Holcomb Valley Pinnacles was a great trip, the weather was on the warm side, and downright hot in the sun, but we managed to find shade and make friends…once we got to the place!
Holcomb Valley Pinnacles, or Holcomb amongst most climbers, is a collection of crags just north of Big Bear Lake. It’s popular amongst climbers for its sport routes and the few trad routes it offers, and its proximity to large cities. I’ve been fortunate enough to go there initially with the benefit of staying in a cabin with friends, or to hook up with friends who already had claimed camping space in the free, primitive camping areas along the dirt road approach to the trail head. Labor Day weekend 2019, I was leading three other climbers out, one who had never been, and two who had been there less times than I had. I had been nervous about two things. The first was arriving on Saturday on a holiday weekend – would we find a decent area for us all to camp at or would it be uncomfortably crowded? The second, and more important concern was could I make it out driving my little Honda Fit? I’d done it once before to the South camping area but had had to carefully navigate large puddles and many rocky and rutted parts of the dirt road approach. When I arrived at the South climber camping area I was the only non 4 wheel drive or high clearance vehicle until the next day (when another Fit and a sedan showed up).
These concerns made me hatch a plan. Two of my friends I’d invited out had vehicles that were no strangers to off roading. Peter had a Toyota Tacoma. This was well and good for road conditions, but not so great for carrying three passengers for multiple hours. The other, Cliff, had a van, great for gear, but though it had high clearance (due to some modifications he’d made) it was not a 4WD vehicle and was also configured to just be a two seater (the majority of van space being taken up by a bed and van life accouterments). The weather forecast mentioned a chance of thunderstorms for Sunday and Monday. That was the clincher for me to not take my Fit on the dirt roads. So it was that I found myself wearily trying to find the Big Bear Visitor Center in Big Bear Lake City, in the hopes of leaving my car and John and I hopping in with Cliff to do the last bit of the drive in. One tip for anyone trying to get to the same visitor center… don’t follow the signs on the side of the road, they make you go through a very crowded downtown area, when you just need to stay on the 18! Once I did get there though, I found out from a guy in the Visitor Center that overnight parking was not allowed. He did helpfully let us know that any public parking lot in town was ok for overnight parking and to definitely not park in any of the businesses’ parking lots. This was good news, except that, it being a holiday weekend, parking was hard to find in the public parking lots as we had already discovered trying to find the visitor center. Luckily our helpful visitor center employee pointed us to a lot that had plenty of space – a parking lot that was for Snow Summit parking during ski season but in the summer became a public lot, not something us out of towners could have surmised.
The next step was getting to the pinnacles area itself. Peter suggested we go to the North entrance because it was more likely we’d get a camping area close to the climbs. I’d never camped up there but had been a passenger once in a Honda Element that bottomed out on the way in. Cliff said he’d go for it so John and I piled into his van (John reclining on the built in bed in the back) and we went off. The ride in was rather adventurous and included miles on a reasonable, but narrow, dirt road, and then it became rocky enough that John and I got out of the van to help lighten the load and direct if needed. The travel was worth it though, we found a camping area with enough room for all of us complete with handy boulders to use as tables. There was even a pinnacle less than a five minute walk away. We were able to set up camp and get climbs in! We didn’t know what the pinnacle was called but we did some sport routes on it which some other climbers said were 10a, 10b, and 10d and I led up a mixed trad/sport route only to come down before finishing it. I was having a high gravity day.
As we were climbing, we heard what sounded like a man talking on a bull horn and saw dust clouds raised in the air. Turns out it was indeed a man talking on a bullhorn. “Gently push your way up…”, he instructed. Apparently there’s a guiding company that takes people on Jeep tours of the area and instructs them how to drive the rocky way in. The people on the tour stared at us from colorful Jeeps and I felt like an animal along an African safari route. I also thought it was funny that Cliff had made it all the way in without 4WD and these drivers paid money to drive the Jeeps. After climbing I broke out some spaghetti sauce I had made at home and froze for the drive up, as well as pre-cooked noodles. It was fun to feast as we gathered around my Luci light which stood in for a real campfire (open fires are not permitted in Holcomb).
Sunday we had a hearty breakfast compliments of John, who makes a mean bowl. After breakfast we walked over to find some climbs in the shade.
We ended up at Claim Jumper wall, where it seems most everyone else had the same idea. A veritable town’s worth of climbers and their dogs was at the wall. Rock quality is excellent at Holcomb. The granite walls are full of fun features like sharp edges, slopes to smear on, and some choice jugs and cracks. Every line on Claim Jumper wall was taken but one when we arrived. Some climbers even resorted to climbing across the way in the sun. The highlight of the wall for me was climbing a climb I had at first thought I might lead, but upon doing it on top rope found out it was on the challenging side. Some one later told me they had looked it up on Mountain Project where it had been listed as an 11c/d climb! I think my on-sight picker was a little broken. Over all, a good time was had by all until we decided to take a break back at camp for rest and food since it was so close. After lunch Cliff and I set out again looking for Pistol Pete, but on the way found something else to climb. Peter joined us (and told us Pistol Pete was being climbed) and we made short work of the climbs Cliff had found instead until we decided to head back before dark.
Monday our small group wanted to get a few more climbs in before we had to leave so after striking camp, we walked about and found ourselves on Coyote wall. Again, we were not alone, but we all had fun. One climb in particular with a bulge was a fun challenge.
Soon it was time to go. We packed things up, this time making Cliff’s van as light as possible by putting gear in Peter’s truck (as well as having John ride with him). It’s a good thing we did because at a certain point, Cliff jumped out to make a ramp of rocks to help him get over a tough spot and the van started moving backwards. I jumped over to the driver’s seat and stepped on the brake with my left foot. Cliff got in, “Good job Eileen”. Once we got over that part it was smoother sailing, which was good, because before we were quite back to the paved roads, we got some rain. Luckily it was over quickly and didn’t affect the road very much.
It was with a small sigh of relief when we arrived at my car, safe and sound where I left it. I know I was told it was fine to leave it there but I had still been a little worried. Getting back into my car I left with a smile on my face.
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