Kearsarge Pinnacles No. 5 CS
Kearsarge Pinnacles No. 6 CS
Kearsarge Pinnacle No. 7 2x CS
Kearsarge Pinnacle No. 8 CS
Kearsarge Pinnacle No. 10 2x P300 CS
Kearsarge Pinnacle No. 11
Kearsarge Pinnacles No. 12

Aug 9, 2018

With: Scott Barnes
Iris Ma
Matt Yaussi
Daria Malin
Tom Grundy
Michael Graupe
Robert Wu
Clement Guillaume
Chris Henry
Jonathan Mason
AJ Kaufmann
Zach Moon
Sean Reedy

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Kearsarge Pinnacle No. 7 previously climbed Aug 13, 2005
Kearsarge Pinnacle No. 10 previously climbed Aug 13, 2005


Following my rest day from the Sierra Challenge, I was back again at Onion Valley, very much looking forward to a return visit to the Kearsarge Pinnacles. We had climbed a number of these 13 years earlier, but some of them had eluded me, including the hardest of them all, Pinnacle #8 which was the focus of this year's Challenge. My plan was to first climb #5 & #6, then head to join the others for the roped climb of #8, then head to #11 & #12 to finish up the collection. I had thought I would be on my own outside of #8, but underestimated the interest others might have in these easier pinnacles. It turned out that #5 & #6 were both quite challenging, #8 about what was expected, and #11 & #12 somewhat trivial and hard to pin down. This would easily be the longest day of the Challenge for me, covering almost 12.5hrs, but it was also the most rewarding.

Our group at the Onion Valley TH was small at 6a, not even a dozen folks, but that was because a number of them were still scrambling for parking spaces and getting ready back in the overflowing lot. With the sun just rising in an orange/red sky over the Inyo Mtns to the east, we cruised up the Kearsarge Pass Trail to the pass in an hour and forty minutes. No record, but a fairly good pace for the five mile distance. We paused briefly here to survey the pinnacles now visible ahead of us, identify target chutes and plot a course across the Kearsarge Lakes Basin. There's no obvious place to leave the trail once you start down the west side of the pass. Somewhat behind the others, I started cross-country without any pronouncement, wondering how long it would take them to make a similar move. Not long, it turns out. There were soon about half a dozen of us descending the slopes towards the lakes, spread out at first, but soon converging as we traversed the base of Snow Crown's West Ridge. We found Scott sitting cross-legged on a granite boulder in the middle of this, with a large smile on his face. He and Robert had started earlier than the rest of us with intentions of traversing the entire set of pinnacles starting with #1. Somewhere along the way his motivation waned and he took up his seated position to wait for us. He joined us now as our smallish group headed to the east side gully between Pinnacles #5 & #6.

Pinnacle No. 5

The gully was easy enough, but once at the crest, #5 suddenly was looking much harder than I had expected. Secor states simply, "This pinnacle can be climbed from the notch between Pinnacle No. 5 and Pinnacle No. 6." That gives the impression that it is a straightforward scramble, but not so. Clement found a way to do so, but it was far from easy and much harder than class 3. I tried to follow him, but the move to get around a large block was too risky for my blood and I backed down. Tom G would also go up this way, but not so the rest of us. Looking around the west side of the notch, I scrambled down a ramp about 100ft to find easier routes up from the west. The route from the notch had other difficulties to overcome as well and clearly not as easy as from the west side. The two routes then converge on what would be the crux of the route, a 30-foot dihedral in the class 4-low 5 range. I watched Clement and Sean R go up this feature before giving it a try myself. I tend to like dihedrals and chimneys that I can cram hands and feet into because they make me feel safer from the exposure. It was a tricky but fun bit of scrambling to reach the top of it. From that point, it's about 40ft to the summit with more hard scrambling by one of two routes leading to the top from the south side. Even at the summit, the final summit block is a thin blade of granite that takes some muscling to straddle, another hard move (though Clement makes it look pretty effortless, I must say). This one was far from easy and it was only our first stop - it was looking like it might be a long day, indeed. Michael had watched from below the dihedral and decided this one was too hard without a belay. Unfortunately, others were carrying the ropes and were nowhere to be found. He would leave this one unclimbed. There was a makeshift register left by Jason "Coach" Lakey, a very good Sierra climber with a known penchant for mixing weed and difficult rock scrambling. He had made a traverse of the pinnacles north to south two years earlier, leaving a collection of such registers. I started back down shortly after Tom G had arrived, knowing we had lots to do before we were done. Iris and Scott would also make it to the summit of #5 though a bit later as we passed each other on the way through the crux.

Pinnacle No. 6

Returning to the notch between #5 an #6, we gathered up gear that had been left and started up to #6. Four or five others had arrived at the notch by this time, more eager to ascend #6 after the report they were given on #5. A convenient, large talus ramp led up nicely to the west side of #6 at another notch. From there, the going gets tough, class 4 by the direct route up. I went around the north side of the summit on a shelf leading from the notch, thinking it might offer an easier way up. I spent about five minutes exploring that option, but turned back when the difficulties were too great. I could see Clement and Tom atop the summit block only 30ft above me, but I was forced to return to the notch and go up that way. By the time I returned I was near the end of a long line of colorfully clad climbers on their way up the class 4 route from the west over rather large granite blocks. The small summit was found at the end of a staircase of these blocks, able to hold 2-3 comfortably, 5 if they are close friends. This summit, too, had a Lakey register from two years earlier. I extracted myself from the conga line back to the west side notch, reshouldered my pack and looked for a way to the next pinnacle north.

