North Finger
Condor Crags South
Condor Crags North

Sat, Sep 8, 2018

With: Jackie Burd

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Flush with our success the previous weekend, Jackie was eager to head back to Pinnacles for more rock climbing. With temperatures in the mid-90s forecasted, we both agreed an early start would we wise. This time, I decided we should drive in to the East Side which is always open. This would allow us an earlier start, by more than hour, over what we could manage from the West Side with a gate that doesn't open until 7:30a. We were the only vehicle in the Bear Gulch upper lot when we arrived at the end of the pavement before 6:15a. The sun would be up within half an hour, so we didn't need headlamps and were able to hike most of the High Peaks trail while it was still cool. We reached the High Peaks trail junction atop the crest by 7a with a fine view overlooking the West Side of the park. The turkey vultures roosting in one of the larger trees were awaken by the rising sun and our presence, soon taking flight for their morning soaring routines around the High Peaks.

North Finger

Our first order of business, in the way of warm-up, was to do North Finger, immediately adjacent to South Finger, the last climb from the previous trip. We didn't realize it at the time, but the two formations are easily done as a pair since the Regular Route on both share most of the climb together. Since we'd been up it once before, Jackie took the lead on the 5.3 pitch up to the corridor that splits the two formations, giving her an opportunity to place her first piece of pro, a single cam to protect the crux move in the wide crack. The short pitch was accomplished in good time, after which she belayed me up to join her. From there we switched leads as I went through the corridor to the north side, in search of the "few fifth class moves that bring you into a 4th class gully". I walked down the floor of the sloping corridor, past the ramp/crack leading to the South Finger summit, to find that there is indeed a gully on the north side of North Finger. The tricky part is that you have to chimney up out of the corridor to get you to the easier gully. Jackie watched as I did these first few low fifth moves before moving out of sight into the gully. It doesn't seem to get much traffic because I found it heavy with lichen, making it a bit unnerving. Luckily the angle was low enough that there was little real concern for slipping, and in about 5min the second short pitch was done. I clipped into the rap chains found on the summit and belayed Jackie up with a fine view overlooking the High Peaks in the early morning hour with the surrounding formations still colored nicely by the low-angled sun. Looking over at the Condor Crag formations to the east, it wasn't possible to tell which of the two summits was highest, so that would leave us guessing for a bit longer. The slightly higher South Finger was just to the west. Jackie was happy to be able to sign the register found in an ammo box that we had first spied the previous week from South Finger. A laminated piece of paper described that the old register (from 1973) had been removed for restoration/archiving and available to read at pinnacles.org. An online search later showed that this was never completed and is still unavailable almost 10yrs later. A newer register from 2010 had less than a dozen entries, showing the route has become less favored over the years. Our rope was just long enough to allow us to make it off the summit in a single rap, mostly following the line of the first pitch back down to the trail on the south side of the formation. By 8:15a we were done with the warm-up, and confidently carried our gear the short distance north to base of Condor Crags.

