Hiking Stats as of 11/11/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Dec 21, 2013 - North Chalone Peak / South Chalone Peak


Partners: Jerry Kohn

Distance: 12.12 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,524 feet

Trip Time: 5:11

Maps and Stats:
I was in high spirits by the time the weekend of December 21 came around - largely because I was just starting a 2 week vacation from work, and I planned on making good use of the time and going on 4 hiking trips during this time off. The only thing that could derail me would be the lingering effects of the bruised toenail that I suffered on my previous hike to Ralston Peak the previous weekend. It had been drained by the doctor on Monday, and although still a touch sore I felt pretty comfortable that I would be fine for a medium intensity hike to start my vacation off right.

Through the www.mountainhiker.org website I had met (via email only) and had been corresponding with fellow hiking enthusiast Jerry Kohn from the Sacramento area about getting together for a hike. He had much more experience than I, having completed nearly all of the OGUL peak peaks and a significant number of the CC peaks. While I still have lots of unclimbed peaks from which to choose, for today's hike Jerry suggested we repeat one of his favorite hikes and visit the Pinnacles National Park, located about 80 miles southeast of San Jose and east of the Salinas Valley. It is also the newest National Park, having previously been a National Monument. I had never been to the Pinnacles before, and was excited to see the new area which was about 2 hours from my house in Tracy. The objective for day would be North Chalone Peak and South Chalone Peak, both listed on the CC peak list standing at about 3300 feet, with North Chalone Peak being the high point of the of the Pinnacles National Park.

Jerry and I met up at the McDonald's just off Interstate 5 southeast of Tracy. From there it was about an 1:45 drive down I5 to Hwy 152, Hwy 156, and Hwy 25. We arrived at the entrance to the Park at about 10 AM and got started on the trail about 15 minutes later. With the drought in California maintaining its strong grip the trail and weather conditions would be ideal for hiking. The Pinnacles provide for fantastic scenery right from the start, with the jagged rock formations and cliffs looming overhead. The fun was just beginning, however, as the trail climbs through giant rockfalls. This part gives the appearance of going into a cave or a mine, although in reality I believe it is probably a combination of both, as it is an uphill tunnel devoid of light, and requiring a headlamp. Several minutes later we emerged next to a pathetically low reservoir which by all rights should be a lot deeper in late December.

From this point it was a pretty straightforward hike, with no more caves or tunnels. The jagged landscape continued to provide excellent vistas, and as we got higher up we were able to enjoy the views towards Scout Peak, another CC peak in the Pinnacles Park. From this vantage point we also had our first views of North Chalone and South Chalone Peaks (North Chalone is on the right, our route would go from right to left to South Chalone). I also took note of what looked to be a large saddle between the two peaks - My toe was doing just fine at this point, but if there was to be any problems it would be on descent. About an hour and twenty minutes into the hike we hit the ridgeline, where the views opened up to Soledad to the west. It was another 20 minutes of somewhat steep trail hiking to the summit, where we arrived a couple minutes after noon.

With the summit of North Chalone being the highpoint of the Pinnacles National Park, the views were outstanding in every direction. Even better, we came across an informational sign illustrating the difference in views on a hazy or clear day. I compared to the current view and thought our view was better than the clear example on the sign. After getting some shots of the summit markers, (2), a summit shot of myself and a 15 minute break to have lunch we set our sights on South Chalone. We had a bit of route finding problems on the traverse over to South Chalone, as neither one of us was paying enough attention to where the turnoff for the South Chalone trail was, and we wound up descending an extra couple hundred feet before realizing that we must have gone too far down. No matter, we came back up and found the turnoff, and started on the trail over to South Chalone.

The trail descends somewhat steeply here, down to the previously seen saddle between the two peaks. At this point I started having some problems with my toe, and took a few ibuprofins which worked almost immediately, reliving me of any problems for the rest of the day. Once at the saddle we left the trail and followed the handy pig fence straight up the very steep slope. The fence had a few feet of clearance next to it which allowed us to avoid any bushwacking until the very top. We followed the fence nearly to the top, finally leaving it to bushwack the final 30 feet or so to try to find the not-so-obvious summit location. Looking around the top of the peak is covered in bushes and scrub, although if you just head higher until their is nothing left you eventually get there. The climb along the fenceline was the most tiring part of the day, although from the saddle to the summit took a bit under 20 minutes where I welcomed a few minutes of rest. The views from the top of South Chalone aren't nearly as great as those on North Chalone, as brush blocks the majority of the sightlines. I moved off to the side of the peak to capture this view back to North Chalone. After a few minutes on top, Jerry and I set off on the descent back down to the saddle and back over towards North Chalone. The return to the trailhead from near the top of North Chalone followed the same path as what we took up, with the exception of our going around the caves on the way down. The views on the way down were seemingly even more spectacular, as the light and shadows were amazing. Near the bottom we skirted around the caves by taking a thin trail carved into the rock wall. After not running into anyone in all the hours we spent above the reservoir we now ran into a long line of people, all trying to hike up the single lane trail. A long line of people who are not used to hiking and can only go for short distances before stopping. I wouldn't have minded except that we were on descent and we could get by the group of 20 in about 1 minute if we made our way down and they allowed us to pass. Fortunately, that is what happened, and what could have been a lengthy delay was avoided. The entire descent starting from South Chalone wound up taking about 2 hours, and we were back to the car by 3:30. We carpooled back to the McDonald's and after an this enjoyable and successful outing agreed that we should do another hike together sometime in the near future.

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