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

Date: October 14, 2000 • Elevation: 8,831 feet (Pinos), 8,818 feet (Sawmill) • Prominence: 4,800 feet (Pinos), 418 feet (Sawmill) • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 4 hours • Gain: 1,500 feet • Conditions: Cool, spotty snow on ground • Teammates: Jeff Bishop


At Sawmill Mountain's cairn


Mt. Pinos

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Mount Pinos and Sawmill Mountain are adjacent peaks along a ridge of 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 passes south of Sawmill Mountain (placing Sawmill Mountain inside Kern County) and north of Mount Pinos (placing Mount Pinos in Ventura County). If the county line was 500 feet more north or more south, both peaks would be located inside the same county. Normally, Mount Pinos is hiked first as it is closer to the trailhead, then Sawmill is hiked second. The peaks are about 1.5 miles apart.

The trip began with the long drive from Phoenix to my brother's place in Cucamonga on Friday the 13th. On my agenda was to visit my 5-month old niece Emma, getting exponentially cuter as each month passes. My mom also was in town, visiting Emma as well, and as it was my Mom's birthday, I could wish her a happy birthday, too. 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.

Early Saturday the 14th, I hit the road, traveling Interstate-10 to Interstate-210 and then on Interstate-5 north of Los Angeles. For this hike, I would be joined by my college pal Jeff, who lives in Culver City with his wife and six cats. We met at a Denny's in Santa Clarita, battling the crowds who apparently were all heading to Magic Mountain. 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 curvy roads to the Mount Pinos parking area.

As we drove 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 did not feel like doing. So I decided to take my chances and park without the pass (more later). The road ends at a 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. We were on the trail at 10:30 am. The weather was cool, 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 maintained and has a very gentle grade.

We walked at a leisurely pace and eventually arrived to the summit of Mount Pinos 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. 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 Sierra Nevadas and the Tehachapis. We also walked 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 Sawmill 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 three-quarters of a mile. From the saddle, we hiked steeply up the other side in denser forest until the trail leveled again. Leaving the trail, we hiked cross-country briefly to the 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.

All along, the weather was magnificent, but it started 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, 2016 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.