Posted by: James Wapotich | August 10, 2013

Trail Quest: Mount Pinos

Called Iwihinmu by the Chumash, Mount Pinos is the highest point in our local mountains. Iwihinmu translates as place of mystery, and figures prominently in Chumash lore as the center of the world or Liyikshup, which is also the Chumash name for the summit at Mount Pinos.

Located near the San Emigdio Mountains, Mount Pinos is part of the transverse ranges, and from its 8,831 foot high vantage, on a clear day, one can look south out across the mountains to the Pacific Ocean and to the north and east out across the San Joaquin Valley to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Vincent Tumamait Trail Los Padres National Forest Mount Pinos

Scenery Along Tumamait Trail

Mount Pinos and the surrounding area is a mix of Jeffrey Pine, white fir and subalpine habitats. Recreational opportunities include hiking, backpacking, star gazing, and in the winter cross-country skiing.

The hike to Mount Pinos is about 3 miles round trip. From Mount Pinos one can extend their hike along Vincent Tumamait Trail for a total of about 12 miles round trip.

If one enjoys “peak-bagging” the route offers a chance to pick up four mountains from the Sierra Club’s 100 Peaks List: Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain (8,618 feet), Grouse Mountain (8,582 feet) and Cerro Noroeste (8,286 feet).

Mount Pinos can also make for a great summertime destination as the higher elevation can lend itself to slightly cooler temperatures than elsewhere in the backcountry.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara take Highway 101 south to Ventura, turn onto State Route 126 and follow it to Interstate 5. Continue north on Interstate 5 to Frazier Mountain Park Road. Follow Frazier Mountain Park Road west; the road passes through the small towns of Frazier Mountain Park and Lake of the Woods.

Frazier Mountain Park Road then arrives at the intersection of Lockwood Valley Road and Cuddy Valley Road. Continue to the right along Cuddy Valley Road to the intersection with Mil Potrero Highway. Here Cuddy Valley Road veers to the left and begins its climb towards Mount Pinos, while Mil Potrero Highway continues along the valley floor.

As Cuddy Valley Road continues towards the trailhead it passes McGill and Mount Pinos Campgrounds. Both campgrounds offer car camping and can make for a good base camp for exploring the area. The drive is about two and a half hours.

Cuddy Valley Road, sometimes referred to as Mount Pinos Road, ends in a large parking area. From here one can walk in to nearby Chula Vista Campground.

Vincent Tumamait Trail Mount Mt. Pinos Los Padres National Forest Chumash Wilderness

Pines grace the hillside along Tumamait Trail

The parking lot can be a hub of activity. During the summer, you’ll likely see people setting up their telescopes as this location near Mount Pinos is a popular star gazing destination because of the low amount of light pollution and typically clear skies.

In winter the parking area and Mount Pinos Nordic Base can be a focus for cross-country skiing as Mount Pinos is a popular destination for snow sports, offering a number of cross-country ski routes.

The trailhead to Mount Pinos is near the entrance of the parking area. The trail follows a gated, unpaved access road and gradually climbs to the summit.

At about the 1.5-mile mark the road branches with the road to the right continuing a short way to the summit where a radio tower is located, the mircowave facility is used by the United States Air Force to connect Vandenberg and Edwards Air Force Bases. To the left the road continues a short way to a scenic overlook and the beginning of Vincent Tumamait Trail.

From the summit, in addition to the great views, one can also see the San Andreas Rift Zone which defines Cuddy Valley and separates Mount Pinos from the San Emigdio Mountains to the north. It’s interesting to consider that one is literally looking out across the edge of the Pacific Plate to the North American Plate and can trace where the two tectonic plates meet.

For the longer hike continue from the overlook, west along Tumamait Trail. The trail is in good shape and follows the ridge line connecting Mount Pinos and Cerro Noroeste. The trail passes through the Chumash Wilderness.

Sheep Camp Tumamait Trail Los Padres National Forest Chumash Wilderness North Fork Lockwood Trail

Scenery along the trail to Sheep Camp

From the overlook, Tumamait Trail descends towards the saddle between Mt. Pinos and Sawmill Mountain, following a series of switchbacks down, before then climbing towards Sawmill Mountain. Near the top of Sawmill Mountain there is a short social trail that leads to the summit. The turnoff, on the right, is marked by a small cairn, and is easy to miss. At the summit one will find a large artfully arranged pile of stones, as well as great view out across the San Joaquin Valley. The mountain takes its name from the sawmill that was located on its southern side.

From the turnoff to Sawmill Mountain continue west along Tumamait Trail. At about the 2.5-mile mark from Mount Pinos, Tumamait Trail arrives at the intersection with North Fork Lockwood Trail.

Nearby Sheep Camp can be reached by continuing down North Fork Lockwood Trail about a quarter mile from the intersection. The camp can make for a nice picnic area, as well as, an overnight backpacking destination. The camp has four campsites spread out along the small vale. Each site has a fire ring and grated stove. The trail passes an undeveloped spring before arriving at the camp. A second, developed spring with a spring box, can be found between the campsites along the trail. The camp takes its name from when ranchers from the San Joaquin Valley used the site as a base camp during their sheep drives during the early 1900s.

Sheep Camp Los Padres National Forest Chumash Wilderness North Fork Lockwood Trail

Jeffrey Pines are seen near Sheep Camp

From the intersection with North Fork Lockwood Trail, Tumamait Trail continues west towards Cerro Noroeste and quickly arrives at the turnoff for Grouse Mountain. The turnoff, on the left, is marked by a small cairn, and is also easy to miss. A quarter mile long social trail leads to the top of Grouse Mountain, which is marked by a small pile of stones. The mountain is named after the rare Sierra or Blue Grouse which is occasionally seen in the area.

Grouse Mountain is also where Weldon Heald, originator of the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks List “bagged” his hundredth peak in 1946 and resolved to turn his “100 Peaks Game” into a Sierra Club activity.

From the turnoff to Grouse Mountain, Tumamait Trail descends down to the saddle between Grouse Mountain and Cerro Noroeste and at about the 4-mile from Mount Pinos arrives at the intersection with San Emigdio Mesa Springs Trail. From here Tumamait Trail begins its climb towards Cerro Noroeste, and a half mile later arrives at Hudson Ranch Road and the western trailhead for Tumamait Trail.

Tumamait Trail Cerro Noroeste Los Padres National Forest Chumash Wilderness

Scenery along Tumamait Trail near Cerro Noroeste

From this trailhead it’s roughly another mile, to the right, along the road toward Campo Alto Campground and Cerro Noroeste. Near the southern side of the campground one can find an unpaved road that leads a short way to the summit of Cerro Noroeste. Cerro Noroeste is Spanish for northwest hill. The mountain is also known as Mount Abel.

This same route can be reversed by starting from Hudson Ranch Road and hiking east towards Mount Pinos. To reach the western end of Tumamait Trail and Campo Alto Campground, from Cuddy Valley Road, turn onto Mil Potrero Highway.

Continue along Mil Potrero Highway, through the community of Pine Mountain Club to Hudson Ranch Road, just before Apache Saddle. Turn left onto Hudson Ranch Road; the road winds its way to the top of Cerro Noroeste offering some great views out across San Emigdio Mesa and the Cuyama Badlands. The road ends at Campo Alto Campground, which also offers car camping. Parking for trail is found along the road.

Regardless of how far you hike you will get to see a unique part of our local backcountry.

This article originally appeared in section A of the August 10th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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