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Mt. Pinos

Sample Cross country ski trip from Ski Tours in Southern California
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Map for Tour MP6: Mount Pinos

Tour MP6: Mount Pinos
Total Distance: 3.4 miles (5.5 km)
Elevation Gain/Loss: 510' (150 m.)
Low and High Points: 8320' - 8831' (2535 m. - 2692 m.)
Skiing Time: 2 hours
Topos: Cuddy Valley, Sawmill Mountain
More difficult, out-and-back, relatively
easy to follow


Highlights: Mount Pinos (8831') is the highest peak in the area. The ski tour to the summit is through scenic forest and meadow. The view from the summit is well worth the effort. Two meadows along the way are great for ski practice and the surrounding ridges are excellent for carving telemark turns.

The route up Mount Pinos is often windy, due to its exposure. The bad weather at times strands skiers who then require rescue. If bad weather threatens, return immediately to the parking lot where this tour began. If you're at the parking lot, you may wish to ski the forested area east of the parking lot instead of attempting the peak.

Mount Pinos was named by the Spanish who saw the pine-covered peak from the coast and named it for the pines that grow around it. The Chumash people, for whom Chumash Wilderness -- which curves around Mt. Pinos on the north, west, and south -- is named, called Mt. Pinos Iwihinmu; it was a sacred mountain to these original inhabitants.

Driving Directions: Drive to the parking lot at the end of Mount Pinos Highway, as described under "Area Driving Directions" at the introduction to this chapter.

Area Driving Directions

Take I-5 to the Frazier Park exit, two miles south of Lebec. If you're driving northbound, after passing Pyramid Reservoir on the left (west), you should see a distant, snow-covered flat ridge on the western horizon. That ridge is Mount Pinos. The Frazier Park exit is 4000 vertical feet below Mount Pinos, so don't expect snow there. For I-5 road conditions, tune to AM 1220 when you're near Santa Clarita (Six Flags Magic Mountain area). Drive west on Frazier Mountain Park Road 7.2 miles to a stop sign at Lake of the Woods and turn right (northwest) onto Cuddy Valley Road. Continue on Cuddy Valley Road to the "Wye" (named locally after the intersection's shape) at 5.2 miles and turn left (southwest) onto Mount Pinos Highway. Continue 8.8 miles to the end of the highway at Chula Vista Campground parking lot (Mount Pinos Winter Sports Area). Parking is limited. Parking is available at a few other areas along the highway. If you park on the downhill (south) side, you must not obstruct traffic. No parking is allowed on the uphill (north) side of the highway.

Description: Refer to the map for this tour. Take the Mt. Pinos Summit Road, Road 9N24, which starts above the parking lot and heads northeast. Shortly after passing the ski patrol building, which is below on the right (east), the road forks immediately after a gate, at 0.1 mile. Take the left (west) road uphill toward Mt. Pinos. As you ski up this road on the northeast slope of Mount Pinos, you're surrounded by Jeffrey pine forest dotted with white fir.

Upper meadow below Mount Pinos
Upper meadow below Mount Pinos

The road curves northwest, southwest, then, at 0.9 mile, reaches the first and lower of two meadows, called First Meadow. First Meadow has views north and it's often windy here. Cross to the far southwest edge of the meadow and ski southwest up a ridge to the next meadow, Second Meadow at 1.3 miles. Straight ahead (west) is summit of Mount Pinos, topped by a microwave tower. Follow the Mt. Pinos Summit Road as it enters a forest at the far southwest edge of Second Meadow at 1.4 miles. The road climbs in the forest from the south up to the peak at 1.7 miles.

At the peak is a microwave station connecting Vandenberg and Edwards Air Force Bases. The station, fenced and off limits, is powered by solar panels. You'll find limber pine on the northwest side of Mount Pinos (refer to the chapter on Trees).

Mount Pinos provides several views: a straight and narrow valley, that is part of the San Andreas Rift Zone is to the north; San Joaquin Valley and the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada -- with its beautiful snow-tipped peaks -- is to the far north; the Tehachapi Mountains are to the east; the Mojave Desert is to the far east. If you ski west to the wildlife-viewing station, you can see Lockwood Valley below to the south and snow-covered Pine Mountain on the opposite (south) side of Lockwood Valley. Below and to the west are the severely eroded slopes of the Cuyama Badlands. The eastern end of the San Rafael Mountains is on the opposite (west) side of the badlands.

Author telemarking down from Mount Pinos
Author telemarking down from Mount Pinos

At the west end of the summit area there's a wildlife viewing station ("Condor Observation Site" on the topo) built for observing condors when they flew overhead here. Condors may return here some day, now that some have been released from captivity. They didn't frequent this area in winter, but you can see ravens or other birds soaring on the wind currents. Perhaps with the help of areas like Chumash Wilderness and other nearby preserves, along with the ban on DDT, the California condors will have a chance of long-term survival in their native environment. One can only hope that in the future, people will be wise enough to preserve habitats for all plants and animals instead of foolish enough to delay for last-minute efforts to save individual species.

The east slope below Mount Pinos is a good place to carve telemark turns down to Second Meadow. Those less daring should ski back down the road the way they came. Both routes reach Second Meadow below the peak to the east; this flat, open area is a fun place to ski before returning to the parking lot.

From Mount Pinos return the way you came. To extend this tour, continue on tours to Sawmill Mountain (see Tour MP7) or Cerro Noroeste (see Tour MP8). Both of these tours are graded "most difficult" for skiing.

Skier's Caution!
Skiing can be dangerous! These books aren't a substitute for your own common sense. Don't use these books unless you are willing to take personal responsibility for your own safety. When skiing, be aware of hazards from inclement weather, ice, and hidden obstacles (such as holes, trees, streams, and rocks). Prepare yourself--bring proper gear, be fit, and obtain sufficient training and experience appropriate for the ski tour. Take part in a regular conditioning program and professional ski instruction--this will increase your enjoyment of skiing. Nothing in these books grants the right to trespass over private land.

© 2000-2002 Daniel E. Anderson. All rights reserved.