Ski Mountaineering

Pinnacle National Park, CA

June 7-9, 2019

Reiner Stenzel

My delayed New Year's Resolution was to do at least one hike per month. In May I was in Utah's canyons, in June I took it easy and did a weekend hike in the Pinnacle National Park, which is located east of Soledad and 30 mi south of Hollister. I stayed two nights in the campground on the east side of the park. My goal was to take pictures of condors, the largest vultures which are endangered and protected. Of course, there is lots else to see as shown by the pictures below.

From my home in the Bay Area it was only a 3 hour drive. Friday afternoon I explored the Bear Gulch Rim Trail, then the High Peaks Trail and finally the Old Pinnacles Trail. Saw some of the big birds circling around the Pinnacles.

Saturday, 6/8/19, I had all day for hiking the park trails. Starting at the Bear Gulch trailhead I followed the High Peaks Trail (Scout Peak, 2605'), continued on the High Peaks Trail north. It follows the crest which has protected 4th class sections like in a via ferrata. On the way I saw more condors, one sitting on a pinnacle, marked by a tag on the wings. It made an interesting approach to take off, namely just spreading the wings and waiting for an updraft of warm air to lift its 20 lbs without flapping the wings. Like glider airplanes they rise up to 15,000' and travel at 50 mph reaching the Pacific easily.

I closed a loop around the High Pinnacles by descending on the Tunnel Trail, then ascending the Juniper Trail and again dropping down to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Mileage 6 mi with +-1500' elev change. The Tunnel Trail lived up to its name. A lengthy hole was drilled into the rock wall. Lots of switchbacks on Juniper to Scout Peak. There I talked to a ranger about the Chalone Trail leading to the highest peak of the Park. He recommended it although reminded me that it was a long trail, no water sources and a hot day (>80deg). Since I still had the entire afternoon I gave it a shot. Down again to Bear Gulch Reservoir where the North Chalone Trail starts.

The trail to the highest peak was indeed long, dry and hot. A shorter cross country hike through chapparal would provide food for the vultures. Pretty wildflowers were still blooming. Arriving by 2pm I enjoyed the view, rested and snacked. Two quarts of water were barely enough for the 9 mi, +-2000 elevation change. By 4:30pm I was back at camp and relaxed. Now I felt the exercise of hiking about 15 mi with +- 3400' elev change.

At evening time I noticed big birds which circled overhead and then vanishing in a hidden high tree. They were turkey vultures, look-alikes to condors but smaller. Seems that they roosted right next to the campground. They kept coming till darkness, an estimate of 50 vultures, settling down in adjacent high trees. Next morning, by sunrise, they were all quietly gone. No roosters in this pack. Well, adventures bring surprises. On Sunday I was home again and wrote this short report.

Back to Trip Reports
Back to SMS Home Page