Gerties Pinnacle
The Hatchet

Sun, Dec 27, 2020

With: Jackie Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX

The weather forecast wasn't particularly favorable, but Jackie and I decided to head to Pinnacles ahead of another weak storm front that was going to wet the state later in the day. With cold temps when we set out from San Jose around 8a and heavy fog as we went through Gilroy, it wasn't looking too good. I figured we could just do a hike in the park if it was too chilly for climbing, but as we drove south on SR25 the sun came out and things improved rapidly. It was still a bit chilly, but the sunshine was very pleasant and made for great climbing conditions. Others thought similarly, and for the first time since Jackie and I have been going there, the upper Bear Gulch lot was actually full. We parked in the larger lower lot a short distance away and walked through the picnic area to access the Moses Spring Trail. There were hikers and trail runners and climbers, too, some on the Ignorable Wall, Discovery Wall and Monolith areas, passing by them on our way up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. We followed the Chalone Peak Trail south from the reservoir, past The Sisters where we'd climbed the previous week. Today's formations are found on the west side of the trail, south and across the trail from The Sisters.

Gertie's Pinnacle

Unlike the Sisters, today's formations had no well-marked climbers' trail to reach them. The features appear to see less traffic and the routes to reach them are more informal and can be brushy. Missing an informal trail lower on the Chalone Peak Trail, we ended up reaching Gertie's Pinnacle first. We mistook a slightly lower point to the southeast as Gerties, scrambling the easy class 3 point from the southwest and northwest. Not finding the expected rap chains, I suspected the point a short distance to the northwest to be Gertie's. I left Jackie on the unnamed point and scrambled up Gertie's Pinnacle from the south via one of several class 4 routes. I noted the chains, calling over to Jackie to let her know I'd found the correct summit. I descended the same route, returning to pick up my pack and lead Jackie back through the modest brush to Gertie's. I reclimbed the route with Jackie, then started flaking out the rope while she nervously worked out the step-across move to the highest block. We probably could have descended what appeared to be a class 4 route down the northwest side, but it seemed more fun to rappel it. At the bottom, Jackie took over coiling the rope before I packed it away. In all we spent about 30min on Gertie's.

The Hatchet

A short distance downslope was our far more serious 2nd objective that would take up the next two and a half hours. We had to find our way through the manzanita thicket to reach it, accomplished without too much difficultly. The Hatchet is an impressive blade of rock about 40ft high with a single route, rated as 5.10a or A2. The feature was first climbed in 1946 by flying a kite over it, landing it on the other side, then pulling a rope over to prussik. A bolt ladder was later installed on the prow and it was this that I planned to do our first bit or real aid climbing with aiders and a cheater stick to aid in placing gear above normal reach levels. I had used the aiders once before with Tom Becht when climbing Split Pinnacle in Yosemite, and had watched Tom Grundy use themd in conjunction with a cheater stick when we climbed Giant Rock near Landers, CA. I had the basic idea of how it all worked, but had never really gone up a bolt ladder. I warned Jackie that his might take me a few hours to work it out, but she didn't seem to mind.

We started from a narrow groove that drops to the northeast through the lower base of The Hatchet. An outward-sloping ledge runs about 8ft above this groove to the start of the bolt ladder, but as Jackie found it, it wasn't a very good way to start the climb. She retreated to join me in the groove. There are two bolts at knee-level where we started but I couldn't see how they would be helpful and we left them used. Another bolt is found above the ledge Jackie had explored, but using it seemed like it would add extra drag to the route and I chose not use it as well. Instead, I climbed directly up to a crack below the first bolt and clipped a first piece in there, the climbing no harder than easy fifth class to that point. Here the route goes vertical, or nearly so, up a series of five or six bolts, each about two feet apart. It would take me the better of the next hour to make my way slowly up this bolt ladder using all the gear at my disposal. Jackie was tucked into the groove below, out of the breeze but also out of the sun, keeping a cheery disposition through what must been a slow hour. For my part, I was having fun with the whole process, doing my best to keep the entire system redundant so that I always had the rope protecting me through two bolts and while hanging on one bolt, I always kept a backup line to a second bolt. I got better at figuring out how to move up the chain, figuring out some strategies that would probably cut 1/3 of the time off a repeat performance. There is a small ledge 3/4 of the way up called the "Nail Puller", which only later I recognized as a feature one might find on an actual hatchet for demolition purposes. Two more bolts above this led to the summit ridge, a rounded but narrow line of rock that finishes the climb with some class 3 scrambling. There are two rappel stations along this ridge. I anchored into the nearest one, directly above Jackie, now 40-50ft below. I then pulled up the rope, threaded it through the rap chains, and lowered it back down to Jackie so that she could prussik her way up to me. She had practiced the technique with me on several previous occasions and was confident that she could make it up without me rapping down to supervise. To make sure she was really confident, I let her know that if she got stuck halfway up, we were both going to be stuck without a way down. She proved more than up to the task, making her way to the top in about 20min - a far faster way to climb than aid climbing. I then belayed her to the second rap station at the highpoint to the south, and she belayed me to join her in turn. It was pretty breezy up top and we were both glad to be wearing extra layers - today was not one to sit lazily about the summit in the warm sunshine.

After congratulating ourselves, we went about setting up for the rappel back down. Unusually, Jackie chose to go first, a sign of her growing confidence with the gear. It's a pretty good drop, about 60ft in a near-vertical line, some of it overhanging. She paused about 15ft down, wanting to get some photos and video. I told her to wrap the trailing rope around her leg so that she could use both hands. This delighted her when it worked so nicely, allowing her to get the shots she wanted before finishing up the rappel. She waited below while I came down in turn, pausing myself while I got a few shots looking up and down.

Once we had retrieved our gear, changed shoes and packed everything up, it would take us another 30min to make our way back to the parking lot. We had no luck finding the use trail shown on our guidebook's map, but got back to the main trail nonetheless, with no real bushwhacking. The park was much busier than it had been during the week, with the reservoir and upper caves drawing lots of interest. There were quite a few more climbers, too, working various routes around Monolith and Moses Spring Wall. Face masks were the order of the afternoon with lots of traffic from folks hiking the Moses Spring Trail on a busy weekend.

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