17 April 2013

Pinos: Sawmill Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

If you can't find chill next door, just go higher. Out to really test my new gear, I headed for Sawmill Mountain, elevation 8820. The predicted low (as of Monday) for Frazier Park on Wednesday, elevation 4640, was 34°F. What does that mean for up by the top of Sawmill Mountain? Something nasty, very probably, but this thing should go to zero, at least with reasonable clothing added in, and I can always bail. There's been a bit of wind blowing, so I made sure I could put up a wind break as a bit of caution, otherwise it's all up to the 6 oz. Climashield Apex with extra insulation in strategic locations. Well, also this silly insulated inflatable thing I've picked up and am a little bit worried about. Sure it says it's nearly twice as insulating as the old basic blue, but it could be lying. I made my way up Mt. Pinos and found a spot in the vast and empty lot at the top, elevation already 8300, and transferred things like the first aid bag from day hiking to backpacking gear. Tossing it all on my back, I started up the old road toward the peak.

a vast expanse of old tar with a 'nordic base' at the end of it
Park anywhere, except near one of the assortment of no parking signs. The "Nordic Base" sign claims 8300 feet.

a sign saying everything is two miles thata way
It's two miles to everything? Really? Well, the summit and the trail head are about the same distance away, but North Fork is nowhere near there. And it's 22W02.

Trails seem to start from all over the lot and make their way to the road, but since I didn't know that, I headed to the sign and started up the road properly. Swinging around the gate and turning a corner, ignoring the rougher bit of road heading straight, I spotted the first bit of snow. The curious thing about the snow wasn't that it was there or that it was quite a big patch and didn't seem to have many little patches around, but that there wasn't really any mud around it even though the sun was hitting it. A puddle in the road further down was clear where it was deeper, but a shallow nearly disconnected part was completely iced over. It was already cold, although I don't think it was freezing. It might have been nice to have grabbed the dinky thermometer off the old pack.

big trees all around on the road, snow to the side
It's all big trees at first along the road. Patches of snow getting sun to the side, but very little mud showing beneath them.

Coming to the top of the mountain, the trees open up. A few spurs lead off without more than a "no motorized vehicles" sign, but the main road is easy to distinguish. There is a short section of old paving and the road comes to an old parking lot and wildlife viewing area. Informative signs tell a little about the mountain and point the way down the trail. I stopped briefly and pulled out some protection against the biting breeze. I stopped again at a large platform just off the trail with an extensive view but also a bit exposed to the strengthening wind.

grasslands and a stand of trees and the tower of a communications oupost
The peak is wide with many flats. There are stands of trees, but mostly it is grasses and flowers. The highest of the bumps is occupied by a communications site.

nature and history get a brief mention with the rules
The Vincent Tumamait Trail head has some brief information on signs as well as a few of the rules. Mileages shown are: 2 mi. to 22W02, 4 mi. to 22W21, and 4.5 mi. to Cerro Noreste (or Abel on many other signs).

Lake of the Woods and such, then the central valley
Sitting up on the platform on Pinos, you can see the Pine Mountain Club and the mass of the central valley. It's just a 10 mile visibility day.

Lockwood Valley
The ripples of Lockwood Valley to the south.

Dropping down the side of the mountain, I started into the Chumash Wilderness, marked by a big grey slab of plastic. Defunding at work, a wooden sign would have required a skilled laborer? The trail drops in a very shallow and twisting path for a while, then suddenly gets on with the business of dropping to the saddle between Pinos and Sawmill. The drop is only about 500 feet, so I quickly started to regain it. The snow had vanished in the very exposed areas and the lower areas, but soon it was back to patches of the stuff and trees. Our forest does have trees! And some of them would take a four man crew to hug.

tall trees with not much undergrowth
Trees! They get denser than this, it's just hard to photograph them if you can't get far enough away and still see them.

A cairn leaning against a tree gives a little warning of the upcoming peak. The trail is well worn and full of footsteps. A smaller, but still well used, spur trail heads off to the right. In case it isn't clear enough, someone has lined the first four feet with wood. I turned and followed this trail to the top of Sawmill. The biting breeze had crept up to minor gale as I hit the peak and I had to lean into it to keep upright. I looked around a little, then went for shelter among the wide spreading branches of a short fir. It was almost nice there out of the wind.

use trail up to Sawmill Mountain
A well used path shows the way to the peak and register on Sawmill Mountain.

the central valley from the Chumash Spirit Tower
The top of Sawmill is now adorned with a "Chumash Spirit Tower" which itself is adorned with Tibetan prayer flags. Makes sense to someone? It's massive and put me in mind of a stupa, so I was wondering what relic might be housed inside.

rock with information written in ink
The only sign at the top of Sawmill Mountain.

tree covered Grouse Mountain, another bump
Grouse Mountain up ahead.

A smaller use path lead down the other side of Sawmill, but I was meaning to stay around here and it was only an hour or so to sunset, so turned back the same way I came up. Across from the spur, I could see a very faint trail out into the large bit of flat area south of the peak. I followed it to a spot I liked near a couple old fire rings and set up my wind break and the rest of my gear, then sat down for some supper. When I was done, it looked like there would be enough time to head to the peak for sunset but not have to wait in the cold wind too long.

Sawmill was still blowing something fierce when I got back up to the peak. I spent a few minutes by the tower and finally found the register in its cubby on the south side.  The coffee can was stuffed full of notebooks and I glanced at a few of them, but it was too cold to do much with them so I added my name.  I tried to take a few sunset photos, but the camera was so cold that the half empty battery registered very low and it disabled the shutter, scolding me to change the battery. The sun was sinking behind a tree, so I turned back to get to my more sheltered camp, but paused a moment on the way to turn and watch a pool of liquid red sink into the mountains between the previously blocking tree and the tower. For a moment, I wasn't cold. Then I walked quickly back to camp.

An idle thought piped up that it might be good to empty the Platypus tube of water, so I did. I'd poured out water into the pot for breakfast to help weigh down the stove and accessories and neither bag was too full to deal with freezing. I shuffled into my quilt in my long johns and got to the gear testing part of the exercise. I had my bivy around it all for one popular method of keeping everything in place, however my bum was cold and I suspected the insulation was getting squished inside the bivy. I unzipped the bivy and tossed the top of it aside and warmed up instantly, not to mention gaining the freedom to scrunch up how I choose. I tried for a bit to just keep the sides tucked under me to keep me warm, but I move around a lot, especially on nights where it seems like I've forgotten how to sleep. I thought I was keeping it under, but finally grabbed one of the strings I brought to help tie it to the mat and that made everything very nice indeed. Once the half-moon set, the wind also settled down and eventually I even managed to remember how to sleep.

Continue reading: day 2

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 21 Apr 2013

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