Machete Ridge

The "Old Original" route at Pinnacles National Monument

On June 30, 2002 Joe Hastings, Chris Hibbert and I (Paul Doherty) set out to climb Machete Ridge at the Pinnacles National Monument, California. I had checked in my climbing log book and found out that I had done this climb twenty years ago with Will Crowther and Hal Murray. I remembered that I had been a bit nervous that day, but with a few thousand pitches of leading under my belt I was calmer this time.

The day was sunny, calm, and hot. So we loaded our packs with two quarts of water apiece and started the long approach hike. Janet Stucke joined us for the hike. The climbers trail is steep and loose in places. We stopped to drink water and cool down in the shade along the way. After an hour we arrived at the lowest pine tree. Looking up it seemed like we could put in an alternate start here. And so, the adventure began.

Joe Hastings got the first lead. It was easy going so Chris danced out to take his photo.

Chris Hibbert photographs Joe Hastings on Macheete Ridge
Chris photographs Joe on the pitch we put in to get to the first pitch of derringer.

photo copyright Chris Hibbert
Joe Hastings leads the zeroth pitch.

Joe traversed left a bit then followed a water groove up a full 50m rope length until he came to two knobs of rock sticking out of the wall at a low angle area. He cinched two slings around these knobs and made a belay. At this point we were on the route named Derringer.

I couldn't be sure we were on route, nor could I know how good the protection was. So I took the next lead for myself. I also stepped left up a water groove until I came to a wall. Right of me was a slot, left was a ledge beneath a water streak. I went left and found a new silvery bolt behind a bush. I clipped the bolt and headed up. Twenty feet up on easy but breakable rock I paused to look ahead for protection. I looked and looked. Then I spotted a well camouflaged bolt It had been spray painted brown to match the rock. I breathed a sigh of relief and climbed to and clipped the bolt. I couldn't see any other bolts so I ran it out over 50 feet on 5.5 rock until I came to a manzanita bush. I belayed to the bush. Then I brought up Chris and Joe.

Paul Doherty Belays from the crest of Machette Ridge
Paul belays on the crest of Machete Ridge.

Once we were on the ridge we did the classic traverse. With the world falling away hundreds of feet on either side, we walked along a pathway in the sky. Wonderful and enjoyable hiking. There were multiple bolts at every belay and a single bolt in the middle of every pitch.

Machette Ridge crest a athway n the sky
Machete ridge, a pathway in the sky.

Chris led the first traverse pitch and ended at a tree in a notch. The route along the ridge ended in an overhanging drop, so the route went along the steep right side of the ridge. A bolt at the leader's feet protected the 5.3 crux move. This was definitely enjoyable adventure climbing.

Joe Hastings leads the crux traverse on Machette Ridge
Joe leads the crux traverse.

This pitch ended at a rappel station. We used two 50m ropes to rap all the way to the notch in one trip. On the way down we noticed that there were intermediate rap anchors so that the rap could be completed with a single rope.

Chris Hibbert does the first rappel on Machette ridge
Chris goes down the first rappel.

Photo by Chris Hibbert, Paul Doherty at the end of the first rap
The first rappel gets steeper near the end.

We looked down the first rappel and could see the trails in the notch between Machete Ridge and the Balconies. Up on the top of the ridge, a breeze kept us from overheating in the hot sun.

Chris Hibbert waits in the gap Machette Ridge
Chris pauses in the notch which marks the route.

After the first Rappel. We hiked over to the base of a short wall with a notch. The guidebook promised fourth class climbing on the far side of the notch plus a bolt just below the notch. All three of us looked but none of us found the bolt. We decided to do the down climb unroped. I was really glad that I climb up and down all the routes at the climbing gym. I felt comfortable down climbing. However a mistake on this downclimb could lead to serious injury, so doing it unroped is for experienced climbers only.

Paul Doherty belays Chris Hibbert on the Middle Peak of Machette Ridge
Chris leads up the 5.5 route on Middle Peak.

After climbing down from the notch we came to the end of the Old Original Route. There was a block of stone with two pairs of rappel anchors on either side. However the guidebook indicated that there was an optional continuation of the route up Middle Peak and across to North Peak. We decided that since we were making good time we would continue our climb and complete the entire ridge. Chris got to lead middle peak. Looking up he could see the two bolts on the route. He managed to place natural protection at the beginning of the climb, I was impressed by his use of a tied off knob with extra security from a knot wedged in a crack. It reminded me of stories of German climbers who use jammed knots all the time.

Chris Hibbert at the very end of Machette Ridge
The end of Machete Ridge.

We traversed the ridge to North Peak. The guidebook promised a summit register, but we couldn't find it. So we enjoyed a quick snack to celebrate our fine climb and then started back down. We returned to the rappel station at the base of Middle Peak. There were two choices of direction for our rappel. The guidebook recommended the route to the south down a gully. I vaguely remembered going down north twenty years ago. I still remember the long free rappels. But this time I followed the guidebooks suggestion.

Joe Hastings Rappels into the descent gulley
A rappel into the gully.

A single rope rap just brought us to the bottom of the gully. I knew it would be an exciting downclimb when I spotted the bolt anchor on the floor of the gully. We climbed down facing inward on the steep sections, descending free solo. Once again I was happy that I had practiced my downclimbing. A fall would result in injuries so we didn't fall. At one point I noticed that a poison oak vine was climbing up the wall of the gully. That was a wake-up call that we had entered poison oak country.

The gully ended at a large grassy area. Beyond, we saw a grassy traverse, we also spotted slings with a rap ring around a tree. We opted for adventure and did a two rope rappel down to a big shady ledge. On the ledge, we were out of the sun, but also out of the wind, we began to get hot and also to get near the end of our water supply.

We scouted the way off the ledge by crawling under a boulder. On the other side there were poison oak bushes scattered about. We carefully climbed over and around boulders trying to avoid contact with the poison oak. We wondered if we could reach the bottom, or if we would be blocked by cliffs or by walls of poison oak. but with sharp eyed scouting we found a way down to the tourist trail.


As we walked out we met Janet, she was smiling as she handed us two liters of cold water. Hooray! That water sure was good. We even had enough to fill my hat. When I put the hat on I was under a cool waterfall for just a moment. Then I felt very refreshed. As we walked back to the car, Janet told us of her hot hike up into the high peaks.

Machete Ridge is a great adventure climb. Not hard, but you better have all around mountaineering skills. With all of our added pitches we did 9 pitches and four rappels, and took 4 hours. Downclimbing skills were important, and route finding amongst the poison oak.

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Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty

© 2002

1 July 2002