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AUG
9
2015

EICHORN Pinnacle Route: West Pillar direct (5.10b, 700')

Category: California      Trip Report #201
Partner: soloed (with gear) Pitches 1, 4, & 5; fixed rope courtesy of Michelle & Tony for Pitches 2 & 3
Rock Type: Granite
Summit Elev: 10,680 ft

The longest and most direct line up Eichorn Pinnacle.

WORDS

Eichorn Pinnacle is the impressive needle that comprises Cathedral Peak's west summit. One cannot help but want to stand on top of it. There at least a few routes to the top: North Face (5.4, 100'), West Pillar (5.9, 600'), and East Face (5.11, 80'). In June 2013, I climbed the North Face of Eichorn as part of the Cathedral Traverse with my friend Mark. This was a fun way to the top, but too short. I'd always wanted to come back and climb the 700-ft West Pillar route. The West Pillar climbs five good pitches of sustained 5.8 and 5.9 (or a 5.10b direct variation) and joins up with the North Face route right near the summit. Despite the high quality and aesthetic route line of the West Pillar, this route doesn't get nearly as much traffic as other Tuolumne routes, perhaps because of the 1.5 hour approach and the fact that the route is not seen easily from the road.

My newfound Sierra climbing partner Sarah had 2 days to climb between a bachelorette party and nursing school. We planned to do a Pillar theme, and climb West Pillar on Eichorn the first day and Regular Route on Third Pillar of Dana the second day. But when the bachelorette party went later than expected, Sarah had to cancel for Eichorn. Bummer. I scrambled and found a guy on mountainproject looking for a Tuolumne partner the next day, and arranged to climb Eichorn with him. But the next morning our meet-up time came and went and a couple of hours later he texted me that he had awoken to a flat tire and had decided not to come. Bummer. I wondered what to do—I guess I could go on a hike (and stare longingly at the steep granite domes around me), go on a run (but that would only distract me for an hour), read a book (but that's a rainy-day or rest-day thing), drive to a popular dome and sit in the parking lot with a cardboard "Need climbing partner" sign (considered this option quite a bit), or just go and try to climb the route anyway (hmm....why not? With enough gear and a rope I could rope solo or aid cruxes with gear and could retreat if needed), or....

The first pitch started off pretty easy, but quickly turned into a steep #4-sized offwidth. I carefully inched upward, leapfrogging a couple of cams with me. To avoid a fall on slings not rated for a dynamic fall (even 1m is too much apparently), I was pretty much aiding through cruxy sections by pulling on the gear, and soloing easier sections. It was slow and annoying and nerve wracking. But I stubbornly continued upward. The mental crux of the pitch came near the top of the pitch, when the route exited the crack and climbed an airy arete peppered with knobs with no opportunities for pro. I never have felt all that secure on slick Tuolumne knobs, especially 160' above the ground without a belayer. But thankfully it was only 5.6, and I tiptoed up to the little ledge at the top of the pitch safely. There was a bail ring here. Hmm. I clipped into the ring and considered my options and my judgement. Perhaps I was being stupid. I wasn't having much fun. Soloing has never really been my thing. 

But then a pair of climbers arrived at the base. Lo and behold, it was Tony and Michelle who I had met at Cardinal Pinnacle the previous day! I waited for them to come up to the belay. I decided that if Tony and Michelle did not offer for me to join them, I should bail and come back and enjoy the route with a living breathing climbing partner. Fortunately, when I mentioned I had a gri-gri, Tony and Michelle offered to fix my rope so that I could climb protected by a self-belay on my gri-gri. Thanks guys!! I climbed Pitches 2 and 3 this way, and it worked out pretty well, especially since we climbed the direct route which pretty much goes straight up. The direct route supposedly has better climbing than the original route, and is also a bit harder. Pitch 4 was easy enough that we all soloed it, and Pitch 5 was short enough and had two options so I decided to climb the left easier option (I walked a couple of cams with me along the "rib-wrestling") while Michelle and Tony climbed the right option to the summit. It was nice to have some company on the route, and I enjoyed hanging out at the belays with Tony and Michelle.

All in all, I thought the West Pillar was a great route with an adventurous feel and a cool summit. The following page contains a route overlay and some photos from the climb.
    
ROUTE OVERLAY
Route overlay by my friend and King-of-the-Route-Overlay Mark Thomas. Mark's trip report for Eichorn West Pillar.

PHOTOS FROM THE CLIMB
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1. Looking up the West Pillar route from the base of the climb. The route follows the obvious crack system running straight down the middle of the Pillar.
2. Looking down at my lonely pile of rope after starting up Pitch 1. I didn't technically rope solo the first pitch (I aided cruxes on gear instead of fixing the rope), but I trailed the rope instead of having its weight on my back.
3. The offwidth halfway up Pitch 1. There are nice knobs on the face to stem on, so it's not as hard as it looks.
4. A bail ring at the top of Pitch 1. You could easily bail from the top of Pitch 1 with a single rope, but above this you'd have to leave gear.
5. The view out towards Cathedral Lake.
6. Tony arriving at the top of Pitch 1, with the 5.9 offwidth section below him.
7. Tony at the belay while Michelle tops out on Pitch 1.
8. Michelle leading off Pitch 2 of the direct variation. The climbing on this pitch is good crack climbing, and the second half felt more like high Sierra rock than Tuolume rock.
9. Looking up the 5.8 double cracks section of Pitch 2.
10. Michelle on the 10b flingers/lieback crux of Pitch 3 of the direct route. This crux was fun and quite short.
11. Looking toward the summit from the top of Pitch 3. Pitch 4 is pretty easy (mostly 3rd and 4th with one 5.6 bulge section). The summit is the highest/furthest point.
12. Tony nearing the top of Pitch 4.
13. Pitch 5 has two options. This photo shows the right-hand option, which is a 5.9 offwidth/stem right of the fin. Michelle and Tony went this way.
14. This photo shows the left-hand option for Pitch 5, which is a 5.8 "rib wrestle" where you sort of have to squish your side into the wall and inch upward on a ramp. I soloed this (placing gear and walking cams to protect myself), but the top section of the rib wrestle had no pro, so I ended up having to climb all the way to easy ground and lower back down to collect a couple of cams I had clipped into at the base of the rib wrestle. I was reminded that having a climbing partner is pretty nice.
15. Climbers on the summit of Cathedral Peak, as seen from the top of Eichorn Pinnacle.
16. Michelle on top of Eichorn Pinnacle.
17. I wanted to get a photo of the west side of Eichorn Pinnacle lit in the afternoon sun, so I chose to descend by the 3rd class slabs that take you back to the trail below the west side of the Pinnacle (the other descent option—perhaps marginally quicker?—is to join the crowds on the standard Cathedral Peak trail).