West Side Stories - Pinnacles National Monument

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West Side Stories: Pinnacles National Monument

I prefer the west side of Pinnacles because walls are bigger and more foreboding, and for the bats, falcons and foxes (4-legged) I’ve met. I also invested more of my climbing energy there than at the high peaks (with its long, long views on clear days across California, it seems) or east side (with its intricate caves, friendly, rough campground running with wild pigs at night). No matter where one climbs, the place fills you with a sense of another world: seeing big tarantulas on the road; thinking of bandits hiding away and early Spanish explorers stunned by the odd formations; feeling a warm, gently moving air sounding in wispy digger pines. Add twittering, big eared bats in a crack peering out at the stranger you are, the missile sounding dive of a falcon going for a bird hit (or is it to stop you hammering on your damn drill), a good Mexican meal and beer on the road home and joy is complete.

A few west side favorites:

Machete Direct

A tribute to the quiet, proficient Barry Bates and partner Glen Garland, the first pitch of this route humbled, fooled and nearly benighted me. An old aid line up a big, brown, rambling wall promising a few hours of up and down (to the top), the Direct first pitch has a little of the feel of a sport route, but with a nagging rich history of a good style first free ascent I wanted to emulate. Barry tried it free one weekend a few times, then came back the next and got it in 1987. No seiging, no rests on the rope. He rated it good 5.11 which I knew I could do at the time, but then why was I going up happily, hitting a befuddling, cockeyed crux, not figuring it and falling, lowering to the ground, pooped and starting over for the third time? Why was the sun going already? Was this another of Barry’s specials, like Mechanic's Delight, his 5.10 overhanging 5.11? Last try I got it, finally figuring how to span hamstrings just so and use that handhold, not that one, and don’t jerk, just creep and ... It’s a fine mental machination crux worth fiddling - 5.12 in my book. We added an evening descent without flashlight (again), rappelling, sliding in some gully and drinking dinner in the old Porsche, snarfing the curvy road, windows down and screaming out some song.