Third time lucky getting to the summit! First time we couldn't find a suitable way up (due to inexperience), second time we were stumped by the weather, but today we found the secret easy way up onto the ridge. Well, no not really - it's not secret and while it's easier, it's not necessary easy for everyone - it's still a scramble. Follow the orange paint markers and scramble over a rock just below the iffy crack where most people go, take 2 steps across a ledge with a teeny bit of exposure (about a 4-metre drop) into a safe gully marked by a small rock wrapped in pink flagging tape. This rock can be seen when standing next to the paint marker mentioned above. Getting out of the gully is a bit of a squeeze but it's safe. Similarly in reverse, it's pretty easy - just the 2 steps on the ledge to take care over. Once we were past that, the rest of the scrambling was easy and a lot of fun. (Disclosure: it took 3 attempts to find this route as I balked at the other options. :-)
The trail is in pretty good condition - steep as ever on the lower section, but who can complain about getting up into the subalpine after only 40 minutes of effort? A pair of BC parks rangers arrived at the same time as us - they cut back the brush on the lower portion of the trail and removed a couple of logs which made our decent easier - thanks guys! Once in the subalpine and onto the ridge, it was pretty much plain sailing. The trail splits and rejoins several times, so pick whichever route works for you.
Once on the ridge it's a very pleasant wander towards the summit. I found the chimney section of scrambling to be easy and enjoyable. The rock was nice a grippy (though it draws blood with little effort) and there were plenty of hand and foot holds. The summit views were fantastic, and we got there at the right time as the clouds drifted away.
The steep, dirty gully on the south side of Needle is in much, much worse condition than when we first encountered it back in 2009. Seriously don't even think of going in there any more - it's horrible going up and even worse coming back down.
Flowers are few and far between now - fireweed in clearings low down, heather, elephant ears, and lupines up in the subalpine with a few paintbrush and stonecrop blooms for extra colour.
Lots of birds singing in the lower forest, we saw a couple of golden-mantled ground squirrels, one of which was at the summit clearing up someone's leftover popcorn, and I startled a young snowshoe hare - very cute!
I would do this trip again in a heartbeat, and would love to spend the night on the ridge or even at the summit. It is such a photogenic area...