Tuesday, July 17, 2012


After dreaming about it for years, I finally felt fit enough and motivated enough to attempt getting to the top of Mt. Pinos (8835'). It's really an easy hike as summits go: wide dirt road, elevation gain of only about 500'. But I don't typically do well at altitude, even in my fittest years. Now at 62 my stamina is waning and my recovery time from exertion takes longer. But I've been walking two miles or more every day for the past 8 months, been on frequent short day hikes at lower elevation, and I psyched myself up all week for this.

I knew it was going to be a good day when I saw a doe and her two spotted fawns along the road driving up to the trailhead. I came around a bend and saw them and slowed down immediately (wasn't going that fast anyway). They spooked though, and ran back up the steep slope behind them and away from the road, which made me happy. I'd seen enough road kill on the way up (rabbits and chipmunks) and didn't want deer added to it.

The trailhead is located at the parking area of the Pinos Nordic Center, at 8300'. If you are affected by altitude, you will already start feeling it just walking from your car to the trailhead. Fortunately I don't really feel it until I start going UP, which is what you do for fully three-quarters of the way up until you top out at the meadow before the summit. So I huffed and puffed my way up, taking frequent stops to catch my breath and enjoy the sound of birds and the wind whispering through the pine tops.

A little more than half way you exit the forest and come to an open area. It seems expansive after the closeness of all the trees. It is deceiving though. The trees in the distance is another whole stretch of deep forest.

This is the view of the summit after you come out of the last thick forest area--the radio tower! I was so excited to see it and know it was really within my grasp. But that stretch ahead took me about 15 minutes to get across, because it is a slight incline. And there were two more steep inclines hidden in those distant trees, so there would be a bit more work for me yet.

Fortunately the day was not hot. It was 64-degrees at the Nordic Center; up here it was only about 74 with a good stiff breeze blowing. I had a lightweight insulating shirt on over a t-shirt all day because of the breeze--which is amazing in the middle of July.

Finally I reached the summit at a little after 11:00 AM. I was elated to reach the top! I had to dig deep to make the last two grades and I was running a bit low on energy. But getting up there gave me a huge endorphin rush and I just kept saying over and over, "I did it!" I had stopped just below the summit once and had some energy snacks because I ran out of steam (only had a cup of coffee and a piece of peanut butter toast for breakfast), and I'd planned to brew up a cup of tea on the summit (I had my lightweight backpacking isobutane stove with me) and have lunch, but it was so windy I decided to forgo it. So I found the summit marker within a circle of rocks and let out a holler!

The actual marker is very worn, but in my close-up I was able to read "US Coast & Geodetic Survey Triangulation Station". This is the actual summit marker.

There is another marker on a small rock outcrop nearby (see trekking pole photo at beginning of post) that is a reference marker, though I have yet to find out what that means. But I think the arrow is point north (can't be sure though; I didn't have my compass with me).
Looking down into the beginning of the San Joaquin Valley to the NE.

This view is looking towards the SE. I so wanted to go down and hike that trail below; it was intriguing. I took a lot of photos, but the view was spoiled by a thick haze coating everything below. I spent about twenty minutes on the summit, then decided to head back down while I was still energized. I was afraid to stop too long for fear of getting stiff and tired. I had a great sense of accomplishment and the excitement gave me a needed energy boost.

Coming back through the meadow I spied a magnificent limber pine at the edge of the meadow.

It was a grand old tree and I wondered just how old it was. Many of the trees up there are huge in circumference and height.

I was now seeing a lot of hikers and mountain bikers heading up to the top, so I was now glad of my 9:00 AM start. I'd had the summit all to myself, as well as the trail up most of the way.

This man and his dog were enjoying the day. I passed them coming back down and later they caught up with me about halfway down. They made the top and cam back down in the time it took me to travel about a mile!

Something bright red caught my eye as I stopped yet again to catch my breath--a Snow Plant. Of course when I spotted it I didn't know what it was; only later did I learn about it after an internet search. It's quite an interesting plant (you can read about it here):


Another view of the trees at the meadow's edge. This was a really beautiful area.

I will say one thing about having to stop so much to catch my breath: it really made me stop and look at my surroundings and I saw things I might have missed otherwise--like these two old trees. I nicknamed the one on the right "Methuselah" because it looked like it was ancient.
The hike back down was quite a bit easier, as 90% of it was now downhill. I made good time, but with all my stops to breathe and chat with other hikers along the way, the trip took me almost exactly four hours. It is a 4-mile round trip up to the summit and back. Someone in better shape could do it in three hours or less.

Driving back down the mountain I saw huge thunderheads to the SE over the San Gabriel Mountains.

Normally once I've done something like this, I rarely do it again. The exertion and energy it takes me to accomplish it makes me hesitant to do it over. But I know I will do that hike again. It is not hard--not really. As I condition myself more it will make hikes like this easier. And Pinos is a very special place to me--a real jewel of a mountain. I love the San Gabriels, but this area of the Las Padres National Forest is quite different. I can't put my finger on it, but it definitely different. And it is that difference that keeps me coming back here to refresh my spirit in Nature's magnificent playground.



White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Mountain Chickadee
Dark-eyed Junco (adult feeding 2 fledges)
Steller's Jay
Western Bluebird
Western Tanager
Red-shouldered Hawk