Harbin Mountain CC

Sun, Oct 20, 2013
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I had such an enjoyable hike the previous evening that I managed to arrange to come back the following evening while the moon was still ideal for such a venture. A CC-listed peak, Harbin Mtn is located roughly halfway between Calistoga and Clear Lake in the Mayacamas Mountains. It was a good candidate for a night hike since it appears to be entirely in private hands. It might be possible to approach from Boggs Mtn State Forest, a mostly public route, but I chose instead to approach from the southeast by what appeared to be the shortest route. A ranch road runs to the summit from the public Big Canyon Rd (dirt), just outside the small community of Middletown on SR29. I reached the gated ranch road sometime after 9p and parked off to one side of the road.

The hike would have been almost completely uneventful except for the caretaker I found a short distance up the road. The satellite view showed nothing on the entire route, but as I was walking casually up the road I stopped when I spotted something shiny ahead, looking like a vehicle of some sort. As I stood there trying to discern what I was seeing in the shadows ahead, a door opened to a trailer and someone with a flashlight stepped out. He immediately turned to go to the side of the trailer to some other building or car, but to what purpose wasn't evident. Though I was standing in the moonlight and would have expected to be easily spotted, apparently I wasn't. I wanted to turn and run, but thought the sudden motion might bring unwanted focus from the resident. Instead, I slowly backed up while watching for his reappearance, then once in the shadows I turned and walked quietly back down the road. On another moonlight hike I might have called it a night at this point and considered myself lucky, but I had driven more than two hours to reach this point and wanted to at least consider my options.

It seemed likely that if I could get around this section of property, I probably wouldn't run into yet others further up. On the right side of the property was a dry, brushy creek that would provide cover and possibly poison oak. Going around to the left would have been easier, but appeared more open to observation. I decided to take my chances with the brushy creek. It was slow going because I was trying to make no more noise than a deer might, the ground being littered with leaves, branches and other detritus of the oak woodland forest. Once I guessed I was more than a hundred yards distance I began to relax some, but my anxiety of being discovered was replaced with anxiety of getting stuck in a mess of poison oak-infested brush in the dark.

I managed to find a way across the creek, up the hill some distance on the opposite side, then back across the creek and up to the road I had started on, taking about half an hour. There was some heavy brush on the creek edges, but not so much away from it. As expected, the remaining distance up the road went off without a hitch. The views opened as I got higher, revealing the soft outlines of the surrounding terrain, south to Mt. Saint Helens and unknown lesser summits in other directions. I followed a series of roads, either lightly used or no longer traveled except by animals. The area is primarily used for grazing though no cattle were seen during the hike. I have no doubt it is used for hunting as well. It was almost 10:45p when I reached the summit. I found a flagless flagpole and little else aside from a No Trespassing sign. The views were better than I expected, only partially blocked by trees and brush. The brightest lights were to the west where Calpine runs a number of geothermal installations around Cobb Mtn, but for the most part there were few lights as Middletown and other communities were not visible. The road coming to the summit from the northwest showed much more traffic and is probably the route most visitors to the summit use.

The return was along the same lightly trod route, with the exception that I did a better job of avoiding the residence and the worst of the brush as well. By the time I had reached the cross-country portion, the moon was high overhead and it was much easier to discern the lay of the land as I descended the slopes. Once back at the van I drove back out to the pavement and took a cold shower by moonlight. Brrr. Fresh clothes and the car heater did nicely to warm me up. I found a quiet side road in Middletown to park and bunk down for the rest of the night, now after midnight. I had plans for a few days of additional hiking in the area and would get to those starting at sunrise...

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