Ski Mountaineering

Pinos and Pine

Feb 2 and 9, 2008

Reiner Stenzel

The same name, but not the same mountains: Mt Pinos is in the San Rafaels, Pine Mtn is in the Western Sierra. Both are mellow peaks, but Jan/Feb is the time for local introductory trips and both can be considered local, within a few hours driving from L.A.

On Sat, Feb. 2, the weather forecast called for a storm to arrive by night, lasting into all of Sunday. Thus, Sat day should be fine for a day tour to Pinos and Sawmill, maybe Grouse, too. I dove up the I-5 to Frazier Park and thought to be by 9:30 am at the Mt Pinos parking lot. But the best-laid plans of men and mice did not work: The Pinos road was closed at McGill, covered with snow; that means a long way up to Mt Pinos. The road was "groomed" and therefore easier to ski up than the shorter XC route to the Pinos trailhead. At 11 am I was at the trailhead. The usually busy parking lot was deserted, all buildings closed, and only a few people around. What a difference a road makes.

After a break I proceeded the usual way up to Mt Pinos. There was abundant snow, mostly hard packed winter snow. The wind was blowing in the open fields but it was sunny. I was expecting to see some other skiers but it was eerily empty. No skiers, no snowshoers, no hikers anywhere on Mt. Pinos! Near the microwave tower I had a brief snack and took pictures of the snow covered mountains, the cloud covered Central Valley and nearby Mt Abel. Then I proceeded to the Condor Viewpoint from where one has a great view over Loockwood Valley and other snow covered ranges near Ojai. This was the scene of the large Zaca fire in 2007. Some controlled burning was still going on.

I headed to the northern drop off toward Sawmill. The snow was hardpacked and icy. 30 mph winds were blowing from the north bringing in the next front. The round trip to Sawmill would be another 2 hours and it was already 1:30pm. Thus I called it quits and skied back. On the way back I saw two people skiing up to Pinos, the only ones all day. The skiing was so so, hard packed snow in the meadow, breakable crust among the trees. The best skiing was actually on the road, a continuous 3 mi downhill cruise.

At 3pm I was back at McGill. I met some friends, especially members of my Boy Scout Troop 85 with whom I was an Asst. Scoutmaster for 10 years in the 80's. Another skier recalled that he was on an SMS trip to Cloudripper in 99. There were literally hundreds of people along the lower part of the Mt Pinos road. Inevetably, accidents do occur and ambulance and fire engines forced their way up through the crowds. But traffic was easier than on the Mt Baldy road. On the way back the clouds were sinking down from all directions. The next storm was due. All day Sunday it rained in L.A.

On Sat, Feb 9, it was warm and sunny in the Southern Sierra Nevada. From my mountain home in Pine Flat I decided to climb Pine Mountain, overlooking the settlements of California Hot Springs and Pine Flat. One hikes up the closed mountain road M56 to the Capinero saddle before it descends to the White River. From the saddle there is a faint trail west along the ridge toward Pine Mtn. It is an easy 1-2 hr peak ascent. From the valley one could not see all the snow on the slopes. There are some nice slopes to ski. But the snow was mostly breakable crust.

The summit of Pine Mtn (5,214') has an interesting class 5 "summit" block, slightly below the highest point. It is an inverted 30' rock, ready to tip over at the next earthquake, one would think. But it must have been there for a long time.

From the summit one has a nice view over cloud-covered Central Valley to the Tehachapies and the San Rafaels. Likewise one can see the snow-covered peaks of the higher Sierra range to the east. If it was not for the difficult access there would be plenty of ski terrain to explore. After a good storm the Southern Sierra is worth an exploration.

Addendum 1: Pinos, Sawmill and Grouse

Feb 23, 2008

The scheduled SMS/OCSS/WA trip to Pinos had been canceled. The weather situation was iffy: Two storms had passed through in midweak, the third was to arrive Sat pm-Sun. But this left a window open for a quick local tour. Since Pinos is in my "backyard" I headed out in the morning, was at the Pinos Parking lot by 9:30 am and an hour later on Mt Pinos (8831'). The sky looked gloomy: A big cloud layer from the last storm hung over the Tehachapies and the Southern Sierras. A new cloud layer was moving in from the northwest. But there was good news: The snow was superb! Except for a few windblown patches there were at least 4 inches of fresh powder everywhere.

The weather forecast was right on: Strong winds preceded the next front. The top of Pinos was no place to relax. So I dropped down north of Pinos to head into the trees, direction of Sawmill Mtn (8818'). Not a soul around. Beautiful forest with snow covered trees. But as soon as one gets back on the open ridge of Sawmill the wind was howling again and spindrifts were flying around. There was no peak register under the snow-covered summit cairn. Now it was 11:15 am and for my taste too early to turn back. I decided to go for another HPS peak, Grouse Mtn (8582').

It is attempting to continue skiing the Sawmill ridge, but this leads down into the nowheres. One has to head for Peak 8749' and then drop down into a saddle just east of Grouse. There were great slopes for telemarking in fresh snow. After another skinning up I was on Grouse around 12:15 pm. Again no peak register under the summit cairn, but at least no spin drifts in the forest. I had a short lunch but got a bit nervous since it got darker by the hour and now low clouds were rolling in from the west.

Skiing down Grouse in fresh powder was a delight, but sweet pleasure is always too short. Next it was skinning up Sawmill, then skiing down for a short time and once more skinning back up to Pinos. Finally, there were people again in the meadows. A last nice ski run through the trees got me down to the parking lot by 2:30 pm. A helicopter was buzzing over the hills in search of a lost hiker. Hope they found him before the storm moved in. It rained all night long in LA. With all the new snow the local mountains are a great playground right now.

Addendum 2: Pinos, Sawmill and Grouse

Dec 30, 2008

It had snowed during the Christmas holidays. The higher local mountains were all white. I wanted to get a last ski trip in before the end of the year. Mt Pinos is within easy reach for me. The weather was clear and warm. On Tue morning I drove up to the Pinos parking lot which was rather empty since everyone was probably shopping. By 11am I had a snack on Mt Pinos, then continued to Sawmill Mtn on untracked snow. The view from there is outstanding. To the northeast one can see the panorama of the Sierra Nevada. To the west, especially in the afternoon sun, one can see the Pacific Ocean with Channel Islands. There are few places with such an outstanding view.

There is not much to brag about the skiing. The snow coverage was continuous but it was mostly breakable crust and windslabs on the open meadows and slopes. It is always the best to go right after a storm. Although Pinos (8,831 ft), Sawmill (8,818 ft) and Grouse (8,582 ft) are on the HPS List, there were no peak registers on the summits. In contrast to years ago the latter two peaks now have fancy, tall cairns. On Grouse I left a new register. From Sawmill one has a fine view into Pine Mtn Club. Some day it would be fun to ski down into town. The big San Andreas Fault goes right through town.

Addendum 2: Pinos, Sawmill and Grouse, revisited

Feb 28, 2009

Two months later, on a spring-like day, I skied the Pinos-Abel ridge again. The snow was thin but good: soft top on a firm base. This time I skied beyond Grouse to the deep saddle before climbing Mt Abel (8,286 ft). Alas, there was no snow on the south side of Abel. Returned to Grouse and Abel. The summit cairns were free of snow and I found HPS registers in red cans on both peaks. They were way at the bottom of the cairns, previously well covered by snow. My apologies for the earlier statements about missing registers. I signed both places as the first visitor in 2009. Skiing the roller-coaster ridge was fun. Clouds and high winds moved in for a storm, forecast for the next day.

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