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We arrived at Pacheco Pass around 7:30p, about an hour before sunset. There were no homes shown along the route, so we figured with such a remote location we ought to have no trouble starting a little early. Sometimes it's nice to see the places you visit. We pulled off the highway and started up the road, only to be stopped less than 100yds up by a locked gate just around the bend. It looked like we were going to have to do the whole 12 miles, and this did not sit well with Ryan. Though I had told him the distance was uncertain and had given him all the info I had at the time, he had come to believe that we were going to be able to drive most of the distance. His mood turned sullen and there seemed to be nothing we could do to change it. Well, that's not entirely true. We could have chosen to turn back and go home which would have suited Ryan just fine, but there was little chance of that happening given who his father is.
After hopping the intial gate, we hiked up the good dirt road as the sun gave the brown, grassy hills an orange glow before turning in. The full moon was just rising over the Central Valley to the east. Unmoved by the moving scene about us, Ryan walked some distance behind us initially, allowing him more time to privately stew in his juices and let his resentment fester. Steve would attempt to draw Ryan into conversation, but he wasn't going to give up his dungeon of doom so easily.
The road we followed goes along the crest of the Diablo Range, the dividing line between Santa Clara and Merced Counties. The Merced side was home to a state wildlife area and there were fences we would periodically come to marking this boundary. These gates were simply closed with a clasp, so there was no need to hop any more fences. By 9p it was quite dark, but the moon allowed us to hike without headlamps. We came to a more serious property boundary marked by a huge sign that left no doubt visitors were unwelcome. Ryan seemed to perk up - this was the sort of danger he'd been hoping for. He was almost surprised to see the sign had not moved us to retreat. "You're going to go in there?" he asked. "The peak is on the other side," I answered as though to settle the point permanently. He seemed be done with his moping phase and cautiously asked if the hike was "Frap-worthy." I explained that the Starbucks would all be closed before we were done with our hike. "How about Sonic?" he countered. We had passed the Sonic Burger Drive-In on our way through Gilroy and he had been thinking about it on and off since then. "Sure, if they're open. Otherwise there's In-N-Out," I replied. That was all it took to bring him out of his funk and for the rest of the night he was one of the boys, chatty and inquisitive, as though the last hour had never happened. Kids can be funny that way.
We never saw our peak during the daylight, but it was not hard to distinguish it by moonlight. It is an odd peak, not the highest point around and sitting west of the main crest. Portions of our hike along the road were actually above the summit height. When alongside the peak and still on the main road, we found a side road, weakly defined but nicely mown through the grass that headed out towards Hagerman. This got us to all but the last hundred yards or so of the grassy slope that we had to plow our own way through.
We found a small rocky outcrop at the top, undoubtedly the highest point, and looked around for the existence of a summit register, but in vain. We took in the moonlit views, rolling hills and ridges all around us as far as the eye could see. Only a few lights from the distant city of Los Banos wrinkled our illusion of utter isolation. It was a cool night, low 50s, with a light breeze blowing that had Steve and I putting on an extra layer. Ryan seemed to be enjoying the sensation of chilled arms and the accompanying numbness, refusing the offer of a fleece.
Our return was via the same route, same gates and fences. There was no one to disturb our hike the entire distance, and only a few cows were spooked by our presence. In all we spent 4 hours on the hike, keeping a pretty healthy 3mph pace considering Ryan was along. He didn't seem to suffer from the distance as he had felt he would at the beginning. When we got back to Gilroy we found we were only minutes late for Sonic, which closed at midnight. Luckily we knew In-N-Out was open until 1am, so with another short bit of driving we were soon enjoying our just desserts. Milk shakes in this case, vanilla and chocolate.
This page last updated: Mon Aug 3 13:10:00 2009
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