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After several days in Northern California, I had to be back in San Jose in the afternoon but still had time in the morning for a moderate outing. I was in Cache Creek area near Clear Lake where Lake, Colusa and Yolo Counties come together. Though less than 3,000ft in elevation, Cortina Ridge has more than 1,500ft of prominence. Running north-south, the ridge is geologically an extension of the higher Blue Ridge to the south, but has been separated by the deep canyon cut by Cache Creek as it makes its way out of the coastal range into the Central Valley. Because of its position at the east end of the range, the ridge lies in the rain shadow, making it drier than those areas further west. Consequently the chaparral is much less dense here and much of the terrain is open grassy slopes and oak woodland. This is a good thing since accessible roads reaching to the summit are lacking. Hwy 16 comes within about a mile of the highpoint to the west, so the outing would be a short exercise in steep cross-country ridge climbing. The hardest part would be in the beginning, getting out of the brushy bottom along Bear Creek and the highway to the more open ridges above.
I started before sunrise to give me extra time in case it took longer than expected, but I was happy to have things go very smoothly. I started at a bend in the road where South Jackson Canyon meets Lawson Canyon, squeezing through a fence and following the dry creekbed. I had intended to take the ridgeline north of Lawson Canyon, but as I was making my way through the light brush in the canyon bottom, I inadvertently found myself starting up the next ridge to the south. I consulted the GPS which seemed to indicate it would be almost as direct, so rather than try to drop back down and over to the north ridge, I simply continued up the one I had started on. I could barely see when I started out, but it soon began to grow light. Climbing higher, I found that portions of the ridge and surrounding areas had burned in a fire probably not more than a year or two earlier. In the middle of this I found a rusty coleman stove and discarded propane tank, and wondered if it was related to the fire. Probably not, but it sure looked like using one these babies out here could lead to this. More than once I've watched Scouts torch the surrounding pavement when learning to use these stoves. Of course it probably wasn't Scouts that had brought the stove here, but hunters. It seemed like a lot of extra weight to carry to an out of the way location just to have a not meal.
The few clouds in the sky began to turn pink around 7:30a, signaling the sun was about to rise. About fifteen minutes later I was atop the main crest and heartily greeted the warming sun. The grasses were lit up in a soft golden color by the early morning sun, more inviting than the duller brown reflected at midday. Some of the oaks were changing color with the season making for a very pretty scene. Not shown on the 7.5' topo map is an old ranch road running along the crest of the main ridge going north-south, which would make things easier. I followed this road for another ten minutes or so heading north to the highpoint where the CACHE benchmark is found. The top has a fairly unobstructed view in three directions, both north and south along the ridge as well as to the west looking into the Cache Creek drainage.
About a mile and a half to the north is Jackson Mountain, only 15ft lower than the highpoint I was standing on. With the road connecting the two summits, I figured the extra time to go to Jackson and back would amount to only an hour. It was an easy choice to make and off I went for the bonus peak. I crossed several property boundaries along the way, all connected by ranch roads. Some were more used than others and I hoped I wouldn't run into anyone on an ATV on the popular sections. I'd guess the area is primarily owned and used by hunters. As if to make the point, Several elk appeared atop one of the intermediate points along the way, running off out of sight when they spied me from a distance.
I reached the summit of Jackson Mtn in a little more than half an hour. There is a decent view of Cortina Ridge's HP to the south although the better view is found about ten minutes before reaching the summit. Now that the sun was fully up, the views west were no longer steeped in shadow, allowing one to see far across in that direction. Mt. Konocti near Clear Lake could be seen in the distance to the southwest as well as Mt. St. Helena and a few other notable summits. It was nearly 8:30a by now and time to head back. My return route covered much the same line as I had followed along the ridge. I decided to descend the ridge to the north of Lawson Canyon as a quicker alternative and to provide some additional exploration. This ridge was a bit clearer than the one I had used for the ascent, without the recent burn scars. Once down near the bottom of the ridge I came across another ranch road (this one appears to head north up South Jackson Canyon to a ranch about a mile and a half in that direction, but it is not the main access road and appears little used) that helped some in the final bit of descent. With the sun now well over the crest, it was easy to find my way back to the highway and the car with little bushwhacking. The whole outing took less than three hours, covering something more than six miles.
This page last updated: Sat Nov 9 16:59:25 2013
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