K P Pinnacle YVF

Mon, Oct 12, 2020

With: Robert Wu

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX

K P Pinnacle is an elusive, little-climbed summit in Yosemite Valley, tucked around a corner on the west side of El Cap between El Cap Gully and West Gully (also called "West Chimney" in early guidebooks). Matthew and I had first attempted this in 2005, scrambling up El Cap Gully and then some easy roped climbing to reach the highest pinnacle. Only a few years later did we come to find that K P is not the highest pinnacle in the chain, but somewhere lower. Exactly where, is hard to pin down as no one in recent history, say the last 30 years anyway, seems to have climbed it. It was first climbed in 1941 via aid by Ted Knoll and Jack Piontaki, whose last name initials were the source of the feature's name. Hervey Voge's 1956 guidebook says it's the "second highest pinnacle" but it's not clear what criteria constitutes a pinnacle, and counts might vary from four to perhaps eight. Roper's 1964 Yosemite Valley guidebook says to "Walk up the West Chimney until the difficulties demand a rope." Then one turns left, attains a notch on the north side of the pinnacle where class 5.2 climbing on the East Face leads to the summit. It seems straightforward, and with high confidence, Robert and I set off to tackle this bit on historical Valley mystery.

I was up at 2:30a for the 4hr drive to Yosemite Valley, meeting Robert along Northside Drive west of El Cap Meadow at the appointed 7a. We had some sorting of gear and other chores (working out the day use entry permit system, among them) before getting started around 7:15a. The better route choice is to follow the El Cap Trail from our starting point to the climbers' trail to the Nose, but not knowing this, we wandered cross-country into the forest, dominated by oaks and lichen-covered granite boulders until we ran into the climbers' trail that follows up the base of El Cap's West Face. Some fixed ropes help in a lower class 3-4 section, but most of it is class 1-2. We passed under several parties on the West Face, one group still asleep in their portaledges, another above them making slow upward progress. The gully becomes difficult far sooner than the Roper guide would indicate, as we followed the use trail out of the gully and onto the forested slopes to the left. Here the route grows steep with loose dirt and leaf/needle detritus, occasional ducks marking the way. These eventually give out, leaving one to manage their own way. We ran into a couple of dead-ends before finding a sketchy slab route descending back into the gully. Once back in the gully, standard class 2-3 scrambling resumes, with one class 4 section that took some time to work through. Robert used a stemming technique that I couldn't duplicate. I fell off a 3-foot block and mashed my elbow against a wall to stop me falling further. Banged up and bleeding a bit, but not too bad. I eventually found an alternate route using a bay tree for holds across a sloping granite slab, then crawled through a narrow tunnel to join Robert. He would use this same alternate on our way back down later.

Soon after this class 4 section, we turned left towards what seemed like the obvious side gully leading to the north notch on K P. We hadn't yet run out of room in the West Gully as expected, but this matched K P's location indicated on our GPSr. The side gully narrows considerably, especially at the end. While Robert investigated one exit strategy on the right side, I went up a class 4 series of rocks perhaps 15ft high to climb out on the left side. Robert eventually followed the same way when the right side proved more difficult. Above us from the notch, a sloping, needle-covered ledge ran up to the left with a sketchy step to reach the start of it. We decided we'd taken enough risks and got out the rope. Robert led up, not placing any pro, but at least he wasn't carrying his pack with him. It was questionable whether his climbing shoes were any better on the terrain than his approach shoes. After wandering left and right on a wide ledge above, not finding the obvious continuation, he belayed me up the 30-foot distance. The choices became limited, none of them looked to be class 5.2. Straight up went a vertical line of cracks with some overhanging portions. Definitely beyond my means to follow. To the left, towards the East Face described by Roper, one needs to go behind a large tree through a tight squeeze, then out onto a sloping piece of rock with poor holds, scary-looking by both our opinions. Heading right on the ledge, one gets around a corner to a steep chimney on the west side that at least looks doable and it was this choice we picked next. Unfortunately, we didn't get very far. Robert got perhaps 15ft into the chimney before deciding there was no way to protect the next 25ft of so that looked to be 5.hard. This was certainly not 5.2 and might match the description of a chimney the first ascent party aided. We found no pitons, no tattered slings, nothing to suggest anyone had recently or ever explored this pinnacle. We were no longer convinced that this was K P and decided to retreat.

After rapping back down below the notch, we descended to West Gully and tried climbing further up the steepening gully to see if we had missed another pinnacle above us that could be the K P from our descriptions. Nothing but steep, near-vertical walls presented themselves and we retreated. We tried another way up on a series of ledges just above the north notch we'd reached earlier, but found the scrambling gave out and an exposed step with no way up without a rope. By now it was 1p and our sense of adventure was exhausting itself. Time to give up. It would take us another two hour to retreat back down West Gully, a distance of less than a mile, giving some measure of how difficult the terrain here is.

Finishing up at 3p, it had taken longer than either of us had expected and left us both tired and a little unsure about what to do the next day. After a shower we drove to Curry Village where the only food options were the meager store or the taco truck in the parking lot. The pizza and buffet places were closed for covid and renovations. Over tacos we discussed what to do the next day. High on the list was the Leaning Tower Traverse. Roper gave it a 5.5 rating in his 1971 guidebook which had seemed reasonable to me, but it has been given a more modern rating of 5.8X/R on Supertopo which sort of discouraged us after failing on a Roper 5.2. We settled on something far more mundane - a long trail hike to Bunnell Point.


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