Pinnacles National Park
We visited Pinnacles once long before it became the newest National Park just over 4 years ago. It was hot and I suspected it would be a most amazing place to be under the full moon when the heat would be much easier to take. Since gates were locked tight in the evening, it might have been difficult to do a night hike. Now the east side is open 24 hours a day, but the west side is still a sleepy place controlled by an automatic gate that opens at 7:30 AM and closes again at 8 PM, although it will let cars out after that. I was only pushing the opening time for the visitor center at 9 AM when I drove up and today does not look like it will have a problem with heat. The cold storm pushing through still hangs low overhead making me wonder if today really will be the good day to visit I was hoping it would be.
|The Chaparral Trailhead on the west side of the park. Soggy ground and soggy air have me questioning coming up here on this particular day.|
|Starting up Juniper Canyon, the nude valley oaks are heavy with lichen and moisture from the rain.|
I want to take a loop including the Balconies Cave and the High Peaks Trail through the pinnacles. The caves follow along bits of creeks and the wet rocks are quite slick, so should be traveled from the bottom up for safety. This consideration leaves the Balconies for last, so I start up Juniper Canyon first. Although wet, the trail is nice and solid and well drained. The creek is running below and even the little tiny tributaries are flowing.
|The moss grows thick on some of the rocks down by the creek.|
|One of those tiny tributaries with a tiny waterfall.|
The trail climbs slowly at first, then more quickly. As I climb, so do the clouds. It may really be clearing up.
|Looking down Juniper Canyon as the weather clears up.|
|Closing in on some of the peaks.|
|Peaks that have dominated the hike so far are now across the canyon, bookending the view of distant green mountains.|
|A condor takes advantage of the first bit of sun to dry out and warm up after the rain.|
The trail splits and I keep on Juniper Canyon Trail to the top. It may be the wrong choice for later, but so it goes.
|A few of the pinnacles with the Balconies being striking in the distance. The condor was on one of the lower rocks.|
|New hills to look out over at the top.|
The top includes a bathroom, surprisingly enough. Well, it is on the map. I turn to follow the High Peaks Trail high over the peaks. It quickly reminds me that before becoming a National Park recently, this was a very old National Monument. The trail is crazy. It is nothing like one would see built today. Steep steps are carved into the rocks and somewhat low handrails help hold in the people to the side of the rocks and give a very handy handle for the climb.
|Getting up on and around the pinnacles themselves.|
|A bit more of the east side rocks as I climb higher.|
|Four turkey vultures drifting upward on the thermals.|
The steps down are a little treacherous while wet. The handrail goes from nice to necessary as my feet try to slip a little extra down. They are well maintained and nice and solid.
|Some of those steps cut into the stone, but not the steepest.|
|Out over Juniper Canyon again.|
|The Balconies from above.|
I want to go down to the Bear Gulch Cave, which means I am on the wrong end of this stretch of crazy trail at the next junction. Guess I will just have to find out why the Tunnel Trail is called that.
|Another view of the various pinnacles.|
|It is probably called Tunnel Trail for that tunnel at the other end of the bridge way down there.|
It is a nice trail, and the top part of Juniper Canyon was also very nice, so it is enjoyable to do this short bit again with a little brighter light.
|Sunlight plays through the needles of the pines among the rocks.|
The four vultures are still circling when I hit the top again, or so it seems. On closer look, these four are larger. It is California condors drifting upward on the thermals this time. They seem determined to stay far off, but while I change the lens, three glide through the saddle just twenty feet over my head. There is a small peak with trail much of the way up and a final scramble that looks like a good snaking spot and I take advantage of it for a few minutes as the birds get even higher and wander off.
|Bigger vultures rising on the thermals.|
|A couple California condors riding higher on the thermals. One is tagged with yellow 36, the other has white tags. Another did not seem to have any tags.|
The trail is a bit more crowded on my way down. There were a few people on the west side, but there are a lot more over here on the east. The trail makes a steady descent down along a canyon, then punches through a fin of rock onto a ridge side. By "punches through", I do mean literally. There is another tunnel. It all wanders down to a reservoir below. The east side was more built up because it has the water to maintain visitors and residents. Signs along the way mark climber access for those who do not need crazy trails to access steep rocks.
