pede...

Comments on South Face Add Comment
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By Peter Valchev
From: Truckee, CA
Aug 31, 2010

Adventure climb... did it on Halloween 2009. I don't know if we found the right start or not, but it was kind of scary in a couple of spots. Ended up doing/aiding the 5.11 variation at "the pedestal" (probably because we were offroute, we traversed left from the right, but not enough). I think we brought doubles to #3 and a #4 camalot. Trip report/pictures at sightly.net/peter/trips/needle...
By Richard Shore
Jul 2, 2012

A wonderful adventure climb with lots of WIDE climbing. A long line with great position on the Warlock.

Pitch by Pitch breakdown:

P1) Near the top of the vegetated 4th class gully, and just before a large triangular chockstone, head up either a 3-4" jagged flake on the left or a crack system 10 feet to it's right. At a large bush, step right and head up an easy blocky/chimney to a belay at a small oak tree (NOT the massive Pine tree, just down and right from it).

P2) A wild foot, then hand traverse right around the arete leads to a beautiful RF dihedral with lots of fists and hands. Run this long pitch all the way to the top of a small pillar at the end of the corner.

P3) Climb up the crack ~20 feet, then step left/down to the next crack/chimney, and step left to the next crack/OW/chimney once again. Follow this to the top of "The Pedestal".

P4) Exciting face traverse (crux) to beautiful flakes and plates alongside a chimney. After 40 feet or so, get inside and follow it up to a nice large open stance in the chimney.

P5) Continue up the easy chimney as it turns right to nice hands in a tight corner. Belay atop a massive flat ledge on the east face of the Warlock.

P6) A short fists/stemming corner leads to an awkward squeeze move to gain the easy 5th class ridgeline on the middle summit. Belay from a single bolt and slung block.

P7) Rappel 15' (or downclimb) into the notch between the Middle and North Summits. A 3 bolt aid ladder leads to the summit. Alternatively, one may finish via Imaginary Voyage and step right around the arete to freeclimb (5.9) past two bolts to the summit.

Gear: Doubles to #3 camalot was nice. We brought a #4, and placed it a few times, but it was worthless/tipped out in every spot I wanted it. A #5 would be more useful.
By Timbo Stillinger
May 16, 2014

FFA - 1976 - Jeff Dozier, David Black, and Steve Gerdsen.
By Edward Weiyi Zheng
May 28, 2014

GPS coordinates of the 4th class gully start:
N36 06.334 W118 28.676

We only finished the first 3pitches and then had to bail, because we couldn't find the start of the 4th pitch.

The hike from trail head to the base took about 3 hours. The trail condition deteriorates quickly once we passed the start gully. If you started to push trees around, you probably have gone too far.
Once we got to the base, there were legions of ants ready to eat us alive. We had to start quickly, and it's trully wide climbing.
P2) I tried to start from the crack directly above the small oak tree, but it's 6+ inch and quite smooth. I had to move to the hand/fist crack above the pine tree on the left, which is much more protectable by regular size gear. then traversed right before the hand crack gets shallow and become verticle. it's still so wide! heel toe for what seemed to be a long way.
P3) I couldn't find the chimney described in the previous comments, instead I found this medium size crack range from fist to finger directly about the belay pillar. There are some small plants along the way that I had to step onto, but generally it's pretty pleasant to climb. It reached a ledge with a large triangular flake at the end which could be slinged for anchor. Now I know this is directly below the start of the 5.10+ aid pitch on the original route.
The 5.9 pitch may have a bolt on it now. It was to the left, pass and around a very wide but short chimney, with a platform on top. once you get to the top you can see a bolt on the face to the right. But I am not sure if I found the actual route.

Retreat was a huge pain with 60m route. Some spicy down climbing required for p3 and p2 rap. And the p3 hand crack can get your rope stuck easily if you pull directly below the crack. Bring a twin or 70m to avoid all these hassle.
I personally think double up to C4 #4 will be very nice, optional #5 depends on how comfortable you are with wide crack, from my limited experience with the first three pitches.
By james T.
Aug 16, 2014

Did the 3-4" jagged flake option for pitch one, and I may just need to work on my offwidth skills, but felt more like 10 b/c to me. Also, it took a #5 friend and could have easily taken bigger. The rest of the pitches seemed much more inline.

Overall a great climb and intimidating/committing for the grade.
By Fat Dad
From: Los Angeles, CA
Sep 4, 2014

I've posted a marked up topo from the old guide, which we found to be pretty accurate. A great route. Not as classic as, say, Igor or Thin Ice, but a great route all the same. Adventurous and worth a little effort. Some notes on our climb.

Pitch 1: We saw another party on what we assumed was the first pitch, which they later told us was the first pitch of the S Crack. Either way, it was simple to traverse over to the second pitch of the South Face. Having said that, that's probably evidence that the true first pitch may be tricky to find for the first timer.

Pitch 2: Aim for the pine tree. There's a piece of old webbing around it. Once you're there, the route more or less follows the topo.

Pitch 4: There's a bit of loose rock that the party in front of us kicked off. Nothing major but take care if there're someone beneath you. There are some large, obvious flakes with rap slings at the base of the headwall to belay, right below the corner where the 10+ variation goes. If you need to pass a slow party and can fire this, this is a good place to do it.

Pitch 5: Not obvious from the topo, but climb down and left on easy and featured rock to the obvious chimney separating the Pedestal from the main face. Step across and squirm up a tight chimney pictured in Richard's photo titled "Rob Beno following P3". Tricky to get into but hard to fall out of once you do. A short pitch; maybe 40'. The Pedestal is a great hang.

Pitch 6: The rock is covered in scabs and flakes, that make for great climbing but will hang up a rope without fail. We carried a tag line for the rap off (since we only had a 60m) and both it and the lead line got snagged probably a half dozen times, a couple of times pretty badly. The newer bolt makes this a much safer and less scary pitch for the second. Still neither the leader nor follower should fall here.

From the huge ledge at the base of the summits, you can either 1) worm up a chimney to the middle summit, then work your way to the north summit, where you'll rap as for The Howling; 2) traverse below the huge boulder to an easy ramp where you'll scramble up to the base of the last pitch (5.9) for Imaginary Voyage; or 3) do a long rap from some big chains someone installed to the right of IA's last pitch. I've heard that you might be able to rap this with one 70m, but we didn't have a chance to verify this. If I did this again, I'd just bring a 70m and rap off The Howling. Avoid bringing a tag line if you can help it.

We left our packs near the base of the Howling and walked down in our climbing shoes (comfy ones), which wasn't as bad as I feared and beat hiking back down to retrieve packs left at the base. Also, there is a fair bit of wide, but not that much that has to be climbed as wide. From Richard's description, it sounds like he may have taken a wide line to the left of what's shown on the topo. There is a wide crack system that appears to drop down from the Pedestal to near the base. Nevertheless, bring both a #4 and #5. You'll have plenty of chances to place both.

Finally, the party ahead of us kicked off two rocks. If there's someone ahead of you (which seems unlikely but you never know), a helmet would be a good idea.