This description covers the rock route. The Pinnacle is perhaps more notable as a winter climb, and should be listed separately as such. The summer route is a classic alpine rock climb.
The Pinnacle, located high on Mt. Washington in Huntington Ravine, has been an objective of mountaineers dating back to the Underhills. It has a long and interesting history, explained at length in Webster's 3rd edition guide. An ascent of the route is a fine adventure, easy enough for the less experienced but classic enough for anyone to enjoy.
The Pinnacle is a prominent, blocky schist arete on the Huntington Ravine headwall. Its summit is a sharp ridge just below the Alpine Garden, and is a fine vantage point from which to view the ravine floor and the mountains to the east.
Pitch 1: Climb 4th class up a prominent, left-angling gully with some birch trees in it and reach a ledge. Continue up and right, staying close to the arete and entering 5th class territory as you climb a slab and a 5.5 right-facing corner. 5.5, ~150 feet
Pitch 2: Trend up and slightly left towards the steep, angular upper reaches of the Pinnacle. A well-traveled route up slabs and between bushes should be obvious. Belay at a flat area below a steep, right-facing inside corner. Easy 5th, ~150 feet
Pitch 3: Climb the corner. Clip a pin at half height and continue making technical moves until a jug on the right wall is reached. Mantle up and left onto a ledge. Here the line becomes less obvious as it moves left to a corner, then awkwardly up and right along a ramp (some crawl here!) before reaching a final mantle and a good belay ledge. 5.7, ~70 feet
Pitch 4: The original variation leaves the belay ledge and downclimbs a ramp to the left. After about 40 feet, a stance is reached below a chimney. Some belay here. With difficulty, climb a sloping ledge to enter the chimney. Ascend this, protecting using a chockstone and a few nut placements, to its end and a belay stance. 5.7, ~90 feet
Pitch 4a: The 5.8 direct variation. From the belay atop pitch 3, climb straight up on flakes, making long reaches between holds. Several pins protect the difficult moves. In 20 feet, after reaching an overhang, climb out left with considerable exposure, quickly turning right and passing between two blocks. Continue up easier ground to a belay stance, or continue 80 feet to an immense belay ledge (rope drag). 5.8, ~70 feet. *A 5.9+ variation leaves right from the p3 belay and follows steep ground up towards the arete proper.
Pitch 5: Ascend easy 5th class to an enormous belay ledge (size of a baseball infield). Easy 5th, 80 feet
Pitch 6: Walk 50 feet through alpine scrub and climb a steep 20-foot step. Taking the right side closer to the arete is more difficult at 5.6, while the left hand groove is around 5.4 and leads through a boulder tunnel to a belay ledge. The 5.6 pitch is recommended, as it puts the climber in a fine position close to the arete for the final 100 feet. 5.4 or 5.6, ~130 feet
Pitch 7: From a large belay area, either continue easily over blocks to the summit of the Pinnacle, or (vastly more recommended) move right around an overhang to the arete proper. With fantastic exposure, traverse across the top of the arete to a niche and final corner, which is tackled to reach the summit. 5.5, ~130 feet
- *Note** The Pinnacle is above treeline on one of America's deadliest peaks. The weather is unpredictable and often comes in from the west (over the Mt. Washington summit, thus invisible). Snow occurs in every month of the year on Mt. Washington, and high winds, driving rain, and thunderstorms are common. Be sensible. Check the forecast, get an early start, and be prepared to bail if things go bad. From most points on the route, it is possible to move left off the Pinnacle into a moderate gully, where descent would be arduous but safe. There is no excuse to be caught on the summit in poor conditions. In fact, on the approach hike, you will see a yellow sign with the following text: "STOP. The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad." Be careful up there.
- *Other note** Mt. Washington and the Northern Presidentials are home to some of the east coast's rarest plants. Many of the sedges and dwarf alpine plant species only exist in a few square miles of northeastern alpine zone. Be careful of the plants and try to avoid treading on them as much as possible. This is especially true on the top, where a 1/4 mile hike through the Alpine Garden is necessary to gain the descent trail. Try and rock hop as much as possible to preserve the fragile alpine flora.
Getting there is the hard part! Park at the AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (free, get there early on a summer weekend). Locate the obvious Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead, and hike 1.3 miles up the wide trail, passing hundreds of fanny packers en route. Branch off right at one of the first junctions onto the Huntington Ravine Trail, a much more pleasant experience. Cross several streams and continue steeply onto the ravine floor. As the trail begins to move across the talus slope below the Pinnacle, move off left and scramble up towards the lower right end of the feature. The initial gully should be visible several hundred yards above the foot of the arete. The approach is around 3.5-4 miles in total.
