Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pinnacles: Pre-blog

by Gabe Roberts
Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles Map
Pre-blog for this weekend's trip to Pinnacles National Monument. 

I will give an in depth background to Pinnacles National Monument and some general information in the Blog following my upcoming trip there.  Kirk and I reserved a campsite at Pinnacles Campground at the East Entrance of the park. 

Main Goals
We have several general goals.
- Train for this year's Mt. Whitney climb.
- Get in some much needed camping time and backpack camping practice.
- Check out both of the park's caves (Balconies Caves and Bear Gulch Caves).
- Hike to North Chalone Peak (3304 ft., climb from 2300 ft. climb from Pinnacles Campground)
- Hike to the High Peaks including Hawkins Peak (2720 ft.)
Ancillary Goals
Goals to attempt if time, weather etc. permit.
- Hike to the South Chalone Peak in addition to the North Chalone Peak (3.2 miles in addition to 10 miles+ hike to North Chalone)
- Hike the North Wilderness Trail

I did a bit of a reconnaissance hike at the park on February 6th.  From about 8 AM until 5 PM I was able to hike to North Chalone Peak, High Peaks, the Bear Gulch Caves and Reservoir, a total of approximately 13 miles.  Here is a really brief summary.

Bear Gulch Caves
Start of Bear Gulch Trail
From the East Entrance, park at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.  I hiked the short trail - I believe it is the Bear Gulch Trail (don't recall any actual name for this trail, but followed the signs for Bear Gulch Caves) and quickly reached the Bear Gulch Caves.

 Pinnacles is notorious for being a hard place to visit in the hot months and while I would agree with this for most of the park, it's not so bad on the Bear Gulch Trail.  This is because the trail is mostly along the bottom of a canyon, and covered in Oaks. 

Stairs in the Bear Gulch Caves
The actual hike through the Bear Gulch Caves is pretty short.  Note: Make sure to check with the park via the website or calling in if you really want to see the caves, since they can be closed due to either water levels or to protect the bat colonies.  You definitely need a flashlight, especially at some points.  Much of the cave has shafts of light reaching through and the whole thing is reminiscent of Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland.  While you can just hike straight through the cave, there are side trails and all sorts of gaps and areas in which you can climb through - so be ready to squeeze!

Bear Gulch Reservoir
The reservoir is a great place for a break.  It begins just after the Bear Gulch Caves and feeds directly into them.
Stairs out of the Bear Gulch Caves up to the reservoir

Bear Gulch Reservoir
North Chalone Peak
From Bear Gulch Reservoir, the hike to North Chalone Peak is 3.3 Miles.  Important: Make sure to bring plenty of water!  There is no water that I saw available at all along this hike, and most of it is in direct sunlight.  Hiking these 6.6 miles, I drank about 3 water bottles equivalent - on a day which didn't get above 72!  In the summer, you would be consuming a lot more water.

Along the hike to North Chalone Peak

Most of Pinnacles National Monument from N Chalone
Firewatch tower on N. Chalone
 The peak itself is 3304 feet, which is about a 2000 foot climb from Bear Gulch Reservoir in 3.3 miles. North Chalone is the highest point in Pinnacles, and only 152 feet lower than the highest peak in the Gabilan Range.  From here, you are provided an awesome view of San Benito County, and plenty of area of Monterey county including Salinas Valley.  On this particular day, I was able to see most of Monterey Bay, and the Southern half of the Diablo Range.  You also can see most of the significant features of the park in the valley below, including Bear Gulch Reservoir.
Monterey Bay from N. Chalone

N. Chalone Peak from Bear Gulch Reservoir
So that's a general summary of what we hope to see when we check out Pinnacles for a thorough trip!  Unfortunately, the flu started kicking in while I was about halfway up the trail to High Peaks and so I abandoned my photo activities due to low energy.  Bad timing!

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