View from Mount Defiance, Pinnacles National Park
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Finding Mount Defiance
Pinnacles Off-trail Hiking Route
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= Rocky Ridge = Brushy Gully

TL;DR: link to final route GPX is at bottom of page
     In 2009 I started wondering about the view from Mount Defiance, the fourth highest peak in Pinnacles National Monument (now a National Park), since it faced both the High Peaks and the "Little Pinnacles".  Perhaps allured by its intimidating name, I finally decided to see for myself.  Esperanza Hernandez, who worked at the park and talked to people there, had heard of a few who had climbed it - but their routes were unknown. 

Hike #1  (April 11, 2009)

Studying Google Earth images, I located some less brushy routes, particularly at upper elevations, heading west from the South Wilderness Trail.  My first attempt was April 11, ascending in a gully.  But the gully was narrow, making getting around/through its brush difficult.  After two hours I'd only gotten 3/4 mile (less than 0.4 mph!).  And it wasn't very enjoyable.  Somewhere my (cheap) binoculars went missing, torn off by brush, but I didn't have the time and energy to go back looking for them.  I was considering abandoning the attempt, but decided first to check out the ridge above, where Google Earth had showed less brush.  That ten minute climb made all the difference.  I was now on a "Rocky Ridge" with sparser brush, much easier to push through.  My travel speed doubled and an hour later I was on top, enjoying the view.  Returning I continued down a ridge instead of taking my ascent gully - while less brushy than the gully, it was not very enjoyable. 

Hike #2  (April 14, 2009)

Esperanza was also interested in Mount Defiance, so having had success I invited her along for my next exploration.  Hoping to find a better lower route, we went up a different gully to "Rocky Ridge" and descended via a different ridgeline.  But both were still too brushy to be enjoyable - I'd hoped to find something better.  Still, a success came in "Brushy Gully", the thickest brush section of the route, since one of the routes we explored there was workable (after breaking through some branches) - so another piece of the puzzle was in place. 

Hike #3  (April 17, 2009)

To experience Mount Defiance from a different aspect, my third trip was a loop hike - taking a longer approach to ascend Mount Defiance's steep side and descending via the now partially-known route.  But after "Brushy Gully" this time I headed north and thereafter found easy going beneath oak trees to Frog Creek, just off the South Wilderness Trail.  Eliminating failed searches and dead ends from the previous hikes, an enjoyable route had been found. 

Hiking the final route  
I led Sierra Club hikes up Mount Defiance in 2010 and 2011 and a Monterey Bay Area Hiking Group hike in 2011.  Since then I've just gone up solo or with a few friends.  I do try to get there twice a year, so as of this writing (December 2018) have been there 18 times.  It's my favorite place in the Pinnacles, giving a grand view of the "High Peaks", the seldom-seen "Little Pinnacles", North and South Chalone Peaks, Frog Creek, a glimpse of Junipero Serra (aka Santa Lucia Peak, the highest in Monterey County) between the Chalone peaks, and a grand view over the surrounding hills, valleys, and plains. 

If you want to go ...  
In my opinion, the view from Mt Defiance is one of the best in Pinnacles National Park.  Enough hikers continue follow this route that it remains relatively brush-free and mostly apparent.  Some cairns help mark the route where tread disappears, e.g. when traversing some rocky sections (there is no unnatural flagging).  But the path can be faint in places or crossed by deer trails, so route-finding experience is needed - and a GPS with the route loaded definitely helps!  Note that the start is not marked and below 1100 ft elevation deer trails abound so there are multiple possible routes - above that, you find a heavily trafficked deer trail and the route becomes more apparent.

Veteran's tip  
Instead of eating lunch at the large flat summit, find a place slightly downslope on the not-so-flat side looking west, with its into-the-park views of the High Peaks and Little Pinnacles.  You've already seen the eastward views on your way up and will again on your way down, but the western views can only be seen while at the top.  You've climbed all this way up - so savor the unique view you've earned. 

"Final Route" GPX file download

Jack Glendening (credit:p.danielson)
Jack Glendening
March 2017  (updated December 2018)