Split Pinnacle YVF / CS

Jun 20, 2015

With: Tom Becht

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Flush with our success on Lost Brother, we had one more day for some climbing in Yosemite Valley. Our choices came down to either Royal Arches which Tom had not done previously or Split Pinnacle, another old school adventure climb like Lost Brother. I would have been happy to do Royal Arches which is one of my favorite climbs along with Half Dome's Snake Dike and Cathedral's SE Buttress, but of course would prefer something new. Aware of this, Tom tossed me a bone (while I had been trying to toss him one) and picked Split Pinnacle. It was first climbed in 1938 by a party consisting of Reigelhuth, Bedayan, Leonard and Dawson, all four of whom have a Minaret in the Ritter Range named after them. One advantage Split Pinnacle has is its relatively short approach which would allow us to finish up early on what was expected to be another summer scorcher near 100F.

It's not terribly difficult to find Split Pinnacle even though it's quite shy and almost invisible from points along the Valley roads. We parked near Eagle Creek on North Side Drive and hiked up the dry streambed where Split Pinnacle becomes more visible and obvious on the west side of the creek. The East Arete is said to be an excellent climb, but at 5.8 we found the rating a bit daunting for our weak skills. The easier Regular Route is around the back to the west side where it has a saddle with El Cap. Roper describes a steep, loose talus section that must be climbed on Split's north side to reach the saddle, but we found easier ground by going just past Split Pinnacle and climbing boulders in a dry side creek until one can traverse south to the saddle. We spent about 45min to cover the approach of just over half a mile.

Like the previous day, I gave Tom the "honor" of leading the climb, and as for Lost Brother, he accepted the role reluctantly, all in keeping with our familiar routine for rock climbing. The start is pretty easy - in fact Roper calls it class 3, but there is some exposure as one skirts around the south side of the lower west summit to a notch with the higher east summit. This is where the real rock climbing starts. Before us was 15-foot, near-vertical section with some cracks for stemming but poor holds, rated at class 5.7 in Roper's guide. Once again, I enthusiastically encouraged Tom to make short work of it. He made work of it, but it wasn't short. It took several tries before committing to a leg-shaking stance about 4ft off the notch while frantically searching for holds above and the next place to put his feet. I offered more advice and encouragement from below but I'm not sure it was helping him much in his frenetic state as he burst out with "This is why I hate climbing!" Or something to that effect. As he pulled himself up, shaking and exhaused to the ample ledge above, I offered, "Hey, at least now you can say you're a 5.7 lead climber." He didn't exactly say "Fuck you" to my dry comment, but whatever he said that I've now forgotten was taken to mean that. After calming his nerves he set up an anchor around a block on his ledge and we switched roles. Having a rope from above does wonders for one's confidence and I was able to follow up the section minus the sense of desperation - but I'm no 5.7 lead climber.

So far, so good. The east summit block is about 25-ft in height, topped by a very forlorn-looking pine tree that has managed to stay alive (barely) for decades. The south face is overhanging, requiring either an aid climb up a crack on the left side or a fearsome 5.10 flake/lieback on the right side, the latter first led by Dave Rearick who first placed a bolt on rappel, jokingly reported as the Valley's first sport route. We had no arms or skills capable of 5.10 gymnastics, so our only choice was the aid climb. I had brought a couple of aiders in the pack I carried with me, but of course neither of us had ever done any aid climbing. I had used the aiders on the DPS's Little Picacho in Imperial County years earlier, but that wasn't using them on lead, a very different prospect. I had a decent idea how to use them, it was just a matter of now executing on this short climb. Tom refused to be the guinea pig this time which I fully expected, so we swapped roles as I took the sling of pro from him. Our gear was somewhat limited, consisting of about 4 cams and 2-3 chocks, plus slings. I used one of the slings for a makeshift chest harness because I recall that was kind of an important piece of gear to allow me free use of my hands to work with the aiders and other gear. The route had 3 pitons as expected, marking the route, but I could not even reach the first one to clip in the aider, nor the wider crack above the pitons that would take most of the cams. Luckily I had a micro cam that I could fit into a thin crack below the first piton. Unluckily, I would have to rely on this fragile-looking device to hold my entire weight while I fiddled with the aiders. Reaching as high as I could, I stuck the cam in, clipped in the first aider and stepped onto the lowest rung with one foot. I dangled there somewhat helplessly leaning backwards, wondering if I would just smash my skull on the ledge when the cam let go or flip back off the ledge and strangle somewhere over the edge. It wasn't a very secure feeling, that. Meanwhile, Tom had me on belay but was nervous without me clipped into any pro yet and probably wondered if I knew what the hell I was doing.

Turns out I did, or at least enough to make it work. From the first aider, I could reach up to the first piton to place the second aider which I then shifted my weight to. I then had to awkwardly remove the first aider, move it up to the next piton and repeat the transfer of weight to the next higher point. I tried climbing up the higher rungs on the aiders but that made me lean back more and my poor chest harness even less effective. My hand would get pinched behind the the aider at times and I would have other troubles, but through slow steps, pauses to remember to breathe and the patient belayer below not abusing me, I made my way up to the top piton. I looked for another one above it but found none, and I could not see how to pull myself up from my position now about 6ft off the ground. I would have to place some cams in the wider crack above even though I couldn't really see well into the crack. I reached above with my left hand and jammed the cam in, then inched higher on the next step to inspect my placement and redo it as necessary. Not realizing I would need more cams, I had carried only one with me initially and had to send down for more. Tom tied them onto the rope which I then pulled up to retrieve, with all the requisite awkwardness I could muster while dangling in the aiders. I had to place three cams above the three pitons before I could finally feel comfortable to pull myself up onto the sloping summit block. From there it was an easy, short scramble to the tree. More than 45min was consumed in this less-than-elegant aid lead, but I was happy that my skull was intact and that I was actually at the highpoint. I clipped into the old slings around the base of the tree and relaxed some, happy to rest while Tom took his turn.

While I sat comfortably above, Tom struggled out of sight down below. I had not made it look easy, nor had I provided the visual aid necessary for Tom to figure out how to manage these strange, flexible ladders. I was hoping that the addition of a top rope would help him with the effort, but this was not the case. He spent probably 10min on the various problems involved before announcing his surrender. It was just too cumbersome and did not make him feel very secure, despite the extra rope. Time to head down. In the process of managing the ropes I completely forgot to look around at the summit for a register. Rats. Hope I didn't miss a good one like we'd found on Lost Brother.

I retied the rope through the slings around the tree so that Tom could lower me back down to the ledge while I cleaned the gear from the cracks enroute. That accomplished, I suggested we should climb the west summit for consolation to which Tom readily agreed. We left a sling around the boulder on the ledge and rapped back to the notch, then Tom led the modest climb up to the west summit. It gave us a very nice vantage from which to view the east summit and the sad little tree there. The sloping ramp leading to the top looked much harder than it had been in practice, though I was glad to have climbing shoes. The west summit featured a set of rap bolts that could be used to drop directly down to the saddle on the west side, going nearly vertical. It was a very spectacular rap that took nearly the full rope to reach the bottom. Once this was accomplished, we put away our rope and gear, changed back to boots, collected our gear and started down. Another 30min saw us down Eagle Creek and back to our vehicles at the road shortly before noon. In all we spent about 5 1/2 hours on the effort, a pretty fun half day's adventure...

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