Kern County Highpoint Trip Report

Sawmill Mountain (spot elevation 8,818 ft), and liner on north edge of Mount Piños (8,800+ ft)

Date: May 12, 2002
Author: Dave Covill

I got to the TH at the Nordic center at about 4:45. I headed up at 4:55, and summited Mount Piños [highpoint of Ventura county] via a brisk pace 30 min later. It's about 1.5 miles and 800+ feet up. Great day, about 60 degrees, no wind, few clouds, decent visibility in all directions. I go to the top of Sawmill at 6:10 via another 1.5 mile walk down 400 feet to a saddle and back up. The trail is a little strange, as it slowly winds it's way down the west side of Piños via agonizingly close together switchbacks, then all of a sudden, halfway down, it runs straight down hill steeply to the saddle, then straight up Sawmill. It is very tempting to cut switchbacks here (I didn't).

Note: once you are near the top of the trail on Sawmill, look for a small ~ 6-7 rock cairn to alert you to a faint use trail leading up through the Pine forest to the summit area, about 300 feet and ~ 40 feet up to the right (north). I made some interesting observations, and would welcome anyone to either comment, or go out there and confirm what I believe to be true.

1. Each peak is about 50 - 100 feet from the county line, and the liner captures perhaps 100 feet of Kern County within the 8,800-foot contour just north of Mount Piños.

2. Mount Piños appears to be just higher than Sawmill Mountain, via hand level from Piños. It appeared to be about even with the highest trees on Sawmill, which are perhaps 30 feet tall but do not stand on the high ground, which a bald area, similar to the top of Piños. I have an $80 2X hand level, which, while pretty accurate, is not precise over a distance of about 1.2 miles as the crow flies. The curvature of the earth is pretty small over that distance, perhaps 1 - 2 feet at most, and I negated that by back-sighting all of my sightings.

3. Piños has an outcrop about 10 feet north of the radio facility fence line, and it juts up about 4 feet. The BM is found about 15 - 20 feet northwest of this, and is surrounded by a 10-foot wide ring of small rocks like the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horns of WY. Thus, it is possible that the actual HP is 4 feet higher than the listed 8,837 feet, or 8,841 feet -- unless the BM reflects the higher outcrop elevation, which is unlikely.

4. The county line appears to cross the north shoulder of Piños about 50 - 75 feet north of the outcrop, at about the spot where a metal post sticks up 3 feet. This post may mark a point on the line, or it may be entirely unrelated.

5. There is a good-sized outcrop with about 6 - 8 feet of local relief under pine trees at the far north edge of the 8,800-foot contour, definitely in Kern County, and right at the edge of where the 8,800-foot contour should lie, and this outcrop is about 300 feet northwest of the summit of Piños.

6. It hand-levels back even to a spot near the base of the summit outcrop, perhaps 1 - 2 feet lower than the base of the outcrop, or about 6 feet lower than the outcrop, or about 8,835 feet, if the summit is 8,841 feet. From the summit, the hand level views a spot in the trees about 6 feet (+/- 1foot) higher than the rock, although it is difficult to distinguish the rock beneath the branches.

7. Standing halfway between the 2 points, it actually hand-leveled even with the actual base of the outcrop.

8. Using my good Silva Ranger compass, and a magnetic declination of 15 degrees, the post appeared to lie right on the county line, as I was looking due west at the summit of Sawmill from it, although this logic is somewhat flawed as the line is not perfectly east-west, although close.

9. On Sawmill, there is a cairn built up about 2 - 3 feet above the natural rock outcrop, at the west edge of the summit plateau, an area stretching about 300 feet east-west and 75 feet wide, as suggested by the topo map.

10. There is a register in a can at the base of this cairn. In it were the names of many familiar to us all. There were 3 small notebooks, all full. I put my name in amongst others out-of-date.

11. There is a rock outcrop at the east end of the plateau which hand-levels to 1 foot higher than the top of the cairn, or about 3 - 4 feet higher than the outcrop below it.

12. Back sighting from the cairn to this new rock was difficult, as trees were closer to the new rock, and one could not see through them well.

13. From a point about 1/2 way between, and slightly south so as to clearly see both, I could hand-level and see that I was originally right, that the rock at the east end was about 1 foot higher than the top of the cairn.

14. From this east end outcrop, the level sees just below the base of the summit outcrop on Piños, a little over a mile to the east, perhaps 5 feet lower. Bear in mind that errors or curvature of the earth will tend to make you see something that far away as LOWER than it is, with you being HIGHER. Thus, Sawmill is pretty clearly a fair bit lower than Piños.

15. I put 3 small pure white quartz rocks on the new outcrop, and left a small pill bottle register behind it, out of view, under a few rocks, but clearly visible.

16. I think that the outcrop on Piños 300 feet to the northwest of the summit, in Kern County, is about 2 - 3 feet lower than the BM, or about 8,834 feet high. It is at least 8,830 feet, even if the summit of the outcrop is 8,837 feet, and the BM incorrectly reflects the outcrop and not the ground where it is placed.

17. This outcrop is about 3 - 5 feet higher than where the flat shoulder of Piños crosses the imaginary county line. No ground is higher until you are within about 30 feet horizontally of the summit outcrop and BM area. It is likely to be the highest spot in Kern County on the north shoulder of Piños.

18. If the Sawmill spot elevation of 8,818 feet is at the cairn, as it appears to be, and reflects the natural rock outcrop elevation, then the elevation of the new outcrop about 300 feet away to the east is about 8,821 feet.

19. The Kern Co cohp MUST be at the liner spot on Piños, at about 8,834 feet.

20. Back-sighting from Piños to Sawmill, I hand-leveled about 15 - 20 feet higher on Piños, and the 2 listed elevations are 19 feet apart, suggesting some degree of accuracy on my sightings. Back-sighting from Sawmill to Piños suggested that Piños was about 7 - 9 feet higher, again reasonably consistent with the former.

21. I conclude that the highpoint of Sawmill is at the east end outcrop, but this is a moot point, as the liner outcrop on the north edge of Piños is about 14 feet higher than here.

I left the summit of Piños about 7:25, having spent about 1 hour total on the two summits measuring, sighting, etc. I got to the car at 7:55, with about 20 min of daylight to spare, exactly 3 hours after I left. There were about a dozen astronomers setting up huge telescopes in the parking lot, one about 2 feet wide and 7 feet long.