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As I was finishing Elkhorn and getting back in the car, I took my boots off and found a tick partly embedded in my ankle. The ticks in the area are smaller than those of the Diablo Range, but they waste no time getting to business. I had failed to do a tick check before getting in the car and wondered how many other unwelcome hitchhikers I might have brought into the van with me. It took a little more than half an hour to cover the drive between the two trailheads. There is a locked gate barring access to the dirt road off Oakville Grade Rd, but there is a huge dirt area along the pavement with ample parking. There are occupied homes on the opposite side of the road to the south, but they are mostly out of view and of little concern. I followed the road as I had outlined the route on my GPS. It is a good dirt road that could be driven by any vehicle (were there no gate), with a pretty tame gradient most of the way. At the only junction I turned left to take the uphill fork that climbs before traversing the SW side. Though shaded in many portions, the decent grading meant I didn't need to use my headlamp. There are many open places along the road with fine views of the surrounding countryside, free from the distraction of city lights. The moon was high overhead by this time and quite bright. An old blue pickup truck with a shell startled me at first because I thought it might be occupied or otherwise parked next to an occupied home. Upon closer inspection it looks to have been there for some time, but well preserved.
When I got to the base of the summit and it was time to leave the road, I geared up with gloves and dove into the underbrush. My first effort was rebuffed before I had climbed 100ft - I found the brush well over head level, incredibly dense and dusty to boot. My second attempt was further north on a more westerly facing slope with a gully and more trees that provided occasional clearings. I used animal trails where I could, thrashed through and over thick brush where I couldn't, eventually bullying my way to the upper clearing found on the west side of the peak. It was a very steep slope overall - 600ft in a third of a mile. The summit had a simple wooden "T" held together with wire (possibly from a survey tower). A few rusty tools had been left at the base - a hand saw and scythe - symbols no doubt of the effort needed to reach it. I found no register (same with the other four summits as well). The summit has a good 180 degree view towards the south. My return down the West Slope went much better thanks to better clearings and a better use of the animal trails - only a modest amount of bushwhacking, I was happy to find. This one took almost three hours, round trip.
On the drive to the next peak, I noticed chaffing under my arm that might have been caused by my pack. I reached under my shirt to check it out and felt a small bump. Did I have another tick? I pulled over and awkwardly tried to see it in the rearview mirror. Unsuccessful, I thought to use the camera to take a picture with one hand while I held my shirt up with the other. It took four or five tries before I was able to confirm what I suspected. Dang it. Here it was past 2a and I had to do surgery in the middle of my outing. I got out the tweezers from my swiss army knife, but couldn't blindly find the tick by poking around. I had to kneel in a twisted fashion on the driver's seat while I looked behind me in the mirror to get a hold on the tick. It took several tries, but it came out. Bad tick. At least it wasn't on my back - that would have been a real problem. It didn't help that the hand I had used to probe for and remove the tick had been contaminated with poison oak. A large area roughly the size of my hand would be red with the rash in less than 24hrs.
I eventually stumbled upon the old summit road and checked the elevation. I went southeast along the road to visit the benchmark indicated on the map at a slightly lower elevation. I did not find the benchmark among the trees but did find a small communications tower and seismic monitoring instrument. Not wanting to relive the fun of the bushwhacking on the south side, I went back over the summit and down the northwest side. The road has not been driven on in years judging from the size of the shrubs growing there, but it was easily navigated on foot, even at night, albeit with a headlamp to keep from stumbling over loose rocks, shrubs and other obstacles. I was nearly back to the lower road I had taken earlier when I came suddenly upon an old gate, unopened in ages. Beyond it I could see several buildings, vehicles, and lots of junk. This was when I realized the road goes through the property, not around it. I immediately doused my headlamp and pondered the scene. There were no barking dogs, thank goodness, but it seemed dangerous to hop the fence and walk through the property. Leaves and brittle branches littering the ground made walking stealthily impossible. My only real alternative was to try to bushwhack my way around the property to the left. This was more awfulness, which abundant poison oak did nothing to alleviate. I came upon an old garbage dump amidst the chaos I was stumbling through, stuff that has been around for five decades or more. I nearly bumped into a cabin which gave me a small fright until I realized it was empty and abandoned. By the time I had regained the road I was none to happy to be done with Veeder and quickly hiked the short distance back to the Cavedale Rd pavement. I would not be recommending Mt. Veeder to anyone without a masochistic streak.
A thousand feet from the start I found the road going right through someone's property. A strong wind was blowing now which drowned out any noise I might make which gave me some comfort to continue. I stepped gingerly past what looked like two homesteads and disappeared over a small knoll where the road continues downhill to a small vineyard. Here the easy part ended. I could find no traces of the old road depicted on the topo and began yet another unwelcomed bushwhacking odyssey. Awful, awful stuff was found on the other side of the fence intended to keep wildlife from the vineyards and children from being lost to the wilderness. More downed trees, thick brush, choking dust and plenty of poison oak that I would surely regret in the days to come. Further on I found what looked like traces of the old road, now overgrown with waist high manzanita that cut and poked into my legs and thighs as I tried to highstep over it. I had covered perhaps 2/3 of the bushwhacking distance to the summit when I came up the newer road I should have taken. This helped some, but did not go to the summit directly so there was more thrashing to be had. I made several attempts to reach the highest point from different angles before satisfying myself that I had wandered over the highpoint. It was all heavily covered in chaparral and had no clearing or obviously higher point, even more disappointing than Mt. Veeder.
I started to follow the newer road back but was puzzled when it turned southeast. It looked to be going in the entirely wrong direction so I turned around and relived the bushwhacking nightmare. Had I gone maybe a hundred feet further I would have found the road had turned a corner and headed back in the right direction. Sadly, I had seen the satellite view of this beforehand and remembered it keenly when I got back home for a second look, but at the time I had it jumbled up with the directions and views from the eight other summits I had researched in the time just before my evening departure. I think what I really need are the satellite overlays for my GPS. That would be awesome.
When I got back to the van it was just after 6a and it was already growing light. I was happy to see there were no signs of early risers in the homes as I passed by them a second time. I stripped off all my clothes and put on fresh ones to reduce the amount of poison oak exposure. This would help, but I would be breaking out in rashes by the next day, the cruel price I pay for doing battle with such hills. I was happy to be done with the private property hikes before sunrise, and anything after this would be gravy. I was getting both sleepy and bone-weary. There would not be much in the way of bonus today and it was apparent my grand plan for nine summits was overly enthusiastic.
I followed a series of trails from the SE end of the park up switchbacks and to a large marsh shown on the topo map as a lake. The trail going by it is called the Marsh Trail, so I doubt it sees much life as a lake. At a junction I followed the Ridge Trail, thinking it might go over the summit, given the name. It doesn't. The Ridge trail actually traverses around the east side of Bennett Mountain and I found I had to cut cross-country to find the old road/trail that actually runs along the park boundary fence on the ridgeline. There is a homestead found nearby that may have been the cause of this ridgeline route falling to disuse. Cattle still graze the area and along with other summit seekers, have kept the old road quite servicable. Along the way there are views south to Sonoma Mountain, southwest to Bennett Valley and east to Mt. Hood across Sonoma Valley. The summit itself offers poor views, and has some growth of poison oak that one has to watch out for in the short stretch from the trail to the summit cairn. Moss and lichen adorning the rocks in the cairn suggest it is decades old. There was no register or benchmark to be found. Tacked to a tree was a memorial newspaper article for a Richard Blackwell who had died in 2012. There was no mention of his connection with Bennett Mountain. Even before I had written this trip report I got an email from someone who knew him and saw the photo I had posted:
That's really odd. Richard Blackwell was in my class at Oberlin College. I knew him only slightly. I remember that he played the trumpet. How strange to find an obituary notice tacked up along a trail in Sonoma County. He must have had some connection there, but there's nothing in the notice that connects him with California.
It had taken me almost two hours to reach the summit. Some jogging and a bit of cross-country across the open, grassy slopes to shorten the distance had me back in about an hour and quarter. I would have liked to add the other peaks I had planned onto the day, but I was both short of time and energy. I would save them for a spring day trip to the area since they are all on public lands. I stopped in Sonoma to buy a box of salty crackers and a Starbucks drink to fortify me for the ride home. My daughter would be happy to find I was back in time to pick her up from school. That almost makes up for missing the walk to school with her in the morning. Fortunately, she's somewhat understanding...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Bennett Mountain
This page last updated: Mon Apr 6 09:53:35 2015
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