the hike

I wasn’t sure if I was up to it — 6 miles, in the heat of the day (and it was hot!), 3000 feet elevation change (up and down), narrow, twisting staircases at elevation, and of course, not enough water.  But the old lady made it, with energy to spare.

Pinnacles National Park, near Hollister, CA

It doesn’t look challenging from here, but wait until you see what comes next.

The Pinnacles are the eroded remnants of an extinct volcano that has been sheared in half by the movement of the San Andreas fault.  Its other half is located 150 miles to the south, in the desert of southern California, while the part we climbed now resides within the coast range bordering the Salinas Valley.  The area is composed primarily of  exposed lava flows, paler volcanic rocks called rhyolite, and a type of conglomerate rock (breccia) that looks like you threw rock chunks into cement and then stood the mass up on end to weather.  Actually the breccia here was probably formed in the same volcano that spewed out all the lava.

lava flow at Pinnacles National Park

Lava flow (on the left) and breccia conglomerate (on the right) are typical scenes in Pinnacles NP.

Breccia at Pinnacles NP

Close-up of breccia showing the large fragments of broken rock that were cemented together in the volcano and then extruded down its sides as the lava emerged.  These are the youngest rocks in this area — probably 23 million years old.

the Pinnacles at Pinnacles National Park

Columns of breccia slowly erode leaving the spiked pinnacles. The vegetation is sparse on top of the High Ridge where just a few pines survive to offer weary hikers a little shade.  Low chaparral shrubs cover most of the hills that have some soil.

The Pinnacles are home to 30+ California Condors, whose home range encompasses not only this park, but much of the coast range from the Pinnacles south to Santa Barbara.  We looked closely at every Turkey Vulture we saw, just to make sure it wasn’t something a little more spectacular.  Prairie Falcons nest on the cliffs on the High Ridge trail, and we did see lots of whitewash on some of the rocky ledges, but no falcons stooping on luckless prey.

old lava flow at Pinnacles NP

A scene like this (from the Raptor Research Foundation webpage) would have been the highlight of the hike.

The view from the top of the High Ridge Trail at Pinnacles National Park

The view near the top of the HIgh Ridge trail gave us a glimpse of what we could expect on the hike down — a long, exposed stretch with no shade.

Climbing the staircase on the High Ridge Trail at Pinnacles NP

At one point, the High Ridge trail takes a detour over one of the massive columns of  breccia rock. Someone thankfully placed a handrail and chiseled steps into the rock face.

Staircase down on the High Ridge Trail, Pinnacles NP

What goes up, must come down.  A better look at those footholds placed in the rock face for hikers to traverse the steep side.

old lava flow at Pinnacles NP

Darker lava rocks that were extruded from the volcano cooled in huge clumps producing grotesque shapes. Turkey Vultures soared around the tops of the cliffs over our heads.

the Pinnacles of Pinnacles NP

More of the strangely shaped breccia rocks, eroding in place at the top of the High Ridge trail.

And, as they say, it was all down hill from there – the biggest incentive to hurry along being our lack of water.  Next time, maybe we’ll heed the warnings of the park personnel.

4 thoughts on “the hike

  1. What an ambitious undertaking, Sue! Wow – kudos to you and your fellow hikers. This is a magnificent place and your photos really give the viewer a feel for what it is like. I think I’d find going down more intimidating than going up! – – – Maybe you’ll spot a condor or falcon next time. . . just be sure to bring more water 😉

  2. Hi Sue,

    We continue to enjoy your Back Yard Biology! I have been to the Pinnacles, but never done that much hiking! Thanks for letting me see what it looks like! Come visit us in CO sometime. We plan to be in CA in October. Maybe we can meet up then.


  3. Very pretty hike: rather severe with heat and little shade though (and especially not enough water). I don’t like the extra weight, but my pack always has a liter of water (3 lbs) more than I know I will need.
    The scene in the fourth photo would make the whole hike worthwhile!

  4. Sue,

    That doesn’t look like a real fun hike even if the scenery is spectacular. We are impressed that you did it, (Steve, too?) despite hyperthermia and dehydration. Way to go!

    Our annual canoe trip last Tuesday ended well. But we missed you. One canoe, Jennifer Cruise and our daughter, Mary Ann, went off on their own into a side channel and took a long time to get back. They had us worried for a bit. We thought of many unfortunate scenarios. But they were none the worse for wear, tired out though. They had to paddle upstream for a considerable distance to find us.

    Thanks again for your great photography and adventures.
    Rick and Joan

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