Otherworld: Pinnacles, CA

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Alpinist 27, Summer 2009
Crag Reports

Otherworld: Pinnacles, California

I'm drawn to Pinnacles for the stun-gun feel of climbing on the Hades cliffs and ruddy blobs formed millions of years ago, when an 8000-foot-high mountain erupted then cooled into the friable shells of lava that charge and scare me as I move upward, testing, checking, wondering whether a solid patch might turn bad higher up. But also for the slow-moving tarantulas on the late-afternoon road; the warm air that gently ruffles the wispy digger; the fuzzy-eared bat that peers at me from a crack; the missile sound of a falcon dive-bombing for a bird. And for the campground where running, snorting pigs awoke me, once, from a dream of Jim Wilson. In 1946 he'd attached string to a kite, flew it over the top of the Hatchet, then reeled up a rope and prussiked to the top.

Pinnacles is a place of strange wonders: creatures, noises, sensations, night thoughts-and of the bright hot day and the angst whipsawing you along the good rock and crud, as you think, What am I doing, until you're up, calling to your partner, "Oh, not so bad."

Peter Haan calls Pinnacles' spires, affectionately, "crumble stumps." Indeed, the sometimes-fragile nature of the volcanic rocks has contributed to their sideshow status. Since the 1930s, most California climbers have focused their highest ambitions on the solid granite of Yosemite and the Sierra. But because Pinnacles is just a couple of hours south of the Bay Area, it has attracted not only those honing skills and having a bit of fun, but also avid climbers mesmerized by the odd, tempting formations; by the warmth, sounds, animals; and by the memories of its curious characters.