With our hopes of climbing in Yosemite Valley dashed by the government shutdown, we called an audible and changed course for the Needles. This was more than just a consolation prize though, as the seeds of this trip were sown months before. A harmless Supertopo post on favorite finger cracks yielded a line that stuck with me, “The Emperor. Randy Leavitt called it the best crack at the Needles.” Whaaat?!?… I’d climbed many of the classic lines at the Needles, but never even heard of this route before. My curiosity got the best of me and so the adventure began.
Voodoo Dome was a new and unexplored playground for us. If you knew where to go, getting to The Emperor would be a moderate hour-long approach. But the maze of gullies that comprises the southern flank of Voodoo Dome is disorienting. It took us 2 hours to get there, including roping up for a section when we decided we had gone too far to backtrack and try a different way.
The Emperor is a line that demands respect. It captures the imagination and was everything we ever could have imagined. It’s no wonder Fred Beckey and Tony Yaniro felt impelled to climb it for the FA and FFA, respectively. The rock is amazing, the climbing is sustained, and the position is unmatched. The route sits on a pedestal, calling to any climber willing to listen. This route is what dreams are made of.
We warmed up on some nearby routes, which in their own right would be classics at any other crag in the country. After a quick break, Jeff cast off into the unknown on The Emperor. He worked his way through the bottom half of the route, quickly working through the splitter section of 0.5 Camalots. If this route were sandstone, it would live in Indian Creek. Luckily, the crux section gave in to some sustained, but manageable 5.11 climbing which I liken to The Don Juan Wall on steroids. Jeff cruised the upper section to the fixed sling (two-bolt) anchor, making it look casual. We were psyched to find that our single 60m rope barely reached the ground (although a single 70m rope would be ideal).
I steadied my nerves, laced up my shoes, and took my turn leading ground-up. The moves were hard, but the climbing was within reach. Strenuous sequences gave way to some adequate ”rests.” I found that I could recover and had the stamina, but this route kept coming. Every move ended with the same question, should I keep moving or place another piece of protection? I went for it and managed to onsight 80% of the pitch.
Both Jeff and I learned on this trip that The Emperor is not just a dream, but a reality. Although neither of us onsighted that day we left knowing that routes of this caliber are within reach and it is only a matter of time. Special thanks go to my wife Paisley for taking pictures, moral support, and slogging the approach so that we could pursue our dream.