Mt. Chual
Crystal Peak

Tue, Jan 20, 2009
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

I decided as part of the new year I would take some time to explore the named summits around where I live in the Bay Area. I have been to many of those accessible to the public, but there are many that lie on private property or require the crossing of said property in order to reach them. I picked out two peaks near Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz mountains, with the idea of finding a new way to reach them. There is no public access to either. Like Loma Prieta, they are accessible from Uvas County Park to the southeast or along Loma Prieta Rd from the west, both crossing significant stretches of private property. From the topo map, it looked like a way might be found from the north, near Almaden Reservoir. It would also cross private property, but hopefully not regularly occupied homesteads.

My first effort led me to the small town of Twin Creeks south of New Almaden. It is a modest collection of mostly old homes in run down condition, though not without a few conspicuously placed newer mansions on the hillsides above. Driving blindly through the town without any real idea where I was going, I headed up an old dirt road following Herbert Creek, slowing as it deteriorated continuously the further I went. I misread the map, thinking I was heading up Barret Canyon, which led me to the wrong slope. I parked alongside the creek and started up the hillside on the NW side of the creek, following a private road that led up to a bulldozed clearing where a home was planned, but never built. I continued up from there until the way was choked with chaparral that I had no desire to plow through. This was supposed to be a walk along fire roads, not a bushwhack. Good thing too, because I was heading towards Bald Mtn, nowhere near where I wanted to go. Back down I went.

More driving around followed, and an hour had gone by before I spotted a potentially helpful road up a slope just south of the reservoir. I parked the car at the intersection of Alamitos Rd with Hicks Rd. There is not a lot of available parking and it seems that guests aren't exactly welcomed in these parts. I passed through a fence, whacked through some reeds, crossed the creek, and headed up the grassy slopes until I reached the road. I followed the road up, passing a fork just before the road leveled and started to head back down, traversing the north-facing hillsides. I backtracked to the fork and took this less-frequented road. Neither road saw much traffic probably, and the side road soon appeared to end where it was badly overgrown.

With some determination, I pushed through the overgrown part to see that the road did indeed continue underneath, but it appears to have been many years since the last vehicle went up this way. Upon close examination, my topo map showed a very thin dashed line where this road was. Fortunately it was adequately passable as a trail and the key to the whole route. Though I was wishing I had brought my leather gloves to push through the overgrowth, I managed well enough by using my arms in front of my face to push branches aside, ducking low in many places where the foliage was too thick to pass easily. In between were pleasant sections that were delightful to walk through, some under cover of oak and madrone, others more open chaparral with views along a ridgeline. Some of the last berries from the previous season, and the first flowers from the current one, added color to the scene. This went on for almost two miles and a thousand feet before I finally met up with the firebreak on Chual's NE Ridge.

The firebreak was too deteriorated for four wheeled vehicles, but there were tire tracks showing occassional motorcyle traffic and I was no longer ducking and choking on chaparral dust. After a few short ups and downs the route grew very steep, climbing 1,500ft in about a mile. I topped out on Mt. Chual around 11:40a, not quite two hours after starting out. A good workout. I took a few pictures from the summit, then continued south to nearby Crystal Peak, taking all of ten minutes to reach. Like Chual and Loma Prieta, Crystal was crowned with fenced-in communication towers - not surprising since the three summits are the highests points in the Santa Cruz Mtns.

My plan was to follow the road around the north side of Loma Prieta and take the next ridgeline to the west back down, the same ridge I had originally planned to use for an ascent route. From the other two peaks I could see a homestead on the highpoint of that ridge along with a white pickup parked just outside. There appeared to be a road bypassing the home which I hoped to use to continue north on that ridge, but I never got that far. As I was walking along Loma Prieta Rd, not far from the turnoff to this ridge, I heard several barking dogs. As I was looking around for a rock or stick with which to defend myself, I suddenly recalled my first visit to the area from the west along this road more than ten years ago. At this very spot, several loose dogs had come out from a nearby yard to accost me, only stopping when they were called back by the owner who subsequently lectured me about being on this private road. I wanted none of this today, so I turned back. I would much rather put up with the bushwhacking than loose dogs and angry owners. I'll leave it to someone else to forge a route up that other ridge.

The descent was anticlimatic, the bushwhacking heading downhill not as bad as it was going up (gravity seems to help pull one through the branches). It was about 1:40p when I reached the car again, just about enough time to go home and wash off my skin with Technu before picking up the kids from school. While I saw only a few patches of poison oak along the way, there may have been others I missed or branches without leaves on them. Better to take the precaution than to find out after the fact...


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David A comments on 01/23/09:
Ben and I biked down that ridge that you were planning on descending. The route goes in plain view of the house you saw, after crossing their gate and pretty much being in their front yard. It's a little nerve racking, but once you pass their house, you hop a gate, and the firebreak/road that goes down the ridge is very steep. It was a fun ride.
cc comments on 08/03/09:
impassable poison oak at least for me. In August
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