South Chalone Peak is 3269 feet high (996 M). It is the highpoint of Pinnacles Wilderness Area. It is in the southern end of the newly created Pinnacles National Park. It sits just south of its slightly higher neighbor North Chalone Peak, which at 3304 feet (1007M) elevation is the national park highpoint. North Chalone has a road and lookout tower, hence was excluded during the creation of the wilderness area.
The two peaks are most easily climbed together, and from the Bear Gulch trailhead. See my report on N Chalone for the first part of this approach.
On the road/trail to N Chalone there is a locked gate at about 3100’ elevation, with a hikers ladder for easy public access. A few feet past this gate the trail to South Chalne begins on the right. There is a sign but it is small and the trail can be easily missed while on the much larger graded dirt road. This trail junction is on the topo maps and is pretty much due west of North Chalone’s summit.
From here the trail drops about 700 feet, going south then southeast to a saddle at 2600’. At this saddle you will see another route presumably to the summit straight ahead to the south, along a fence line. This route appears popular, based on the size of the adjacent use trail. We did not use this approach, so I cannot comment much about it, except to say that once on the actual summit I saw neither fence nor use trail in that direction, and there was heavy brush that way.
Rather, we continued on the South Chalone Peak trail, which shows up on both the park map and the topos. There is another small sign here to confirm the way. The trail trends east, then south along the east slope of the peak. The trail does not, however, go to the true summit. Rather, it ends on the ridge to the ESE of the summit, just as you can see on the topo map. I recommend you go to the actual end of the trail, however. It gives you great vantage of how to actually reach the summit, which is encased in heavy brush. From the ridge you will see one area relatively clear of brush on the southeast side of the peak. Walk back on the trail (about two minutes or so) until you reach this clearer area, and then turn left (west) and head upslope). The going was actually easier than I suspected it would be. I reached the summit in about five minutes once off the trail. If you are lucky you will see a couple of cairns that some kind soul previously left along the way.
The summit area itself is relatively flat, brushy and unlike North Chalone has no views to speak of . It is a boring summit. Somebody placed a pointy two foot high cairn at the approximate summit. I can’t argue with the site, its about as good as anywhere else up there. I wondered around a bit looking for a register, a benchmark, a view, a cache, or the north fence route. Nada.
I reversed the route for the return. The 700 foot schlep back up from the saddle I could have done without, especially in the August midday heat.