Mt. Rushmore Needles Climbing Trip

"An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from our enemy." Proverbs 27:5-6
"Is any pleasure on Earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?" C.S. Lewis
"We love because He loved us first." 1 John 4:19
I have been planning a climbing trip to scale the Rushmore Needles for nearly a year now. I have invited everyone I know that loves to climb on this trip...but specifically, I first invited my brother in law Brad and one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jeremy. Jeremy and I have been specifically training in gitty anticipation for months...meeting at least on a weekly basis to climb. As the months and days grew closer, our excitement to finally climb in South Dakota was becoming a reality.
However, in an instant...everything changed. The day before the trip...our plans turned. Jeremy had informed us that he was no longer joining us. And though he explained his reasons, it was a blow to my plans for us. I couldn't believe it. Selfishly, I didn't want to hear his reasons...All I cared about was him not being there. I thought about all the work, all the desire, and all the heart we invested in the trip. And in an instant, the entire year vanished before my eyes. I was going to South Dakota without my climbing partner.
As I told my wife Sarah, "I feel like I got dumped." That sick feeling in your stomach...pit of your stomach feeling that won't go away...I felt this the entire drive up to South Dakota. It was a very sad and stressful drive...
I purposely am not sharing why Jeremy could not make the trip (It's his story to share). He has his convictions and felt led to call the trip off for himself and family. There existed personal spiritual ramifications/consequences that will always be more important than climbing. And though it took me a couple of days to accept this truth, I know it was the right decision for him. So I thank God for Jeremy, and his obedience to the Lord.
What I will attempt to focus on is the heart of the matter. More specifically the heart of the dialogue between all involved...and more specifically my heart through the process.
When Jeremy told me he wasn't going...I coudn't believe it. When he told me why, I understood his position, but did not want to accept it. In my heart, I was not receptive to my friend's heart. He was sharing with me his hurt, his thinking, and his trust in the Lord...yet, I didn't want to recieve what the Spirit was laying on his heart. Furthermore, he continued to praise the Lord in this time of confusion...often going back to the scriptures to find truth. I listened...but was not receptive. I felt too hurt. I couldn't understand how the Spirit is leading him to think one way and how I thought another. How is it possible that two men who love the Lord have different opinions about the same thing. This is confusing. This is frustrating. This makes me question him...makes me question myself...this introduces doubt where doubt did not exist before. This is when sickness enters my body.
I continued to struggle with our friendship. How are we so off? We're not aligned with each other...and this makes me physically ill. As believers, aren't we called to the same mindset?
I continued to play our conversations over and over again...I had several hours on the road to rethink the matter. This led me to nothing...still sick and more confused than ever.
A few days of clean air, great climbing, good converations with Sarah (My Wife), Brad, Jess, Rod (Jess' Husband), and more importantly prayer...I realized that I failed. I failed my friend. He had been sharing with me his heart. He had been sharing with me what the Spirit had in mind for his family. He was telling me things that had more of a Kingdom impact. He was looking ahead...laying himself down for others...and more importantly, submitting his selfish pursuits for the glorification of Jesus. For Jeremy, not going on this trip was more about Jesus. That's it. Period. He didn't get caught up in the emotions of the loss like the rest of us...instead, he let the Lord capture him in Truth and Comfort. Hence, Jeremy's peace through all this mess.
For me, I wasn't listening.  Didn't want to. But nonetheless, I wasn't listening to the spiritual truths in our conversations. I was listening through a disappointed and saddened heart. I could not get past myself to hear Jesus speaking truth to me. I was so caught up in my sadness, I no longer heard my friend speaking to me. I regret the deaf ears Jeremy spoke to in those couple of days.
In addition, I realized this was the first time in my spiritual walk of 14 years that I did not completely agree with another believers heart on a spiritual matter. How does that happen? What rock have I been living under? I'm not talking about theology ( i.e. Calvinism vs. Armenianism) or denominational doctrine, etc, etc...a Christian can go on for eternity debating these subjects. I'm talking about personal spiritual conviction. For whatever reason...I have never been in conflict with any other believer about anything that really matters to me... which is their heart and the heart of Christ. Who am I???? These past few weeks have been a spiritual challenge for me...and I think, no,...I know that I needed it. I need this. This is growth. This, as our wise friend Rod Gilbert has where we reflect as believers. It's not until we are personally challenged and forced to reflect on ourselves that we begin to experience growth (BTW, Rod is a smart dude...he sometimes makes my head hurt...I may start using his qoutes above :).
So before the trip even started, The Lord was at work in several different people's lives. The word He had for us all started before we got on the road. And after it was all over, this is what I know:
I love my friends. All of them. Old ones and New ones. They are all dear to me. I can love them, only because Jesus loved me first. I only know how to love them, because Jesus shows how he loves me. I'm a screw up...and I often live selfishly and in direct opposition of what God wants for me. Yet, He still continues to love me. This is unconditional...this is what real love looks like. Regardless of what I say or do...He continues to love. Jesus doesn't change who he is...or how he loves.
Also, the bible speaks of Jesus, the friend. Jesus was many things...but one thing that stands out to me is his desire to remain in relationships with us. He is always the same. He never changed. He never stop being himself to everyone that came in contact with him...and as a follower of Him, I cannot turn off showing Christ love without feeling the Spirit's sting in my life. At this point in time, I don't know how to be in a relationship with anyone without wanting them to know Jesus...I want everyone to know Jesus. And the best way I know to show them to love them like Jesus. To hear that I can't always be Jesus is like saying that I can't be light. Though I often fail...I refuse to purposely not be light. It's impossible for me. I don't know how to be in a relationship without Christ love...again, it's because he loved me first that I can even begin to love. So my heart tells me that every relationship I have starts with Him!!!!!
With friendships, even the best ones, there will be times of conflict. But that doesn't matter. It's how we recieve each other. It's how we love each other. It's how we speak and address one another. And at times, what we say to one another, though we may not fully agree...should always come from love. And since it comes from love, I should be receptive to it all...advice, praise, and even rebuke.
The climbing trip turned out to be a bigger blessing than imagined...frienships forged are now friendships refined. So needless to say, climbing wasn't the most fruitful endeavor of the was building better, stronger relationships for Christ. Now that's something I can sit around a good fire for!
What: Climbing Mt. Rushmore Needles
When: 09/21-09/24/13
Who: Jess Gilbert, Brad Hardin, and Ugly
Goal: Climb. Hang out. Have fun. Climb some more!
(Pelican's Dyke Nation 5.10+)
There won't be much of a trip report...this will be more of a picture collage with fun facts of our climbs and beta for any climbers that are looking to know more about this area. Hope you enjoy...
(Brad on Just Jugs 5.8)
We primarily climbed in three areas of Rushmore...The Chopping Block, South Seas, and Magna Carta (formerly known as Marker and Monster). Within each area, there are several named rock formations with routes on each rock. Some formations have several routes on them...majority of them have anywhere from 1-4 routes. You will find all types of climbing...Sport, Trad, and mix. You will also find single pitch routes from 40' to 150'+ and multi-pitch routes as well. I don't believe there is anything more than 4-5 pitch routes in Rushmore Memorial area. Unlike nearby Cathedral Spires in Custer Park...most rock in Rushmore has bolts. Where there are splitters, offwidths, and the will find no bolts. They keep these routes true...For the most part, you will only find bolted routes on face climbing. Mix routes come into play if a route transitions from face to crack climbing.
(Jess on Valdez Overhang 5.9)

