Ascent of The Pinnacles on 2010-08-22

Climber: Edward Earl

Others in Party:John Stolk -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Sunday, August 22, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:The Pinnacles
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:8442 ft / 2573 m

Ascent Trip Report

The Pinnacles were an important ultra prominence target for me because it is one of 4 foreign peaks whose ultra prominence cell enters the lower 48. As a completer of the 57 ultra prominent peaks in the lower 48, I feel that a good supplement to this accomplishment is to climb those 4 extra peaks. On a road trip whose primary objective was to climb Kintla Pk in Glacier NP in northern MT, I found it convenient to return home through BC and pick up The Pinnacles (and a couple of other prominent Canadian peaks) along the way. John Stolk, who was on the Kintla climb with me, decided he too was interested in The Pinnacles and decided to hook up with me for this climb.

From BC-6, 1.0 mile SE of the Gold Pan Cafe E of Cherryville or ~15 miles N of Monashee Summit (and 1.1 NW of a sharp 20 km/hr turn), we turned E on South Fork Forest Service Rd. The turnoff is unidentified on the highway, but a sign shortly after the turnoff identifies the Pinnacles Hiking Area and provides distances to several destinations, including Monashee Lk and Pinnacle Lk. Zero your odometer at the turnoff. The road is well-graded gravel, suitable for any street legal vehicle. At 1.4 miles Beaven Rd makes a sharp L turn; we stayed straight. At 1.6 miles is a fork; we took the L branch, which is identified by an obscure sign as South Fork Rd. At 9.2 miles we again went L at a fork, following a sign to Mt Beaven & Monashee Lk, not Pinnacle Lk & Vista Pass. After this point, the road becomes a narrow two-track with a grass center, and a vehicle without high clearance may have trouble. At 10.0 miles we crossed a bridge and cattle guard. At 10.3 miles is a fork at a 17 km mark; we went R. Finally, at 12.7 miles, we reached an open meadow strewn with cowpiles, where we parked. An overgrown picnic table sits off to one side, and a sign guides one to the trail which takes off from this point. Elevation is about 4400 feet. The time of day was dusk, and we slept in our trucks and climbed the peak the next day (4000' elevation gain).

In the gathering twilight, a couple emerged from the trail and we chatted with them for a time. They cleared us up on a major point of confusion stemming from the fact that the summits are poorly named. The cluster of 3 high summits ~1 mile S of Monashee Lk are called the North, Middle, and South Pinnacles, but the one called North Pinnacle is actually not the farthest N; it the farthest E, and the northernmost summit is called Middle Pinnacle. Only South Pinnacle, which is the southwesternmost of the three, is well named. Meanwhile, the peak that lies ~1 mile N of Monashee Lk, with a 8435' BM, is called Mt Severide. Confusing, but that's the way it is. For the record, here are the names, locations, and elevations of all of the summits:

Mt Severide 50.2220N, 118.2505W, 2571m=8435'
North Pinnacle 50.1946N, 118.2288W, 2573m=8442'
Middle Pinnacle 50.1971N, 118.2401W
South Pinnacle 50.1924N, 118.2453W, 2544m=8346'

The elevations are derived from the BC Basemap, which Greg Slayden says is derived from lidar and very accurate. Even conventional surveying methods are good enough to conclude that the 7' difference between North Pinnacle and its nearest rival, Mt Severide, is significant. Unless we hear evidence to the contrary, we assume that North Pinnacle is the undisputed highest summit in the area, and the one that takes the ultra prominence.

Next morning, we hiked the trail up the bottom of a drainage. After a couple of miles, at about 5300', we neared the base of a cliff with a waterfall coming down it. The trail, which is sometimes defined only by cairns and ribbons, heads sharply L up a steep rocky gully, surrounded by open brush, gaining 200-300 feet. To the R of the gully (not immediately, but a few hundred feet away) is a steep rock slab which defines the left-hand ramparts of the cliffs over which the waterfall comes down from above. The trail and gully gain the upper left corner of the slab where the trail immediately makes a sharp R turn and plunges into the forest above the slab. After some steep uphill traversing in which it gains several hundred more feet, the trail eventually arrives at its destination: 6650' Monashee Lake.

The weather was mostly cloudy and slightly drizzly, but we were able to get occasional views of the Middle and North Pinnacles from the lake. We countoured around the L side of the lake, then continued a few minutes SE to another "lake" which is little more than a sandy flat with a braided stream trickling through it. Beyond this lake, we climbed a couple hundred feet up some talus and reached a pass. Just beyond the pass is a lake that drains the opposite way. We crossed the outlet of this lake and headed up slabs with occasional 3rd class climbing. Owing to the low visibility, I checked my GPS to be sure we were headed to the correct summit. We almost always stayed on rock, but we did cross a couple of narrow bands of snow between slabs. Higher up, we traversed a larger snowfield on the way to a smooth, grassy col at ~8000'.

Beyond this col, the terrain became steeper and more difficult. Occasional slabs of lingering snow made for a traverse of wet, loose talus and dirt. Then the weather worsened, and we were pelted by a shower of graupel. Though graupel is a sign of instability, I saw no sign of electrical activity, but I nevertheless had to be ready to retreat in case that should change. The graupel didn't last long, and I soon reached a notch at 8200'. Above this notch, we continued to traverse up steepening 3rd class first to the L around a rib, then directly up a steep gully. John and I both dropped our packs in this gully and decided to summit without them, since it was likely we'd want to descend on our butts, facing out. We finally reached a higher notch less than 100' below the summit. At this point John and I took separate routes; I climbed 4th class up out of the notch directly to the summit, while John dropped slightly down the other side of the notch and then climbed up a ledgy gully filled with talus and scree to the summit. We both arrived at the summit simultaneously, exchanged congratulations, and I checked my GPS to verify that the the summit we had just climbed was indeed North Pinnacle.

The clouds parted briefly, just enough to give us a peek-a-boo view of Middle and South Pinnacles. Then graupel began to fall again, and we decided it was time to go. Because the new graupel was making the rock slick, I chose to descend the way John had come up, since although the 4th class way I had climbed would be wonderful in dry weather, it was too dangerous now.

The descent was uneventful, with one exception. On the slabs below, I hopped down off of a 3-4' high ledge, and although the slab below was totally flat, I somehow landed in a way that rolled my ankle over, and it hurt. John spared me some Advil and although the pain was brief, a little bit of swelling was still detectable after I returned home.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4042 ft / 1232 m
    Round-Trip Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Route:Monashee Lake Trail
    Trailhead:Monashee Lake TH  4400 ft / 1341 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 

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