Hello, this is Katherine and Katrina hereafter known as KK and KA which should explain our cute spelling below. We have been friends for almost 25 years: first as work colleagues then as hiking buddies and now camping pals. Last year, at Pinnacles National Park, on our first camping trip together, we consumed a couple of beers and decided that we were having such a grand time that we should share our adventures.
While following the current social distancing practices and without a lot to do, we revived the idea of a blog so we could reminisce about last year’s trip. This is our Pinnacles Retrospective.
When we’re not under “shelter-in-place” restrictions, March is a good time to go to Pinnacles. It gets cold at night, but daytime temperatures are perfect for hiking. Our campsite was #79 in Loop C. We cannot recommend that site for Winter or early Spring camping because there’s a small stream of water that runs through the middle of the two tent pads. It’s just a little too muddy. We checked out a few other sites for the next trip, you might like: #66, #61, #50, #40, and #37.
However, #79 is a wonderful site for viewing wildlife. If you’re a birder, you will appreciate the California Quail, the Acorn Woodpeckers (left), the California Thrasher, the Water Pipits, and a variety of hawks overhead.
Before we departed, we planned our meals on Google docs then procured our provisions. Our first meal was a dutch oven dinner: short ribs marinated in Kinder’s garlic BBQ sauce and slow cooked over campfire coals. Before cooking, we added a few quartered, small red potatoes, half of a head of peeled garlic cloves, and chunks of white onion plus a cup or two of water to dilute the saltiness of the Kinder’s.
We served the stew along with iceberg lettuce wedges and blue cheese dressing. Yum! Red wine (don’t remember which one… probably from Trader Joe’s) was the perfect libation.
We conserved the broth from the dutch oven dinner and used it for the sweet potato chili we made on the second night. Adding the broth kept it from being vegetarian, but added a rich umami flavor. We enjoyed a couple of Sierra Nevadas that night. On our third night we had a simple ramen with canned salmon that was ideal after three days of hiking. Wine? Probably a Chardonnay.
For a sweet treat, we had brioche bombs with hazelnut chocolate. Just take store bought croissants, cut them in half, and place a piece of your favorite fancy chocolate bar between the halves. Wrap it in foil, stick a skewer in it, and roast it over the fire. It’s all melty goodness.
By the way, KK fed us oatmeal, yogurt, and Starbucks Via instant Italian Roast every morning to fuel us for our activities.
Hiking and Klimbing
On arrival, we acclimated by taking an easy stroll along Chalone and Bear creeks. It’s mostly a shaded trail with lots of wildflowers. The Visitor Center has a board where campers can list the wildflowers they’ve seen.
The next day, we made the strenuous climb to the High Peaks. When we got close to the top, we were fortunate to encounter a study group with a telescope. They invited us to view one of the tagged California Condors roosting on the rocks. It’s good we actually saw a condor because we had spent several minutes studying a couple of Turkey Vultures that we were convinced were condors. KA’s photographs disproved our hopes of spotting condors on our own.
Besides the weather, another reason to visit Pinnacles in mid-March is that Bear Gulch Cave will be fully open before it’s pupping season for the colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats. So on day three, we explored Bear Gulch Cave. There were some challenges with the stream running through the cave and flashlights or headlamps are required.
Back at boggy #79, on our second night, we endured our campground neighbors’ newborn (as moms, we were a little judgy about how young she was) crying all night. The baby was probably cold–we sure were. They were nice people but that baby was miserable. The next day, her cries lured a coyote out of the woods to take a look. Shortly after the coyote appeared, the family packed up and left. The following evening, we kicked back with beers and marveled at more wildlife: a trio of deer, a blue belly lizard, and a fox!
Pinnacles National Park is a great place to visit. From the East Bay, it takes a little over two hours without traffic. You can go for a day and climb the High Peaks and a three night trip allows you to experience much of the park.
KK and KA (Note: KA took all the photos! KK left her phone out overnight and it froze! Inadvisable!)