Pinnacles is a Bay Area Climber's nightmare or savior, depending one's interest. Its close proximity to the South Bay and moderate weather during the Winter months make it very popular with the Bay Area climbing community, but at the same time the area is known for its "less than granite quality" rock. Some despise its chossy character, others revel in its history of adventure and "ground up" ethic.
An Intro to the Pinnacles
by Steven Dalleske
Tap tap tap, tap tap tap, I can always tell when an experienced Pinnacles climber is in the area. The fact is you can usually hear them long before you see them. Tapping the holds with our knuckles is just one of the unique techniques we have learned to rely on over the years of scrambling across this unique rock. For me, the farther I am from my last protection the more I'm tapping and if I'm really wigging out you'll see me start kicking at the foot holds too. What I'm doing is listening for a nice sharp report from the knob or cobble in question. Something that will let me know how well it's attached to the cliff and how much I want to rely on it. A dull or hollow sound above a fall you're not interested in taking and you should be looking for alternatives. If there are no viable alternatives, its time to decide how bad you want the route and if you decide to push on you'll, at the least, have a better understanding what your getting into. Keep in mind, though, that if you seriously tried to avoid all the loose rock at the Pinns, you're route selection would be seriously limited if not non-existent. Climbing the Pinnacles rock is an art, it's something that takes an acquired taste to really appreciate, but once mastered it's an art that will give you new confidence when visiting other more sound climbing areas.
Another good habit to adopt when negotiating the minefields that are the Pinnacles rock is to try to avoid stepping on the knobs. This is because, when a weighted knob pops, under your foot you'll be at the end of your rope or bouncing off a ledge before you know it. Consequently, a seasoned Pinn-head will, given the opportunity, consciously avoid using the knobs for footholds and instead seek features in the matrix to find a purchase for the foot. The matrix being like a gritty mortar that holds the cobbles in place tends to crumble rather than pop as the knobs do and this can, in some cases, give you the extra second needed to make a decision and hopefully an escape. Eventually you'll find yourself spreading your weight out on the rock, moving like a cat, taking full advantage of stances, exploring and carefully planning your sequences, appreciating a sound bolt more than ever before, clipping anchors with a relief that overwhelms and if you can learn love this careful style of climbing, you've become a true Pinn-head.
Because of the unique rock here, soloing and bouldering at the Pinns, though not unheard of, is considered foolhardy, if not suicidal. Ironically, most of the moderate routes here have serious run outs on them which, coupled with our not so lovable rock makes even the easiest route a serious endeavor. You must always be conscious of your potential falls, this is not a place to haphazardly romp around 20' out from the last bolt. Since the knobs pop on all routes equally, you are more likely to get hurt on something easy like the Portent, 5.6 with it's 20' to 30' run outs than something a little harder like Cantaloupe Death, 5.10c which has mere 6' to 8' run outs. In most cases the easier routes were put up 30, 40 or even 50 years ago in a bygone time when climbing was a more dangerous animal, commitment was at a premium and protection was sub standard by modern ideals. Consequently if you are not already familiar with the rock here, I don't consider the Pinnacles a great place to teach yourself leading. Over the last decade the bolts on most of the more popular routes have been brought up to modern standards, but the run outs, long and true, are and always will remain.
Depending on whether one is going to the more popular East District or the West District will dictate how to get there.
Browse More Classics in Pinnacles National Monument
Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for Pinnacles National Monument:
Machete Direct 5.10a/b A1 R Trad, Sport, Aid, 6 pitches, 700 feet, Grade II West Side : Machete Ridge Area
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Featured Route For Pinnacles National Monument
Feather Canyon 5.8 PG13 CA : Central Coast : ... : High Peaks
If you're looking for some Pinnacles, High Peaks Adventure, this climb has it all. This climb includes route finding difficulties, loose rock, old bolts, poor belays, pigeons, and some of the most improbable climbing you'll find anywhere. That said, it is some of the best adventure climbing you'll find with a real alpine feel. From the west side parking lot, you'll need about 8 hours "car to car" for the whole adventure. See approach & descent description below. This is rated "only" 5.8 but woul...[more] Browse More Classics in CA