After months of waiting, the day finally arrived! Our friends were visiting from Portland, and they wanted to explore their favorite park, Pinnacles.
Pinnacles is famous for the California Condors and its rock formations. Our crew of eight met up on a rainy Friday at our campsite, spent the night getting ready for our next day hike. Our target was to do the trail loop – reach the High Peak and check the Bear Gulch Cave.
What We Brought: Backpacks with trail mix, hiking boots, binoculars, headlamps, sunscreen, lots of water, camera
Here are some of the things we did which you might enjoy too at Pinnacles:
1. Observing Condors
Only six of us did the hike as two of our crew wanted to rock climb. Side note: If you want to climb, make sure to check the alerts in effect. We set out to hike up the High Peak hoping to see the condors, and thankfully, we did.
There are only 446 California Condors in the world, and 276 of them are in the wild (166 are in California). This is based on the 2016 Population Status of the California Condor Recovery Program.
While I have seen them flying by the Big Sur before, seeing them at the High Peaks is quite surreal. They are so close we can see the numbers on their tags. We also were lucky to see a display of affection between a couple condor (36 and 40).
At first, we were wondering what they will be doing, but then the male condor stretched his wings in full glory in a loving display for the female. We did not even know they were a couple til we got to the peak where a biologist had her scope set to help people learn more about the condors. The guides informed us that they were a couple, and that they have a baby, which is super sweet to know.
2. Conquering the High Peaks
We hiked for a total of about ten miles to the High Peaks and back. It was about a six-hour hike, with an elevation gain of 1,400 ft. The hike is not difficult, although National Parks labels the High Peaks to Bear Gulch “strenuous”. This is probably because there are points in the trail that are super steep, especially the part leading to the main peak. Where it’s too steep, there are bars you can hold on too so you would not fall.
This is also the place where we saw the California condors flying almighty high. We got lucky because there was a biologist and a ranger at the peak, letting people look through her scope to get a closer view of the condors.
3. Admiring the Reservoir
After reaching the Peak, we decided to go check the cave. Very near the cave is the Bear Gulch Reservoir, the area is a welcome sight after walking for hours without seeing any water (except for what’s in your water bottle) 😀 It is not that big of a reservoir either (that part) but it is beautifully lined with green trees making it a perfect spot to rest and perhaps, have a small picnic.
We did not really spend a lot of time here. We just walked passed by it and headed direct to our target destination, the Bear Gulch Cave.
4. Exploring the Bear Gulch Cave
Are you afraid of the dark? The Bear Gulch Cave was a lot cooler than we expected. To “survive” inside, you would need a headlamp, or a flashlight, or in our case, a cellphone. Okay, a cellphone as a source of light might not be great advice but that was all that we have, aside from Larry’s faint headlamp.
We got there after a day of rain so the cave was mostly wet, we had to step on the ground with probably a few inches of rain. It was also super dark in some areas that any sign of light feels like a beacon of hope that you will survive. You have to be extra careful too cause you could bump your head in areas where the ceilings are low as you cannot see them since it is dark.
We had a funny experience though and I think it is interesting to share. The six of us got in the cave at the same time, but somehow we lost half our crew who were walking ahead of us. The trail down is steep only one can pass by at any given time. We could hear them so we thought they were still ahead of us so we were surprised to see them “arrive”. This about ten minutes after we got to the picnic grounds already very far from the cave.
The cave is a home for Townsend’s big-eared bats too. We did not see them though when we were there.
5. Slow Hike at South Wilderness
We spent our last day at Pinnacles with a slow hike at the South Wilderness Trail. It’s probably the trail less-traveled. I remember seeing only about ten other hikers besides us. There is no elevation gain here, so it’s a relaxing trail to hike through. There are a few surprises though. We saw a huge valley oak, and it was so grand we had to stop. There’s also this stream along the way which offers a cold refreshing salve to hikers’ tired feet.
To get to Pinnacles from the Bay Area: Drive South on Highway 101 to Gilroy then exit Highway 25, continue South on Highway 25 to the Park.
Have you been to Pinnacles? Share your story on our Comments Area.
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