Mount Pinos & Sawmill Mountain • Highpoint: Ventura & Kern Counties
• Range Highpoint: San Emigdio Mountains

Date Climbed
October 14, 2000

Elevation
8,831 feet (Mt. Pinos)
8,818 feet (Sawmill Mtn)

Distance
6 miles

Time
4 hours

Gain
1,500 feet
(Gross gain)

Conditions
Cool, some snow on ground

Prominence
4,800 feet
(Mount Pinos)

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At Sawmill Mountain's cairn


Mt. Pinos

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Mount Pinos and Sawmill Mountain are adjacent peaks along a ridge of mountains known as the San Emigdio Mountains separating Ventura and Kern counties, and are the respective highpoints for these counties. The county line separating Kern and Ventura counties barely passes south of Sawmill Mountain (placing Sawmill inside Kern county) and barely north of Mount Pinos (placing Pinos in Ventura county). If the county line was just 500 feet more north or more south, both peaks would be located inside the same county. As it is, both peaks can easily be done as part of one moderate day hike. Normally, Mount Pinos is done first as it is closer to the trailhead, then Sawmill is done second. The peaks are about 1.5 miles apart.

The trip began with the long, uneventful drive along Interstate-10 on Friday October 13th, from Phoenix to Rancho Cucamonga and my brother's place. Primary on my agenda was to visit my little niece Emma, now 5 months old and getting exponentially cuter as each month passes. My mom also was in town from Henderson, Nevada, visiting Emma as well, and as it was my Mom's birthday, I could wish her a happy birthday, too. Very convenient. My brother had Marines duty that weekend and I missed him but his wife Diana was holding the fort and she was most gracious. Emma couldn't figure out what the deal was with my beard at first but she soon warmed to me and broke out in big smiley grins as I goofed off for her entertainment. Just a lovely little girl!

Early Saturday the 14th, I hit the road, traveling along I-10 to I-210 and then on to I-5 north of Los Angeles. For this hike I would be joined by my old college roommate Jeff, who lives in Culver City with his wife and six cats. We met at a Denny's in Santa Clarita, battling the crowds of literally hundreds of teenagers who apparently were all heading up to Magic Mountain just a few miles north. The parking lots around the Denny's and other establishments were packed with big buses. Jeff and I then drove up in my truck. We left Interstate-5 at the Frazier Park exit, headed west to the town of Lake-of-the-Woods, then up the curvy roads to the Mount Pinos parking area.

Well, as we drove up this road, we saw signs saying that we needed an "Adventure Pass" to park anywhere, but that meant backtracking back to the Ranger Station in Lake-of-the-Woods, which we just did not feel like doing. So I decided to take my chances and park without the pass (more later). The road ends at a wide parking area at 8,300 feet elevation. Today was the first day of deer-hunting season and there were many hunters walking about. There were also lots of hikers and mountain bikers so we didn't feel particularly concerned about the hunters. We stayed on the trails and wore orange anyway.

The hike to Mount Pinos is along an old dirt road that is gated shut at the parking area. It's still used since there are radio towers up top. We hit the trail at 10:30 am. The weather was pretty cool, very clear and calm. There was patchy snow on the ground, which was quite surprising since these mountains don't get a whole lot of snow, and certainly not in October, so this was a rarity. The road is well graded and has a very gentle grade. We walked at a leisurely pace and eventually came up to the summit of Mount Pinos, amid some radio towers, around 11:15. There is a benchmark in the center of the rounded summit and a witness marker located in a jumble of rocks, which to our eyes seemed to be the true highpoint. We separately surmounted the rocks to get photos, then took a lunch break, absolutely not in any hurry. Looking north we could gaze down almost 8,000 vertical feet into the fog-shrouded Central Valley. Way off to the Northeast we could make out the Sierras and the Tehachapis. We also made the brief walk about 200 feet northwest from the summit to about the 8,820 elevation level, which put us near the Kern County line and gave us one of the two possible Kern County highpoints.

For Swmill Mountain, we continued west along the road another 100 yards to the old Wildlife Viewing Site, where the condors used to be released back in the 1970s and 1980s. From here a trail proceeds west and switchbacks down to a saddle between Pinos and Sawmill, losing 500 feet in about 0.75 mile. Most of this portion was amid bare slopes. From the saddle, we hiked somewhat steeply up the other side in denser forest (mainly firs) until the trail leveled again. Leaving the trail, we hiked cross-country briefly to the obvious ridge, then followed it to a large cairn and the summit of Sawmill Mountain, the second of the two Kern County highpoints. This cairn is huge, and we added to it, rested again, took photos and looked out at the other mountains like the Coast Range to the west and the Temblors to the North. Very nice.

All along, the weather was magnificent, but it did start to get breezy so we decided to get moving. We descended to the saddle, re-ascended up most of Mount Pinos, then walked out back to my truck. The entire round trip was a little over four hours and covered six miles. And yes, I was cited for not having an "Adventure Pass" permit. I figured I would. It turns out that all I needed to do was take the citation to the Ranger Station, pay for a pass (no penalty), and mail the citation and the pass to the address on the citation and all would be resolved. I paid the same amount, but I was not amused by the signs mentioning the need for a pass AFTER we'd passed the ranger station, and also the phone number given on the signs was wrong. Hence my decision to take a chance.

(c) 2000, 2011 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.