The focus for this trip was to use a two day period to go as far into the mountains as possible. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the Piedra Blanca Trailhead in the middle of the National Forest, and got our gear ready, it was already 9:30am. We started hiking at our normal fast pace, but had to slow down behind the groups that had started just before us and were struggling to use the stepping stones over some water crossings. The rains had been consistent recently and the variable runoff basin actually had some flow, such that it was just barely passable on stones and boulders without drenching our boots or removing them. Once over the rivers, we continued past the initial stops alongside the main fork of the Piedra Blanca creek, aptly named due to the giant white boulders at the entrance to the valley. As expected, wildlife was excellent, with horned lizards, alligator lizards, and more. We randomly happened across the unmarked petroglyphs left behind by the Chumash, and were excited to find out that for once they weren't graffiti but actually genuine.
We trudged onward up the trail, climbing slightly as we passed the multiple riverside camps. After 4 miles, we began climbing out of the valley, along a trail which I still consider one of the harder slogs out of many I've done (including 6000'+ gains on high sierra trails). Although it gains only 3000' or so in the final 3 miles to the top, it is an unrelenting upward grade with few switchbacks and no flat areas to rest. Since it was nearly 80F when we departed the trailhead, we were relieved as it began to cool down as we gained elevation. We reached the Pine Mountain Lodge campsite by 3pm after numerous breaks, but decided that rather than continuing the further ~5 miles to Fishbowls camp, we would stop for the day and enjoy the beautiful site.
After a laid back afternoon and a nice campfire, we went to bed early. I slept well until ~4am when I got incredibly cold, and it wasn't until dawn broke at 6am that I understood why. As it became light out, I could make out that the tent was covered in debris, likely from the tree above. But then I decided to get up and start a morning campfire, get some coffee going, etc. As soon as I unzipped the tent, I realized that we weren't covered in leaves, but an inch of snow had fallen overnight. At 6000' elevation. Less than 30 miles from the coast. In May. In Southern California. When it was 80F on the hike in. Go figure. Despite being mostly prepared for this scenario, we still had to throw on all of our layers to stay warm while packing up an beginning the hike out. Although we had originally considered some local dayhikes before departing, the 1/2 inch to 1 inch of snow was just enough to cover the poorly marked trails that we had wanted to explore, and as such we decided to start back. This was a good decision, as the sun didn't even emerge to begin warming the area back up until a solid two hours later, at which point we were getting close to completion. The river crossings had in fact changed drastically overnight, possibly indicating some other rain or snowfall elsewhere in the area.