Pinnacle No. 7

Pinnacles #7 & #8 are close together, sharing a high saddle from which both can be climbed. #6 is closer to #7 than it is to #5, but getting between them is much harder. I went back to the shelf on the north side to look for a way down from there, but again I came up short, nothing that looked like I could do safely without a rope. I went back to the south side and descended most of the talus ramp leading to #6 before finding a chute on the west side that could be descended. Once down 150-200ft, you have a choice of descending further to a junction with another chute coming down from the #6/#7 notch (safer) or traverse north around an arete on a somewhat sketchy sloping granite slab to shortcut the route into the adjacent chute. I did the latter which got me ahead of everyone except Clement. Just in front, Clement went up to the #6/#7 notch to find that was a dead end, then came back as we tried another chute to the north, this one going to the #7/#8 notch as we'd hoped. He left the chute before reaching the top to take a direct route to the summit, again, too rich for my blood. I joined him a few minutes later up the easier class 3 route from the notch with #8 after dropping my pack there. Pinnacle #7 was much easier than the previous two and pretty much everyone who had come to climb #8 would climb this first. In addition to the 3rd Lakey register of the day, it has a fine view of the South Face of #8 which we would need to climb. Though imposing, there were several possible lines we could see, but a rope was would be needed for sure (though Clement made a cursory exploratory effort before retreating to the notch).

Pinnacle No. 8

In the words of Dick Beach, "#8 stops the traffic". Even the best scramblers would have to pause here to consider it. In his understated words, Lakey commented "#8 was tricky" and "tough little scramble" in the various registers he'd left. We certainly had a number of highly qualified climbers to lead the route - Robert, Tom and Zach. In the absence of the three, I think I would have given it a try, but was happy to leave it to them. We ended up giving the job to Zach because he was the only one who really seemed eager to do it. Almost a full hour would go by from the time we first reached #7's summit until we started the climb of #8. Some of this was taken up by Zach sorting and loading a terrific amount of gear on his harness, much of it overkill, no doubt. The bigger delay was due to waiting for a real rope. We had an 8mm short rope that could do the job in a pinch, but such a narrow rope is more difficult to hold a fall and Zach prudently preferred to wait for the 9.5mm that was being carried up by someone who hadn't yet reached the #7/#8 saddle. Once the rope was procurred and Tom had him on belay, Zach took only about 10min to climb the short pitch to a belay ledge just below the summit, about 30ft up from the saddle. He placed 3 pieces on pro for the effort. The concensus later put it somewhere around 5.6 to 5.7 in difficulty. We had Zach trailing the narrow rope to get a second rope up top. I was the next climber up once Zach set up a belay, then took a position adjacent to him with the second rope so that we could belay two folks up at a time. With 14 climbers in total, this seemed a good way to save time. We used this arrangement for several rounds of ferrying folks up, until AJ took a fall on the thin rope. The line went zipping through my belay device for 3-4ft before I could arrest it. If I wasn't wearing leather gloves, my brake hand would have been burned badly. With the additional stretch of the rope, AJ fell a total of 5-6ft, stopping just as his feet were about to contact the ground. He suffered some abrasions to his arms and legs, but otherwise nothing serious. Those watching below decided the thin rope was unsafe and chose to wait their turn on the thicker line. Sean had taken over belay duties to give Zach a break and we eventually had 9-10 at the summit, taking turns signing into the 4th Lakey register of the day. Before the last several folks had come up, we started rappeling down with a third rope set up for that purpose. We used some webbing to rap off, but as no one in our party had a knife, Robert had to resort to more primitive methods to severe the webbing before he could fashion loops around a secure rock. Iris went down first, then myself, Tom and others coming soon behind, even as Matt was the last climber belayed up. Great fun, this one.

Pinnacle No. 10

Once off rappel, I wasted little time in gathering up my gear and heading off. I was the only one with plans to head to Pinnacles #11 & #12, so I didn't want to wait around for the show on #8 to finish. I descended the gully to the southwest from the saddle several hundred feet before working my way north around Pinnacles #8 and #9. My route to the last two pinnacles necessitated nearly going over #10 in the process, so I decided to stop at its summit since I was so close. Nothing tricky on this one, just your standard class 3 with some minor brush. The Lakey register on this one had some additional entries, not too surprising since it is one of the two highest pinnacles and more easily climbed.

Pinnacles No. 11 & 12

Heading northwest from No. 10, the last two pinnacles were more of a disappointment. As Lakey had pointed out in the #10 register, they aren't obvious at all where the ridge begins to fall off as it drops to Bullfrog Lake. I picked out at least four candidates, tagging them all in succession but finding no further registers. I left one on what I considered to be #11 before continuing on to what I might call #14 and calling it a day. It was almost 4p by this time, and while the ridge continued to descend with more candidates enroute, I was pretty sure I had already secured what would pass in Secor as #11 & #12. It took me about 30min to descend the north side of the ridge over blocky talus and gravel to the base and return to the trail. From there it would take me another two hours to make my way back over Kearsarge Pass to the TH. I caught up briefly with Zach around Gilbert Lake with another half hour remaining, but he took up jogging again and beat me back by a good ten minutes (Sean R would take the stage win 25min ahead of Zach). It was 6:25p by the time I returned to the parking lot, the longest day of the Challenge, for me. Seven days down, three to go...

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