To descend: From the summit, scramble up a loose talus slope to gain the relatively flat Alpine Garden. Rock-hopping to avoid the fragile alpine plants, continue straight for several hundred yards until a well-cairned trail is reached (the Alpine Garden Trail). If you're lucky enough to have a ride down, hike right to join the auto road near mile 6. Otherwise, hike left for one mile, take a left down the Lion's Head Trail, and rejoin the Tuckerman's Ravine Trail. Follow this to the parking lot for an approximately 4 mile descent.
Light rack of nuts and a single set of cams. Long alpine runners are essential in reducing rope drag. Many parties use double ropes.
There are many ways of climbing the Pinnacle. Most people will not rope up for all of the pitches. A typical climb might look like this: simul-climb pitches 1, 2, and 7. Rope up for pitches 3 and 4. Solo pitches 5 and 6. There is ample protection for much of the route, so it can be brought down to anyone's comfort level.
|Comments on Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
|By J Antin|
From: Denver, CO
Sep 10, 2009
rating: 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Very fun outing: Stayed @ Hermit Lake overnight - then hiked up to the ravine and climbed the Pinnacle. Fun and adventurous hiking and climbing in a great atmosphere, but not amazing climbing compared to other "Classics" in the Northeast. I definitely recommend this, but do the Fairy Tale Traverse and the 5.8 variation instead of the standard route. Also ~ Do not use the "Escape Hatch" unless you want to sharpen your bushwhacking skills.
|By bradley white|
Jun 19, 2011
Pitch three can be completed avoided for those who don't have the ability to climb (5.7) This variation is done by going far left on the belay ledge to become underneath a open box rock notch. It's probably (5.4) and solid rock. I found this way up when I was doing a free solo on the route and it started to become misty rain.
Jul 25, 2011
fun climb..brought waay too much gear for the hike. pack light if your hiking up and if you have a water filter, there is a sweet little stream that runs down form the water fall about 20' from the foot of the pinnacle
|By Dave Schultz|
From: Everett, Washington
May 23, 2012
I found this route to be well worth it. We parked at the auto road, and did not want to descent any of the gullies into Huntington (conditions didn't look favorable from our scouting from Pinkham); so we ended up hiking down the Lion's Head Trail and then back up to the base of the Pinnacle. This took us about 2.5 hrs, but at the end, our vehicle was at the top, we needed only one vehicle, and we did not have to descend at the end of the day. The route itself had a lot of super chill low 5th class climbing, with some sections of incredible 5.5/5.6+ climbing. We did the 5.8 variation, which was very well protected with lots of old fixed gear, and I would highly recommend it. We also were able to find the Fairy Tail Traverse, though this would have been easy to miss. After the 5.8 crux, we hugged as far right as we could, there were a couple strenuous/exposed traverses and sections, but we ended up in perfect position for the final traverse. There was not much protection in the middle of the traverse, but if you're patient, and good with tricky gear, it's all there. It's also such an easy traverse, though, that you could really run it out (though with bad consequences if a mistake is made). Our weather was impeccable, a very rare thing for Mt Washington, but even in worse weather, it would still have been very exciting (as long as it didn't get dangerous). There were two (maybe three) belay/rappel stations with some tat, making it more possible to rappel, but finding the stations on the way down would be hard, and there was nothing on the top half of the route. All in all, one of the most enjoyable (and casual) routes if your looking for a moderate, remote, multi-pitch adventure.
From: Southington, Connecticut
May 28, 2012
Did this yesterday via the auto road for the second time. Downhike via the Huntington Ravine Trail is straightforward ... you'll get lots of questions from the people coming up. Great route and really in a class of its own for New England. It would be nice if the Auto Road stayed open later so you could drink in the sunset along with your congratulatory beers.
FYI: The start of the 5.8 direct variation has a loose flake that is so in the way you pretty much have to pull/step on it to keep it at 5.8. It has become worse since last year, and once it falls the rating will likely change a bit.
|By kemple sr.|
Jun 25, 2012
To avoid loose flake, step left a few feet and start there. Rock up onto huge foot ledge and find a nice 3/4" crack with lay away in it. You bypass the flake entirely.
|By Charlie Kelly|
Oct 13, 2013
Does anybody know the rating if you follow the ramp all the way right from the pitch 3 belay to a few pins, up to a small ledge, step left and move up the face to a corner with some old webbing and cord threaded through a pinch? It felt..... strenuous. Seemed like a variation worth mentioning, as it provided great exposure and very interesting moves.
From: Hopkinton, MA
Jul 24, 2014
Im assuming you can bypass the crux pitches by going way left, then up?
|By Mike McLean|
Jul 24, 2014
rating: 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
@jcomeau: Correct. You can pretty always escape left onto easy ground. The crux isn't really cruxy though, so I wouldn't worry about it too much.
|By Russ Keane|
Aug 12, 2014
This is an extremely casual, easy, boring rock climb.
Granted, it's in a gorgeous setting, and is a mega work out from the Lodge up and back to the Lodge, but seriously, it's worth doing once and that's about it, if you don't mind a snoozer day. It's too bad there isn't more good technical rock in the Mt Washington ravines.