OverviewNeedle Rock, or the Detroit Needle as I like to call it, is just one of many Oregon volcanic rock formations of the western Cascades, lying to the west of the current high Oregon Cascades. The rock in this particular area is the result of massive andesite flows thousands of feet thick, and is much older than the glacier clad volcanoes to the east. The remaining needles and towers are the remnant plugs of volcanic activity, and they offer interesting and challenging climbing. These “needles” lure rock hounds seeking a more adventurous path, away from the more popular climbing areas. The rock is usually blocky and loose, and solid protection can sometimes be hard to find. To locate these little gems usually requires approaches on less used trails, bushwhacking of varying degrees, and route finding skills. All of this adds to the adventure, and you’ll more likely than not have the place to yourself.
Needle Rock, approximately 150 feet in height, is one of a cluster of domes and rocky formations lying northwest and within 3 miles (as the raven flies) of Detroit Lake, lying in the northern sector of the Willamette National Forest. The more popular formations rim the higher ridge-line in a horseshoe-like pattern, which encircle Tumble Lake lying at 3630 feet elevation. Tumble Creek drains from the tarn, dropping over 2000 feet down to Detroit Lake in about 2.7 miles, cutting a narrow and steep valley from the upper basin. Sardine Mountain is the highest point at 4938’ and lies at the head of the horseshoe, extending its arms out in two ridge-lines in a southeasterly direction. Needle Rock lies on the north side of this ridgeline, approximately one-quarter of a mile to the southeast of Dome Rock.
The climbing is part sport, part trad, and part runout on rock that is loose, with blocks held together by vegetation, and gravity. Climb at your own risk. The only known route lies on the northwest corner, and this pinnacle has only seen a handful of ascents. Our ascent was the 12-13th (can’t recall exactly) recorded ascent at that time (2001), as noted in the original summit log. First ascent was by Eugene Dod and Jim Nieland (1968?).
Getting ThereThe Detroit climbing area lies only several miles off of Oregon State Highway 22. Coming from the west (Salem) take Highway 22 heading east from Interstate 5, and at the northeast end of Detroit Lake, just before the Breitenbush River bridge, turn left up French Creek road (Forest Service Road #2223). If coming from the east side on Highway 22 (from the Santium Pass area) drive through the small town of Detroit, crossing the Breitenbush River bridge, and turn right onto French Creek road. Follow this road approximately 4 miles, taking the first left staying on FSR #2223. The road switchbacks climbing up the hillside, splitting again in just over 2 miles, with the main road staying to the right, and FSR #501 branching off to the left. You can reach Needle Rock from either of these branches. The “main” road rises for another 2 miles to Sardine Mountain, with the trailhead to reach the Needle at about the 1.5 mile mark from the FSR #501 turn. This trail heads in an easterly direction passing just to the south of Dome Rock, and reaching the Needle about half of a mile farther down the trail. The left hand turn at the branch (FSR #501) is a bit tougher of a road, with some parts possibly being blocked. When we went through in 2001 there were logs and rocks in the path, requiring some road clearing and “swervey” driving. I experienced a flat tire on this section. Follow this road about 1.5 miles to the east side of small knoll at around 4000’. Find the trail hiking up this hillside staying to the north of the knoll and reaching the Needle in about ½ mile. If you see strange looking round formations in the middle of the trail, don’t linger too long to finally realize it’s the main entrance to the mother of all hornet’s nests. This realization came to me the same instant as my partner shouted “RUN!” I think that only the dog got stung, but nothing serious.
Red TapeNone that I am aware of… for current regulations, restrictions, and for all other laws pertaining to the use of the wilderness please refer to the Detroit Ranger Station. Information about trailhead passes and related items can be found at the webiste for the National Forest Service.
CampingThere are several campgrounds scattered around the Detroit Lake area, with camping spots right on the lake more populated with boaters and the like. Camp spots can also be found as you head east up the Breitenbush River. For those not needing campground facilities you can camp within the National Forest at non-designated sites (the Forest Service calls this “dispersed camping”), such as road turnouts, or clearings, as long as it’s not posted that camping is not allowed. The area lies within the Willamette National Forest, and additional camping information can be found at the Willamette National Forest web site.
When to ClimbIf you can get up the road, and it’s been warm and dry for a bit then the route should be climbable. The best timeframe would be the summer months and on into the fall. Keep in mind that the main and only (?) known route up the Needle lies on the northwest corner, being in the shade most of the time.
Local weather information link (NOAA website – Detroit, OR area).
SourcesDodge, Nicholas A. A Climber’s Guide To Oregon. Mazamas, 1968. and: Touchstone Press, 1975.
Olson, Tim. Portland Rock Climbs. Sheridan Books, 2001.