Hawkins Peak 2x P750
H & L Dome
South Finger

Sat, Sep 1, 2018

With: Jackie Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Hawkins Peak previously climbed Thu, Oct 7, 2010

During the Challenge back in August, Mason had pointed out to me that I hadn't really climbed the highpoint of the High Peaks area in Pinnacles National Monument on my 2010 visit. I think at the time I knew this, but I had fudged it by climbing something nearby that was nearly as high and calling it good. Even though it wasn't. The highpoint is called Tuff Dome in climbing guidebooks, Mt. Hawkins on the government topo map. The 5.6 Regular Route is considered a Pinnacles classic in David Rubine's guidebook and well within the capabilities of my daughter and I. She was quick to take me up on an offer to go rock climbing in the park without really knowing anything about it. Temperatures were forecast to be in the mid-90s so I suggested an early start would be best. The West Entrance gate opens at 7:30a, so we planned to leave San Jose around 5:30a to get us there by that time. The gate was in fact already open when we got there shortly before the appointed time, so we drove in, stopped at the new Visitor Center to show our pass, then headed to the end of the road and the parking lot. There were only two other cars when we arrived but the large lot would be nearly full before our return. After all, it was a holiday weekend and the warm temperatures weren't going to stop people from visiting. Interestingly, we were the only ones we saw rock climbing in the park today - seems the hikers are more tolerant of the heat, far outnumber the rock climbers in pinnacles or some combination of the two.

Hawkins Peak (Tuff Dome)

We hiked up the Juniper Canyon Trail for a mile and a half, past The Fingers and other interesting rock formations on the west side of the crest, happy to be hiking in the shade even if it was a bit chilly at the start. We would be warmed soon enough and were happy to be on the cold side for the first part of the morning. After climbing up through a bunch of short switchbacks, we turned left at a junction onto the Tunnel Trail, went through the feature for which it is named (I still don't know why someone bothered to blast a long tunnel through the rock here), more uphill to a junction with the High Peaks Trail, then a second left to follow the trail to its highpoint where it begins to drop down to the east side. Here, we turned off onto a use trail that took a winding path up to Tuff Dome which we had no trouble locating. We were looking at the northwest side where one can see bolts going up the vertical face. This was where I had come eight years earlier and decided I had no business on this rock. However, this isn't the easiest side and I hadn't bothered to look around much on that first visit. We moved around to the sunny northeast side where the notch was obvious with several possible lines leading up to it. We consulted the guidebook to determine which was the Regular Route, then dumped our gear at the base of it and began to suit up. The route is less than half a pitch and didn't look too hard. It starts up a large, class 3-4 flake for about 25ft, then through a blankish-looking section of about 10ft before reaching easier ground into the notch between the twin summits. I placed one cam on my way up the flake and was going to put a sling around the top of the flake when I noticed the two bolts above me on the blankish section that would do quite nicely. It turned out to be not as blank as it had appeared from below, with adequate albeit not great holds. The bolts made this much safer and I was happy to use them. The 5.6 rating seemed appropriate. Once in the groove it becomes an easy scramble to the belay chains found partway up the groove to the notch. I set up to belay here, bringing Jackie up in short order. Climbing above me, she found the remaining part to the highpoint a cinch, so we unroped and scrambled to the top, all in a bit under half an hour - piece of cake. There were nice views from up high and it was all too obvious that this was the highest point around, much as Mason had described. We rapped back down from the convenient chains, finishing up just after 10a.

H & L Dome

Immediately opposite the Regular Route on Tuff Dome is H & L Dome. I had scrambled partway up this when I was photographing Jackie during her rap off Tuff Dome, noting a bolt that I used to secure myself to while taking the pics. Jackie remembered this was another climb described in the book. It was given three stars as an "excellent little climb" so we decided it was would be a worthy addition. Rated 5.5 and rather short, I thought it would be a good one for Jackie's first lead. She had only to place quick-draws in two hangers found in the 30-foot route, overcome a small bulge and find her way to the belay station just above. After belaying me up to join her, I unroped and scrambled the short class 4 section to the higher south summit, then we both rapped off the lower summit. It was certainly a fun little climb, but three stars seemed a bit generous for such a short bit of rope work.

South Finger

It was starting to warm now as it neared 11a, but flush with our two successes we wanted to see what else we could do. I was interested in finding our way to the highpoint of the High Peaks area to the south, so we headed off on the High Peaks Trail in that direction. There were many parties out on the trails by this time, including one gentleman sitting aside the trail holding an antenna over his head. I mistook him for a SOTA enthusiast, but he'd never heard of Summits On The Air and was, in fact, a condor researcher. He was tracking the rare birds in the area and had located two of them perched on a rock outcrop about 300ft below us to the southeast. We watched them take off into the air, gliding gracefully up through the thermals that were developing over the landscape. To be honest, it's really hard to distinguish them from the many turkey vultures that also share the same airspace, but it's nice to know the condors have a second chance at survival.

After more consultation with our guidebook, we picked out the main features at the highest of the High Peaks which are clustered in two groups, Condor Crags and North/South Finger. We couldn't tell from below which was higher and the guidebook offered no clues, so we took a guess that South Finger was our target. We were probably steered towards this conclusion because the Fingers go at 5.5 and the easiest route on Condor Crags is 5.7. The 5.5 routes on North/South Fingers share the same initial 5.3 pitch on the southeast side facing the trail. After that the routes go through a corridor to the backside where they diverge. For pro I took a selection of cams, quick-draws and slings, but needed very little. The initial pitch is short, maybe 25ft to the corridor opening where it made sense to belay in the spacious alcove. I placed one cam on the ascent and used a sling around a large flake for a belay anchor. After Jackie joined me, we moved into the corridor (using the same flake to belay from) where it was shaded and deliciously cool. I then downclimbed a short distance to where a wide crack/ramp can be seen going up on the left side. Though a little intimidating, it had solid holds. I placed one cam before reaching the top of the crack where the route transistions to steep face climbing. A series of four bolts makes this much less spooky than it would otherwise be and I found myself enjoying the route immensely. I even called down to Jackie to let her know how fun it was. Upon reaching the airy summit I found a pair of rap chains and set up an anchor. It was here that I noted I was higher than North Finger but lower than Condor Crags further north. Rats. North Finger also had an ammo register box which South Finger did not. When Jackie climbed up to join me, the first thing she noted was the register box over on North Finger and immediately wanted to climb it. It was getting pretty warm now and I was more or less ready to call it a day, and besides, I figured it would be good to have her itching to come back another time. We rapped back off the southwest side, with our 60m rope just making it down to the starting point with maybe a foot to spare. It was only when we got home that we found we could have easily done North Finger by simply rapping back down to the corridor, a fairly easy two-fer, especially since the North Finger had its own set of rap chains.

After packing our gear back up, we continued south on the High Peaks Trail to the main trail junction where the restroom is located. I briefly considered offering to add the climb of nearby Scout Peak, but really it was just too warm by this time and we simply headed back down the Juniper Canyon Trail without bringing it up. We made a short stop on the way back to let Jackie climb a fun little class 3-4 lump of rock adjacent to the trail. There were tons of other folks on the trail but they were all in good spirits and hardly detracted from the experience. It was 1p by the time we got back to the parking lot. We washed up at the restroom before cranking the AC in the Jeep and starting back to San Jose. A very enjoyable day, indeed...

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