Sunday, August 2, 2020

Pine Mountain Shoulder (Clear Lake, CA)

Mount Konocti and Clear Lake from the slopes of Pine Mountain
0.5 miles round trip, 150 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved but steep road to trailhead, no parking fee

California's Clear Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America and one of the largest lakes in the state, but hiking in the region remains very underdeveloped; thus, answers are elusive when hikers wonder where they can find the best views of this great lake. While I do not have the local expertise to answer this question definitively, I can at least recommend a great short hike for an amazing view of the lake: a short jaunt up the shoulder of Pine Mountain on the lake's north shore. While lacking the far-reaching views of Mount Konocti across the lake, this very lightly-used trail does deliver stunning views of the entirety of Clear Lake that far surpass the lake view from Konocti. 

This not an official trail and I am uncertain of the land's current ownership, although there are not any signs here that explicitly forbid entry. Konocti Regional Trails, an organization that is building and promoting a trail network around Clear Lake, has expressed interest in developing this mountain into a sanctioned hiking area. During my visit, I only ventured a short distance up Pine Mountain but it does seem possible to continue a mile further to the summit, which would likely deliver even better views.

I visited Pine Mountain after hiking Mount Konocti on a nice June weekend, driving up from the San Francisco Bay Area. Unmentioned in any real hiking literature except Summitpost, I found this area while scrolling through Google Maps. To reach the trailhead from the town of Clearlake, I followed California Highway 53 north from town until it met California Highway 20, then followed Highway 20 west along the lakeshore past Glenhaven and Kono Tayee. Views of the lake along the drive were excellent, with many lakeshore spots featuring views of Mount Konocti rising on the other shore of the lake. 

Mount Konocti rises over Clear Lake near Kono Tayee Point
Soon after passing Kono Tayee, I turned right onto Bruner Drive. This road was paved but extremely steep; I followed it as it quickly ascended the slopes of Pine Mountain until intersecting with Pearl Court at the top of Pine Mountain's main ridge. Here, I turned left and drove to the cul-de-sac at the end of Pearl Court. There are no houses or signs at this cul-de-sac, just a water tower and a grassy unpaved road that left the cul-de-sac and began wrapping around the ridge. Although there was no indication that this was public land or a trail, I did not see any no trepassing signs or any other indication that parking or hiking here was prohibited. I parked here and followed the grassy gravel road to start the hike.

There were views from the trailhead: from the cul-de-sac, I could already see great Konocti rising above the expansive waters of Clear Lake. Once I hit the trail, which traveled through open, grassy slopes, the views improved: soon, the whole northern half of the lake was visible.

View of northern Clear Lake from the slopes of Pine Mountain
This was a short hike, so just a quarter of a mile after leaving the parking lot I approached a small shoulder on the hill. Ahead, the road passed through a fence and then continued ascending towards the summit of Pine Mountain; I walked out onto a broad, flattened shoulder of the mountain, what might once have been a parking area or a platform for a house or other structure. From here, there were views up and down the length of Clear Lake more impressive than any other views that I saw that day. Mount Konocti rose across the lake and Mount St. Helena was visible rising over the other peaks of the Mayacamas to the south. The many islands and peninsulas that defined the rugged shoreline of the southern lake were visible: Buckingham Point, Anderson Island, Windflower Point.

Although Clear Lake is a scenic and enjoyable outdoors destination, the hiking trails in the area are still severely underdeveloped; only Mount Konocti on the lake's southern shore has any trail system to speak of. However, with so many mountains on the lake's north shore, it's clear that there are many more beautiful spots and lake views that haven't been developed into formal hiking trails yet. This is one of those spots.

Southern Clear Lake from Pine Mountain
As far as I could tell, there were no pines on Pine Mountain: just a handful of oaks on otherwise grassy and dry slopes. However, the views were extraordinary- the best that I saw in a day of exploring around the lake- and the walk up to the viewpoint is easy, so this is a must-see when you're in the Clear Lake area. Hopefully, outdoors organizations, local government agencies, and other relevant stakeholders on this mountain will move to develop a formal system of trails here to make these sweeping views of the lake more accessible to everyone; but before that happens, visit and you'll likely have this secret spot for yourself.

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