Machete Ridge 2x

Jan 3, 2019

With: Jackie Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
previously climbed Feb 13, 2013

With a new storm system on its way and Jackie's return-to-school date soon approaching, we headed out to Pinnacles NP for one last rock climbing session before her holiday ended. I picked Old Original on Machete Ridge, an old-school classic, fairly tame at 5.3 but great scenery on an airy, somewhat convoluted ridge traverse. Unlike most climbing routes, this one starts near the highpoint before spending the bulk of the climb on a downward traverse with a series of rappels. Temperatures were forecast to be cold, so we made no effort to get there early. Still, it was 25F in the parking lot at the West Entrance when we arrived shortly before 9a. Luckily there was no wind and the jackets we had sufficed.

We hiked about 3/4mi along the trail leading to the Balconies Caves before veering off at a sign indicating climbers' access for Machete Ridge. We followed this steep but decent use trail up around Machete Ridge in a counter-clockwise fashion, missing a left fork and unknowingly continuing up to some other formations around Cleaver Buttress. Jackie was a bit dismayed when I had climbed a small outcrop to discover this, but took it well as we backtracked about a quarter mile, found the correct trail and made our way up to the start of the route at the top of a narrow saddle between Machete Ridge and some lower boulders. David Rubine's guidebook says the start is between two pine trees, but there are four such trees in the gully below the saddle and it seems best to describe it as simply the top of the saddle. Jackie took the lead up from the saddle, climbing some class 4 rock partially covered in pine needles to a grassy saddle where a single bolt is found. Not knowing where the route goes from there, she belayed me up, we unroped, and wandered about the ledge looking for the route. We found the runnout Derringer Route to the left and the 5.4 Hideout variation to the right. In the middle is the Old Original route up to a smaller grass ledge and then a 5.3 face climb. We didn't see the bolt to protect this part and were unsure about it, but Jackie liked the idea of The Hideout variation, a moderately steep waterchute about 40ft high. She led this one too, a bit spicy for 5.4, protected by two bolts, one just below the crux and the other about halfway up. I struggled some at the crux, impressed with Jackie's lead. At the top of this are found two bolts for an anchor, right on the ridge. We unroped to climb south onto the highpoint of Machete Ridge, took a few photos and returned back to the belay station where the route continues north and downward. The highlight of the day for me was the two condors that flew overhead while we were climbing to the highpoint, alighting on another crag to the south. They hung out there for about 15min before heading off to parts unknown.

The third pitch has an awkward traverse on a ledge to the right of the ridgeline, protected by two bolts, one close to the start, another halfway down the ledge. Not liking traversing pitches, Jackie let me lead this one. I took my time at the awkward start, then made quick progress down the class 3 portion that comprised most of the pitch. There is a class 4 step just before reaching the 3nd belay at a manzanita bush. After Jackie joined me, she continued a full rope length along the continuing class 3 ridgeline, protected by a single bolt about halfway. Our 50m rope didn't quite reach the end of the 4th pitch where a pair of rappel chains are located, so I unroped and simulclimbed a short distance before Jackie reached the chains (later I realized we'd simply combined the 4th and 5th pitches). The sixth pitch comprises a series of rappels off the northwest side. Two 165ft ropes can be combined for a single rappel, but our 50m rope required us to use the two intermediate rap chain stations. The first two raps are really no more than class 3 face climbing, but we rappeled these anyway in the interest of safety. The third rappel goes hanging at the end which makes for a nice photo, not quite reaching to the bottom, leaving us with a short class 3 downclimb at the end.

We third-classed the short sixth pitch, then messed up the 7th pitch by going up and over the obstacle rather than around it (poor guidebook reading on my part). This left me with an unprotected 4th class downclimb on the other side. The guidebook then leaves off with a simple instruction for a final rappel into a gully. We did this, but found two more rappel stations further down the gully to assist with some class 3-4 sections with moss and loose dirt/gravel. After completing the third rappel, we found ourselves atop a high cliff. I used a tree for an anchor and tossed the rope over, but upon partially descending found it didn't reach the bottom. The only other option was to follow the use trail along a dicey traverse that seemed unsafe to manage unroped. So we used our rope on a tree and then a large bush to help us through this section, eventually finding the going easier as the use trail continues down towards to bottom. Some of this is class 3 with tunnels through bush and trees and some large boulders to manuever through, but managed without incident. There's one final rappel using a tree to reach the trail below, just outside the entrance to the Balconies Caves. Oddly, none of this last part since we'd dropped off the ridge is mentioned in the guidebook.

Once back down on the maintained trail, it was a long-ish but pleasant 2mi hike back to the parking lot. The caves were closed due to rockfall and unstable conditions, but luckily there is a back-up route that climbs up and around the length of the caves. It was nearly 3p by the time we'd finished up, finding the parking lot nearly full. Nice day in the Pinnacles...

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