This is truly more of an “adventure” that a traditional rock climb. Not much of it is vertical, not a whole lot is 5th class, but it’s all quite fun, and very beautiful. Route-finding was definitely the challenge of the day – both on the approach, as well as throughout the route. I printed out a slew of trip reports/beta from various websites and we still stumbled around a bit to find our way. Various reports rate this 5.3-5.7 – I felt there was definitely not a move harder than 5.5. Hopefully this beta will be some of the better stuff out there – and help get you spending more time on the route, and less time trying to find it.
We did this in a team of 4 (with 2 ropes), and had 1 person tie in short on the 2nd rope. We simul-rappeled a few times to speed things up – generally the rappel stations were bomber and modern. (if simul-rapping, please be aware of the added risks and concerns). We left the parking lot at noon, and were back to the car by 6, including a fair amount of time wandering around on the approach semi-lost, casual climbing (with 2 folks who had minimal experience outdoors), and a nice lunch up on top. Pack layers – it can be alternately windy/cold/shady/hot based on where you are along the route.
I would highly encourage carrying two ropes (we brought 2x 60m). We passed a lot of intermediate belay stations that likely would have allowed for a single-rope raps, but 2 ropes gave us a lot more options, and sped things up. There were a few places where shorter rope might have gotten you to a decent spot, but longer ropes allowed us to get on the most secure ground possible.
Everything is bolted – so a half dozen draws should suffice – we brought a few pieces that never left the pack and just added weight. There were very few spots for other protection anyway, just be prepared for easy but runout terrai. If you wanted to climb Middle Tower, a couple medium pieces to anchor a better below wouldn’t hurt.
Follow the directions on the main page to west side of the park – taking Hwy 146 from Soledad. Jump on the Balconies Trail from the picnic/parking area, and walk about a half mile, passing most of the west face of Machete Ridge. There is a big obvious sign that says “Machete Ridge climbing access” to the right, just before a footbridge (maybe the 3rd or 4th bridge).
Follow this trail up to the base, and head right (moving south), doubling back the way you came along the base. Continue to follow this trail ALL the way around the south side of Machete Ridge, and then back up around the back side (east) of the rocks. We had a hard time finding this – because we kept thinking we had gone too far. It feels like you almost do a complete lap around of the ridge – but after passing much of the east face, you’ll see two large pine trees up to the left between a saddle. There wasn’t much of a trail, and you pass lots of confusing trees along the way – but these are 2 pines that are pretty much on their own, right up in the notch.
Alternately – you could hike in from the east side of the park, meeting up with the Balconies Trail. Haven’t done this – but should be possible, and would take a few hours.
Pitch 1 - 5.3:
From the notch with the pine trees, scramble up the rock just before the 2nd pine. You will find a grassy ledge about 50 feet up, with a small pine tree on the north end. Just left of the tree you can see a small patch of bush/grass about 15’ feet up on the left – with your first (fairly high) bolt just above that. Head up and left to that bolt, then move right to a 2nd bolt at your feet. Just above this you’ll fine 2 bolts at eye-level for the belay. Very short pitch.
Pitch 2 – walk (3rd/4th class):
You can walk about 30 feet to a small notch on your right (before the tree). Don’t climb down the notch – but hop up on the ridge to the right of the notch, doubling-back the way you came but on higher ground. Follow the exposed ridge down, with few (if any) options for protection. It might be possible to belay someone from the top of P1 bolts – but you wouldn’t be able to see/hear each other well (the rope would start below the ridge, and go up and over the other side). We walked it – but it is exposed, and you have to down climb a bit on the last 25 feet to get to a gully, which is the start of Pitch 3.
Pitch 3 – 5.5
There is a notch here with 3 bolts – 2 newer solid ones, and a 3rd on an old/homemade hanger. This pitch involves a few short exposed moves moving right around a bulge. You can see the first bolt from the belay. Once you get around the bulge, you have a crouching traverse (at least for tall folks like me), past a 2nd bolt at your feet. It’s an easy walk past the 2nd bolt, but I stayed roped in. 40 feet later the ridge flattens out, and you can climb an easy 8’ notch up to the obvious grassy area with a few small Manzanita trees. I belayed from here off a manzanita (and we ate lunch).
