Still pushing that rock up the hill. You need to find a rock and a hill that you enjoy or it gets boring after a while.

IMG_5156Temperature was 61F at 11 am. Elevation start was 8300 ft. then up to 8848, then down to just under 8400 ft. and back up to 8800 ft. Round trip was about 7 miles. Oliver is with me, chomping at the bit for a regular adventure. He’s wearing his harness while I carry food and water for the two of us.

On the uphill I clip the lead to his harness. He helps me up the steep and rough patches. On the level and downhill, it’s run through the rear of the harness then clipped tho the pincher collar. He won’t pull if he’s wearing that collar and running it to the rear of the harness makes him less prone to tangling himself in it.

I have a lightweight 26 ft retractable lead. When we’re alone he gets the full length to run

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Oliver and harness. If we need them, his saddlebags just Velcro on.

around and sniff. If I see someone – or something – I call him back and lock the lead at about two feet until we pass whatever.  I’m not worried about him. He is well accustomed to people and other dogs from trips to the dog park. I am concerned about other dogs who are not so well behaved.

It is yet another reason I like my trails to be empty..

Some people let their dogs run loose on the trail. Some have big dogs on leash they cannot properly control. Some dogs become aggressively protective or aggressively dominant when they see another dog. Socialization is important. If you can’t take the time to socialize your dog and can’t (or won’t) properly control it, I don’t want you on the trail. I have met dogs on the trail that had me reaching for the pepper spray. Never had to use it.

By keeping my dog close to me, the other dog (hopefully) won’t react as much. I can also keep my dog close so I can protect him. I don’t want to catch up after a mauling has started.

pepper spray
Pepper in pink.

I may be old but I am still badder on the trail than any one dog and probably two. The magic of pepper spray and a 4 3/8 inch Swiss Army knife. I will accept whatever damage I may take to protect my dog.

This isn’t anything to be afraid of. It shouldn’t keep you off the trail. An ounce of pepper spray will handle any dog. To me it is no different than driving defensively. Bad drivers don’t deter me from enjoying the trip. Just a fact of life. When I delivered newspapers in high school I kept a squirt gun with a dilute ammonia solution on hand because of idiots who wouldn’t fence in their dogs. I still delivered papers without worrying about it.

I’m also concerned for people who might be frightened seeing my dog bounding around. You can’t always read an approaching dog’s intent even if you’ve lived with them all your life. And then there are the people who simply fear dogs. Period.


As usual we start in the large parking lot at the Nordic Center and head up a gated maintenance road. This place is an incredible cross country skiing resource. Many of the

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smaller “trails” aren’t really trails at all. You can follow the blue diamond blazes on skis in the winter and often someone else will have been there before you, so you could follow their tracks.  In the summer, there are just the blazes. Since people don’t hike these routes on foot, there is no foot trail to follow.

When I naked-hike up here, I get out of sight of the main trails and follow the blazes. It seems obvious to me to go there but nobody except a few hunters have any motivation to get off the beaten path. Today I stayed on the beaten path. Other days I do not.

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At the higher elevations, broad meadows of rabbit brush separated by strips of Jeffrey pine.

Most of the elevation gain is in the first mile. Along the way you wander thru a mixture2019-09-21_20-21-53 of tall timber and open space. The timber is Jeffrey fine and some fir while the open areas is dominated by rabbit brush. The pale yellow flowers are hosting swarms of bumble bees

Along the way I get distracted and wander off-trail to the south side of the mountain. I get lucky. There is a red tailed hawk perched atop a pine tree. It is lord of all it surveys, visiting death upon rabbits and snakes and rodents. There may be a nest nearby with chicks demanding to be fed.

At the apex of Mt. Piños there is a military radio relay station. It has a view to the entire southern San Joaquin valley. A National Guard unit, much like the one I once belonged to, is likely tasked with its maintenance. Today the station is solar powered. A fence, warning signs, and security cameras are its only protection.

There is a tiny marker at the official top of the mountain and an unofficial log book in a plastic container you could sign if you wish.

I don’t plan to tarry here too long. I want to get over the hill, down the saddle and up to the next peak, Sawmill Mountain.

