Pine Top Mountain P1K

Wed, Jul 10, 2013
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Pine Top Mountain is a P1K located in the northeast corner of San Luis Obispo County, in the Santa Lucia Range, not far from the coast. I was in Cambria with the family on vacation, none of whom had much interest in hiking, let alone on private property. Most, but not all of the private lands in the area appear to be owned by the Hearst Corporation for the business of grazing cattle. It's not easy to tell the difference as most of the signs are fairly generic. I decided an early 5a start would have two benefits. First, it would allow me to climb the peak before sunrise and minimize my chances of being detected on the way up. Secondly, it would allow me to finish the relatively short outing and get back to Cambria about the time the rest of the family was getting up for breakfast. This is especially important when the Cambria vacation is for the wife's birthday and hiking wasn't really supposed to be part of the plan.

With the help of the GPS, I found the gated dirt road off Highway 1 with relative ease, about 12 miles north of Cambria. Parking along the road is hard to find in the area around the gate as there is no shoulder, but there are small turnouts on either side about a quarter mile from the gate. Climbing over the gate in the dark, made darker by the fog that hugged the coast, I found myself on a a rough dirt road in not exactly an inky darkness, but something close. I could see enough to not need a headlamp, but barely. Cattle immediately on the other side of the gate were roused at my presence and quickly rose to their feet to move a safer distance away. It wasn't until I was some distance down the road that the braver ones among them took to mooing loudly, as if to convince the others, "Don't worry, I've driven the human off. You can relax now. Aren't you glad I'm here to protect you?"

After half an hour I had gained enough elevation to reach the top of the fog layer, just as the sky was beginning to take on the colors of a new day. To the north, across the San Carpoforo Creek, was the sister peak of Pine Top Mtn - Bald Top Mtn. I actually mistook it for Silver Peak which lies a number of miles to the northwest, but it made little difference. I would study the peak on the way up and down, watching it change in the morning light and decided to climb it the following day. About halfway up I came across a small cabin built in the woods. It looked a bit spooky in the dark, but on the way back it seemed rather plain and not so intimidating. The road I followed on Pine Top eventually eased its steep ascent as I reached more the open, grassy ridgeline. There were a few more cattle here, but they wandered off without running or bothering to moo their discontent. As one might expect from the name, pine trees eventually make an appearance higher up. The road winds around the three summits of Pine Top without actually going to the top of any of them. I paid a visit to the two summits with spot elevations given on the 7.5' topo, including the highest one to the northwest. The top was a tangle of madrone thickets, mixed with a few conifers and much thrashing for no views and no special finds of any sort. How did they get a spot elevation up here? Perhaps it was burned off at the time the survey party visited. I spent another half hour paying an even more tortured visit to the southern summit. This one was a maze of manzanita so thick it was impossible to stand up anywhere near the top whose location wasn't at all obvious. I crawled around for a short while until the utter silliness of the situation finally sunk in, eventually retreating back to the road and brushing off all the twigs, branches, and leaves that had gotten into all the creases and pockets I possessed. Though the summits themselves were devoid of views, there were very fine views to be had from various points along the road. The views of the fog up against the rugged Big Sur coast is stunning. The view west overlooks an immense span of fog covering as far as the eye can see. The temperatures here in the early morning were quite pleasant, almost too warm for such an early hour. Down below in the fog the temperatures stay constantly in the 50s until the sun starts to break up the cloud layer later in the morning.

My route down was the same as I had taken going up. The fog had not retreated any in the few hours that had elapsed, helping to provide some cover in the lower portions where I was more likely to be discovered. The lowland cattle spotted me jogging down the road and took off to get out the way. A lone zebra (from the Hearst menagerie, no doubt) was among them, acting pretty much the same as the cattle he associated with. I cut across scrubby meadow at the bottom to make a more direct route back to the car and avoid pestering the cattle more than necessary. There is a collection of ranch buildings about a quarter mile to the south that I had some concern about, but luckily there was no one out and about and I was able to return to the van unnoticed. In all I was about three hours in covering just under 10 miles. And back in time for breakfast, just as planned...


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