Blog post for Pinnacles: Day 1, Saturday, February 19, 2011
by Gabe Roberts
Pinnacles National Monument Links
Pinnacles National Park Service Website
Pinnacles National Monument Map - alternative to NPS website map
|Looking East from North Chalone peak - snow on the Diablo range|
On Sunday, we woke up with a more lofty and determined goal: Reach South Chalone Peak (3269ft).
Our plan was to drive to and park at the Bear Gulch Visitor's Center. From here we would hike the Bear Gulch and Moses Spring trails to, and through, the Bear Gulch Caves (assuming they weren't over-flooded in which case we would pass around them like we did they day before with the Balconies Caves) to the Bear Gulch Reservoir - a total of 2.2 miles. From here, we would hike south to North Chalone Peak, and further south to the southern-most and most distant point in the park - South Chalone Peak - distance of 4.9 miles. This makes for a round trip hike of 14.2 miles.
I had hiked to North Chalone Peak before, where I posted about it in the Pinnacles Pre-Blog. This time, Kirk and I decided to add South Chalone. The 1.6 miles to South Chalone requires dropping about 700 feet or so from North Chalone and then climbing back up to almost the same height.
|Yours Truly in the Bear Gulch Caves|
It was a relief to enter the caves since we had been unable to enter the other cave system the day before. The sound of rushing water I had heard a few weeks prior when hiking the caves was now much louder, obviously due to the rains of the past week. After a short distance through the caves, we reached a point where walking through water up to 6" was going to be necessary. A lesson learned from yesterday, I removed my shoes, and hiked barefoot through the caves for a good 25 yards. Kirk managed somehow with only stepping in the water with his Merril boots a couple times. My hiking shoes stood no chance of resisting water, and I needed them dry for the day hike. Going barefoot created two problems - one, and probably the more serious, was that these caves were heavily trafficked and so the risk of stepping on sharp glass or metal was high (we even spotted some). The other problem was that the temperature dropped below freezing the night before and so the water was very cold, but after putting on my shoes, my feet warmed up!
|Kirk and I at Bear Gulch Reservoir|
|Along the hike|
|Bear Gulch Reservoir|
|High water flow through Bear Gulch Reservoir|
|South and North Chalone Peaks|
We only crossed one individual on the entire 3.3 mile hike to North Chalone, and ran into a pair of hikers at the top - it was still fairly early though. Higher up on North Chalone, when you reach the ridge, you will have to climb over the fence two separate times as part of the trail. At the peak there is a closed firewatch tower, and excellent views of almost all directions (except South - the best views South are of course obstructed by and provided by the South Chalone Peak, another 3.2 miles round trip or roughly 2 hours). There is a bathroom that we didn't investigate, though the pair of hikers told us that they are decently kept. No running water that we saw (no surprise up here).
|Fire watch tower on North Chalone Peak|
|Entrance and stretch of South Chalone Peak Trail|
|South Chalone Peak from North Chalon|
We hiked the 1.6 miles to South Chalone, which takes drops several hundred (roughly 700 feet) feet lower before climbing up to the peak. This provided an additional and enjoyable challenge - especially being that everything south of North Chalone that day seemed to be empty of people. The trail followed the ridge between the two mountains, and then climbed along the North face of South Chalone, where we were able to hike through the snow. After about 45 minutes, we reached the peak. Not too surprisingly, but surely enjoyable we found that South Chalone has excellent and unobstructed views South towards San Luis Obispo. Anything blocked by South Chalone at North Chalone was now viewable, and rolling green hills stretched almost as far south as we could see. South Chalone was definitely worth it! NOTE: Hiking to South Chalone in warm or even moderate conditions, especially if the sun is out, can be very dangerous because there is NO water available and it can get much hotter than it looks!
|View South from South Chalone - Actual view not given justice here.|
|View looking North/East from South Chalone trail|
We drove back to the camp store, where we picked up some additional wood, and made it back to camp. Luckily this time it was both dry and light out, so we were able to relax a bit at camp finally. The bathrooms, will unlit and cold, were fairly well maintained. Just like the night before, we started up a big fire, cooked Idahoan Mashed Potatoes with veggies and also Campbell's Beef chunky stew - it was bomb after a day like that.
- Somewhere around midnight I woke up to the sound of Coyotes howling. There sounded like close to 10 in the group, which was somewhere in the direction of the camp store. It was fun to be woken to that and listen for a bit, and by the time I thought to and grabbed my camera to record their sound, they stopped abruptly. As soon as their echo dissipated, I could hear more coyotes howling in valleys farther away.
Monday - by Monday morning, Kirk's feet were pretty well beat and both of us were sore after 21 miles of hiking the past two days. We were determined to accomplish another, more symbolic goal. To match the length of this years hopeful Mt. Whitney climb, we needed 1 more mile to reach 22 total.
We packed up all of our camp - tents and all - and drove back to Bear Gulch Visitor's Center where we parked at and hiked up Condor Gulch Trail to the overlook (check the map). This was maybe 2.5 miles round trip. It made for a great morning hike, and the views of the valley going up were awesome. It had some very cool rock formations. At the overlook, just below it were flowing pools of water that probably only flow for a handful of days each year - including that day.
All in all, the trip was a success. Only shortcoming was that we wanted to hike a few more trails. To call Pinnacles officially Conquered, we are going to return and hike the North Wilderness Trail that occupies the North quarter of the park - a loop that is no less than 9 miles from car back to car. After this, and maybe another climb of High Peaks, we will consider Pinnacles completed by Stones and Bones!