To climb at Rushmore sucessfully...we only needed:
1) 12-15 draws (Though we had way more just in case)
2) Set of standard nuts #3-12...though a few #2-4 cams would have been nice to unlock a couple sweet routes for us)
3) 2 60m ropes for two rope raps (we also had 1 70m rope to make some raps easier)
4) Several shoulder length slings
5) Good attitude
6) 2/3rds (aka Brad) to become a full sending ninja!
7) and forgiving skin to allow our tender, succulent Texas fingers to heal from the conglomerate (granite/pegmatite/schist/quartzite) skin thrashing rock that's eaten many of climbers in the Black Hills.
(Me on Pointy Little Devil 5.8)
We camped at Wrinkle Rock Campground. A free climber's campground with limited sites. The campground is right off the road, smack in the middle of this rock paradise! From camp, South Seas and Chopping Block is a 3 minute approach. Magna Carta is maybe 10-15 minutes (maybe even less) down the road. Everything is unbelievably close. Even the campground hosted climbable rock...Just beautiful for a climber. However, we chose not to accept the lengthy and exhaustive approaches...Instead, we submitted to our dear friend's Jess aversion towards hiking and instead drove the 15 seconds to the other side of the road. And no, I am not being sarcastic. I am being as literal as possible!
 (Brad and Jess working the 1st of 2 pitches of Classic Waves 5.8)
There is truly a lifetime of rock here...Besides the Rushmore area...which you can spend years here. There is Spearfish Canyon to the North (for those seeking limestone) and Custer State Park (Cathedral Spires, Sylvan Lake, etc) to the south. And within 2 hours West, the infamous Devil's Tower in Wyoming. It's rockphoria man!!
(Jess onsighting 5.10, super proud of her sending cleanly with scary runouts)
(Jess and I sending Chopping Block's ultra classic line Baba Cool 5.9+)
(Brad and I working Shark's Breath 5.7, this is one of my favorite pics of the week. If you plan on doing this climb...learn from this picture above. The bolt nearest the arete above Brad...put a runner there to minimize drag. Word!)
(Jess and Brad)
Rushmore climbing is about having fun...Yes, there are several difficult routes...some even topping out on the uppers 13s and low 14s in the Chopping Block area. So if you are looking to crush superstar style...this place may not be for you. This area has a high concentration of moderate climbs...the most enjoyable ones (in my opinion) falling in the 5.8 to 5.10 range. For us...we had a preconcieved notion of what are goals were for the week. We made our tick list and started on our way...but I believe I can speak for Jess and Brad when I say, the most fun we had is when we all summited a rock together. Regardless of the grade...working together to get to the top...and enjoy the views together. This is what was most memorable about our time climbing together. Rock on!
(Brad and Jess on the classic Gossamer 5.7 I have ever been on)
More shots of our week...

