Everything New Is Hard – Learning Aid At Pinnacles6 min read


Place piece, attach aider, into aider, step high, remove aider, attach aider, clip rope.

Place piece, attach aider, into aider, step high, remove aider, attach aider, clip rope.

Place piece, attach aider, into aider, step high, remove aider, attach aider, clip rope.


Climbing is fun, right?
This is actually a picture we took on Sunday

Everything New Is Hard

Chris McNamara conveniently left out the bits about swearing and questioning your self worth from How To Big Wall Climb.

John and I kicked off 2018 in Pinnacles National Monument (again), aka Satan’s Playground, flailing and swearing up approximately one hundred and twenty feet of 5.7 A1 terrain over three hours.

And it was awesome.

Our initial plan had been to tackle Los Banditos (5.10a A1) because a bolt ladder is a bolt ladder is a bolt ladder. But, in a classic parking lot pivot, we opted for the relatively more accessible Bill’s Bad Bolt (5.7 A1). Our plan for learning this new discipline of suffering climbing was to aid through the first pitch of The West Face then traverse to our objective, then aid through the 20 bolts on its first pitch. We were on the trail by a lazy 11am and by all accounts we couldn’t have asked for better weather: It was a California classic 55 to 60 degree January day. With our alpine style ascent already toast, we moseyed our way through the volcanic monuments of Pinnacles toward our route.

“How Hard Could It Be”

In retrospect could could have done ourselves a huge favor by not having our first aid experience be on overhung and traversing terrain.

The first pitch of The West Face starts under a bulge with a 5 bolt ladder that goes sharply left before backtracking up easy class 5 to anchors. John took the lead and handled himself capably enough, achieving the ridge and finishing out the route with relative ease, leaving me to toss on my ascenders and use them to do what they do best.

Once John safe and off belay, I whipped out our trusty copy ofHow to Big Wall Climb, flipped to the “How to follow with ascenders” chapter and got to learnin’. Occasionally I would shout up questions to John, out of sight over the bulge, that were totally inaudible to him as were his responses to those questions.I got to the part in the chapter where I had both of my ascenders on the rope with ladders attached to them and figured that I could guess at the rest. In my mind I’d seen enough videos of Jorgeson or Caldwell zipping up fixed lines on El Cap that I had an idea of what it would feel like. How hard could it be?

An idea of the closeness of the valley

To preface this next section I think it’s important to describe, for those who have never been, what the scene at Machete ridge is like. Machete Ridge sits on the west face of a small valley, with the Balconies, another large formation, sitting opposite. The valley creates something of an amphitheater, where all sounds carry between the two walls and everything you do is on full display for everyone else in the valley. The climbing scene is relatively low key in this area due to the (undeservedly) bad rap Pinns gets for shit rock and poor pro, but

I was super stoked with how comfy John was while I was flailing
I was super stoked when I saw how comfy John was while I was flailing…

excellent Winter weather and proximity to the Bay Area ensures one or two other parties will be providing you company. In a nutshell, the climbing setting is intimate and there is always an audience.

So there I was, on Machete Ridge, maybe ten feet off the deck, screaming obscenities, unable to get my right ascender off the rope to traverse left over the first carabiner on the pitch. For twenty five minutes, I sat at that first bolt, alternating between try-hard pulling, helpless anger, and utter despair. The situation was rapidly approaching, “Ok let’s figure out a way to self rescue Brooks from his jumars 10 feet off the ground,” before some final huffing and puffing and an Ondra-esque battlecry allowed me to move past the draw.

My victory shout was still echoing off the valley when I noticed the three other parties in the valley who had a front row seat to my chuff fest. Humbled and grumbling something about how stupid aid climbing was, I struggled through the rest of the route in much quieter style.

A Successful Day of Failure

The rest of the day followed a similar pattern. We approached the first pitch of Bill’s Bad Bolt with expectations fully tempered by how long it took for me to follow up the West Face pitch. I geared up and took the lead and despite some initial hiccups, the pitch went pretty smoothly. John huffed and puffed and scraped his ascenders all the way up his follow but in the end he was much more successful than my previous jugging attempt. We rapped in time for john to take a lead rep on the bolt ladder, which he crushed, before we tossed on headlamps and headed for the exit.

Despite the fact that we only were able to ascend two pitches of aid over the course of 5 hours, we left Pinnacles with a distinct feeling of success.  The day was a reminded of the universal truth that learning a new climbing discipline is pretty sucky at the beginning. From your first time bouldering to ice climbing, getting shut down is going to be part of the process.

We left with spirits high because we knew that next time would involve marginally less suck, and that was good enough for us.

Leave a comment about getting shut down your first time crack climbing, ice climbing, bouldering etc!

Featured Climb: Bills Bad Bolt 


Park in the West Side lot and approach via the Balconies Trailhead. Walk half a mile-ish, crossing two bridges, until you arrive at a climbers access trail. This will be the most obvious climbers access trail you have ever seen. There is a signpost with access trail beta for the approaches to Machete Ridge climbs.

Follow the path to the base of an 80′ slabby choss ramp. At the top of this ramp is the first pitch of the West Face. Ascend the first pitch of the West Face to anchors with rap rings (you’ll use these to descend) then traverse 200′ to your left to a belay ledge under a truly heinous looking ladder of rusted bolts. These are Bill’s Bad Bolts.

The Climb

We only climbed the first pitch to practice aid. Gingerly follow the line of 20ish rusted garbage pail bolts over a bulge to ~20 feet of unprotected 5.7 face climbing.

The route continues up two more pitches of what I assume is classic Pinnacles face.

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