Friday, November 30, 2012

Organ Needle - Organ Mountains

Looking into Fillmore Canyon

Views to  the north

 Looking southeast from the top of Dark Canyon

The first saddle

 On top of Organ Needle
 I climbed Organ Needle with a group of folks back in 2001. I had met most of them through  some Sierra Club hikes, but this was not an official Sierra Club outing. Most of us parked at pullout off Dripping Springs Road near Soledad Canyon Road. We then proceeded in three or four vehicles to Baylor Canyon Road and then up the old road to the Modoc Mine. After parking at some pullouts( well before reaching the mine) we began hiking up to the old mine and beyond.
      It was early March,but was reasonably warm and mercifully without wind. The path turned  back  straight east just a short ways past the mine.To say it was steep going from that point  on would be more than just a slight understatement. We reached a saddle with some junipers and  views of a  hooked prominence of black rock to the north and took our first rest. We met another group leaving for the peak just as we were arriving.  March and October are the optimal windows for making these climbs in the Organs, although many people  attempt them when it's much warmer, so you're bound to see a few folks on any weekend during those months. The section of the hike after the saddle is very brushy and rocky with very little clear tread to follow( at least back then, although I don't expect it's changed much). I was with people who had made the climb several times  before so we didn't get off track,but it's not unusual for  those  on their first try , and even those who have done before to do so, and in so doing derail their chance of summiting due to lost time. If you go make sure you have 10 hours of daylight to complete the hike( from Baylor Canyon Road).
      We kept our bearing by heading toward a good sized Douglas Fir that marks that the entrance to Dark Canyon. We took our second rest at that tree and then  started trudging up the very narrow canyon in the two foot  deep snow. There  are many shrubby maples that grow here as they do in many other cool, out of the way places in the Organs. One of our group who was making the hike in some beat up Cons decided his hike was ending here and would wait for us to return. At the top of Dark Canyon we took in the views to the other side of the range. Strangely enough there is concrete marker up here that has something like "  Organ Needle 100 yards" written in it. As I contemplated the idea of hauling a sack of ready mix up this mountain, we went on to the 2 maneuvers that are the crux of the climb. The first requires an awkward straddling of a  rock like a roof peak. Next, there is the small wall with some exposure that  must actually be climbed. We went one by one.When it was my turn I threw my backpack up to those already on the ledge, took off my gloves and made the pitch  with no problems. I don't know why  but I wasn't nervous or afraid, even though our leaders had the full expectation that those who hadn't done it before would be. I had every confidence in them and they didn't let me down.
       From the ledge it's a short walk to the peak. We had our lunch.  It's actually quite roomy on top and there was about 20 people from 2 or 3 groups.I walked along the boulders and signed the the small notebook that sat in jar on the  high point. We were on top of the world. On the  way back down we couldn't find our way to the ledge and wall initially, but as there isn't really too many places to go up on top,  we found them in fairly short order. Going down the wall was definitely more difficult than going up and I was a little nervous, but not distractedly so. I opted to bypass the re- straddling of the roof peak rock altogether. The walk down became a  slide on six points- two hands, two feet and two butt cheeks- with the occasional  bowling bowl sized boulder kicked loose from above and tumbling toward my head to add  excitement. It was nearly dark when we got to the cars. I was exhausted, but I had done it. I had been obsessing about making to the the top of the Needle since  I had moved here 3 years earlier, worrying that it would never happen. But now it had,and I was satisfied.

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