A Glint of Hope, Just a Glint

My magazine writing instructor gave us an assignment to write a short article/blurb that resembled the format of a real magazine, and turn it into him.  There were no guidelines, just that it had to be less than 500 words and not suck.  After we submitted our articles to him, he then told us in order to get the points we had to submit the article to the actual magazine we modeled it after.

I modeled mine after Rock and Ice magazine’s “The Best 5.10 I’ve Ever Climbed” section and wrote a piece quick that would suffice for a decent a grade. NOT TO SUBMIT! I submitted it though, here’s the article!….

The route in the article runs up the skinny rib to the left.

The Best 5.10 I’ve Ever Climbed

One of the most common questions fellow climber’s ask me is “Where do you climb if you live in South Dakota?” The answer is simple, “The climbing is awful up there and you should never go.”  Unfortunately, my conscious is getting to me and I feel compelled to speak the truth.

Finals week was coming up and tension levels….

were through the roof.  My fellow peers sat quietly in front of their computers double fisting energy drinks and stressing hard over their upcoming exams.  Taylor Lais and I, however, just loaded the van and headed for the Black Hills.  My college career has been interrupted many a time by an impromptu climbing trip and I’ve never complained.

The two of us left the prairie behind for our six-hour journey into the sunset.  The silhouette of topography left us giddy as we hit the hay in our dirtbag mobile.  The morning brought blue skies and peanut butter pancakes, two necessities for a day of schrelping in the Needles.

The Needles are the hidden gems I’ve been lying about for four years now.  The less people that come, the more we get to enjoy them.  I could go into significant detail about their beauty and bore you with elaborate prose, but I’m sure you could just consult Google for the details and photos.  Instead I’ll tell you about the climbing.  Isn’t that what you’re reading for anyways?

Retrobolting here is like bringing a gun through airport security.  Everything is original in order to preserve the adventure that used to exist in climbing.  All of the routes were sent in the 1970’s and back then if it wasn’t scary you weren’t doing it right.  The gear placements are always marginal, and everything is runout.  Interested? The route we chose to warm up on is the Needles Eye, Fenton Variation 5.10-.  This route runs up the outside slab of the most iconic formation that isn’t carved faces here in South Dakota.

I hit the first pod with my left hand and kept my weight right as I slotted a #1 C3 into the only available seam.  A few knobby crystals brought me to the route’s only bolt.  The two moves above the bolt are the crux.  My fingers pressed into crystals as wide as a few quarters and my feet were smeared on a glint of hope.  I pushed through the crux to easier climbing 10 feet above the bolt.  I had a good rest here and slung a giant horn.  Now for what makes The Needles, The Needles.

I started cranking out move after move on a fin thinner than Glen Plake’s Mohawk.  To my left I could see through the Needles Eye as a rhythm fell over me and I kept pushing through this unprotectable section.  I smiled as I clipped the old piton in the horizontal seam and looked down at my sling now 35 feet below me.  I traversed eight feet to my right, clipped another piton and finished with a 15-foot runout through a water chute to the anchors.  Lais followed me up and we sat straddling a summit barely big enough for the two of us.

If your mind is in the right place, then this is the most awe-inspiring line you can find in The Needles.  It has everything us SD climbers love: butthole puckering runouts, sketchy gear, fun crystalline slab moves, and you can belay right off the hood of your car.  Or you can just stay home and study.


The Needles Highway is located just South of Hill City, SD right off Highway 16.  When you pass through Hill City follow the signs for the Needles Highway.  The signs will bring you to a State Park entry booth with a bunch of climber unfriendly rangers taking money.  Pay the $15 entry fee that is good for a week and continue on.

This windy road will bring you to a small parking lot nestled in the crotch of some of The Needles best spires.

As you enter the parking lot, gaze up to your right and you will see the unmistakable Needles Eye.  The East face of the formation is where the Needles Eye Fenton Variation 5.10-, is located.  I apologize for the tourists that will inevitably ask you how in the world you got up there.

All you need is a #1 C3, two standard quickdraws, a giant sling for the horn, an extendable draw for the first piton, and some giant cahones.

After you come down, drive though the tunnel and head to the next parking lot.  Look up into the abyss of the Cathedral Spires and then ask me about the climbing in South Dakota.

Author Bio:

Reed Rombough is just your average Joe climber with big dreams.  He lacks a huge rap sheet but has plans to not use his college degree and climb the rest of his life.  He is a senior Wildlife and Fisheries major at South Dakota State University and is currently trapped living in Brookings, SD.

I got feedback on the article from the editor of Rock and Ice.  He said he likes my style, he liked the article but he wants me to make it less cliche by describing it as a place I enjoy and not as a place someone else will.  He wants me to make it more personal basically, and resubmit it again.  🙂