|It is not quite as vertical on this side of the High Peaks.|
|Bear Gulch narrows below.|
|The old reservoir with trail across the top and water flowing over and through to the left.|
Trail travels across the dam to a peak, which is tempting, but will be a bit much for today. I head down into the talus cave instead. It is what it sounds like. A jumble of rock has come down in a narrow portion of the canyon and the cave is the spaces between the rocks. These caves are navigable, which is a little unusual. A sign says entry from this side is dangerous, but I try. Slick rocks and the fact that there are quickly multiple options, but the arrows are directing me for going up, I turn back and take the bypass trail instead. Looping around on this cave is not a great effort.
|Almost into the talus cave.|
|Navigating the narrow canyon above the talus.|
|There are waterfalls along the way.|
There are gates at both ends that can be closed when conditions are deemed unsafe. Past the open gate, I am traveling even lower in the very narrow canyon.
|Just pass through the slot and then on to Bear Gulch Cave.|
The sign at the bottom of the cave is much less dire than the sign at the top. This one just warns that caution is needed and there are low ceilings and a need for flashlights. Oh, and it is slippery when wet. Inside, it is certainly wet. Waterfalls and cascades gush through the rocks next to the trail. Sometimes the trail is a pool, but mostly it is climbing, steep slick steps. The same handrails offer some safety from the slick rocks. Often, there is plenty of light coming down through the cracks, but a flashlight is necessary in some spots and useful in others where the light just does not quite reach the trail.
|Entering into the talus cave.|
|Sunlight from a hole above lights the passage ahead.|
|Deep in the dark, a cascade of water comes down over the rocks. (Flash used.)|
|Winding through Bear Gulch Cave. Another lighted section shows a bit of trail by the railing beyond the rocks.|
There is an access point to leave the cave and then a locked gate across the next entry. It is closed for bats and there is no way around. The access route is a little tighter than the general route has been, but pops me out on a familiar bit of trail. I head down again toward the nature center and trailheads below. Numbers along the way show this is used as an interpretive trail.
At the bottom, trails wander along the side of the road so that no road walking is required to do any loops of the interconnected trails. I want to climb back up along Condor Gulch and take the rest of the High Peaks Trail down again, but have to admit there really is not time for that. It is more than twice as far and has a fair bit of climbing. It is probably a little more interesting. There are some nice spots down along the Gulch Trail and up the Bench Trail, but it does not compare well with the rest of the hike.
|A nice bit of meadow just far enough below the road to make it less noticeable.|
|A cascade and waterfall provide a little interest along the way.|
There are more buildings on the far side of the wide canyon, then a trail in from some parking and it is off up the Old Pinnacles Trail. This crosses the creek several times and often does not have a very good dry feet crossing. There are a few more people on this trail including a ranger coming down.
|This wide expanse has a creek going down it somewhere as I walk up it.|
|There it is. The creek.|
|The Balconies come into view.|
|Thin waterfalls flow today, further carving out the features on the Balconies.|
The Balconies Caves also have a gate that can be closed and this time it is closed. The permanent sign says, "Because of emergency conditions." I am rather suspicious the ranger I passed closed it because they feel it is a little late for people to be getting their feet wet when the night temperature is likely to drop to freezing. I grumble a bit as I am forced to take the rather nice trail up and over the blockage of the talus cave instead.
|A canyon full of trees and green moss behind Machete Ridge.|
|Getting nice and high gets an extended view down the valley.|
|The sharp edge end of Machete Ridge.|
|Past the corner constriction, there is plenty of view up the canyon, too.|
|The water painted and carved face of the Balconies.|
Down in the canyon by the creek again, there is the upper access to the caves. This side is not blocked by a gate and I am sorely tempted to take a little look about. The water going through this one is deeper and stronger and my boots still do not want to grip to the rocks. It is not going to happen for me today, but I do have a glance down it.
|They do not seem to mention the blind arch in the rock wall on the way to the cave.|
|Nearing the top of the Balconies Cave and the trail plunges into the creek a few times for good measure.|
I turn back before risking slipping and slamming something and wander the rest of the way back along the trail. Sunset colors are glowing in the creeks as I go although not much can be seen in the sky. Weather is moving in again. More little numbered signs show that this trail is also an interpretive trail.
|Machete Ridge is glowing a little in the setting sun, as well.|
|Plenty of visual interest near this trailhead, especially now that it is not hidden in the clouds.|
©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 18 January 2017