ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SOUTHWEST
Hike H6. Eichorn Pinnacle
- Hiking time: 6 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 5.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 2200 feet
- USGS Topo Map: Tenaya Lake
- Difficulties: Class 5.4 climbing with huge exposure
- Special equipment: Harnesses, helmets, climbing shoes, 160ft rope, 160ft pull cord, slings, quickdraws, cams, 30ft webbing, rappelling gear, 3 quicklinks or rappel rings.
- ACA Rating: 3A III
This spectacular adventure tackles the climb of the awesome Eichorn Pinnacle, a vertical projection on the side of Cathedral Peak in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park. Elsewhere we have described the much easier climb of Cathedral Peak itself during which we passed by the base of Eichorn Pinnacle. In this adventure we climb the Pinnacle, a more technically challenging prospect than Cathedral Peak itself. Apart from two slightly tricky manoevers, the Eichorn Pinnacle climb is not, however, hard by rock climbing standards. However finding the right route is not easy and dealing with the exposure at the first of the aforementioned manoevers is very daunting.
Though there are clearly alternative routes, the easiest approach to Cathedral Peak and the Eichorn Pinnacle begins at the heavily used Cathedral Lakes trailhead (37o52.40'N 119o22.97'W) on the south side of Tuolumne Meadows. There are bear boxes on the south side of the road beside the trailhead and you would be advised to use them, leaving no food in your vehicle.
The approach begins at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead (37o52.40'N 119o22.97'W and elevation 8560ft) on the Tioga Road just west of the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger Station. Follow the Cathedral Lakes trail for about half a mile to where a fairly well-used use-trail forks off to the left (about 37o52.11'N 119o23.31'W). As long as you don't follow the Cathedral Lakes too far it is not a problem if you miss this turn off as long as you proceed upstream fairly close to Budd Creek but on its right bank. The use-trail follows that right bank for some distance before it begins to climb higher above the Creek. In one place it crosses some flat bare rock and here you must be careful to follow the rock cairns. However as long as you head SSW and don't stray too far from the Creek you will be en route.
Cathedral Peak and Eichorn Pinnacle Eichorn Pinnacle from first saddle
Eventually as the trail proceeds into more open ground the massive pointed Cathedral Peak will loom up ahead of you and somewhat to the right. Follow the trail over open ground as you pass below a large scree slope that ends at the steep rock slab known as the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak. This Buttress is a favorite rock-climbing route to the top of the Peak. Proceed along the trail almost to the point where the scree slope meets the Southest Buttress. You should reach this point about 1.5hr and 2.4mi from the start. Here you should be able to recognize a rough, steep use-trail that climbs the scree slope. Follow this use-trail as you ascend the scree slope, heading for the broad saddle above you. Chances are you will see climbers ascending the Southeast Buttress along a route that seems to parallel yours. Nearing the saddle the boulders get huge and you should veer to the right to get to the ridge top itself. The view to the west that opens up as you broach the ridge top (or first saddle) is spectacular with the dramatic Eichorn Pinnacle over to your left and Lower Cathedral Lake far below it. You should reach this 10700ft elevation about 2.5hr from the start.
Starting point for the technical climb Almost at the top of Eichorn Pinnacle
Having enjoyed the view, you should climb down over massive boulders on the other side of the first saddle to a point about 30ft lower where you can see a straightforward traverse over to the lowpoint or saddle in the ridge connecting Cathedral Peak to Eichorn Pinnacle. Climbing up some boulders to this second saddle you are treated to yet another great view, this time to the south. Upper Cathedral Lake lies below you and, off to the southwest, are Half Dome and the other monuments of Yosemite National Park. The sheer south face of the mountain drops down vertically below you, a drop of about 300ft before the ground flattens out. A descent of this face awaits you later.
Once you reach this second saddle it is time to prepare for the technical section of the climb (you can leave belongings here since you will be passing this point later) to the summit of the awesome Eichorn Pinnacle. Once helmeted and harnessed, you should contour downwards from the saddle along a sloping ledge that starts about 15ft below the apex of the saddle and leads to a recess with a comfortable stance that is the starting point for the technical climb (check the photograph for the view from the starting point). The climb is usually rated at 5.4. Though other descriptions of the climb suggest two pitches (and some even suggest just one), it probably best done in three short pitches. The first and hardest on the nerves is almost horizontal. Using an anchor around a large horn beside the starting poing you should climb easily upwards to a tricky sloping ledge that has a fixed piton in the crack at the back of the ledge. Use a runner to fix the protection here. Then using fingerholds in the crack ease your way down to the end of the narrowing ledge where you should reach down for the footholds below the level of the ledge. This is a nervy move but the footholds are large and solid. Then, once standing, step down again onto a short, small downward sloping ledge that leads to a comfortable stance in a small recess. Here, the rock horns just above you provide a comfortable belay station for the end of the first pitch. The last part of this first pitch is mostly made difficult by the huge exposure below you.
On top of Eichorn Pinnacle Rappeling down the south face
The second, vertical pitch has one slightly tricky move but is otherwise straightforward. There are also several bolts that have been installed to protect that move. From the belay station you climb above the rock horns and then up to the right to an increasingly easy chute that leads to a large crack or recess that provides good anchors for the next belay station. The last pitch proceeds up a large sloping crack that leads obviously to the summit. The easiest ascent route is along the sharp ridge to the left of the crack and this brings you out on the spectacular summit of the Eichorn Pinnacle. You should reach the summit about 4hr from the start. The Pinnacle's name recognizes the first ascent by Glen Dawson and Jules Eichorn on Jul.24, 1931.
There are comfortable places for a number of climbers on the summit which is also equipped with a number of solid bolts. When you have finished admiring the magnificent view, it is straightforward to set up a rappel to descend the north side of the Pinnacle, aiming for the starting point of the first pitch. It is a rappel of about 60ft.
Once you have recovered your rope and your belongings at the saddle between the peak and the Eichorn Pinnacle, you can prepare for the rappel descent of the steep south face of Cathedral Peak. This descent requires a two-stage rappel. From a webbing wrap around one of the large boulders at the saddle (in the shadow of the Eichorn Pinnacle) first rappel down about 60ft to a large shelf with two small but solid trees. One of these provides a solid anchor for the second stage, a 150ft drop using a 50m rope and a recovery cord. The rappel descent places you at the top of a short scree slope. If you descend this and veer left at the bottom it is an easy hike around the mountain to the use-trail you used to hike up to the mountain. Return along this trail back to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead. You should make it about back 6hrs from the morning start having covered about 5.6mi.
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Last updated 9/1/00.
Christopher E. Brennen