|Route Type:||Trad Climbing|
|Time Required:||Most of a day|
|Rock Difficulty:||5.10c (YDS)|
|Number of Pitches:||3|
(photo above, credit Kimberly Truong, of Dow leading the 2nd pitch) As with most climbing destinations during the modern climbing era, certain routes get labeled with the “classic” status early on in the history of the location. I find this trend many times has to do with ease of access as well as the chronic "did you climb so and so". If one were to be objective in measuring routes in the same destination at a specific point in time, it never fails that there are some routes more deserving of the “classic” label regarding the quality of their sustained and varied climbing. Witch Doctor, located at the very bottom of the west face of the Witch, is one of those routes.
Witch Doctor is rated 5.10c in the index of the local Needles guide as of 2020. There are harder and easier variations at the crux. I led and describe below the 3rd pitch variation associated with the FA at 5.10c. The first pitch is the best 5.9 lead at the Needles. This beautiful right facing flake/corner serves as the shared start with another stellar low key route at the Needles named the Pit and the Pendulum (5.10+). This first pitch offers 225’ of sustained (at the grade) stemming, jamming and under clinging to the top of the same pillar that Gorilla Warfare, 5.10d, ends atop. Gorilla climbs the left side and Witch Doctor climbs the right side of said pillar. The second pitch moves left and climbs a much less distinct right facing corner to a shared rap with Brute Force, the next route left. Although this pitch is also rated 5.9 on the local guide’s topo, it is a more technical lead than the first. The third pitch invovles the crux variations noted on the topo in the local guide and therefore the published grade of the route but the 5.10c variation is less sustained than either of the first two 5.9 pitches. The FA intent was to traverse up and left (5.10c) across a short blank face, arete to arete. From there the climbing is more fun than technical, to the top of the Witch.
Hike down from the main notch at the Needles to the bottom of the gully to the col between the Witch and Necromancer. There is a large tree at the base of a gully that splits the two formations. The right facing flake corner on the right side of the obvious pedestal is the first pitch.
1st Pitch- 225’-5.9/ This is one of the better sustained and aesthetic pitches at its grade in the entire Needles collection. As with Red Rock NCA and many other climbing destinations, certain routes get “classic” status ingrained in them whilst other routes of similar or even better quality get ignored over time. Witch Doctor is that route and this first pitch is a beauty at a full 70m rope length up the obvious right side, right facing corner, up the same pillar where Gorilla Warfare (another excellent route) is found on the left side. The lay backing is relatively easy with feet features and scoops the whole way thus the grade. You climb out right on a flake when the corner proper widens to #4’s, then back to the corner for some more layback to finish on knobs out on the left face to the top of the pillar. Sling a large horn on the right side of the pillar ledge for the belay.
2nd Pitch- 150’- 5.9/ a headier lead although essentially at the same grade as the first. This pitch makes you work for gear placements vs the plug and go on the first pitch. The local guide (2020) calls for moving the belay left but I did not find that necessary. Instead, just start the the pitch by traversing left on easy run out face to the shallow right facing corner. Extend your first several pieces to avoid rope drag. Face and crack climb and place gear when given the option, eventually spotting a hidden bolt. Clip the bolt and traverse up and left to the fixed rap at a stance.
3rd Pitch- 225- 5.10c/ The local guide gives you three options to climb this last pitch. I believe the FA intent was to place a piece in the immediate corner and then face climb and side pull up and left via a shallow ramp (crux). Place another two obvious pieces as you make the crux moves of the climb up slab to positive holds above. Gain the finger crack to your right and mantel up to below a roof (piton-2020) and pull the roof on its left side. You are climbing large body width grooves with selective gear opportunities. Trend up and right to the arete and back up and left through a bolt. Easier climbing above to the top, sling a boulder for the belay. The topo shows the 5.10 combing just before the bolt, but that felt no more difficult than 5.8. The crux involves the first few moves off the belay, traverse left up the shallow foot ramp to a shallow corner. MP.com calls it 5.10. It is easier (5.9) if you downclimb to reach the base of the beforementioned finger crack but I recommend the 5.10 version for a more direct line. There is a 5.10+ option up and right via a under cling roof traverse.
Ascend to the summit of the Witch and take the traditional single 70m rope rap (2) descent off to the north which returns you to the notch. Therefore, carry nothing down the gully to start the route that you do not wish to climb with.
A complete double rack to #3 with an additional #4 can be easily dispensed on the first 225’ pitch. Off sets, wires and/or micro cams are useful on the second pitch. As with many routes in the Needles, the pitches are long and wander. It would be prudent to utilize slings vs sport draws and be aware of extending your placements. There is no reason to climb the Needles with anything less than a 70m rope. All routes on the west side of the Witch stay shaded in the summer to at least noon. When I led this route in 2020, the Navy did seven inversion fly throughs. Although it is never advisable to wear ear plugs climbing, I wished I had them on this particular day.