Category Archives: mt pinos

Mt. Pinos Adventure Run to Mesa Spring

Mesa Spring Trail near the top of San Emigdio Mesa
Mesa Spring Trail near the top of San Emigdio Mesa.

For many that enjoy the outdoors, there is an insatiable desire to go where we have not been, learn what we do not know, and discover what we have not experienced.

Each time I’ve done the out and back trail run from Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel, I’ve been curious about the Mesa Spring Trail. The trail leaves the Tumamait Trail at Puerto del Suelo, a saddle about 0.6 mile east of Mt. Abel Road, and descends to a campsite at a spring on the margin of San Emigdio Mesa. The mesa is the large alluvial fan shown on this Google Terrain Map overview.

The Mesa Spring Trail is part of an old trail shown on the USGS 1903 Mt. Pinos topo map. The old trail was part of a route that connected the Cuyama River to the historic El Camino Viejo a Los Ángeles. It followed Dry Canyon, went over Puerto del Suelo, and to the valley that is now the Pine Mountain Club. Like so many trails, it must have evolved from a hunting and trade route.

Google Terrain map showing San Emigdio Mesa and my route from Mt. Pinos
Google Terrain map showing San Emigdio Mesa and my route from Mt. Pinos

The Mesa Spring Trail is usually accessed from the West Tumamait Trailhead on Mt. Abel Road. But it occurred to me that starting at the East Tumamait Trailhead on Mt. Pinos might be an enjoyable way to do a longer out and back run. The Mesa Spring Trail looked like it might be similar to the North Fork Trail — a little less used and a bit more remote.

I left the Chula Vista parking area a little before 7:00 a.m. and started chugging up the road to the East Tumamait Trailhead at the Mt. Pinos Condor Observation Site. I planned to skip the usual side trips to Sawmill and Grouse. The spring was at a much lower elevation, and I wanted to get there before the temperature sizzled.

Once on the Vincent Tumamait Trail, it took a little over an hour to reach the top of the Mesa Spring Trail. The junction is marked with a new sign and tree branches on the ground. It is about 5.7 miles from the Mt. Pinos parking area.

Plant communities change dramatically with elevation.
Plant communities change dramatically with elevation. This Jeffrey pine forest is at about 7000′.

The first couple of miles down from the junction, the trail more or less follows the drainage. About 10 minutes from the junction, a large pine tree had fallen and completely blocked the trail. I worked around the right (west) side of the tree, where some orange fence posts had been placed. A few minutes beyond the collapsed tree, the trail wandered around the right side of a pretty meadow and then back to the “V” of the dry stream.

For the next mile or so, the trail followed a typical down-canyon route. On the way down, there were some spots where I stopped, turned around, and made a mental note of what the trail did. It wasn’t so much a matter of getting lost, as it was not wasting time at an ambiguous spot on the way back.

About 2.3 miles down from the saddle, the trail climbed out of the canyon, taking a counterintuitive turn to the right. After reaching a ridgeline, the trail turned back left and continued downhill. But its wanderings were not over. The trail was working across the gullies at the top of the San Emigdio Mesa. It went up, down, and around, but eventually did go to Mesa Spring. There were “ducks” marking the route, but it really helped to have looked at a map and have a general idea of where the trail would go.

Mesa Spring is on the northern margin of San Emigdio Mesa.
Mesa Spring is on the northern margin of San Emigdio Mesa.

Mesa Spring is a pretty green spot in a group of pinyon pines. As I neared the spring, I saw some coyote-like ears bobbing through the sagebrush, and not long after that, a deer bounded through the trees. At the spring, a squirrel leaped from the edge of the water-filled cistern to a nearby tree and various birds flittered in the pines. I heard a trickle of water near the cistern’s base but planned to get water at Sheep Camp, later in the run.

With its bounty of pinyon pine nuts, acorns, juniper berries, game, and more, San Emigdio Mesa provided vital resources for the local Chumash.

Although the Mesa Spring Trail continues down the mesa, the spring was my turnaround point. I had waited for a day when the weather was better for this run. A weak low-pressure trough moving through to the north had stirred up a little wind and taken the edge off the recent heatwave. It had been cool on the crest, but at 6000′ it was already hot in the sun. It was time to get moving, and in a few minutes, I was retracing my steps and headed back to Mt. Pinos.

