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Areas in The Needles

Charlatan, The 8 / 1 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 10
Demon Dome 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 2
Fire Wall 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 2
Magician, The 5 / 0 / 3 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 7
Merlin Dome 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 2
Necromancer Needle 3 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 3
Sorcerer's Apprentice, The 2 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 2
Sorcerer, The 13 / 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 15
Surrounding Boulders 0 / 0 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 1
Voodoo Dome 4 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 5
Warlock, The 15 / 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 15
Witch, The 19 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 19
Wizard, The 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 2

Description

Breathtaking and shrouded in mystery, the Needles are a series of enormous granite spires that stand watch atop a narrow ridge that sits high over the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest. This is a climber's paradise: perfect rock, beautiful scenery, minimal crowds, and adventure in abudance.

The area was originally explored in the early 70's by Fred Beckey and a handful of other Californian climbers, and in the late 70's more and more new routes, including many of the classics, were put up by climbers like Herb Laeger, E. C. Joe, and Dick Leversee. During this time then youngsters Randy Leavitt and Tony Yaniro got wind of the area and in a matter of months some of the hardest and most beautiful lines in the Needles were established. New route development continued into the 80's with these two and their partners, as well as guys like Mike Lechlinski and Tom Gilje. Even today new routes are going up, as well as the updating of aging hardware by Greg Barnes and the ASCA.

Climbs like Igor Unchained, Airy Interlude, Thin Ice, Spook Book, Don Juan, Atlantis, and The Romantic Warrior characterize Needles climbing -- long, steep, and sustained crack lines, but so do outstanding face climbs like White Punks on Dope, Magic Dragon, Love Potion #9, The Howling, and Scirocco. Yaniro also established some of the area's test pieces like Sea of Tranquility, Titantic, and Pyromania.

The current guide book as of 2016 is "The Needles Climbing, A Complete Guide" by Kristian Solem, available online from K. Daniels Publishing. An older guide to the area, "Southern Sierra Rock Climbing: The Needles Area," by Moser, Vernon, and Paul, has been out of print for some time now and is a hard to find item. Some details exist in various climbing magazines, as well as online resources such as this site, Clint Cumming's personal website, the Needles Mini Guide (google it), and on the Summit Post. You can also find beta specific to the Romantic Warrior and Scirocco in "Fifty Favorite Climbs."

Perhaps the lack of published information has kept the crowds at bay, but more likely it is the hour long approach hike from the trailhead and the steep and intimidating nature of the climbing. Either way, the Needles has a mystique and ambiance that is unlike any other area in the country, and that feel is augmented by the names of the features and routes themselves: The Magician, the Sorcerer, the Witch, the Warlock...

The Magician is the first and largest of the Needles, and when it first comes into view after hiking along the ridgeline it inspires awe. Perched at its top is a historic and beautiful USFS fire lookout tower that is usually staffed through the summer months by the aimiable Marge, who is known for baking cookies for climbers every Sunday morning (note that in an tragic, yet ironic, twist the lookout burned down and is no longer staffed). The central "cirque" of the Needles is the area situated between the Witch and the Sorcerer, and many of the most classic climbs are located here. The crowning tower of the ridge, however, is the Warlock. It is here that the big routes -- the Romantic Warrior and the Sea of Tranquility lie. There are many other smaller formations such as the Wizard, Djin, the Necromancer, and the Charlatan. Separate rock formations such as Dome Rock, the Hermit, and Voodoo Dome lie nearby and can provide a change of pace if needed.

The ideal climbing season at the Needles is May through November, but it can be very hot in the summer months. Early season FS-21S05 is closed due to snow. Call the Ranger Station at Kernville (760-376-3781) or Porterville (559-784-1500) for current conditions.

Camping

Campsites (Needles Spring area) exist at the trailhead which is at the end of FS-21S05, a three mile dirt road. From this trailhead it is a quick 3 mile hike along a beautiful ridge to the Needles themselves. Primitive camping can be had amongst the formations (you must obtain a fire permit from the Ranger Station), but it is more common to simply stash gear and hike back out to the main campsites.

USE THE PIT TOILET. PACK HUMAN WASTE OUT FROM THE NEEDLES THEMSELVES - BRING WAG BAGS!

Supplies, water, and even cooked meals can be had at the Ponderosa Lodge (559-542-2579), located by the Quaking Aspen Campground, 1/2 mile N of FS-21S05. Please don't dump your garbage in their dumpsters. There are pay sites at Quaking Aspen with pit toilets and water available.

Getting There

Directions to the Needles proper:

From Bakersfield, CA (and points S, SE, E):
Head NE on 178 (Kern River Road) towards Wolford Heights/Kernville/Lake Isabella. Continue N on 155 around the W side of the lake. This eventually turns into M-99 (Kern River Highway); follow this N through Fairview, then W through Johnsondale where it turns into M-50. After a few miles, turn N on CR-107 (Western Divide Highway). From this turn head 15 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.

