Pinnacles Climbing Weekend,
April 27-28, 2002 : PINNACLES

Our mission was to spend a couple of days at Pinnacles National Monument seeking out some bolted routes and learning how to climb trad. We were basically gym rats, but I did have some trad experience with a hired guide at Lovers' Leap and Yosemite (6 years ago), so I had a few clues. Plus, I had climbed previously at PNM (again, six years prior).

We started from SF on Saturday morning around 9am. Our team included Pablo, Auryn and myself. Auryn had just gotten his first rope, so we gathered up our stuff and our guide book and headed south on a dark, cloudy grey morning (we got pounded by heavy rain while driving through San José). But, traffic was easy and we got to the campground just east of the Monument boundary around 11am.

The San Benito County countryside between Hollister and the PNM was beautiful and green with oak-studded hills and a steep ridge to the east. The highway (state route 25) winds through the hilly rift zone of the San Andreas fault. At steep rugged cliff runs along the east side of the zone and a higher more cut-up series of ridges to the west. The mountains are known as the Gabilan Range. (More about the fault below.)

After we checked in at the campsite I talked Pablo & Auryn into hiking from the campsite to the climb instead of sharing the shuttle with a load of Cub Scouts.

Here's a slide show of the hike from camp to the climb.

The campground is adjacent to the Monument, and after we finally found the trail, we cruised though the beautiful oak woodlands, past Chalone Creek, and up into scenic Bear Gulch. We arrived at the Discovery Wall around 1pm. The hike was about 3 or 4 miles. Time from my front door to the bottom of the cliff was four hours - not that bad.

Hiking west from camp

Ordeal, 5.8
When we arrived, there were about 6 parties working the cliff. Everybody was real helpful and informative as I wandered back and forth trying to decipher the topo. We weren't sure how and where to begin. After a few trips back and forth from the base to the top via the walk-up route without setting anything up, I was getting a little frustrated - struggling to conjour up techniques and procedures from my past climbing experiences.

We started chatting with a nice fellow from Santa Rosa, who was there with a friend. On Ordeal, 5.8, they offered to let us use their rope for a toprope belay that they would set after they did it as a lead pitch. When they were done with the pitch, we got a seminar in self-equalizing anchors on the handy bolts that were installed.

After setting a toprope anchor at Ordeal, we went to the west end of the cliff and set up a two-rope rappel from that anchors atop Portent (5.6). I hadn't rapped in a long time, so I was pumped when it was my turn to back over the 80' cliff. I slid down 40-50 feet where the cliff undercuts offering 30-40 feet of free rappel to the ground. Wow!

Then, while our new acquaintances set up for Portent, we went over to the base of Ordeal and prepared to climb. Auryn went first and I belayed. He proceeded to jam to the top in a stylish fashion. After I lowered him, it was my turn to climb.

This was actually my second opportunity to do Ordeal. The climb starts with a steep crack straight up and a little right. A nice chockstone offers a secure hold for hands and feet, before stepping up into an overhead corner. From there, I have to traverse across a nearly vertical face featuring holds that sure do seem small for a 5.8. But they are there and once I commit to the face, the route continues straight up and the holds become easier. There is a short sloping ledge before another vertical face. A couple of mantles and big steps, and I'm at the anchors. "Off belay!"

I went back over to the rap station and slid down again. Then, I watched Pablo do Ordeal. After that, I walked up to the top and set up a belay station for Auryn to climb Buffalo Soldier (5.11a). He thought it was hard.

Meanwhile, Pablo broke down the rap station, and we sorted out everybody's gear while the shadows lengthened and it was time to start heading back to camp - an hour-long hike. Auryn and Pablo jetted back to camp while I lingered with my camera and witnessed a beautiful sunset. I didn't get back to camp until after dark. Here's a slideshow.

Next morning, we got an early start, broke camp and drove up to the cliffs. We passed Discovery Wall and headed up to Toprope Rock, where we found two sets of anchors and quickly set up a rap and belay station. The climb was about 40-50' and featured two challenging (for me) 5.8 step/mantle moves over these big grooves in the side of the rock. I rapped down and climbed up twice. Pablo climbed it in his hiking boots. Auryn showed me how to do a standing top belay. It was a nice warm-up.

We had been looking down at the Monolith and decided that would be our next desitnation. We continued on the trail to the reservior. There was a crowd of people watching a guy leading Coyote Ugly (5.10a). It goes straight up this big vertical slab with a cross-shaped groove worn into it - an awesome face. From there, the trail went down a steep, narrow stairway hewn out of the rock. It headed down the creek below the reservior's dam and into the bottom of the gorge, where we walked beneath enormous boulders though subterranean passages.

The Monolith's east side is always really busy, but after the requisite confusion, we decided to push it and do a two-pitch route: The Monolth's East Face Regular Route (5.6) The route zigged way right for pitch one, then zigged all the way back before bee-lining straight up to the top. Overall vertical, only 75' but lots of traverse. Auryn bravely started up on first lead - I belayed. The route was fully bolted, as many climbs at PNM are. Auryn set 4 quick draws before attaining the belay ledge - a short first pitch.

I started up the face. It was vertical, but the rhyolitic tuffstone, characteristic of PNM - the remains of 1/2 of an extinct volcano) contained inclusions that looked like riverine gravel and made nice, solid holds. The other half of the volcano was somewhere in Ventura County or something. Millions of years ago, the San Andreas fault ripped it in half and the half on the west side of the fault, the Pacific Plate, has been heading northwest ever since.

Back to the climb - it was a breeze, so far. But the view ahead from the ledge was scary-looking. The second pitch started by climbing the side of a fin around a buldge in the face (no bolts), then onto a ledge. But from our vantage, it looked like an awkward, unprotectable move. I gave Auryn back his draws and he inched up the fin and around the corner.

Pablo climbing 5.8 with hiking boots

On Monolith East Face Regular Route Turns out the ledge started right on the other side of the bulge, and Auryn stood up on top of the fin and just started walking to the first bolt. That put him at the base of the final 30' of the upper face. In seconds, Auryn topped out and started setting up his second belay.

I started shimmying up the fin. Usually climbs look easier from below, this one looked harder. I scrambled around the bulge and "casually" walked the ledge (only 30' above the ground) before continuing straight up the face, which featured some nice vertical folds and cracks.The top of the Monolith is a big, flat area, surrounded by the cliffs on the rim and with a commanding view down the gorge.

We were very pleased with ourselves and rapped down to meet up with Pablo. While we were taking a short break, we talked Pablo into leading the same route, with Auryn seconding. I would take photos.

Everything was going great. Pablo inched his way up the first pitch, traversing a bit high (for added difficulty) and quickly set up his first belay. Familiar with the pitch, Auryn was up to the ledge in a matter of seconds. Soon Pablo was starting on the second pitch. He passed the fin, got on the ledge and started up the final face.

The he stopped. Then he started downclimbing! He walked back on the ledge and laid down on his belly, reaching down to Auryn. ¿Qué chingón? They had forgotten to exchange draws at the belay ledge. Ooopsie...

Once that all got sorted out, Pablo got off of his stomach and continued up the route to the top with no further difficulties. Auryn zipped up and in a few minutes, we were all back on the ground and packing up to come home.

It was about 4pm, so with the hike and drive back, I was home around 7:30pm. It was a fun weekend, I learned a lot and I hope to go back before it gets too hot and get in some more multi-pitch bolted climbing.