Hiking and Rock Scrambling in The Pinnacles

The high peaks at Pinnacles NP- Where the Condors Live!

I am fortunate to live only 58 miles from a beautiful National Park- the Pinnacles. It is famous for being one of the main spots Condors live, but it is also an area of spectacular beauty. From the National Park Service (NPS) description:
“Some 23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would become Pinnacles National Park. What remains is a unique landscape. Travelers journey through chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms. Hikers enter rare talus caves and emerge to towering rock spires teeming with life: prairie and peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and the inspiring California condor.”

We had the perfect late spring day, not too hot, clear, and nice and breezy. I carpooled with 3 fellow hikers so we had a nice chat on the way there and back. It was a beautiful ride. Once you get south of Hollister it is very rural, and though our Bay Area hills are turning brown (California tourism board would want me to say “golden” 🙂 ), there was still plenty of green down here.

We did probably the most classic loop in the park from the East entrance- up to the high peaks where we stopped for lunch, then back around on a trail that passes a lake and goes through the talus caves (more later on those).

There were a lot of beautiful wildflowers- these are Mariposa lilies
I’m not sure what the purple guys are, I believe the orange is sticky monkey

It is a quite steep hike up, gaining about 2000 feet in 3 miles. But it is a gorgeous trail as well as a good workout. This was a pretty brisk group, and I was pleased to be up near the front, so training is paying off. Typical view on the way up:

The pointy peaks way up there are where we were headed, where the condors roost.

Lots of green along the way:

Getting closer to the high peaks:

A condor sighting! There are also a lot of the more common turkey vultures around. You can tell them apart by the distinctive white under the condors wings. The condors also fly more steadily, the vultures seem to wag there wings a lot more. Interesting tidbit: There are plenty of vultures to observe in Kitty Hawk, NC. The Wright brothers intuitively learned about 3 axis control by studying them for hours.

Tidbit number 2: condors came close to going extinct in the late ’80s. A dramatic rescue was made- all the remaining known birds were captured and bred in captivity to get the numbers back up (special thanks to the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo). They were reintroduced into the wild in 1991 and now there are 463 known condors in the wild. A lot of effort has been put in to reduce the threats to them- poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction. There are a lot of sad stories of humans driving species extinct, so a happier story like this is nice to hear.

A beautiful overlook near where the walkable part of the trail ends. Getting near where the rock scrambling starts
Happy hikers on the trail, yours truly with the goofy blue hat.

Next we entered the scrambly part. I actually had a benign fall- I had to do a high step where the were no handrails, and didn’t lean forwards enough. To use one of my favorite British expressions, I went “arse over teakettle” backwards. I landed on my backpack but might have whacked my head if our fearless hike leader Neal had not been right behind me. A gentle nudge from Mother Nature telling me I need to work on my balance and rough terrain scrambling abilities some more.

The fun begins- These carved out stairs and railings were put in in the 1930s during the depression by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) 
The overhang makes you lean out over the cliff while holding onto the railing, while thinking “this has been here for almost 90 years? I sure hope the Park service maintains it well!” (They do).
Lunch Break- pick your favorite rock for sitting. The views to the east are stunning. But wait a minute- we’re sitting in the middle of all these volcanic formations, where is the other half on the east side? Several hundred miles to the South! There has been a lot of plate shifting in 23 million years
Back to work- what goes up must come down. Your intrepid author wasn’t so intrepid on this part- I like scrambling up better than down! Also may have been a little gun shy after the previous fall.
Some of the many fun formations we went through on the way down
We made it down to the lake right before you enter the talus caves
There were several garter snakes swimming in the lake
About to enter the caves. These piles of rocks (talus) were thrown here during the volcanic eruption that formed the area
The descent into the darkness
The parks service alternates which portions of the caves are open so we don’t disturb the bats too much, We didn’t see any bats

After the caves you enter a different world for a nice mile walk through the woods back to the trailhead. A little over 6 mile adventure completed. A nice way to spend the day with friends. 🙂

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