Classic Routes: Yellow Wall

Climbing the Needles’ lightning rod of Khayyam Spire
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Chris Hirsch crux, second pitch Yellow Wall 5.12a Needles South Dakota rock climbing

Chris Hirsch crystal-hunting on the crux, second pitch of Yellow Wall (5.12a), Needles, South Dakota.

Amongst the hundreds of gothic spires lining the twisty Needles Highway in Custer State Park, just 30 miles south of South Dakota’s Rapid City, one stands out: the 320-foot Khayyam Spire, whose west face, the Yellow Wall, begs to be climbed.

In 1990, over five weekends, the trio of Paul Muehl, Pete Delannoy, and Cindy Tolle established one of the most eye-catching faces at the Needles. Climbing ground-up, the trio navigated the wall’s sea of crystals, placing 5/16” buttonhead bolts from stances and supplementing with natural protection. On the 120-foot first pitch, the three climbers placed just five bolts, protecting the rest of the 5.9+ terrain with gear. From the first belay, they traversed to the prominent rounded prow on the wall’s right margin. Delannoy and Muehl swapped leads on the 140-foot rope-stretcher, climbing with a Bosch drill hanging between their legs, placing 17 bolts along the lead.

The crux comes atop this second pitch, where a blank 5.12a traverse leads to a 30-foot finger and hand crack. On the first ascent, Muehl won the coin toss and attempted the lead, but fell on the traverse. He then re-climbed it from a stance. Delannoy led the 60-foot final pitch (5.10c) onsight, supplementing gear with two bolts.

In November 1995, Greg Parker and Nathan Renner made the integral FFA. The summit view remains unchanged: ponderosas, prairie, and hundreds more Needles call out to climbers now, as ever. To descend, make two raps with a 70m down God’s Own Drunk, around the other side of the spire.


Khayyam Spire, the Needles, South Dakota


5.12a; three pitches




Pete Delannoy, Paul Muehl, Cindy Tolle; 1990


Greg Parker and Nathan Renner; 1995