Mount Defiance and Condor Gulch Loop 04/11/2021

I woke up on Sunday morning for the final day of my road trip. I was planning to spend another half day in Pinnacles National Park before making the long drive home. Yesterday I had climbed the Chalone Peaks and then done the High Peaks Trail. Today I was planning to climb Mount Defiance and then do another loop through the park via the Condor Gulch Trail. I parked at the Peaks View parking lot and began hiking at 6:33am from 964 feet above sea level. I started by hiking east on the Bench Trail.

It was very cold as I got started – upper 30s. At 0.4 mile I turned right onto the South Wilderness Trail.

I could already see Mount Defiance in the distance.

At 0.8 mile I crossed Chalone Creek. There were rocks and logs strewn across the creek, so I was able to stay dry.

Shortly after that I left the trail and began climbing up the eastern slope.

There were some vague animal trails I was able to follow initially, and then I soon found the clipped use trail that would lead to the top.

Most of the mountain was covered in thick brush which would have made the ascent from this side impossible without the use trail. The brush was so high that I was unable to see over it at times.

I started to warm up a little bit on the ascent. The trail was pretty easy to follow so I made good time. It did go through a couple clearings but there were cairns to help guide the way through these spots.

The trail bent to the south and then went straight up from the east for the final push.

I reached the summit at 7:51am at 2.7 miles!

I signed the register which had been placed in 2014. The previous ascent was from December (this isn’t a popular peak). I enjoyed the view of the High Peaks area to the northwest.

To the south I could see North and South Chalone Peaks. I could even make out the fire tower on top of the north peak (right).

To the east I could see San Benito Mountain and many other peaks near it.

And to the north I could see many more peaks that I’m not familiar with.

I began descending after taking a short break. I followed the same use trail back down.

I reached the South Wilderness Trail again at 4.5 miles. At 5 miles I reached the Bench Trail and at 5.4 miles I passed the parking lot where I had parked this morning. I continued west on the Bench Trail.

I then crossed a few bridges over Chalone Creek, which was dry at this point.

At 6.3 miles I turned left onto the Blue Oak Trail. This would lead to the High Peaks Trail.

The trail made a couple switchbacks as it gained elevation up the hillside. There were a few other hikers on the trail, but it wasn’t too crowded yet.

There were some beautiful views along the way.

At 8.3 miles I reached a junction with the Condor Gulch Trail. I kept right to get on the High Peaks Trail. This was a different section of the trail than I had been hiked on the previous day.

I hiked a little further until reaching a junction with the Tunnel Trail. I had now reached where I had hiked yesterday, so I decided to turn around here. I climbed up on a rock to take a short break and enjoy the views.

I hiked back down the way I came and then turned right onto the Condor Gulch Trail.

I hiked south on the Condor Gulch Trail until reaching a cool overlook at 10.4 miles. I stopped for a minute before continuing. Shortly after that I saw 2 rangers off to the side of the trail with binoculars and other equipment. I guessed that they were looking for condors. Pinnacles National Park is well known for having one of the few wild populations of California condors. They went extinct in the wild a few decades ago and only existed in captivity. Captive breeding programs had increased there numbers enough that they were re-released into the wild at a few specific locations (the others being Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks). Shortly after passing the rangers I saw one!

I stopped for about 10 minutes to watch the condor circling overhead. They are really massive birds. At one point it flew directly over me.

I continued on my way after that excitement.

I soon reached the Bear Gulch Trail, which I took back to the Bench Trail. I reached my car again at 12:12pm. This hike totaled 12.86 miles, 3494 feet elevation gain, and 5:38:27 total time.

I was a little disappointed I didn’t have more time, but I needed to hit the road since I had a 7 hour drive home to San Diego. Pinnacles is one of the smallest national parks, so I felt like I had seen a good chunk of it in the last 2 days. I stopped at the visitor center before exiting and then started the long drive home. What an amazing trip!

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