It’s another one of those summers. The forecast gave us one good day and then the rains were supposed to come back. Not enough time for an overnighter for weekend warriors but enough time for a day trip- or rather a 3/4 day trip. So we packed up the rope and rack and headed north to the Talkeetna Mountains to give Pinnacle a try.
I had last climbed Pinnacle in 1997 with my friend Thai Verazone. We had spent the night at the Lane Hut and the next afternoon hiked up the southwest couloir from Archangel Road and then curved around to the gully on the west face that takes you to the West Ridge. There was a foot of snow on the route and I seemed to recall that it was a fun afternoon – and worthy of a repeat 14 years later.
And so Yvonne and I started off in bright sunshine. Right away I screwed up by taking us up the Gold Cord Lake trail. Instead of being smart and dropping back down to the valley floor and curving north to the proper drainage we opted to head up and over the bump north of Microdot and then traverse the talus fields to the base of the route.
June Talkeetna snow is legendary for being difficult to travel on. You walk along on top of everything happy as can be – then without warning you drop into a chest deep hole next to a giant granite boulder. Extricate yourself from the hole and walk a few more steps and the process repeats. Do this for 100 yards and it gets old. Do this for 1/2 mile and it gets really old. And so we traversed the 1/2 mile of rotten snow, wet moss and shifting damp boulders at an agonizingly slow place until finally reaching a ramp of moss and tundra that took us up to the base of the route. 3 hours later (2 hours spent off-route) we were at the base of the route and roping up.
The standard route ascends a rotten gully to the west ridge. You begin by traversing a ledge across the southwest face (starting from the talus on the south face) aiming for an alcove of rock just below the west ridge. The traverse is easy 4th class but the rock is pretty rotten and a slip would mean a long bounce down the southwest face so a rope feels good. Traverse about 200′ of moss, rock, dirt and 300lb shifting blocks to a stance that is below and (climbers) left of a dihedral of white granite. There is a good boulder you can sling for a belay.
The second pitch starts with a short traverse to the dihedral of white granite followed by 25′ of easy climbing the to the West Ridge proper. The dihedral is pretty rotten so pick your route carefully and tread lightly. Regardless of how you get there you want to end up on a stance of grass that sits right underneath a crack topped by a blocky small roof. Climb the crack (good pro / 5.4ish) with a fun move up slabs above the exposed northwest face and you’ll be deposited on a ledge with a rap anchor.
I climbed the second pitch slowly and carefully having been recently reminded of just how bad the rock is in Alaska (a 100lb block exploded next to me while cragging one afternoon a couple weeks ago) and brought Yvonne up just as the rain started. There was lots of complaining and groaning but luckily the shower ended quickly and we opted to keep going.
Above the anchors you have about 20 feet of 4th class scrambling to another anchor followed by easy walking on grassy ledges and blocks to the summit.
We topped out shortly afterwards, briefly enjoyed the view and then rapped off hurriedly hoping to get down before the rains started. We managed to get all the way down to the valley floor by the time the afternoon thundershowers rolled in turning the valley dark while lightening sparked the ridge tops and thunder bellowed off the surrounding cliffs.
Back in the parking lot sonn thereafter and back to dreary summer weather and dreams of Sierra sun and granite.
Virtually every aspect of Pinnacle has been climbed. The Standard Route described above is the easiest way to the top. Take a handful of cams from .5″ – 3″. To get down downclimb the ridge to just above the last 4th class step where you’ll find a slung boulder. This (questionable) anchor will get you safely over to the step and down to the rap anchors on the west ridge. A 30m rap (off a wedged 100lb block held in place by another wedged block) will get you down to the traverse pitch which you can reverse back to the southwest facing gully.
The other routes up Pinnacle are a bit harder. The entire West Ridge “Directissimo” starts at the lowest point on the West Ridge and according to long-time Hatcher local Ralph Baldwin has “some thin 5.8 moves and then easy flow along the ridge”. Likewise the entire ridge above Toto has been climbed. Other routes have been done but be aware that the peak has some really loose rock (check out Kelsey’s write up of a bad fall high on the peak) so be warned!
In winter the NW face sees an occasional ski descent. Check out Joe Stock’s pictures from Feb-2013 descent.