A Curing Climb: Hiking at Unal Peak
By Becky Trujillo, Girls Who Hike Central Valley, CA Ambassador
If you read other member posts on the various Girls Who Hike chapter pages as often as I do, you’ll often read about women who describe hiking as therapy. You’ll read about the women who use hiking to overcome stress, depression, anxiety… and the others who use it to lose weight, combat fatigue, and improve their endurance. There are the slow hikers, the peak-baggers, and the trailrunners... These women are my people, and I enjoy reading their stories.
The last couple of years have been incredibly hard. Several members of my family have had serious health issues, my best friend was diagnosed with cancer, and I had my own health scare (post-Kilimanjaro). More recently, my friend/mentor passed away in October, and my younger sister suddenly passed away just before Christmas. Combine all of this with layoffs at work, an unhealthy relationship (that thankfully ended), and normal day-to-day stress... and it can all get pretty overwhelming pretty fast!
Enter... hiking to the rescue! After spending years hiking in the greater Los Angeles area, I was eager to find more hikes closer to home in the Central Valley. My stress had hit a tipping point, and I longed for hikes I could do without driving two or more hours to get there. I knew there had to be hikes nearby, but our local chapter of Girls Who Hike was only a couple of months old and I still was learning about hikes in our area. When my best friend said she wanted to hike during a visit, I quickly researched short hikes in my area to accommodate her limited fitness (due to her cancer) and within a short drive from where I live.
With a little help from my friends, I was directed to Unal Peak. Only about an hour drive east of Bakersfield, Unal Peak sits at 6,681' high above the central valley in Sequoia National Forest. This trail's relatively easy grade and well defined path make it ideal for beginner hikers as well as those looking for a more mild, easy-going hike for families. It's also an interpretative trail, with pamphlets available at the trailhead to describe the trail as once experienced by the Tubatulabal tribe. I have found it to be perfect in all seasons so far - it's very well shaded and cool during the summer, and the gentle grade makes it an ideal area for snowshoeing and beginner microspike hiking in the winter.
My best friend and I fell in love with it immediately. The lower altitude meant that we both could breathe easier, and the gentle elevation gains allowed her to hike without getting too fatigued. We laughed, we talked… we enjoyed the smell of the pine, the beautiful views, and had fun spotting the giant sequoias that dotted the trail. As we made our way back to the car, I knew I had found my new "secret" place. This would be my new therapeutic hiking place when it was too hot for Wind Wolves Preserve or I didn't have time to drive to LA.
In early January, I got to thinking about this hike again. I had planned to lead a group of girls from our Central Valley on a different hike, but a stubborn cold was making that one too challenging to undertake. When one of our members wrote a blog post about my favorite trail, I decided I would our group to Unal Peak instead!
Our group hike had so much fun! While I was happy to see some familiar faces, I was excited to meet so many girls who had come out for their first hike too! Several girls had never hiked at all before, but they all successfully summited. I can't wait to see these girls on my next official hike - and hope to meet more of our members too!
And as for me... in a strange way, this was healing for me too. I have probably hiked this trail 6 times since learning about it in June, and each time I discover something new about it. With my sister's passing still very fresh on my mind, I noticed this time how similar the trail is to those I grew up exploring with my sister in Colorado. The laughter of the girls in our group reminded me of the secret giggles my sister and I would often share. Each deep breath of air reminded me of the clean, pine air that feels my lungs every 4th of July back home. And in some way, I think my sister would have loved this hike too, and was probably with me there.
So... next time you're in Kern County, be sure to check it out! Unal Peak Trail can be found about a quarter mile past (north) of 6194 Evans Rd at the intersection of Evans Road and Rancheria Road, across from (west) the Greenhorn Summit Sand Shed in Wofford Heights, CA. You do not need a parking permit or Adventure Pass to park, but parking is pretty limited. There is no water available on the trail, so please bring your own. There are restroom facilities near the trailhead. Happy hiking!
Unal Peak Trail
~3.3 mile loop
~725' elevation gain; 6,681' total elevation
Becky, Girls Who Hike Central Valley