Mt. Piños is rather flat on top with several bumps that provide their own spectacular views. The one at the end of the road is known as a condor viewing area. I suppose that if a condor wandered that way you’d see it but your chances are slim.

Some 30+ years ago I remember driving up here with my wife who was 8 months pregnant with our daughter and driving around various short trails to different outlooks and a small campground. Today those trails are gradually being overgrown but may never disappear completely since people still hike and bike and ride them on horseback. You can still see a bit of pavement remaining in the parking lot by the viewing area.

The Vincent Tumamait Trail begins here and I’m going to follow it to Sawmill Mountain. That is a limber pine behind the display.

At the very top there we come into the realm of the Limber pine. There are relatives of the more famous bristlecone pines of the White Mountains. They are also ancient with some specimens dating back 2,000 years. I can’t say how old our local trees are.

Someday I shall have to time my arrival up here with a launch from Vandenburg AFB. I can look directly to the west from here. Rocket launches can be seen from hundreds of miles away if there are no obstructions and Piños is the highest mountain in the area.

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I’m not dead yet!

Now we head down the a saddle. Once we drop a couple hundred feet the Jeffrey takes over and along the way we see many lightning blasted specimens. Typically the crown of the tree is destroyed, so upwards is no longer a growth option. A huge scar is left down one side of the tree where the bolt traveled to the ground. Unlike humans, they continue growth outward and even downward. The barks grows to cover the scar and new wood starts forming. As long as you can still produce seeds, life is good for a tree.

I have seen trees, with every branch burnt off and nothing left but a charred pole, sprout a green coat of needles right from the trunk. Life does not yield easily in the wild, be it a pine tree, the omega wolf in a pack or a paleolithic human. Simply being alive is its own reward.

Is it possible that depression and anxiety and hatred are the price we pay for civilization? No wild thing could long survive with that witches brew in its head.

Down one slope and up another. It is the curse of the mountains that there are so few trails that aren’t up and down. Gentle switchbacks yield to a straight run down the side and then another run up the other. The straight sections are dangerous from loose rock and dirt begging to let gravity have its way. They become an eroded mess over time. And they are damned difficult to hike with bad knees either up or down.

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Oliver stops to check something out. Two Ravens are having a conversation. One is near and he has already located it. Now he is looking for the other.

I have Oliver to help me. I take the lead off the pincher collar and connect to the harness. Fifty five lbs of four wheel drive locks its differentials, drops into low range and I bolt up the hill, barely hanging onto the leash. Did you know that dogs are, pound for pound, the most efficient draught animals? Two thousand pounds of dogs will out-pull the same weight in horses

They aren’t used that way often today, mostly in dog sled races. But in World Wars I and II, the Swiss used Bernese Mtn. and related dogs to tow small artillery on trails and passes that horses could not manage. Our late dog Rex loved to give people sleigh rides and you didn’t even need a sleigh. He was quite capable of dragging my daughter through the snow faster than I could run after them.

After a steep climb, the slope moderates and the target is in sight. I have passed a couple going out and quite a few people coming back, including a couple of large angry dogs that were barely under their owner’s control. But now I am reaching my goal.

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Almost there!

I figured I was one of the last people to head up there. I always get the latest start and I’m not the fastest on the trail by any means. Oliver alerts on something and it is a young guy coming up from behind me. We stopped and talked and I shot of picture of him next to the cairn with his camera. And then he left. Figuring I had the mountain to myself, I set up the selfie I had in mind on my way up. If you know my blog, you know the photo I wanted to take as a trophy.

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Oliver goes on alert.

I set it up and take a few shots. No sooner do I finish but Oliver alerts on someone else coming up the hill. I hurriedly dress. Now we meet a lovely young couple with a border collie heading our way. We had a nice talk and the border collie was well behaved. I took a photo of Oliver and the couple and their dog and headed on my way back.

Before I left I went crazy, chasing butterflies all over the peak. And then I got distracted by all the lichens I saw. Most people hardly notice them underfoot but just then they were absolutely the prettiest little splotches of color. No, I wasn’t high. That’s how I normally act.


And, of course, here is the trophy photo I brought back!

Sawmill mountain cairn

“It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes…”

Henry David Thoreau