We met on Friday night at Quaking Aspen campground, which I'd always bypassed in years before. It turns out that campground is absolutely beautiful, and a great meeting spot if someone in the party has never been up in the Needles area before, and is arriving in the middle of the night.
The next morning we headed out to Dome Rock. I first led Tree Route, which is really as much fun as you can have at the 5.6 grade. We dilly dallied a bit on top, and then headed back down so that Jason could lead it, for his first trad lead. Unfortunately there was a slow party up ahead, who'd gotten some gear stuck at the first belay and were refusing to let it go, so we couldn't leave the ground. Eventually I yelled up at them that we'd bring their gear to them, if only they'd get going and let us climb! While hanging out at the base we met another party who started up right behind us and did Anti-Jello crack to our left, as Jason led Tree Route. He had no problems with the leading, except that the slab on the last pitch turned him off, so I finished that one.
We left for the low road around 4, I think, but when we got to about 5 miles before Needlerock creek, there was a sign on the road and a ranger in a truck, saying the road was closed due to a fire a few miles down. They could at least have put up a sign at Johnsondale, so we didn't have to drive the 15 windy miles to the road block!
At that point my mind was fried for dealing with logistics, so we headed down to my favorite brewing company in Kernville, for burgers, beer and internet access. We threw around a bunch of ideas -- Crystal Crag, Cathedral Peak -- but coming on the heels of driving to San Diego and back in a day, and the detour of Friday night (I-5 was closed), I was not really up for much more driving. We decided to bivy under Kern slab, and revisit the issue in the morning.
In the morning, since the slab was right there, and in shade, to boot, we decided to head up. I led the Lieback, which I'd followed twice before, but never led, with one take to rest up and make sure I don't blow the crux. It was one of the coolest leads I've done, even if, technically, it's the lowest rated one. That is the most ridiculous sandbag in the world! At the top of the Lieback we went right, and Jason led a little hand traverse + chimney to the anchors for Claustrophobia. Then we rapped down the slab. Then he led the 5.7 pillar section of the Chouinard Special, and we played a bit on the knife-thin crack below that anchor. Eventually it got really hot and we headed down to the river, stopped for Mexican food at K-ville and called it a trip, leaving a day early. My calves were killing me after 12 pitches! But, hey, this was an off-the-couch trip for both of us, and I'd call it a very successful one!