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November 18, 2013

Conservation Team Helps Pinnacles Climbers at Inaugural Appreciation Days

When we’re packing up to leave a project, folks always ask where we’re headed next. Pinnacles National Park didn’t register with most folks, although a few would smile knowingly and say, “Ahhh, The Pinns”.We were excited to hit the road and discover the central California gem that earns almost as much pride from veteran climbers as the neighboring granite domes of Yosemite.

When we arrived at The Pinns, Larry Arthur of Mountain Tools—the mastermind behind Pinnacles’ inaugural Climber Appreciation Days—oriented us with the Park. As his stories flowed, we came to understand the Park’s place in history—and in climber’s hearts.

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Pinnacles National Park (previously a Monument) boasts a climbing history longer than our combined ages. In 1933, the first prominent pinnacles were summited at Condor Crags, beginning a trend of ascents that starred climbing legends like Roper, Bridwell, Bates, and others. A mild winter climate and proximity to bigger climbing destinations makes Pinnacles the perfect place for ambitious climbers to hone skills and train for loftier goals. And as the popularity of climbing skyrocketed in subsequent decades, The Pinns became a favorite backyard playground for Bay Area climbers and the communities lining the Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley.

There are now nearly 900 identified routes in the Park. These span spectacular remnant monoliths, talus caves, spires, and sheer-walled canyons of an ancient volcanic field. Most routes are easily accessible and moderate in grade—many are bolted, but most are trad, and some others mixed. Less than bomber rock quality lends to adventurous climbing and uneven landings.

It is precisely this rock type, area history, route variety, and proximity to urban areas that prompted the need for an Appreciation weekend and ambitious Adopt a Crag event. Over 65 volunteers turned out for 3 days of work. With a sponsored BBQ by Paradox Sports, loads of swag, and committed folks from the National Park Service, Bay Area Mountain Rescue, Sanctuary Rock Gym, the American Alpine Club, and other local organizations, it was an epic first year event! If it weren’t for the advanced planning of Jamie Bouknight—the Park’s passionate trails manager—and Larry Arthur, we might have had more work capacity than we knew what to do with. Instead we accomplished more than anyone had hoped.

LogsFriday morning began with a modest crew hiking loads of wooden fence railing and tools from the eastside parking area up to popular Discovery Wall. After this ample warm up, the real work started: closing eroded short-cut trails, installing fence posts for restoration areas, and brushing and buffing trails. We instructed volunteers in the art of post-holing, vegetation removal, and hiding restoration areas with natural visual barriers. We worked well into the afternoon, leaving just enough time for the most energetic to get a few routes in!

The next day saw an impressive number of new volunteers. Jamie, Ty, and I broke into several groups over two areas—Ty and Jamie protected degraded areas with fabric fencing and trail realignment at Teaching Rock, while I employed volunteer leaders to help complete wooden fence installation, trail closures, and protect eroding hill slopes at Discovery Wall. Everyone was amped and super productive, ticking off each project in record time. With plenty of climber-power and hours to spare, Ty was even able put in a much-needed retaining wall where groups gather to belay and chill in the shade. It was a long, dusty day and we left satisfied with our efforts. Reconvening at camp, volunteers were treated to a feast of burgers and beer, raffle prizes, storytelling and camaraderie.

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A rare third day of work on Sunday resulted in more trail alignment and retaining features at another popular crag —Tourist Trap. The amount of work completed over the weekend was phenomenal! Volunteers demonstrated once again how many [strong] hands make light hard work. We left feeling inspired by a community united in their shared passion for Pinnacles, and thrilled to be a part of the first of many Pinnacles Climber Appreciation Days. Join us next year for Round 2!

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