Needles (Black Hills)

The Needles of the Black Hills of South Dakota are a region of eroded granite pillars, towers, and spires within Custer State Park. Popular with rock climbers and tourists alike, the Needles are accessed from the Needles Highway, which is a part of Sylvan Lake Road (SD 87/89). The Cathedral Spires and Limber Pine Natural Area, a 637-acre (258 ha) portion of the Needles containing six ridges of pillars as well as a disjunct stand of limber pine, was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976.[2]

The Needles
Black Hills -Needles-31.jpg
The Needles, South Dakota, United States
Map showing the location of The Needles
Map showing the location of The Needles
Nearest cityCuster, South Dakota
RangeBlack Hills
Coordinates43°50′28″N 103°32′40″W / 43.84111°N 103.54444°W / 43.84111; -103.54444
Climbing typetraditional face and crack climbing and bouldering[1]
Height500 feet (150 m)
Pitches1 to 4
Rock typegranite, pegmatite
Quantity of rockyears worth ( 2,000 summits)
Developmentwell developed
Cliff aspectmixed mainly traditional climbing
Seasonspring to fall
OwnershipState park
A climber ascends spire nine in The Needles
A roadside needle

The Needles were the original site proposed for the Mount Rushmore carvings. The location was rejected by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum owing to the poor quality of the granite and the fact that they were too thin to support the sculptures. The Needles attract approximately 300,000 people annually.


In 1936 Fritz Wiessner climbed the Totem Pole[3][4] and in 1937 Khayyam Spire with Bill House and Lawrence Coveney. In 1947 Jan and Herb Conn moved to the area and over the next couple decades put up over 220 first ascents.[5] In 1952 Fred Beckey and John Dudra climbed Rubaiyat Spire and Khayyam Spire. In the 1960s climbers such as Royal Robbins, and Henry Barber put up many bold routes. In 1961 John Gill made free solo ascent of 5.12a route on The Thimble which is considered one of the first climbs at that grade and still is a formidable challenge.[6][7] In 1991 John Sherman also made a free solo ascent of Gill's Route.[8]

Classic climbsEdit

  • Spire Two, 5.3
  • Innercourse, 5.5
  • Rum Room, 5.7
  • Tent Peg, 5.7
  • Tricuni Nail, 5.8
  • Trojan Determination, 5.8
  • Behind The Door, 5.9
  • Four Little Fishes, 5.9
  • Hardrocker, 5.9
  • Needle's Eye, 5.10-
  • Nentucket Sleigh Ride, 5.10
  • Superpin, 5.10b R
  • Farewell to Arms, 5.10+
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, 5.11a
  • Limited Immunity, 5.11b
  • Vertigo, 5.11
  • Leaning Jowler, 5.12a
  • Walking the Plankton, 5.12b
  • Thimble, 5.12a
  • Outlet CG Boulders
Map of the Needles by climbing and caving pioneers Jan and Herb Conn.


  1. ^ Toula, Tim (1995). Rock 'n' Road (1st ed.). Falcon. ISBN 978-0934641357.
  2. ^ "National Natural Landmarks - National Natural Landmarks (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 2019-03-25. Year designated: 1976
  3. ^ "Custer State Park Rock Climbing". Mountain Project. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  4. ^ deLannoy, Pete (March 1, 2006). "The Needles". Alpinist (15). Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  5. ^ Stephens, Lindsay (2008). The Adventure Climbs of Herb and Jan Conn. Boulder, CO: Sharp End Pub., LLC. ISBN 9781892540560.
  6. ^ Gill Route on the Thimble on YouTube
  7. ^ "The Thimble Rock Climbing". Mountain Project. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  8. ^ Sherman, John (1994). Stone crusade : a historical guide to bouldering in America (1st ed.). Golden, Colo.: AAC Press. ISBN 9780930410629.