Condor Crags

These are the highest formations in the High Peaks area, a pair of closely-spaced pinnacles that, like the North/South Fingers, shares the same initial pitch. The crux of the route comes at the start of this shared pitch where a near-vertical thin crack has to be overcome. David Rubine's guidebook has this as 5.7 which I figured would be challenging but doable, a step up from the 5.5 & 5.6 routes we'd done already. Not so. Calling it a thin crack is a bit misleading. It does indeed call for finger jams in a crack, but the crack is located to one side of a scooped-out face and is not continuous, requiring some face climbing with minimal holds. Mountainproject.com has the route at 5.9 which I thought was a misprint until we actually got on it. This thing was one tough S.O.B. The crack takes a few medium-sized cams which I quickly depleted and wished I'd had more of same. I shamelessly placed cams and used them as aid since I found my free-soloing abilities too feeble for this route. The top cam pulled out as I weighted it, but Jackie and the lower cam held me nicely in the short fall. I made three efforts at getting past the crux to no avail as my arms were soon spent. I even tried an alternate start to the left on a lower-angled crack, but the lichen there was too scary and I backed off without placing any pro or getting very far. And then came the real moment - when I discovered my daughter was a better climber than myself. She gave it a go and succeeded where I had failed. Granted, she used the two cams I'd already placed, fell off a few times and was frustrated that she couldn't free it, but I'll be damned if she didn't get past the two cams, place a third and then go over the top into the easier alcove above. "Maybe it's because I'm lighter," she offered in way of trying not to hurt my feelings. But my feelings weren't hurt, really, in fact I'd just gained another rope gun who could help me up routes I couldn't do on my own. She probably should have just kept going to the top of the pitch to the oak tree between the north and south summits, but since there was a pair of rap chains just above the crux she anchored in there and brought me up (again heavily aiding on the cams and this time the rope as well). She then led the next short pitch up to the tree, a much easier, low-fifth effort. From there we decided to do the South Traverse route to the south summit, knowing it was rated a better climb than the 4th class munge on the Regular Route. There were three bolts along the traverse to make it easier and it looked like a sloping ledge (of sorts) below could be combined with a few bomber handholds above to reach between bolts. Jackie didn't see this as doable so she let me take the lead. I found it enjoyable, the bolt placements appropriate, and only a tiny bit scary. A small bush can be used for protection past the last bolt to reach the shoulder just above the bush. From the shoulder on the south side of the summit, one more bolt protects a short face to the top. I clipped a quickdraw into this but found the moves needed to be a bit more than I was comfortable with, and decided to call in my rope gun. Belaying from the shoulder, I brought Jackie across the traverse which she found concerning, then let her take the lead to overcome the last bolt to reach the top. I was a bit nervous watching her climb above the bolt, knowing she would deck onto the shoulder (and me) if she fell from what looked like a precarious position. As she went over the top, a round of applause went up from below, much to our surprise. A group of hikers on the trail below had stopped to watch our efforts, evidently rooting for Jackie in her efforts to complete these last moves. Anchored into a pair of rap chains, she brought me up (aiding again on the rope) to conclude our 4-pitch climb of a 2-pitch route which we were proud to have made a real team effort.

The actual highpoint of the south summit isn't at the rap chains however, but a class 3-4 scramble a bit further to the west. I went over to do this while she still had me on belay, then changed positions so she could claim the highpoint as well. It was from this vantage point that we could discern the south summit to be maybe a foot higher than the north summit - we had finally reached the highpoint of High Peaks. Compared to the south summit effort, the addition of the north summit would be a piece of cake. After dropping off the scramble portion of the south summit, I had Jackie start down the 4th class Regular Route to the notch between the two summits. Easy at first, the angle soon drops off more steeply and had her wavering, so we decided to simply lower her off on the rope under tension. Following this, I rapped off from the chains with the rope going over a horn to angle me more safely down the 4th class gully. From the notch, we had some trouble retrieving the rope due to the excessive friction over the rock. Both of us were pulling the rope in synchronized fashion, finding it took all of our combined strength to get it moving, our arms and backs feeling spent by the time it was finally retrieved.

From the notch, it's a class 3 scramble up to the north summit which Jackie led while trailing the rope, placing no gear. After she anchored into the rap chains on the north summit she brought me up where we shared a small celebration. Like a true climber, she was a bit disappointed that she couldn't free the entire route and felt it was a bit unearned, unlike her father's by-any-means attitude that doesn't distinguish such trivialities. Our rope wasn't long enough to reach the bottom in one go, requiring us to make two rappels. In addition to the set of chains at the summit, there were two more sets found below that we had passed by on our way up. We rapped down in turn to the higher of the wo sets, pulled the rope and then threaded it through the next pair of chains for the second rap. The third set of chains was not needed. We spent about 20min on the two rappels before reaching the bottom to retrieve our gear just after 11a. It was pretty warm out by now and we had sore hands, arms and backs, so it seemed a good time to head back. There were no other climbers in the High Peaks area (lots of hikers, though) but we found dozens of folks climbing in the lower areas closer to the parking lot. Whether these were better areas or just easier to reach we couldn't tell, but they looked interesting and worth checking out on a future visit. We spent most of the last hour getting back to the parking lot at Bear Gulch, finishing up by noon. The small lot was full, with cars circling for the chance to get a prime spot. Ours was the most shaded and clearly the prize for the family that waited eagerly for us to leave. With AC blasting, we headed back to San Jose to rest up for the remainder of the day...


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