McAbee Mountain P500

Sun, May 12, 2013
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McAbee Mountain is a fairly nondescript summit located in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The summit marks the highpoint of the ridgeline separating the East and West Forks of Wadell Creek, not far from the park headquarters. Despite having more than 500ft of prominence, it is difficult to get a view of it looking much like a mountain. It is simply buried too deep in redwood country to garner any attention. It had gotten mine by being the most prominent named summit in the Santa Cruz Mountains I had yet to reach. The hike is nothing of note, less than two miles, most of it on an old logging road. The summit itself requires some bushwhacking to reach. Not the sort of place I could take the Scouts to on one of our hikes, and not really worth driving out that way just to pay it a visit. I hit upon the idea of biking to it from San Jose, and this became the one that drove me to action. I'd never ridden my bike the 35 miles to the park which involves some significant gain and thought this would make a good challenge. The hike in the middle of the ride would be little more than a leg stretcher to give my butt a rest from the bike seat.

I took the Los Gatos Creek Trail from San Jose to Los Gatos, a picturesque route popular with joggers, walkers, cyclists, and anybody looking for a reprieve from urban life. The creek was flowing well, the percolation ponds busy with fishermen, Vasona Park bustling with hundreds of Canadian geese that have become so accustomed to humans and their free food handouts that many are now year-round residents. From Vasona I took scenic Hwy 9 to the quaint and very wealthy town of Saratoga which used to be one end of the toll road between San Jose and Santa Cruz. Hwy 9 follows much of this old toll road, bisecting the range approximately in half. This used to be the main route to Santa Cruz in the Gold Rush days, but competing stage lines near the present day SR17 proved faster. The climb to the crest from Saratoga is seven miles, climbing more than 2,500ft. That is usually a good day's workout by itself, but the route to Big Basin is another nine miles down the other side, with another significant climb between Waterman Gap and China Grade before the last cruise down to park headquarters. It took three hours to cover the distance.

As expected, the hike was somewhat of a reprieve. I rode half a mile past the park headquarters to the Bloom Creek Campground, following the pavement through the CG over the bridge across Opal Creek and then to the junction with the McAbee Overlook trail. I stashed the bike here behind a large propane tank and started up the old dirt logging road. The climb is about 500ft in 1.7 miles to the overlook where I found a mountain biker napping on the bench there. I thought I was in luck when I spied what looked like a good use trail heading up the ridge from the overlook, but this soon devolved into a claustrophobic bushwhack of downed logs and branches with vines growing over much of it. Luckily, there was no poison oak that I spotted anywhere on the 300-foot excursion to the summit. I found the highpoint covered in trees that afforded no views, much as expected. The only thing manmade I found in the vicinity was the odd white post located just below the summit. On the route down I found the climbers' right side of the ridge to be far less brushy and it took me only five minutes to return to the overlook.

Back on the bike, I stopped at the park HQ to partake of an ice cream treat in way of fortifying me for the ride back out. Though I had 500ft less gain on the return, I was hardly any faster due to the length of the ride. I was back in Saratoga two hours after leaving park HQ, and another 45 minutes getting back home. In all, just under eight hours on the day for a 4 mile hike - I think that's some sort of record for me...


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