The Kern River & Wilderness Areas

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Climbing information and photos graciously provided by Tom Kenney

| Area Information | The Needles | Merlin Dome | Kernville Rock | Salmon Creek Falls |

Kern River Rock Climbing

The Kern River, located at the southern end of California's Sierra Nevada range and an easy drive from Los Angeles areas, presents the climber with an incredible variety of climbing on several types of rock. For the most part, the rock in the Kern River Valley is the super-solid Yosemite-like granite. There are also sections of limestone, basaltic columns, and quartz monzonite.

Wilderness Cragging

The climbing in the Kern River Valley is by no means limited to what you read about in any guide book. There is so much exposed rock here that any guide attempting to describe it all would come to resemble a set of Encyclopedia Britanica volumes.

Higher on the walls of the Kern River Valley are such remote crags as the Neanderthal Wall, the Real Salmon Creek Falls, Book Rock, and The Sentinel. Also, the nearby Domeland Wilderness is chock-full of wonderful domes and buttes which are only 2 mi. from the nearest trailhead.

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The Needles

Perhaps the most well-known cragging area on the Kern River is The Needles. This collection of granite spires stand high on a ridge overlooking the Kern River, thousands of feet below. There are a few moderate climbs here (Magic Dragon, 5.8), but mostly the grades are fairly stiff, ranging above 5.10 in difficulty (Pegasus, 5.10+; Sirocco, 5.13).

Location: From Kernville, drive 23 mi. north on the Upper Kern River road to Johnsondale. Turn right on the Peppermint Road and continue another 12 mi. to the Needlerock Creek turnout (signed). The Needles should be visible from the road about 8 mi. from Johnsondale. Another approach may be made from near Quaking Aspen campground on CA 155.

Camping: There are primitive sites at many places along the road past Peppermint Creek campground. Peppermint Creek is also a good place to camp, but it is a USFS campground, so expect neighbors. Quaking Aspen campground is also a USFS campground, on CA 155.

Guides: The Needles, Chockstone Press.

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Merlin Dome

Merlin Dome is directly behind The Needles, on the north side of the same ridge. This dome is fairly solid granite It's not very steep, but it's routes are mostly 4-6 pitches in length. The routes are mostly high-moderate (5.8-5.9) with a couple of 5.6 lines.

Location: From The Needles, drive up the Peppermint Road and around the ridge. Merlin Dome will be visible on the left (uphill) side of the road.

Camping: Same as The Needles.

Guides: The Needles, Chockstone Press.

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Kernville Rock

Kernville Rock is a small dome north of Kernville on the Kern River. The climbing here is not very steep, but many of the routes are difficult friction and thin-edge climbs. However, the moderate grades are well represented here. There are very easy climbs (Claustrophobia Crack, 5.3, chimney-ish), medium climbs (Lieback, 5.5, great handcrack), and tougher moderates (Clouds, 5.7, friction and edges). The rock here is a very fine grain, very compact and solid granite. It's somewhat like limestone in texture.

Location: From Kernville, drive 10 mi. north on the Upper Kern River Road. The dome will come into view on the right as you round a corner.

Camping: There are numerous primitive sites along the river in this area. Also, there are several USFS campgrounds: Gold Ledge, Hospital Flat, Fairview, and more.

Guides: The Needles, Chockstone Press.

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Salmon Creek Falls

Salmon Creek Falls is a hidden gorge with strange orange granite walls. The climbing here is of the bolted sport-route variety, with few moderates. There is a scary 5.6 route and an even scarier 5.9 route, but the majority of climbing here is above 5.10 in difficulty. Most of the bolts have recently been replaced with new 3/8 in. bolts, so protection isn't an issue.

Location: From Kernville, drive 15 mi. north on the Upper Kern River Road to a turnout signed as "Salmon Creek Falls viewpoint". If you have a 4wd or high-clearance vehicle, you can drive up a dirt jeep trail on the east side of the road. At the end of this jeep trail, hike up a strenuous trail that follows the creek. At about 2 mi., enter a gorge. At the back of this gorge is a beautiful waterfall (not Salmon Creek Falls, though). The climbing surrounds this waterfall on both walls of the gorge. There is rarely any sun here, so climbing in winter or early/late season can be cold and harsh on your fingers!

Camping: There are a few primitive sites on the Upper Kern River Road near the turnout, and a large site at the end of the jeep trail. There are a few sites next to the trail as you approach the gorge.

Guides: The Needles, Chockstone Press.

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About our Climbing Page Author

(Sorry Tom, we knew you'd never talk about yourself so we asked your mom.)

Tom was born into his active world on September 26, 1967 at UCLA, under the sign of "QUIET - NO SMOKING". There is a rumor that he climbed out of his cradle at the age of 3 hours. For years the nurses have maintained a "NO COMMENT" stance for legal reasons.

Tom attended private high school in the San Fernando Valley (since there's no mention of the years in between, we figure they couldn't find him and he was out climbing or biking). His love for the outdoor life can be attributed to his highly active parents, Daniel, "Dan" and Maureen Kenny. How else could he begin backpacking at the age of 7, skiing at 8, and rock climbing at 10 years of age, when he was exposed to Indian Caves in Yosemite?

Tom's been seriously bicycling since about 1988, sometimes giving up automobile transportation for months at a time. In fact he spends a little too much time on two wheels. He is now steel reinforced due to a broken leg and right hip received while on one of his bike journeys. This has put a crimp in his climbing, backpacking and bike trips, but he's mending fast.

When climbing or backpacking, Tom prefers areas in the Sierras north of Kernville and in the Eastern Sierras above Lone Pine. His weekend bicycle trips are usually in the San Gabriel mountains or coastal areas of Southern California. He is also very active in a group that is dedicated to keeping the upper Kern River recreation areas clean from litter left by unthinking campers and visitors.

Tom also found some time for work. He handles various VAX and ALPHA systems and customizes software for the NT platform at Bear Computer Systems, in Chatsworth, California. He also administers the company's local area network. (Mom asked us not to mention that he sometimes browses the net on company time, authorized of course. So we won't.)

You can view some fantastic photos and keep up with Tom's excursions into nature at his Sierra Pages. If you'd like to contact Tom for more information about the climbing, backpacking or biking opportunities in the Sierras, or just to show your appreciation of his efforts, you can reach him via:

The Canyon Connection, Southern California climbing community and most of all, this publisher, sure appreciate Tom's expertise and valuable time. Without his efforts this page would still be just another consideration.

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© 1996-98 Tom Kenney & The Kern Valley Canyon Connection / M.L. Ludiker - All rights reserved.
You may printout trip information & maps for personal use only. Any and all other reproductions require written permission from copyright holder. E-mail requests to: