Elephant Head
Kickham Peak P500 CC

Mon, Mar 9, 2009

With: Steve Sywyk
Bruce Ramstad

Etymology
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Kickham Peak is another summit on the Coastal Counties peak list, a dubious list that includes a fair number of peaks on private property. In fact most of the Diablo Range is a patchwork of ranchlands covering hundreds of square miles of these dry hillsides covered in grass, chaparral, and oaks. Tonight's hike would be the second for the three of us, coming just over a month since our last moonlight outing to Mt. Misery.

Our starting point was off SR152, just outside the gated entrance to a ranch home located about a mile off the highway. We arrived not long after 8p and were ready to go in about ten minutes. They were a long ten minutes, waiting for Steve to get his act together (which mostly consisted of him staring into the opened trunk of his Honda Accord, wondering what he was missing), hoping a Highwaypatrolman didn't stop by to see what three middle-aged men were doing off the side of the road. Almost immediately after we hopped the fence along the road and started away from the car, I was much more relaxed.

The moon had been up for several hours and was high enough to illuminate the landscape quite well. Though I had two headlamps in my backpack, I never needed to use them the whole outing. Good thing too, because I think the batteries were just about worn out and I had forgotten to change them in both. We hiked up the paved road towards the ranchhouse (shown as a dirt road on the 7.5' topo), veering off to the right when the lights of the home became visible. This lead us to one of several steep ridgelines running up to Elephants Head, a prominent point just north of the highway when heading east past Casa de Fruta. At the base of these slopes was a small herd of cows that watched us distrustfully as we gave them a wide berth before starting up the slopes. As soon as we started to gain elevation the ranch house was in plain sight below us, but it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to notice us from the quarter mile distance at night, even with the bright moonlight.

The slope was surprisingly steep, giving us more of a workout than we expected, almost right from the start - more than 1,500ft in less than a mile. The cows had grazed all the grassy portions of the slopes for the entire distance, making one of the others comment that this must be where the lean beef comes from. There was chaparral blocking portions of the slopes on the southern side of our indistinct ridge, but fortunately we could find mown grassy sections around to the left leading us all the way up to Elephant Head. Though we couldn't see any of the color of the very green hills, we were delighted to find countless tiny white flowers dotting the hillside, standing out nicely in the moonlight. Even in the shade they stood out distinctly from the background, probably even more than they would do in the daylight.

It took us almost an hour to reach the 1,900-foot summit, Steve and I a few minutes ahead of Bruce. There was a bit of a cold breeze blowing when we reached Elephant Head, so steve and paused to put on some gloves and balaclavas. It was expected to be in the high 30's this evening, so we had brought extra jackets and gloves. The workout up Elephant Head had warmed us sufficiently, and the evening's weather never got as cold as expected - not far from ideal hiking conditions.

We still had some three miles to go, but most of the elevation gain was done. From Elephant Head we followed the modestly undulating ridgeline (named Elephant Head Ridge on the map), hopping a few more fences and soon finding an excellent dirt road that took us most of the way to Kickham. This part was a very pleasant stroll and along the way we chatted about family and work and a host of vulgar subjects relating to bovines and prisons and whatever else came to mind as the night hours stretched on. We had a crisp view of the Hollister city lights for much of the route, along with selected portions of highway 152. It was 10:20p when we finally reached Kickham Peak, the highest point around for more than three miles (Wilson Peak to the northwest in Henry Coe SP looks to be the next highest point).

From atop Kickham we could see the lights of Gilroy and Monterey in addition to those of Hollister. Some lights in the Central Valley were also visible across Pecheco Pass. There was a dilapidated wooden fence and a few lichen-covered rocks at the rounded summit, but that was about it. Might have been a good place to leave a register, but we haven't yet gotten that organized for these moonlight hikes.

Taking our time, we spent nearly as much time returning as we took on the way up. Descending from Elephant Head, we initially attempted to take an alternative ridgeline down, one further east of our ascent route. But the chaparral looked a bit much to reach it when we got to the fork point, so we punted and went back the same way - it didn't seem prudent to try and push our way through the stuff at night. Bouyed by his hiking poles, Bruce was the steadiest of the three of us on the steep descent. Steve and I both managed to slip and fall several times. Our gloves saved us from cutting our hands on the many small rocks on the slopes as we fell. My biggest concern was that I would slip on a fresh cow pie and find my back or arms decorated with the gooey mess. Thankfully we were saved from this embarassing scenario. The lights of the ranch house were out, but we still gave it a wide berth to avoid disturbing anyone - or the dogs they might have on their premises. The same cows we had seen on the way up were still there, but this time they took off at a run to get away from us - they'd had enough of spooky humans disturbing their rest.

When we were still half a mile away from the car we saw the lights of another vehicle next to ours. We guessed it was the Highway Patrol checking on our car, and after about five minutes it drove away. When we got back to the car we found a warning notice taped to the back window, a friendly notice that the car would be towed if left there more than three days. It was after midnight now, more than an hour longer the expected plan. Though it had taken longer than anticipated, the outing was a good deal more enjoyable than I had expected. The weather had not been as detrimental as it could have been, and we were all grateful for that. It was after 1:30a before we got home to San Jose, another successful night hike completed. I had spied another peak to the east while we were hiking up Elephant Ridge. Later I found this to be named Gulnac Peak - a possible endeavor for a future full moon...


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Toshi H comments on 01/08/14:
I climbed Elephant Head this past weekend in the morning. For hassle-free parking, I suggest parking at the end of the street at Casa de Frutas and take the drainage tunnel that connects to the other side of SR152. There is another drainage tunnel closer to Elephant Head that you could take as an alternate route.
Sean Casserly comments on 07/08/15:
Hey Bob,
I'm not so sure Kickham is on private property. I approached from the west off of Jamieson Road and didn't encounter one No Trespassing Sign. I believe the area is some sort of ecological reserve. I did it at night regardless so didn't see anyone who would tell me I wasn't allowed there. You can even use Google Maps to direct you all the way to the top on dirt roads if you wish.
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