2004 Pinnacles Trip - Day 2
See also my photo gallery from this
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I slept fitfully due to myriad animal noises (wild boars and, I think, coyote mainly) - nice to hear, but foreign to my ears normally. At 5am I woke to the loudest chorus of songbirds I've ever heard - quail, chickadee, junco, jays, magpies, sparrows, and who knows what else. By 6, I couldn't stay in bed any longer, so I got up and made Sarah & I coffee. We breakfasted on grape nuts and bagels with cream cheese and lox. I was definitely enjoying the gourmet-ness of this car camping as compared to backpacking! We tidied up camp, drove up the road to the farthest parking area, and started hiking at 8:36, elevation 1,250'.
North Chalone Peak hike:
We headed up the Bear Gulch Trail as we had the previous day. This time we turned right on the High Peaks Trail, then left on the Rim Trail (the reverse of our Thursday route). The blue nightshade and indian warriors looked lovely at this time of day.
A descending hiker told us there was a snake by the trail nearby and we soon came to it - a green striped gopher snake of some sort. While looking at it, we noticed an odd caterpillar on an adjacent rock. We arrived at Bear Gulch Reservoir at 9:11 (1,560'), finding it even prettier in the morning light and calm air. Crossing the dam and walking along the reservoir for a short ways, we came to the Chalone Peak Trail, complete with a sign admonishing hikers to carry water (definitely a good idea, even if it's not very warm!).
Almost immediately we started to see more flowers, large swaths of shooting stars, huge bush poppies and a smattering of indian warrior, combined with the lovely nearby rock formations and farther-away views of the high peaks, this was pretty easy on the eyes! I spotted a sign in the middle of a use trail leading to some cliffs and went off-trail to read it. It warned climbers to stay off of these cliffs because the area's raptors are breeding.
It was warming up, and in this chapparal, there was little shade save for that provided by the periodic rock outcroppings. As we continued up the trail at a steady, but not steep, grade, we saw a very large carrion-eater flying nearby. Was this a condor or a turkey vulture? It was too far away to tell, but it sure was big! At the time we concluded it was a condor, but in retrospect, we're not sure, as the monument has only 6 juveniles and no adults.
Up up up, we soon found that the mountain we'd thought might be Chalone Peak was definitely not, as the real peak (with a summit observation tower) revealed itself in almost exactly the opposite direction (and a good deal higher)! The peak we'd been thinking was Chalone is actually Mount Defiance, a good 600 feet lower. We had lovely views down into Frog Canyon, framed by "Little Pinnacles" on its left. After a few switchbacks and a nice level stretch of trail, we arrived at a stunning overlook atop some rocky outcroppings. We decided this was a fine place to take a break and snack.
From here we had a superior view of the High Peaks, down to Bear Gulch Reservoir, across to Little Pinnacles, and over many valleys and ridges beyond. A few hawks, and a great many vultures, hovered overhead. It was quite peaceful sitting here with Sarah, eating gummy bears and beef jerkey, and absorbing the scenery. After a bit, we picked ourselves up and continued on our way to the summit.
We saw increasing populations of shooting stars interspersed with gold fields and the occasional blue dick and Douglas' Wallflower as we rounded a bend to begin the final approach to the summit. This last section of trail was fairly steep as we joined a maintenance road, climbed over a gate we couldn't figure out how to open (only to see afterwards that it had a pin in its mechanism to keep it in place), and pushed on for the last few hundred yards.
Arriving at the summit at 11:45, we were immediately struck by the large number of Tiger Swallowtail butterflies here, as well as some lovely Sara Orange Tips (both of which were moving too quickly and unpredictably to get any photos of them). The observation tower, which we figured was probably related to the recent introduction of condors to the monument, dominated the summit area. Views were, in a word, excellent! This was one well-appointed summit, with trash cans, an interpretive display describing the sorry state of air quality in the region, and best of all, a bathroom. This was no ordinary peak-top public bathroom, as it had no door, and looked out over the greater Pinnacles area - a fantastic view! Not only that, but it was clean and had plenty of TP - wow! We sat in the shade of the tower and snacked, enjoying the solitude afforded us (we had not seen a single soul beside the one hiker near the trailhead!). So nice was the summit that we spent about 45 minutes there enjoying ourselves. All things must end though, so at 12:24 we headed back down. My only complaint about this hike is it is an out-and-back. As out-and-backs go, you could do a LOT worse, though!
About 1.5 miles down the trail from the summit we started encountering a few more people, first a couple, then a group of three, but that was it until we got back to near the reservoir and saw another couple, the guy with a huge camera setup that made mine look miniscule (which it is not!). We hiked down the Moses Spring Trail, again opposite how we'd travelled on Thursday's hike and saw an intrepid rock climber scaling a vertical wall. Those folks are strong!
The last leg of our return trip went quickly. A funny highlight was a huffing and puffing couple walking up the trail (about 0.5mi from the trailhead) who asked us "how far?" Um, how far to what exactly?!? We came back to the car at 2:20pm, drove to the ranger station to pick up an Audubon Field Guide to Trees, ID'd some flowers in their handy Rolodex-o-flowers and drove back to camp. Back at camp we got more ice and touristy trinkets, relaxed and drank beer.
We took showers and then walked around the previously-closed section of the campground (it's open only on weekends at least early in the season) in search of Russ, the leader of a Bay Area Link Up group of hikers that Sarah had been in touch with the previous week. We found him and the rest of the overnight group at their site and had a beer with them. They seemed like nice folks, which was good, as we were planning on hiking with them on Saturday! There were few of the previous day's birds, probably due to the arrival of a number of campers on Friday evening.
Back at our camp we had a tasty dinner of Chinese fried rice that I'd made on Wednesday before we left, then realized that in our hurry to purge my car of unnecessary stuff, we'd left at home the bag containing my corkscrew. This necessitated a trip back to the BALU folks' site to borrow theirs. We again wrapped up the evening by the campfire.
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08 February, 2011 MST
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