With a stop at Sheep Camp, the run & hike worked out to about 20 miles, with an elevation gain of around 4700′. Here are a few photos taken along the way, and an interactive 3D view of the trail run.

Some related posts: Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel Out & Back – Plus Sawmill Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Sheep Camp, Up, Down and Around on Mt. Pinos’ Tumamait and North Fork Trails

Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel Out & Back – Plus Sawmill Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Sheep Camp

Paintbrush along the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Mt. Pinos.

The out and back trail run from the Chula Vista parking area on Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) is a long-time favorite. It combines subalpine summits, beautiful pine and fir forests, and a unique flora with uncrowded trails that are fun to run and explore.

The basic out and back to Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) with a stop on the way back at Sheep Camp for water is around 14 miles with an elevation gain/loss of about 3400′. The side trips to Sawmill Mountain and Grouse Mountain are short and add about 0.75 mile to the distance and around 250′ to the elevation gain.

As in other areas of Southern California, the wet 2018-19 Winter has resulted in an abundance of wildflowers in the Mt. Pinos region. Paintbrush, mariposa lily, larkspur, penstemon, lupine, phlox, iris, yarrow and many other plants are blooming in profusion. Limber pines in the area are full of cones and the spring at Sheep Camp is flowing well.

Floras and checklists for Mt. Pinos have been compiled by Tom Chester, CalFlora, Mount Pinos Ranger District, David L. Magney and others.

Here is a Juicebox album of a few photos taken on this trail run on Mt. Pinos.

Some related posts: Up, Down and Around on Mt. Pinos’ Tumamait and North Fork Trails, Thunderstorm, Pinos to Abel Plus

Up, Down and Around on Mt. Pinos’ Tumamait and North Fork Trails

A Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain, near Mt. Pinos

Yellows, reds and greens marked its location, but the seep above Sheep Camp was dry. As I approached the camp, the uppermost campsite was empty and I wondered if the spring at the camp was also going to be dry. If it was, I was going to have to revise my running plan.

Rabbitbrush blooming along the Tumamait Trail near its eastern trailhead on Mt. Pinos.
Near the start of the Tumamait Trail on Mt. Pinos.

So far the run had gone well. From the Chula Vista parking area (8350′), I’d run the service road up to Mt. Pinos (8831′), then followed the Tumamait Trail west to Mt. Abel Road. Along the way Sawmill Mountain (8818′)and Grouse Mountain (8582′) had been short side trips; and from the end of the trail, the summit of Mt. Abel (8280′) was a short hike up through the pines.

Compared to the triple-digit temperatures in the parched West Valley — as high as 117 °F this July — the temps on the Tumamait Trail had been wonderfully cool. The hotter than average weather seems to have become the new norm, and also — unfortunately — the resulting wildfires.

On a run here Last July, smoke from a fire near Lake Cachuma had nearly enveloped Mt. Pinos. Today several fires were burning in California, and once again smoke could be seen in the valleys and canyons to the north of the mountain.

The North Fork Trail and small spring at Sheep Camp.
The small spring at Sheep Camp.

To get in a bit more mileage and elevation gain the next part of my run was supposed to be an out and back to the sun-baked environs of Lily Meadows (6600′). That wasn’t going to happen if the spring was dry.

When I stopped at the wildflower-accented spring I could see that there was the barest thread of water trickling from the pipe. It didn’t look like much, but it filled my 18 oz. cut-off water bottle in about three minutes. I gulped down most of the first bottle and it took a couple more to fill my Camelbak. In about 10 minutes I was headed downhill.

The North Fork Trail at Lily Meadows Camp.
The North Fork Trail at Lily Meadows Camp.

The North Fork Trail is far less used than the Tumamait Trail. That’s part of the fun. Thunderstorms had not only wiped away any previous tracks, but had severely eroded some sections of the trail as well.

With the loss of elevation came an increase in temperature. By the time I reached Lily Meadows Camp the temp was in the 90s. This time of year there were no lilies or meadows at the campsite, but there was a nice grove of Jeffrey pines and a new camp table!

I didn’t spend much time down there. There was a hill to climb and the cool temps along the crest were only about an hour away.

Some related posts: Pinos to Abel Plus, Thunderstorm, Vincent Tumamait Trail