Caves, Condors, and Cal: Spring Break 2016

Early on the first Saturday of spring break, I packed my car with snacks, water bottles, and two friends. We grabbed bagels from Beauty’s on Telegraph (which had a line nearly out the door even at 8AM on a Saturday) and headed out of town.

Our destination was Pinnacles National Park, situated about two and a half hours south of Berkeley. America’s most recently designated national park, I hadn’t heard of Pinnacles until just a few days earlier, when I’d run across some outdoorsy click bait on a routine scroll down my Facebook news feed that suggested I Explore this Hidden Gem Just South of San Francisco! It sounded fun to me.

A panoramic view from near the top of the park’s gorgeous rock formations.

According to the Internet, the park promised multiple networks of caves open for public exploration, and a chance to catch a glimpse of endangered California condors in the wild.

The day of our hike was clear and warm. We left the car in overflow parking and hopped a shuttle to the trailhead. The first landmark we encountered, soon after we started on our way, was the Bear Gulch Cave. The vast chamber into which we entered soon shrank around us until we could barely stand. “I need some of that stuff from Alice and Wonderland!” my friend Christy joked. “The stuff that makes you shrink.” The sound of rushing water that we had heard as a sort of background static suddenly increased in volume as we observed, awestruck, an underground waterfall cascading who knows how far down into senseless darkness. By the time we made it through, our hands were dirty from bracing against moist cave walls and our feet were soaked from the unavoidable puddles that covered the pathway in places, but our spirits were high. We were ready for the next stage of our adventure.

One of the bigger caverns in the Bear Gulch Caves

About six miles later, after stopping for lunch on the rocky shore of a picturesque reservoir and scaling a particularly precarious section of the trail known as the “steep and narrow,” we saw condors, too. A group of at least fifteen hikers stopped on top of a bluff, necks craning upwards. Following their gaze, it was possible to make out, atop a spindly protrusion of rock, a great black mass sunning its wings. Through borrowed binoculars, my friends and I could see the zigzag of its feathers, the strange pink skin of its odd bald head.

But there was another feature of the park for which the Internet had not prepared us: A profusion of UC Berkeley alumni, who saw our blue and gold and immediately felt a connection. Throughout our day of hiking, whilst climbing steep hills or stopping to admire stunning views, fellow park goers approached us with remarks like “I was at Berkeley too! A long time ago!” or “What are you three studying?” One man, hiking with his Boy Scout Troop, would feign terror whenever we crossed his path. “Bears on the trail!” He would announce. “Look out for bears!”

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“Bears on the trail!”

I’m from Colorado, where my Cal gear will fetch the occasional appreciative nod or inquiry as to whether I know somebody’s niece/grandson/sister’s husband’s cousin, but I had not experienced the feeling of camaraderie and kinship that I felt on the trails of Pinnacles outside of Berkeley before. It made a day spent outside all the more enjoyable, and I was still thinking about it as I bit into my animal style In-N-Out burger later that evening, halfway back up the highway towards home.

Author: Aubin Fefley

Howdy, readers! My name is Aubin Fefley and I am a second-year English major here at Cal. I grew up in Denver, Colorado, but despite my intense hometown pride, I absolutely adore living and attending school here in the beautiful Bay Area! When I'm not in class, you can usually find me volunteering in local public schools (I'm a writing tutor at Willard Middle School and a classroom volunteer at Oakland International High School), drinking coffee (it's truly an obsession), reading (for class AND for fun), or adventuring anywhere from Half Moon Bay to Marin. I am incredibly passionate about education and hope to become a teacher after I graduate, but my eventual goal is to be able to make a living as a novelist. Berkeley has helped me learn and grow in ways that my high school self never could have possibly imagined, and I am so excited that I am able to share my experiences with all of you. Go Bears!