Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rocky Road (Hiking Pinnacles National Park)

"The desert sharpened the sweet ache of his longing,

amplified it,

gave it shape to it in sere geology and clean slant of light."

-- John Krakauer

Welcome back to the blog! Actually... This post is actually pretty overdue. I have been so focused on personal issues and Wine & Dine race training lately that I neglected to post about my hike earlier this summer at Pinnacles National Park. (I'd like to say that I was clever and decided to wait for the NPS Centennial to make this post, but I'm not that clever.) Pinnacles had never been on my radar before, and I wish I could take credit for wanting to go here. I let my niece choose at least two day trips that we would take on a weekend while she was here, however, and she was adamant about visiting Pinnacles. She had studied geology and volcanoes at school during the spring, and really wanted to check it out. Yes, the spires and caves at Pinnacles are remnants of multiple volcanoes that erupted over 23 million years ago. It's always pretty amazing to remember how old our earth is and how brief our visit is on this planet. 

There are over 30 miles of trails in Pinnacles Park, so we made sure to research ahead of time to pick the trail(s) that would be the best fit for us to do. Katie and I had recently hiked Vasquez Rocks with the Girls Who Hike LA, and that was a good measure of how strenuous of a hike she could take on without further training. We settled for the Moses Spring to Rim Trail Loop, a moderate hike around 2 miles long with about 500' of elevation gain. 

You gain about half of your elevation gain pretty quickly - gaining about 200' in the first quarter of a mile (according to my NikePlus app). This is part of the trail is well marked and shady - you're in a canyon for most of the first half of the hike to the reservoir. It was about 100 degrees the day we tackled this hike, so I appreciated the shaded trail immensely! 

We picked this trail mostly due to its level of difficulty, but were happy that it would also include some of the famous Pinnacles caves along the way. This was the first of three that we climbed through on our hike. The "caves" here are mostly old lava tubes, which just added to the appeal for my niece, Katie. 

To her disappointment, however, the trail to the Bear Gulch Cave was not accessible during our hike. It's apparently closed seasonally due to bats that are in having babies during the summer. Bummer! Alas, there was more to see so we continued.

The trail after the Bear Gulch Cave trail split becomes much more of a climb than a hike. The trail isn't as well marked here, and you literally have to climb over and/or jump down from various rocks, cliffs, and trees to proceed. It's a lot of fun, but keep that in mind if you have any type of disability.

As you finally make your way out of the canyon, you go down through another cave. This one is marked a little more clearly, and has makeshift stairs taking you down. My niece and I are short, but I feel bad for anyone tall that has to crawl through here! It's a pretty tight fit. 

The final leg before the reservoir includes about 100 stairs. I wish this picture did these stairs justice - they're very narrow,  steep, hand-chiseled stairs. This makes them a bit interesting (and unstable) to climb, but it's doable. The railing on the left is very necessary, as it's a near vertical drop off the side of them. My niece and I were surprisingly unafraid of these stairs anyway, and kind of enjoyed the view. 

You reach the Bear Gulch Reservoir at the top of the stairs. The view is incredible! Despite passing several hikers along the way, we found ourselves alone up here. It was peaceful, and I really wanted to spend more time there. 

The sun was quickly chasing us down, however, so we had to make up our minds on the route going back to the car. Despite the late hour, we opted to tackle a portion of the High Peaks trail to see how much we could get done before sunset. I'm so glad that we did - the views were incredible!

We really took our time enjoying the view of the spires as we made our ascension to towards the summit. THIS is what Kaitlyn was wanting to see! I enjoyed it too - I think it was around the time that I took this picture that I thanked Kaitlyn for asking to go here :)

While the sun was quickly setting and we didn't want to get caught in the dark, we decided to continue up the mountain. The trail becomes very steep as you near the summit. Kaitlyn predictably rolled her ankle around this point, and we decided that we would only go another 15 minutes before turning around. (Poor Katie! I need to buy this girl some boots next summer!)

From this point, the summit is in sight. We could see people at the top of the mountain, and wanted so badly to continue. But appearances are deceiving... As we neared the top of this trail, I realized that the trail turns into many, many switchbacks as it continues up the mountain. We both so badly wanted to reach the top, but her ankle was throbbing and I started to fear the impending night.

We decided to sit for a while and just take in the view. We hiked for just over 2.61 miles and gained around 900 feet in elevation. It was a remarkable feat for my niece, who rarely gets the opportunity to hike like we did that day. It was also a wonderful opportunity for me as I got to share my love for hiking and the outdoors with a young lady who means the world to me!

If you're ever looking for a good hike, I would definitely give Pinnacles National Park a chance. It's not terribly far from Monterey or Paso Robles, so you could easily add it in to a day trip if you're visiting either area. I have already put it on my list to visit again in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming. :) 

Back to our regularly scheduled running programming beginning tomorrow. I finished 7.5 miles today at just nary over my goal race pace time, so I was pretty happy with that today. I can only go up from here! Big shout out to my co-blogger, Natasha, who finished the Summer Sparkler Virtual 10K today! (You can see her race picture on Instagram). It's been a great weekend, my friends!

Until we meet again...

--- Becky

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