You wouldn’t normally think of a state located in the Great Plains as great for climbing, however, South Dakota’s climbing in the Black Hills is a classic destination. Modern climbing began in the area in the late 1930s. Herb and Jan Conn, two climbing pioneers, discovered the area in the 1940s and put up well over 200 first ascents and published a guidebook on the area. The main granite spires are numbered 1-9, and a maze of gullies connects their approaches. Climbers like Royal Robbins have even put up routes in the Needles.
What Makes It Great
Over 75 prominences made up of 1.8 billion year old granite create the oasis of The Needles. The Needles are divided into 6 groups: The Outlets by Sylvan Lake, Middle Earth, the Needle's Eye area, The Ten Pins, and Cathedral Spires, all of which are connected by the scenic Needles Highway. The Needles have trad routes for every level of climber. Crystals made up of feldspar, quartz, and and pegmatite create jugs and crimps in the Black Hills Granite. Mostly face climbing, you will also find cracks, chimneys, and a few offwidths.
If a beginner is just learning to lead multi-pitch routes, there are two to three pitch routes rated around 5.4 such as the climb up Spire 4. If you’re up for more of a challenge, routes like the 5.13a Highly Suspicious may be for you. While it is some of the best climbing in the country, it’s not nearly as busy as the climbing in Colorado or other well known destinations. Aside from the really awesome climbing, the landscape and views make this area truly phenomenal. Frequently, mountain goats can be seen in the area. In the summer months, wild tiger lilies and other wildflowers bloom.
Who is Going to Love It
If you’re a connoisseur of trad routes, the Needles are an iconic climbing destination. If you’re wanting to learn to lead multi pitch, the easier routes are the perfect place to learn. If you are more experienced, the Needles will be your playground. Make sure you bring a rack of nuts, slings, and cams up to 3 inches. A 60 meter rope should work for most of the climbs.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Needles Highway can be accessed from Highway 385 to the west and from the town of Custer that lies south of The Needles. From here, many climbing areas can be found. You will find small parking areas all along the highway.
The Needles Eye and Thimble should be avoided from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Memorial Day to Labor Day as traffic on the highway is at its maximum.
Part of what makes this area fun is the little protection. Don't use power drills to place bolts. If you're looking for sport routes, check out the Rushmore area.