From Ducor, CA (all points S (possibly including Bakersfield), SW, W, NW, N): Head E on J-22 (Avenue 56/Sierra Avenue) past Fountain Springs and past the intersection with M-109. Continue past California Hot Springs; the road changes to Hot Springs Drive and then to M-50. After a few miles, turn N on CR-107 (Western Divide Highway). From this turn head 15 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.

From Portersville, CA (all points N, NW -- probably slower than the Ducor directions but a great drive): Head E on 190 past Lake Success and then past Camp Nelson. Continue past the Quaking Aspen Campground for 0.5 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.

From Ridgecrest, CA (all points E, SE, NE): Head W on 178 towards Wolford Heights/Kernville/Lake Isabella. Before reaching Lake Isabella, turn N on Sierra Way and head NW along the E side of the lake. This eventually merges into M-99 (Kern River Highway); follow this N through Fairview, then W through Johnsondale where it turns into M-50. After a few miles, turn N on CR-107 (Western Divide Highway). From this turn head 15 miles to NF-21S05. Turn E and follow this unpaved road 3 miles to the campsites/trailhead. A quick, scenic 3 mile hike along the ridge takes you into the formations.

Voodoo Dome and Dome Rock are two popular formations that are in close proximity to the Needles proper. Dome Rock has an entirely separate approach, trailhead, and camping, as does Voodoo Dome (while Voodoo Dome can be approached via a descent down past the Warlock, it is more expedient to use a different approach (the lower Needles approach). This approach may also be a good way to reach routes that begin on the lower flank of the Warlock.)

Directions to Dome Rock: Click Here

Directions to Voodoo Dome (the lower Needles approach): Click Here

85 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at The Needles

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.9- 5c 17 VI 16 HVS 4c PG13
 162
White Punks on Dope
Trad 6 pitches
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a
 127
Spooky
Trad 2 pitches
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a
 61
Imaginary Voyage
Trad 4 pitches
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a
 302
Igor Unchained
Trad 3 pitches
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a
 61
Innersanctum
Trad 3 pitches
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a PG13
 79
The Howling
Trad, Sport 2 pitches
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a
 239
Airy Interlude
Trad 3 pitches
5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- 19 E2 5b
 224
Thin Ice
Trad 3 pitches
5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b
 114
Fancy Free
Trad 3 pitches
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R
 41
Spook Book
Trad 4 pitches
5.11b 6c 23 VIII- 23 E3 5c
 77
The Don Juan Wall
Trad 5 pitches
5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a PG13
 83
Atlantis
Trad 4 pitches
5.11d 7a 24 VIII 25 E5 6a PG13
 29
Ankles Away
Trad 2 pitches
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a
 22
Scirocco
Sport
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b
 20
Romantic Warrior
Trad 9 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
White Punks on Dope Voodoo Dome
 162
5.9- 5c 17 VI 16 HVS 4c PG13 Trad 6 pitches
Spooky Charlatan
 127
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a Trad 2 pitches
Imaginary Voyage Warlock
 61
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a Trad 4 pitches
Igor Unchained Witch
 302
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a Trad 3 pitches
Innersanctum Witch
 61
5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a Trad 3 pitches
The Howling Warlock
 79
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a PG13 Trad, Sport 2 pitches
Airy Interlude Witch
 239
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a Trad 3 pitches
Thin Ice Sorcerer
 224
5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- 19 E2 5b Trad 3 pitches
Fancy Free Charlatan
 114
5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b Trad 3 pitches
Spook Book Witch
 41
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R Trad 4 pitches
The Don Juan Wall Sorcerer
 77
5.11b 6c 23 VIII- 23 E3 5c Trad 5 pitches
Atlantis Sorcerer
 83
5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a PG13 Trad 4 pitches
Ankles Away Witch
 29
5.11d 7a 24 VIII 25 E5 6a PG13 Trad 2 pitches
Scirocco Sorcerer
 22
5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a Sport
Romantic Warrior Warlock
 20
5.12b 7b 26 VIII+ 26 E5 6b Trad 9 pitches
More Classic Climbs in The Needles »

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Photos

C Miller   CA  
The following websites have lots of useful Needles information:

ht tp://www.monsteroffwidth.com/NeedlesMiniGuide/index.html (dead link) - this one is a link on the Clint Cummings website mentioned above.

