I’ve wanted to return to Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain (also known as the 3-2-1 Challenge) since my last December experience with frostbite. I can’t believe that was six months ago. Anyway, the long story short is we weren’t expecting a foot of snow (it was 60 when we left the house), and it was too challenging to get to all three peaks. Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain are challenging with no snow, let alone a foot.
About the Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain Peaks:
To climb all three of the peaks: Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain, you’ll need to take both the Condor Summit and Vincent Tumamait Trails. Truthfully, it’s hard to get lost until Grouse Mountain, and then there are a few forks.
The three peaks are part of the 3-2-1 Challenge. As stated here:
Three peaks, two counties, one day.
Mount Pinos – 8,848′ (highest peak in Ventura County)
Sawmill Mountain – 8,818′ (highest peak in Kern County)
Grouse Mountain – 8,583′ (why not – you’re already here!)
Sawmill is the most challenging of the three peaks with more technical terrain. I also argue Grouse is challenging because you don’t exactly know where the summit is (just look for the highest area, and you should see a sign). Sawmill Mountain is also part of the SoCal Peaks Challenge and marks my fourth (San Jacinto Peak, Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson).
My Experience at 3-2-1 Challenge/Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain:
10.2 miles 2100 feet elevation gain
3-2-1 Challenge/Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain Trailhead Address:
We left our house around 6 am and arrived at the Nordic Station around 7:20 am. The Nordic Station sits in Los Padres National Forest about 8000 feet up. The last time I was here, it was snowy, icy, and cold. This time in mid-June, it was 40 degrees. I guess they took the bathrooms away at the Nordic Station.
The first section of the trail is a comprehensive service road. It’s the easiest part of the trail (that goes uphill). You can tell you are not on the desert floor anymore, and at 8000 feet, things begin to get challenging fast. The first mile is mostly all dirt service road as you climb towards Mount Pinos. All I could think about was how much easier it was without snow.
We passed through dry meadows with several flowers blooming. We didn’t realize the radio tower was the Mount Pinos Summit. To be honest, I think many people believe the summit is where the Condor viewing area is. It doesn’t look like a “big peak” but just an area with a radio tower. Mount Pinos Peak is the highest of the peaks sitting at 8818. I was excited there was a sign and to continue along the Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain journey.
The dirt road continues towards the Condor Observation Site around mile 2. There were benches, but it was too cold and windy to hang out. On a clear day, you could probably see Condor flying around. We continued down the singletrack and the rest of the way. The following 3 miles out are more challenging than the first two. The terrain is more narrow and more technical.
The Vincent Tunamait Trail takes you into Chumash Wilderness and towards Sawmill Mountain. All I could think was: this will be steep coming back. You’ll continue following that along the Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain journey, and around 3.5, you’ll see a fork in the trail. The fork takes you to Sawmill Mountain just a quarter of a mile later. You’ll know you’re there because you’ll see rock formation and hopefully a sign.
Then you’ll follow the trail to the third peak of the day: Grouse Mountain. It was slightly daunting to see Grouse Mountain in front of us but also knowing we would go down and back up. The course gets steep (uphill and downhill) in both directions. There was a fork that we almost went the wrong way but followed to the right. I want to see where the left took you.
Around mile 5, we reached what we thought was the Grouse Peak, and I thought, “wow, that was anti-climatic.” You’ll continue about .2 further until you get to a wooden teepee. Then you’ll see the sign for Grouse Peak.
Then you’ll return the same way you came and retrace your steps of the 3-2-1 Challenge. It’s nice because you do have the ability to check out the peaks again if you want. Or you can check them out in reverse order.
Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain peaks are challenging because there is no going up and coming back down. You go up, back down, up, back down, up, then back down. We were exhausted by the final climb up to Mount Pinos (although that view is probably my favorite). The second half is just as hard as the first half. Although, the last mile is undoubtedly the easiest.
Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain Thoughts:
The three peaks: Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain, make for a fun adventure and completing the 3-2-1 challenge. It’s also a doable set in a day trip. The average person takes about 5 hours (we finished in 3) so hitting three peaks in one day is more achievable. It’s a gorgeous view, and I love that you can see both the desert that is Kern County and the beautiful lush green that is Ventura. I would come again, although my guess is there is snow from November-May.
You can see more hikes here.
Questions for you:
Have you done the 3-2-1 Challenge/Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain peaks?
What is your favorite summit?