Pitch 4 – walk (3rd/4th class):
From the manzanitas – walk up and over the ridge to your right, following the ridge down to nice set of chains. It’s an easy walk, but once again very airy and exposed. If you are concerned, you could belay from the Manzanita – but it would be mighty runout, and no real protection along the way.
Pitch 5 - rappel
From these chains, we did did a double rope (60m each) rap to the NW gully below. It’s a low-angle rappel on class 3 and 4rock (could be downclimbed easily) for most of it, but the last 30’ or so are overhanging and a free rappel. We passed 2 intermediate rap stations that I would assume would allow for a single rope rappel.
Pitch 6 – scramble/rappel
From the gully, you can either walk around right, or scramble over to another obvious gully. You’ll see a U-shaped notch (not the W-shaped notch to the right). You can climb the notch (easy 5th class – but not 3rd class the way some guides state) Find a single bolt in the notch (left hand side), and either rap down, or downclimb the lichen-covered rock to a protected gully. You can scramble out of the gully, and over to the base of Middle Tower – where there is another rap station that ends the route.
This is the “official” end of the route, but Middle Tower can be climbed as a side-excursion (2-bolt 5.5), or possibly traverse farther out towards the other towers.
The descent isn’t hard – but it does take some time. From the final bolts at the base of Middle Tower – rap down the eastern gully (NOT the west face towards Balconies – there has been at least one death from this attempt). The gully (and the face) can be fairly wet and lichen-covered. You could downclimb most of the gully but if you want to avoid slippery lichen and poison oak – rapping is MUCH faster, and more enjoyable. With 2 60m ropes – we were able to rap most of it, just scrambling a final 40’ or so to a small tree with some slings and a rap ring. A single rope rap here dropped us to a big grassy area overlooking the Balconies Cave area, and a much larger tree with more slings and a rap ring. Another double-rope rap took us down the grassy area, over another lichen-covered wall, and to the “Ground” below. A short scramble through some talus dropped us into the Balconies Caves, and back to the trail. Most of this could be downclimbed –but rapping it felt MUCH safer, and much faster – especially in wet conditions.
This route was a ton of fun. Very cool formation, good exposure, all in all a neat little adventure. Watch out for the poison oak on the descent though.
Climbed the three pitch route Deringer to the left of the normal start of The Old Original to add a bit more climbing to the route. 5.5-5.7 depending on your route finding. Great day out with just enough exposure to make it exciting. Will do again for sure!
an exhilarating adventure! the exposure was top-notch and i was happier than a bee in spring to walk the ridge roped up. the guidebook Squishy mentioned is written by Brad Young, who walked up on our camp the day after we did the traverse and pimped his book. i respect his gusto, and he DID produce a good guidebook.
climbed this classic with friends Chad and Dave. We began at first light, and it was actually cold. Probably 25deg at the trailhead. After some hiking and bushwacking (apparently through some leaf-less poison oak), we arrived at the base just as the sun was rising. We spent a few hours on the route. I found it pretty well-protected, especially the 'crux' traverse around the knob. We ended up making more rappels than expected to avoid seemingly treacherous 4th class downclimbing on mossing choss. The last rap put us at the entrance to the balcony caves, a quick trip through led us to the main trail and the truck. Great day out, pretty easy but fun and highly exposed climbing. Anyone would enjoy the walk on the sidewalk in the sky.
Climbed with Andre. An eventful long day due to mistaken descent route.
Bill Bragg, the wonderful American legend Nick Clinch and I climbed the Machete Ridge in October of 1976. The 1st pitch with the bolt half way up was my first ever lead in the US. We also climbed the Hand, Photographer's Delight and several other climbs who's names escape me. Great place to climb, great company to be in.