vertical20 - lots of great info from a pioneer of the area. Jul 18, 2007
Andy Laakmann
Bend, OR
Andy Laakmann   Bend, OR  
Just returned from my first trip ever to the Needles. Wow! If you haven't been, just find a way to make it happen! A truly magical place. May 29, 2009
Darren Mabe
Flagstaff, AZ
Darren Mabe   Flagstaff, AZ
can you get an RV to the trailhead? and camp with one at the campsites? Mar 19, 2010
ttriche
Grand Rapids, MI
ttriche   Grand Rapids, MI
Depends on the RV. Sadly, it may be possible in years when the road is not rutted badly enough. Happily, I've not seen it very often. If you are daring enough you can probably get a small to medium sized RV to the trailhead. The odds are that you will wreck the thing trying to pull a full sized RV into the campground, and/or kill someone(s). Please consider camping at Lower Peppermint Springs or off to the side of 21S05 instead of trying to park an RV at the usual campsites. Mar 19, 2010
Kurt Arend
Angelus Oaks, Ca
Kurt Arend   Angelus Oaks, Ca
Great alternative to camping in the needles... here is the link to supertopo .

h ttp://www.mountaintopbnb.com/ (dead link to the b&b) Jul 8, 2011
Chris M
Seattle, WA
Chris M   Seattle, WA
As of 8-25-12, the road into the Needles is in pretty rough shape. A high clearance vehicle is recommended, although we did see a party with an Audi driving out as we drove in. During the week, the fighter jets were very active, flying low over the domes- ear rattling loud, but pretty cool to see them screaming by in an inversion. They seemed to take the weekend off. Aug 27, 2012
Peter Franzen
Phoenix, AZ
Peter Franzen   Phoenix, AZ  
A few helpful hints for anyone heading up here for the first time:

- There is no cell phone service anywhere close to The Needles
- The nearest place that reliably has gas is Camp Nelson. Even on Memorial Day weekend the Ponderosa was out, so make sure you have plenty before heading up
- The road was no problem for a Subaru with AWD, but you might have trouble in a couple of spots with something less capable

And we thought that driving up Hot Springs Road (M-56) from Ducor, CA was a much better route from Bakersfield than the Kern River Highway route. It is much more scenic and it may even be faster. Here's a map of the route we took. May 27, 2013
The road into the Needles is getting worse. While it appears that the road has been graded in some places, this grading is going to make things worse because the dirt is very soft and in a 2WD vehicle, you will spin your tires in a few places, creating ruts. Also, I saw places where the grading removed necessary drainage culverts under the road. Now this water will run down the road, creating even more ruts. I would not try taking a low clearance vehicle all the way to the trailhead due to lots of large rocks that have been pulled up by the grader. However, if your vehicle does not have the clearance to go all the way up, there are plenty of turnouts along the way were you can hike to the trailhead from. This only adds about 1 mile or less to the hike in. Nov 5, 2013
Max Tepfer
Bend, OR
Max Tepfer   Bend, OR
Road update: As of Fall, 2014 it was easily (albeit slowly) navigable with a heavily laden, low-clearence, 2WD. If you have any experience on rough roads in small cars, you should be fine. As has been said, the worst is at the end and you could camp sooner if you had to. Sep 26, 2014
Matthew Fienup
Ventura, CA
Matthew Fienup   Ventura, CA  
Special thanks to fighter pilot Ian S. for sharing his stories and the link to this video. To see the low-elevation fly-over of the Needles and Hermit Spire, check out 7:30 and 8:32



Jan 21, 2015
Government propaganda on Mountain Project? Jan 22, 2015
Amanda Paige
Denver, Colorado
Amanda Paige   Denver, Colorado
How long of a drive is it from Bakersfield to this area? Jun 27, 2015
FrankPS
Atascadero, CA
FrankPS   Atascadero, CA
^^^

Two hours to Ponderosa from Bakersfield Jun 28, 2015
Hi there, I am trying to access the climbing guide to the needles, Alexander Cooper's Mini Guide to the Needles I believe its called. htt p://www.monsteroffwidth.com/NeedlesMiniGuide/index.html
It appears as though the link isn't working, any ideas? Oct 25, 2016
Chris Bersbach
Arroyo Grande, CA
Chris Bersbach   Arroyo Grande, CA
Word from the Forest Service office is that 21S05 is open, but I was wondering if anyone has been up so far who might be able to report back how the road is looking this year (for lower-clearance vehicles, vans, etc.). Any info appreciated! Jun 5, 2017
Joey Maloney
Burbank, CA
Joey Maloney   Burbank, CA
MISSING ROPE!

Ran into this guy, Ron Carson. Some of you may have heard of him. He was probably the first assent of the route you are thinking about climbing.

Anyways, we told him he should hop online to post about the lost rope, and he said when someone tells me to go online I tie in. So we said we would post it on here for him.

He left his brand new, static, blue, 300’ Blue Water rope atop Dome Rock. Setting it for himself to run some rope solos up climbs I couldn’t imagine doing.

If you have any info please shoot me an email or send me a text.

Joeymaloney12@gmail.com
717-781-5733 Feb 12, 2018
Lucas Barth
Yosemite, CA
Lucas Barth   Yosemite, CA
Anyone been out there in the last couple days? How's the smoke/air quality? Aug 3, 2018 · Temporary Report

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