Date: 22 March 2014
Duration: 1 day
Trail: Chaparral Parking Lot (West Entrance) -> Balconies Trail -> Balconies Caves -> Old Pinnacles Trail -> Chalone Creek -> Bear Gulch Trail -> Bear Gulch Caves -> Bear Gulch Reservoir -> High Peaks Trail -> Tunnel Trail -> Juniper Canyon Trail -> Chaparral Parking lot
(Same as the previous one but in the opposite direction – clockwise this time)
Getting there: From bay area -> Take the 101 S -> 146 E at Soledad -> Follow signs to Pinnacles.
As always, my last minute decisions to join or organize a hike continues. I decided to go for this one on Friday having cancelled my scuba ocean dives due to a minor cold. Thanks to Gurmeet for putting together this hike and thanks a lot to Sheetal for letting me know about it. So coming to the day of the hike – Saturday (22nd March) - it was a beautiful day with clear skies. The temperature was just right for a great hike. I had been to Pinnacles last year during summer. It wasn’t a lot of fun but I can never forget that hike, so I was pretty much excited to do it all over again. Lakshmi “volunteered” :-D to drive us to the trailhead at the West Entrance of the Pinnacles National Monument for our carpool (Shyam, Rajath and I). We headed out from the bay area at 7:30am after a brief chat with Sameer, Ashish and group. It was a pleasant and fun drive to the national monument. We reached the entrance at 9:30am. After a quick stop to get the entrance/parking permit that costs $5, we drove to the end of the road (Highway 146 E) to the trailhead. We waited for a while for everyone else to gather. Gurmeet arrived and I was very happy to meet him in person. We were a huge group of 31 people. Gurmeet handed out the trail map and we started our ~10 mile hike at close to 10:00am. Instead of going counter clockwise, Gurmeet decided to take us clockwise. At the end of the hike, I should say it’s a much better way to do this circuit but other than the fact that coming down is a steep descent from high peaks.
In no time, we were at the 1st cave section – The Balconies Caves. Entrance to the cave is well lit by sunlight. Going further into the cave, the need for a headlamp/flashlight arises. The rock formations and cuts in each and every rock are to be marveled at. Large boulders lean on each other to form part of the caves allowing a narrow ray of light to illuminate the vicinity in the cave. The trail has been maintained really well. I had a blast boulder hopping and trying to wither around rocks finding my own route through the cave. Once we were out of the caves, the temperature increase was felt distinctively. We trotted along the trail to the old trailhead area from there to the Chalone Creek area (East Entrance).
After a quick restroom break, we hiked towards the Bear Gulch caves. The plan was to finish the caves and halt at the reservoir for lunch. The bear gulch caves was the one that I had missed last year. This cave was much more dark, narrower and a lot longer. It was lot more fun as well. It’s nowhere close to spelunking but it’s quite addictive to move around different areas of the cave exploring it. We got out of the cave, ascended the stairway to the reservoir. When Shyam, Rajath, Lakshmi and I got to the reservoir, the group was already midway in their lunch. We were delayed a bit cause of the diversion we took to climb a nice looking narrow structure. It was a lot of fun. The next best on this hike, after people of course, was the food. Thanks to Ashish and his team for some very tasty bread sandwiches. Food at 2:00pm in the afternoon after more than half way through the hike is a lot of fun. We took the high peaks trail to the top of the ridge from where the valley with pinnacles could be seen. We then headed to the highest point– Hawkins peak at 2720ft along the steep Tunnel Trail. The panoramic view from here was magnificent to say the least. A couple, no wait, a lot of pictures and we headed down towards the parking lot along the Juniper Canyon Trail. We reached the parking lot at 5:00pm something. We had stretching tips from Gurmeet and bid adieu to the group.
The hike day ended with a two-hour car ride followed by tasty food at Loving Hut in Milpitas. Yet again I have to say, this place needs to be hiked over two days (backpacking). I will do that sometime soon. Until then, “keep hiking”! :-)