Last month, I spent plenty of time lamenting about the cold. So this month Ė it's still cold! With half of my wardrobe now firmly scented with the subtle fragrance of Eau de Parka, I'm finally coming to grips with the idea of winter.
Kern County's mountain communities absolutely rock when it comes to winter play. This is cross-country-skiing heaven when the snow hits, and all indications are we'll have plenty of the fluf-fy stuff this year.
While we're on the subject, can someone explain to me what exactly is "Nordic skiing?" I see it every four years in the Olympics, and then it falls off my radar. I have no idea how this got started as a sport, but I'm sure it has something to do with American tourists trudging through the woods of Scandinavia.
I can see it now. Two tourists see a guy zipping along on cross country skis. They wave, and he shouts something back through a big smile; and it sounds so friendly, because all Scandinavian dialects sound friendly. Only our friends never realized that the translation of this warm 'greeting' was: "My face is frozen in place, and I'm skiing to work, because my Fiat is buried under a snowdrift."
Did I mention it's cold? Pardon me while I find my tuque.
The Mount Pinos Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest lies less than an hour south of Bakersfield, and this is one of the premiere locations for ski tour-ing. Most of the area's marked trails lie in a 2,000-acre zone between the 7,500-foot elevation of McGill Campground and the 8,831-foot summit. Trails are clearly mark- ed "easiest," "more difficult," "most diffi-cult," and "are you crazy?" (okay, I made that last one up) to make it easy to pick the appropriate route for a family outing.
Pay close attention to posted signs and advisories for restrictions including ava-lanche area closures and hazardous roads. And keep in mind that private land exists throughout the forest, so respect others' property and privacy during your visit.
Since you're already entering icicle ter-ritory, try snow-shoeing or sledding. Inner tubes are also a popular source of amuse-ment, but they have no steering mech-anism. Tap into your inner Kevin Harvick and make sure of your surroundings before you go careening downhill like a white Ford Bronco on the 405.
Before your trip, check ahead with the United States Forest Service to learn which areas are open, and ask for details about snowmobile designated routes in the Mount Pinos area. The Forest Service al- ways suggests traveling in a group, as the deep powder desirable to skiers can be difficult for snowmobiles.
As always, check conditions before you go. Periodic road closures may occur, and while the locals would be glad to have you visit, you don't want to become a perm- anent part of the landscape. Winter wand- erers are encouraged to carry tire chains.
There's more to the area than snow play. When accessible, the alpine camp atop of Mount Pinos is a stargazer's dream. Winter skies can be exceptionally clear, and this elevated location is far enough way from city lights that astronomers and wan- nabes flock to it for some of the best celestial views in Southern California.
On any given night, the parking lot is filled with telescopes. Take your own, rely on the kindness of others, or simply eye-ball it, but don't miss the show.
While you're there, check out the eclectic village at Pine Mountain Club or the recently-streetscaped downtown of Frazier Park. When your eatery choices brandish names referencing Neanderthals (Caveman Cavey's) or insane wildlife (The Screaming Squirrel), you gotta figure that the search alone will be good for an after-noon of amusement.
There are two phone numbers I keep in my wallet (which I carry in my back pocket — close to my heart and head). Before heading to the snow, check with the Mount Pinos Ranger Station (661- 245-3731) for the latest conditions and restrictions. The CHP makes road infor-mation available around the clock at 800-427-ROAD (7623).