Pine Mountain Lodge Camp

Campfire night under the pine at Pine Mountain Lodge Camp.

Last November I set off in late afternoon on the punishing climb up the Gene Marshall Trail from the Piedra Blanca trailhead to the top of Pine Mountain and the camp near the old Pine Mountain Lodge site .

Don’t ask me why I decided on that route. I’d respond that it was the closest trailhead and the shortest distance to the camp, which isn’t a good answer. You’d have to be some kind of masochist to actually enjoy the grueling uphill trudge. Okay, I might be a little dramatic here, but I’m not a mountaineer-type that routinely seeks out high peaks to climb so six miles of uphill and 3000 feet of elevation gain is plenty enough to start me whining.

I had a leg cramp near the crest of the trail just as the sunlight was starting to noticeably wane. I had a fleeting thought of staying the night right there, but knew I was too close to stop and so lumbered the remaining few hundred yards up the slope, through the cedar trees and toward the camp.

As I walked the flats atop the mountain I heard voices, which turned my typically irascible mood in its usual direction. I don’t mean to suggest that I necessarily have a problem with other hikers, but I certainly don’t hike for hours on end, sweating profusely and straining beneath a loaded pack to find myself surrounded by crowds. That is precisely what I seek to escape. It’s like hiking into a remote surf break hoping to score empty waves and seeing a couple of guys already in the water when you get there.

I moseyed on down the trail to confirm the situation and saw two guys chatting in camp and so turned and headed back down the small creek and through the bush. Fortunately the other camp was vacant. I quickly unpacked and set up shop and sparked a fire as darkness enveloped the land in its cold grasp.

Pine Mountain Lodge Camp. An old ice can stove can be seen to the right of the table. The cave shown in the photos below can be seen here toward the upper right.

It was chillier than I had hoped with remnants of crusty snow scattered about the shadier pockets of the basin from an early storm, but not thinking it’d cause me problems, I foolishly pitched my tent on the hard packed sand in the mini-meadow in which the camp is located.

It’s a sort of depression surrounded by small hills and rock formations. Just the sort of geography that funnels cold air off the hills and down into the low spot where my tent was. It was a cold night trying to rest on what felt like a slab of refrigerated cement. The hour before dawn really sucked.

The next morning I heard the two fellas over yonder getting ready to haul out. Apparently one of them started off before the other, because they were yelling back and forth to each other for several minutes before their voices faded and I had the mountain to myself.

That afternoon I moved my tent to a more sheltered location. I prepared a deep bed of pine needles under the tent and created a shallow, reclined depression to lay in. The needles served as not only padding, but as insulation, too, being that, typically, the cold ground draws the most heat out of a person during the night. Pine needles are excellent for padding and piled up they create a spongy mattress. I also piled up needles on the exterior of my tent for further insulation. I slept like a baby that second night well cushioned and toasty warm.

I spent my days lounging around reading at my makeshift Rancho Relaxo and hiking around the basin to see what I might see. I walked up the slope south of the camp and to the crest of the hill, which afforded me a spectacular view overlooking Sespe Creek and the Piedra Blanca trailhead area. I found a hole in the well weathered sandstone up there that looked to me to be an Indian grinding stone.

Another view of the camp looking the opposite direction, south, showing where I set up my tent the first night.

After the first night I moved my tent atop a small rise beneath the pines and oaks (seen in the previous photo on the left).

Showing off my pefect posture looking northward over the basin.

The two dots show the approximate locations of the two campsites. The dot on the left is where the camp shown in the photos here is located.

One of several caves in the area.

Cave’s eye view.

I assumed this to be a bedrock mortar, but am unsure. Whether it is or not, with a view like that, it sure is an excellent place for working the pestle and grinding up food!

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9 Responses to Pine Mountain Lodge Camp

  1. Ray says:

    You’re an excellent writer.

    Those rock formations remind me a little bit of Vedauwoo (pronounced VEE-DU-VOO), Wyoming, which are supposedly the only rocks like that in the world.

  2. craig says:

    For those interested in the history of the Pine Mountain Lodge namesake, I recommend Magney’s brief history, available at

  3. Gravy McDaniels says:

    Hey Jack,
    Whats the water situation up there like right now? I was up a couple months ago and it wasn’t really charging so I thought it may be dry by now. Maybe those springy spots run longer than I thought.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Hey Gravy. I was last up there in early November, prior to all the precipitation we had this season, but a little bit after an early season small rainstorm. The main stream was flowing slightly, just at a trickle, enough to keep from being stagnant, and plenty enough to draw clear cold water from. It looked to be a healthy spring the way it was flowing after so little rain.

      But I have never been up there in the middle of summer, so I can’t provide first hand info, but so far as I know, the old summer hunting lodge that used to exist was built up there because of a natural year round spring that seeps from the bedrock, and that runs by the current camps of today. And from speaking to the Forest Service, I have been told that the spring does indeed flow year round.

  4. Pingback: Pine Mountain Lodge: 8-15-2011 | The Los Padres Expatriate Hiker

  5. Stillman says:

    I thought we talked about ascending PB creek…I am not talking to you any more. You are crazy.
    Who was them idjits you linked to? Glad I don’t know them. -stillman

  6. BRUCE WAYMIRE says:

    I did a through backpacking trip through there 42 years ago. Started at Reyes Creek campground, went up over into Bear trap and up the canyon to Pine Mountain Lodge. I don’t recall there being a campsite there. We camped up on the summit under those Sugar Pines with huge boulders all around. That night there was a meteor shower that felt like the world was ending. I called the place Sugar Pine Summit. Then we went over to Cedar Creek and out that way. Beautiful place. surprizes around every corner.

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