Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Balconies

As stated in my previous post, one of my many recollections about the Pinnacles involved caves. Not true caves, like Lehman Caves or Carlsbad Caverns where water leach caverns out of soft spots in the rock. Nope, these are talus caves, comprised of the empty spaces between large boulders. And when I say large, I mean large; the talus boulders are each approximately the size of Boise. Armed with flashlights, hikers can follow the arrows painted on the rocks and walk through the Pinnacles while hoping the nearby San Andreas Fault stays quiet for at least the duration of the cave hike. 

Shouldn't a creek have water in it?
There are two sets of caves in Pinnacles National Park: Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave. For no reason at all, we chose the Balconies for our caving venture. The Old Pinnacles Trail took us in that direction, heading up Chalone Creek on a dusty and level path. It seems like the word "creek" gets carelessly bandied about as from an Oregonian's perspective, a creek should involve water flowing in it. The "creek" in this case was a dry wash paralleling the trail, the only difference between the creek bed and trail was that there were more rocks in the creek bed. Almost comically, we crossed the creek on a footbridge. Don't want to get our feet wet!

Rock wall along Chalone Creek
We had started relatively early, which really wasn't all that early because we were on vacation and never in a hurry. However, there still was a bit of morning coolness in the air and we were feeling frisky and fresh despite the notable lack of shade. As we worked our way up Chalone Creek, rock walls began to loom on either side of the trail. The walls gradually closed in and it soon felt like a real canyon.

Shade is not overrated
The Balconies are actually a large rock wall on the Pinnacles rim and I'm not sure why they are called that. A small glistening ribbon trickling down the face could be called a waterfall, given California's liberal use of water-related vocabulary. I shouldn't have gotten too snooty about water, or lack thereof, because at the base of a cliff was a small spring buzzing with thirsty yellow jackets. Green grass grew around the spring and the vegetation was, dare I say, rather lush.

Cave entrance
The water was trickling from the mouth of Balconies Cave and we went in a short distance before coming back out, eyes blinking in bright sunlight. Our plan was to hike the caves from the top down so we returned to the trail and began a short uphill hike as the trail switchbacked to and fro up the canyon walls. The morning chill had since departed and we baked under the hot sun like a pair of tamales. 

"Waterfall" on the Balconies
As we contoured below the cliffs, there were a number of climber trails heading to the base of the various rock walls with names like Tilted Terrace. Normally, I can support the concept of tilted terraces when hiking but when you have stretchers and bone splints stashed handily at the base...well, that tells me all I need to know about the safety of rock climbing.

We went under
Once we crested over a pass below the rock wall of The Balconies, the trail switchbacked to and fro like an undecided voter in an election year, bringing us to the upper cave entrance. Dollie and I entered an increasingly narrow trail that required mild rock climbing here and there. At the real entrance, we donned headlamps and I started to go down.

Dollie enters her home

Below me, a rock slope tailed away at a steep angle and my tender ankle (I had twisted it the day before) started to feel anticipatory pain. The idea of having to put my weight on the sore joint flexed at a 45 angle just made me cringe. Sad to say, I exercised caution over valor and retreated out of the cave, figurative tail between my legs. And equally sad to say, I think Dollie was kind of grateful I hurt my ankle if it meant staying out of the cave walk.

Trail shot on a hot day
So back we go and as we did so, the day warmed up considerably, making a cool cave seem inviting, even with ankle pain involved. Oh well, as we hiked back down Chalone Creek, we tried to keep cool by imagining the creek flowing with water flanked by happy ferns on the banks. It didn't work.

Let's just stay in the shade until nightfall

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. Oh, snide Oregonian! I have come through those caves when frigid water rushed past up to my knees and I was extremely glad to return to my heated car and driving home bare-footed.
    Seen from the right angles, the Balconies do resemble their name: a series of stepped -back ledges presenting inviting climbing routes. It is also possible to do a cross-country walk around them to the north and find some very isolated moonscapes.
    Sorry about you ankle.