Copernicus Peak P2K CC
Mt. Stakes P1K CC

Tue, Jan 13, 2004

With: Steve Sywyk

Etymology
Copernicus Peak
Mt. Stakes
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Mt. Stakes later climbed Tue, Apr 3, 2012

Mt. Stakes is the Stanislaus County highpoint located in the center of California's Diablo Range, approximately halfway between Altamont and Pacheco Passes. It is completely surrounded by private property. What to do? The route that crosses the least amount of private property goes through Henry Coe State Park to the south. For most of the year this is a 50 mile, 9000ft+ hike, crossing 1 1/2 miles of private property at the end. Once a year in April they allow cars to drive to the backcountry of Henry Coe from near Pacheco Pass, but this is still a 25-30 mile RT route. I considered this last option as the most viable for a number of weeks until I actually checked on the all private property route. 10 miles RT with 1800ft of gain, it is a very easy outing. It crosses through land owned by a private hunting club that come to hunt animals drawn to the man-made lakes on the property. The land above San Antonio Valley (the second half of the route) is owned by another person or entity. I discussed with my friend Michael thinking it might be good to try this on the upcoming SuperBowl weekend when folks who might not want us on the land might be indoors more. In the end I rejected that and decided to go during a weekday when I wasn't working. An unemployed friend decided to join me for the hike.

As we left San Jose shortly after 8a under heavy fog and light drizzle, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves above the fog under blue skies by the time we reach Joseph Grant Park, about 10 miles west of Mt. Hamilton. We drove up to Mt. Hamilton, passed the observatories that dot the mountain tops, and drove another quarter mile to a turnout just below Copernicus Peak, the highpoint of Santa Clara County. I figured if we got arrested on our way to Mt. Stakes and tossed in jail, at least we'd have one highpoint under our belt. Parking the car, I grabbed my camera and we went up. Passing a gate locked to cars, and at least one No Trespassing sign, we hiked up the road and a nice use trail that snakes around the south and east side on its way to the lookout tower atop the summit. The lookout tower is no longer occupied. I remember visiting it some 18 years earlier and being greeted by the tower's resident who invited me up for a better view. Now it has the look of delapidation, though there are new communications antennae strapped to the sides of it. We noted one new sign from Verizon that indicated the levels of EM emmissions exceeds those allowed for permanent residency. We were glad to know that. We took pictures of the surrounding areas, the nearby observatories, our next destination, Mt. Stakes, and ourselves. Then we left.

We continued east on SR130, which changes names from Mt. Hamilton Rd to San Antonio Valley Road. San Antonio Valley is a broad valley with a base around 2,000ft lying some ten miles east of Mt. Hamilton and Copernicus Peak. The road narrow, windy, and in surprisingly great shape. It sees little traffic, and we saw no other cars on it the entire day. We parked off the road where it turns sharply to the north at the base of San Antonio Valley. Armed with our map and some water, we hopped the fence and headed off south on the dirt road.

The first half mile on the main road had me the most nervous that we might be found out by land owners. After we turned east on the secondary road, I was able to relax for the rest of the hike. We never came across another person or vehicle all day, much to our liking. We passed a small herd of cattle that mooed, formed a protective enclave, and stared at us intently as we went by. As we went past them, a number of them started walking towards us, perhaps thinking we were there to give them supplemental handouts. No such luck. The first half of the hike is relatively flat and easy along the bottom of the valley and then east up a side canyon. The second half begins with a steep climb up to and then along a ridge towards Mt. Stakes. We had no trouble navigating other than deciphering a few new roads that weren't on the topo map. In less than two hours we were at the summit. Suttle's length of 5 miles seemed more accurate than one trip report that called it 6.5 miles (TOPO! later showed it to be 5.25mi).

The summit lies along the Stanislaus and Santa Clara County border, and there is a fence running along the county line as well. A dirt road runs along on the east side of the boundary, but the USGS and Army Corp of Engineers markers are just over the fence on the west side. Under a small pile of rocks we found a coffee can (that still had some powdered grounds in it) with a small register placed only five days earlier. Steve happened to have a pen with him to allow us to make our own entries (we forgot to leave the pen there). We took in the views and photographed ourselves and the surrounding scenes. From the summit the hills went downward to the east to the Central Valley about 15 miles away. The whole Valley was socked in with fog to a height of around 1000ft or so. To the south we could could make out the hazy valley around Hollister, another near Salinas, and furhter east the fog-covered expanse of the San Luis Reservoir. One could see far southwest to the Santa Lucia Range, west to the Santa Cruz Mtns and Loma Prieta, north as far as Mt. Rose, though on a clear day one should easily be able to make out Mt. Diablo. Far to the east we could see the Sierra Nevada, running nearly its entire length from north of Tahoe to the southern regions. Directly east we could make out some jagged features that were likely Yosemite Valley, but we couldn't discern anything for certain (and the pictures I took with maximum zoom were just a blur).

On our return we followed the ridgeline south and then southwest taking a different route (not shown on the maps) that was slightly longer but more scenic. It had warmed up in the afternoon some, surprisingly so for a January day, and we ran out of water before returning to our car, though not enough to make us uncomfortable. We were happy to see our car was still where we left it, not towed, not ticketed, not damaged. It's possible that nobody drove by the entire day. The whole hike took almost exactly 4 hours at a good pace, hardly exhausting, a good workout, and a far better hike than either of us had expected.


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