Merrilis Hill

Sat, Sep 6, 2014
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My son was running in the Toro Earlybird SC meet near Salinas today, so I went out a few hours early to ride around Fort Ord National Monument. I had been here a few years ago to tag some minor hills and had missed a couple - seemed a good time to come back and pick up them up. It was not as easy as I had expected. Ft. Ord is a retired military base, or rather, somewhat retired. There are still plenty of buildings and homes on the far western edge that are still US military lands. The eastern half has been decomissioned and is now called Ft. Ord National Monument. The western half outside the developed areas is the US Army Managed Portion of the National Monument, currently closed for "Munition Hazards." This area is surrounded by fences, signed for unexploded ordinances and No Trespassing. "Some day" this might be swept of such hazards and incorporated into the rest of the national monument, but for the foreseeable future it is off limits. Unfortunately the two summits I was interested in were both in this limbo land. The first of these, unnamed Peak 980ft (these are not major summits, to be sure), is located near the Laguna Seca Raceway, just inside the closed area. On a driveby down South Boundary Rd I spotted the closed gate that would lead to the top but parking and detection looked like they could be a problem and I didn't give it a try. I didn't know if Merrilis Hill was also inside the closed area, but it seemed worth a visit - I needed to get some exercise in any event.

I parked at the Badger Hills TH off SR68 and rode my mountain bike along a series of gravel/dirt roads - Guidotti, Skyline, and Barloy Canyon Rd. These took me through the drier SE side of the national monument which is really just a bunch of brown hills looking very much like most portions of the Diablo Range further to the east. Closer to the coast and out of the rain shadow, the area is somewhat wetter, supporting oak forest and chaparral, but not all that impressive, really. The area is popular with hikers, runners, bikers and equestrians, though this morning mine was the only mountain bike in this part of the monument. Barloy Canyon Rd is an old paved road, now closed to motor vehicles, that abuts the Laguna Raceway. Today was Mazda Miata day, several hundreds of the roadsters filled the pit area of the raceway for a series of races involving only this model car. I watched a couple of laps of one race but the speeds were not overly impressive - these are not professional, just Miata enthusiasts who like to have a chance to race their babies.

After the long climb up to Skyline Rd and the raceway, I enjoyed the long, easy descent north on Barloy Canyon Rd. This road runs along the eastern boundary of the closed area, leading to a gate at the junction with Eucalyptus Rd. I turned right here, following this latter road which marks the northern boundary of the closed area. Luck was not with me as I found after the next mile that Merrilis Hill is just inside the closed area on the north side. Rats. I cased the possible approaches, noting the paved/gravel Riso Road as one possibility, but settling on the shortest possible approach - cross-country - from Eucalyptus which would be a mere 0.15mi. I decided the risk of detonating an unexploded ordinance was exceedingly small. I had no data or evidence of any kind to back that up, really it was more of a rationalization - how dangerous could it really be? After waiting for some cyclists and runners to pass by, I dashed up to the summit, took a few photos looking south and north and retreated. The "hill" is really just a low-level ridge not much higher than anything else around it. I had to laugh at myself for my willingness to risk either blowing my foot off or getting hauled before a military magistrate in order to "summit" such a pathetic hill. I really had to wonder if there was anyone else I knew (or didn't know) that would have made the same choice on this one. The odds seem rather low.

Following my successful ascent, I returned via the same series of roads to the TH and then drove to Toro County Park to watch the XC races. It was far more exciting than running through munition hazard lands, I decided. Ryan's school took first place in all four boys divisions (Frosh/Soph/Junior/Senior). He placed 4th for his school in the senior race - looks like he may get his chance to run in the more competitive Varsity races in the coming months - might provide me with more excuses to visit some other hills around CA. :-)


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