(Jess and I working a 2 pitch 5.10 climb...We butchered this climb. But we had fun doing it)

(I think they were making fun of me)
Want to say, I am really proud of Brad. Brad was really proud of Brad. No really, he seriously is too proud of himself. I have never seen anyone love his arms and abs as much as this guy does. In all seriousness...Brad put in some work for this trip. It resulted in him sending nearly every route...and transforming his feeble middle aged body to a slightly younger middle age man's body. I believe he now sports a 3 or 4 pack...which is 1 to 2 more than I have. Congrats!
Pretty rainbow.
Yours truly enjoying the views while belaying...I should probably be paying attention to my climber.
(Jess and I crushin the 5.6+ Second Hand Rose Arete...a super classic! And yes...+ can be added to a 5.6. I just did. And I feel better about myself for onsighting this bad boy! Yes, I am claiming an onsight on a 5.6...because it's not embarassing.)

 Cruising a 5.10+ near Hornet's Nest. It didn't take long for the crew to get spoiled by the lengthy sport routes of the area. The climb above is a short 40' route...and it was fun. But apparently, no longer good enough for the gang...They gave me the stink eye for jumping on this route.
Jess rapping down the face of Shark's fin...Many of the routes here are 100+. So it's a good idea to come with a 70m rope or learn to tie two ropes into one so you can reach the ground safely.
Sweet black and white...
For you peak baggers out there...Yes, we summited another high peak. Harney Peak is South Dakota's highest point. It sits at 7,242' above sea level. We decided to hike up to this point on our rest day (i.e. rainy day). It takes the average hiker 5-6 hours to complete this 7 mile, 1000' hike. We hiked up and ran down in almost half the time...There were no views for us up there, we essentially hiked up into the clouds and were in a white out. Oh well...maybe next time.
On our off day, we also hiked around Sylvan Lake...a pretty lake in Custer State Park...
Also visited Crazy Horse...where I think all three of us took a nap in the theatre room while watching a documentary of this monument. Cool fact...all 4 of Rushmore's faces can fit in the rock left of Crazy Horse's ugly mug above. Crazy Horse dwarfs Rushmore. Also, another crazy fact...I think Brad hates the White People for essentially taking a crap on Native Americans throughout history. He refused to look at our presidents...he was ashamed.
We couldn't stop!! On same Off Day...we continued to climb. We went back and finished the day doing what we came to do...climb!
This is what packing looks like on a climber's vacation...
Brad leading Bolt's for Bob 5.8
Me leading Pelican's Dike Nation 5.10+
Jess and I finishing Weird Water of the best climbs and summits of the week.
This was truly one of the best trips I had been on. We made for an excellent team...Never a dull moment with these two guys. We were always optimistic, had great attitudes, and continued to make each other laugh throughout the whole trip. I appreciate my team and look forward to many more awesome opportunities climb together. 


  1. Great blog man. That is an epic picture of you halfway up the Pointy Little Devil climb. You can brag about that picture to your grandkids one day... Ha. I watched the documentary "To The Limit" a couple of days ago about some really good German climbers in Yosemite National Park. I have a lot of respect for you rock climbers.



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