I had still never been up Eichorn Pinnacle when Sam asked me if I wanted to climb the West Pillar Direct. A year ago when Chris Chan fell while down soloing the 5.4 route I decided that this was one of the routes in the Cathedral range I just wasn’t interested in soloing. In fact, I had lost interest in climbing Eichorn Pinnacle almost entirely. I knew that the summit register had been replaced by her friends and turned into a memorial for her, and I knew that for many this would be an emotional place to be. Ill never forget responding to the call and walking Jim down the Cathedral Lakes trail, I had volunteered to stay with him and get him down safely, instead of going up to help with the grim scene above. It was a long walk, we would stop, Jim would collapse, recompose himself, and we would continue down the trail. I can’t even imagine the way he felt that day.
So Sam and I started up the Medlicott cut off, with the tiny rack, small rope and little packs we moved quickly. We were well acclimated to the 8,600 feet that is Tuolumne Meadows. We moved through the forest, talking and laughing, reflecting on the last time I walked the trail. We popped out at the west end of the Lower Cathedral Lake, the familiar views and terrain of the Cathedral Range all about us. Sam reflected on a bizarre rescue on the Cliffs above the lake he helped with a few years ago where a girl with brand new climbing shoes left the group, insistent on climbing to the summit of a bluff overlooking the lake. In the middle of the night, cliffed out and terrified she yelled for help before slipping and taking the big one. She land on a ledge where the SAR Team found her, kept her warm and then short hauled her with the helicopter the next morning. “The Ram saved the day on that one,” Sam remembered.
As we pushed up the final steep hillside to the base of the West Pillar Direct we were overwhelmed with the minty smell of Pennyroyal. The hillside was covered in the fuzzy purple flowers, the smell was nearly overwhelming, like hiking through a hillside of Vicks Vapor Rub. With cleared sinuses, we got to the base of the route, and realized the gaping wide crack system was actually a wonderful hand crack in the back of a wider flare. We Ro-Sham-Bo’d for the first pitch and Sam smashed my scissors with rock, he clipped on the rack and started up.
The route proved to be spectacular; moderate, airy and exposed stemming in a corner, perfect feldspar knobs that are so unique to the Cathedral Range, and splitter hand and finger cracks like we dream of. An hour or two later, after laughing and joking our way up the 5 pitches of climbing, delighted at the exceptionally high quality of the High Sierra granite we pulled onto the summit of Eichorn Pinnacle.
I carefully flipped open the summit register box, I felt my throat ball up with the knowledge of what was inside. As the lid flipped open to reveal the black and brown leather journal with a bronze placard labeling it ‘Eichorn Pinnacle Summit Register,’ a laminated topo map fell off the lid of the box. The topo was titled ‘Hello Chris!’ and detailed a 5 or 6 pitch route and had a photo of Chris Chan and the other first ascentionist in the lower right corner. The back of the topo was a letter, addressed to Chris, and explained how this was the best first ascent the two put up while traveling in China.
We didn’t know Chris, but we were connected to her through the climbing community and we were there to try to help her when she fell, even though there was no chance. We walked with her friends from the base, listened to them and gave them a shoulder. We were all moved by the experience and learned about the gravity of the risks we take. It was a grounding moment when we responded to the call last summer, and when I stood atop the pinnacle this summer, remembering and reflecting.