Pinnacle National Park was my last destination of this road trip and let me just start by saying that this little hike which I thought would only…should HAVE only lasted about 3 hours, turned into an 8 hour ordeal. Driving into Pinnacle National Park from San Jose takes about an hour and a half to get to a park rest area and access to the hiking trails. Mistake #1: The problem all started when I failed to realize there were only two entrances into the park. There was one on the West end and one on the East end. I parked on the East end and the trail I chose to hike was Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave which goes towards the West end. Honestly, I have no idea how I read the map because it was obviously wrong. Hiking to my destination from the East end takes about 1 1/2 hours to hike there so round trip would be about 3 hours. From the West end it would have been an hour and a half round trip.
Pinnacle National Park is located in California and is located East of the Salinas Valley. As you read earlier on, it is composed of rocky mountains on the East and West end. This hike was very different from the one I did at Snow Lake Mountain in Washington. The trail had a lot of moss and woodsy areas which made for an “Into the Woods” like scenery. What I loved about this trail was that there were so many pine cones everywhere! The only other time I saw pine cones this big was in my genetics teacher’s office back in undergrad.
The hike up the Old Pinnacles Trail was an easy to moderate hike. The only thing you had to go out of your way to do was to maneuver or jump over some of the streams that flowed through. When you start hiking, all you see is just a vast area of trees and shrubs but once you get further along the trail you then start to see the moss covered boulders and high peaks of the park.
Things started to get really exciting when we got to the entrance of the cave. The entrance was like going into something in the Hobbit. Full of mystery, darkness, and the unknown. Mistake # 2: Another thing I failed to notice was that I needed a flashlight on this hike because once you got into the cave it was pitch dark. No light what so ever. So finally I get in the cave and at this point there were still some people who were finishing up this trail and I had help from their light and my not so bright phone light to help guide me through this cave. If you have ever watched the horror movie The Descent, this was how I felt inside of the cave was like. I was actually kind of scared that zombie flesh eating people were going to pop out of the dark corners.
So at this point I am in the cave and the rocks were very slippery because of the water coming from the water fall inside the cave. It was so dark I did not really even see where this water fall was, I just heard it in the distance. Once I was in the cave I had to climb upwards and there were definitely not many options to put my feet or my hands to climb. Plus I was trying to hold my “flashlight” and I am blind as a bat so I could not see that much in the dark for anything. I was able to climb up and finally saw the light but it was not over. After you go through this whole cave and come out, you have to climb back down and it leads you into a walkway where boulders are all stacked above you like in the movie 127 Hours. This part was cool because you had to climb under the boulders and try to maneuver to fit through the crevices. This was the last part of the trail and this is where mistake #3 happened. Mistake #3: Never assume that a trail just rounds about and loops you back the same way.
After I got out of the stacked boulder area, I was trying to figure out how to get back and I had a gut feeling that there was no loop. It did not really click until after I walked another mile and realized I ended up hiking through the park to the West end and the only way back was to either go back where I came from or hike 7 miles through a rock bearing trail that loops around the cave back to the East end. You are probably asking, “What’s the big deal? Just climb back the way you came from”. The answer would have been fairly easy for me too. Go back the way I came from.
Mistake #4: NEVER HIKE WITH PEOPLE WHO MIGHT WEIGH YOU DOWN. I say this not in a bad way but for the safety of everyone. If you are going to go hiking with a group of people, make sure everyone is in agreement with the trail and everyone has an understanding of the difficultIy of the hike. I opted for a trail that was supposed to be fairly easy so everyone in my hiking party could hike it. Turns out the climbing part in the caves wiped out majority of the group and NO ONE wanted to go back the way we came from. The sun was starting to set and it was starting to get pretty cold. The park rangers did not want to drive everyone back so really the only option was for me to go back, get the car, and drive to pick everyone up. The ranger was okay with driving everyone to the ranger station on the West end to avoid the cold weather. The only problem was that it takes an hour and half to go back the same way I came from. It also takes about two and a half hours to drive AROUND the park to get to the West end. You can’t cut through the park so you have to drive around. The fun began as I tried to race the losing daylight back to East end. Only this time, there were no other hikers, no one was going to be in the caves with me, and no GPS signal to guide me.
To be continued…