If America has a more scenic stretch of interstate than that of I-70 through the San Rafael Swell, I have yet to see it. For about 30 miles, the highway cuts through a slickrock heaven. Although there are many impressive features, those that dominate the scenery are the numerous sandstone monoliths, many of which appear unclimbable and some of which may in fact still be unclimbed.
“Eagle Canyon Pinnacle” is neither an official nor an unofficial name, though I would be glad to learn either if it exists, and it is really more a monolith than a true pinnacle. Nor is it the highest, largest, or most challenging (to climb) monolith in the Swell. It is, however, one of the closest to the highway; specifically, it is the monolith visible just northwest of the highway from the bridge spanning Eagle Canyon.
“Eagle Canyon Pinnacle” also has this distinction, uncommon among desert towers: there is a non-technical route to the summit. There are technical routes, too, of course, and this page will cover three routes I climbed on this peak: a Class 3 route and two Class 5 routes.
Because of the existence of a non-technical route and at least two Class 5 routes that an experienced climber will have no trouble managing unroped, this peak is excellent for the following reasons (in addition to the nice views):
* The Class 3 route, though a little exposed, is a friendly introduction to scrambling on Utah sandstone, which is in its own little category.
* The Class 5 routes covered here fall into the “easy” category and are great for practice and training.
* Accomplished rock climbers after harder objectives in the area but in need of a rest day entailing a little more than watching TV can stay fresh here without expending too much valuable energy.
* It’s just a lot of fun spending a few hours seeing and climbing this peak from different sides. (It’s a little like that thing that begins with “S” and ends with “X”-- no, not “Sussex”-- but without all the red tape.)
Class 3 route (east ridge)-- The easiest way up seemed to be a short, somewhat serpentine route that was Class 3 with some exposure. The biggest danger was the especially sandy nature of this sandstone, making footing quite slick. Once up top, walk over to the summit block and scramble up it via one of a few good ways available. Pictures below illustrate the route.
You can use Exit 116 to access Eagle Canyon itself, but you will need 4wd. Head south from the exit, going north takes you to a picnic area and overlook. Drive 1.2 mi and turn left at a junction. Next, the road passes beneath the interstate, and from this point on, it is a true 4wd affair, with rock obstacles, off-camber spots, and deep sand. It is not a difficult road, but it is not for beginners.
There is often standing water beneath the bridge, and if there is, it is wise to get out and check it first, for I have found it knee-deep before. After the bridge, drive a little over two miles to another junction. From here, it is less than a mile to the monolith and to the bridge. Climbing from here will add about 200 vertical feet (conditions unknown, but they appeared to be no harder than Class 3 from above).
This junction is also, by the way, the starting point for a very nice hike down Eagle Canyon. There is no trail, but you follow a wash until it narrows into a slot, which you stay above, before reaching a very tall pouroff (over 100') unless you are equipped to rappel down. There is a sturdy tree there that climbers use as an anchor, or at least there was in 2006 when I was there.
There is no official red tape, but do your best not to trample the biological crust.