First Alpine fun of 2019; West Ridge of Paisano Pinnacle (5.8)


After many weekends of mileage at the crags, we finally tore ourselves away to prepare for some of the bigger alpine objectives we have in mind for Summer 2019. I took Friday off from work and we started driving north at the leisurely time of 9 am. We were looking for some audio books and since I had been inspired by the TED talk “The Dawn Wall” by Tommy Caldwell, I downloaded his book “The Push”. This book is so detailed and riveting that I didn’t even realize how time passed during the 6 hours of driving. I wanted to listen to it more (it has 176 chapters!), but we got to the road side parking in front of Paisano Pinnacle and had a few hours of hiking ahead of us to get to our camp for the evening.

View of wine spires from the parking lot

The parking lot is at about 4500 feet and the hike up to the flat ground (The Bench) is about 2000 feet of elevation gain over 4 miles. We dropped down from the road and found a good log to cross the creek at, and after two hours of switchbacks and chatting, we were set up around a fire pit near a fresh stream of snow melt.

The spires sheathed in clouds.

The next morning we were up at 5 am to chilly conditions and cloud-wreathed towers. Figuring we had plenty of time considering most the approach was done, we lingered until 6:30 am and then began the trek up to the base of the climb.

The start of the climb is just to the right of the snow patch in the center of the photo.

After heading up the trail for ~30 minutes, we found a set of cairns leading to climber’s right towards the ridge around 700 feet of elevation above the bench camp. Following these across two loose gullies and a small stream, we found a large upright rock with a cairn built on the top of it. This, along with a large chockstone, marked the beginning of the route.

Sandy crossing one of the dirt gullies.

Gearing up, neither of us could spot the “distinctive s-shaped white crack” at the start of the route, so Rick led up and leftwards, eventually just questing up a crumbly chimney to the top of the ridge, where he belayed off a large tree.

The base of pitch 1 from the chockstone.

I led the low 5th scramble to the next crack system, battling through trees and horrendous rope drag. The crack on pitch 3 was irresistible for my current abilities and I wanted to link it to pitch 2, but the rope drag was too much so I built a belay and brought Rick up. Pulling on fun hand jams, I made quick work of the crack and arrived at a ledge with a tree, then climbed to the right of the ridge up a wide chimney to the base of the twin cracks.

Belaying Rick up pitch 2 from the base of the 5.7 crack.
Sandy leading the 5.7 crack off the belay.

After bringing Rick up, we switched leads and he went up the awkward twin cracks, which quickly turned into a thin dihedral protected by a .2 & .3 with finger locks off to the right. Topping out onto a flat spot with “horns” which turned out to be flakes of questionable integrity, he made a traverse on face holds to a small tree situated on a small ledge high above the gullies we had crossed that morning.

Rick leading the twin cracks
View from the top of Pitch 3
Rick belaying at the top of pitch 4

From here was another 5.8 pitch with a few moves of layback crux off the belay followed by fun wide climbing. After the crack turned horizontal the route turned into fun low fifth jams up to an expansive belay ledge with trees, where we finally got a few minutes of sunshine through thin clouds.

Rick leading off the belay on pitch 5
Rick belaying at the top of pitch 5, Burgundy Spire in the background

The next pitch was another irresistible splitter crack where I took the lead. On good jams I followed this crack to the next major ledge and built an anchor, unsure of where to go. The topo had said to make an exposed but easy traverse around the right side of the next gendarme, but all I had before me was a sheer cliff wall dropping hundreds of feet to a snow field. Bringing Rick up, we switched leads and he took off on a few false starts, downclimbing back until he found a crack system he liked and then linking the rest of pitch 6 with pitch 7, stopping when he ran out of rope just below the final slab moves.

Sandy leading pitch 6.

Rick brought me up to his stance, and after switching ends of the rope (he had used all his slings extending pieces and had to build the anchor using the rope) he took off for the last lead.

Placing a #3 and #4 up the widening crack, he made a few slab moves then placed a bomber .2 X4 halfway up the slab, topping out and running it out to an aesthetic Yoga Rock where he found a constriction for a natural anchor to bring me up.

Obligatory backbend on a conveniently positioned Yoga Rock. Rick insisted that I remain roped for this pose.
Rick’s decidedly less aesthetic “plop on the nearest rock and eat everything in sight” summit tradition.

This was a fantastic climb, but the temperature hovered around 45 degrees with wind most of the day, necessitating wearing down puffies whether belaying or leading. Every time I had a feeling of suffering, I just had to turn around — the suffering was paltry in comparison to the spectacular views surrounding us and I was honored to be up there. It’s amazing just how all-encompassing the rock is as you drive into Washington Pass; I can’t wait to be up there again.

From the top as you continue on the ridge through a blocky low fifth you will see red slings for rappel below you. The terrain is quite easy to downclimb but its definitely a no fall or slip zone. One 30m rappel gets you to an easy but exposed downclimb to another rappel station; 20m more and you’re back on the ground.

The start of the summit ridge.

From here there’s multiple trails heading downwards. Follow the one copiously marked by cairns, and when the cairns disappear backtrack slightly and look for a cairn placed on a granite slab to skier’s right. Follow these across another stream to a ridge line where you can descend following cairns to the turn off 700 feet above the bench camp. From here it is the same easy trail back to the bench you took in the morning, and a quick descent down switchbacks and the creek back to the car.

The next morning we drove down to Mazama and picked up coffee at the Store and Burdo’s book at the Goat’s Beard. One difference I noticed at the store was that they had stopped serving coffee in paper cups. You either buy their cups or get coffee to be sipped in the store. This coincided with my thought process. I have been taking my coffee mug to insomnia on the way to work so that I don’t trash a paper cup. The mazama store had not only banished paper towel dispenser in the restrooms but also paper coffee cups to ensue a positive effect on the environment.

Then we decided to top off the trip with a few sport climbs on Fun Rock. Both of us onsighted Boltergeist (5.7+) and Drive-By Nose Job (5.8), and Rick was all smiles after onsighting Snake Fingers (5.10a). We decided that when we are in the area for alpine climbing, half a day of clipping bolts is the perfect way to unwind.

After a quick breakfast of avocado and egg sandwiches overlooking Mt. Hozomeen and Ross Lake, we popped “The Push” back in and began the long drive down I-5 home.

Eggs and Jack Kerouac (and puffies and wind).

Gear Notes

  • Singles from .2-4, doubles from .75-2, and offset nuts are perfect. The cracks offered a wide variety of placements, but the few gear belays were mostly medium sized pieces, so it was nice to have extra.
  • 8 single slings, 2 double slings.
  • We brought way too much water considering how cold it was. We had 4L, but after hydrating at the stream near the start only drank 1L each during the climb.
  • Vegan muffins turn into crumbled vegan brownies after 8 pitches.

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