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"Hike or run today?"
Ryan chose hike. Good, I thought, that's what I felt like, too. I had half a dozen easy peaks in the Santa Cruz Mtns of San Mateo County lined up, but we didn't get through with the day's agenda, because the long one (3mi each way) turned out to be harder than I had expected. The two peaks are in or near the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, but the only map I had was the 7.5' topo that is a bit dated. Fortunately it was good enough.
We drove up Page Mill Rd, crossed SR35, then drove about half a mile down Alpine Rd to a small turnout and a trailhead. It wasn't the location I had picked out on the map, but it looked like it would do. We hiked up about 50 yards until we met the main trail. At first we turned left, but didn't go too far before Dad figured out where he was. I could see Mindego Hill to the west and quickly guessed we'd turned the wrong way. We backtracked, found the correct trail junction for the Ridge Trail, and headed west.
Ryan was in good spirits as we pointed out to each other the interesting things we noticed along the way. Stink bugs, lizards (we made some nooses with grass stems and managed to catch one), interesting plants and flowers. We noted the smooth, cool bark of the madrone trees, the spooky look of the old, moss-coated oaks found at one place. Unlike the Diablo Range where the poppies have all but finished blooming for the season, the moister Santa Cruz range was still alive with the bright orange flowers. The grass had grown tall and overshadowing the shorter poppy plants, but where we walked through the grass and alongside the trail their large numbers were still evident.
With better beta I would have known the Ridge Trail follows along an open, grassy slope before turning north and dropping down to another trail junction with an old 4x4 road that would lead us to Mindego. But I didn't know this, and thinking the Ridge Trail headed off in the wrong direction, I led Ryan and myself past a Not a Trail sign, down a moderately steep grass slope eventually intersecting the 4x4 road about 15 minutes later. The tall grass was ripe with seed that did its very best to infiltrate our shoes and socks. I fared quite a bit better with boots, whereas Ryan was wearing his sneakers, the same ones that fit loosely and are never tied. Consequently his shoes filled with the prickly little buggers and he had to stop often to remove them. Bull thistle and other thistle types added to our discomfort.
We were glad to find our way to the little-used road, but immediately we were confronted with the first of three warning signs. There really wasn't anywhere interesting to go for most visitors since the OSP ends about a mile further on. But our goal was the small hill just outside the park, so we pressed on. The old road wound its way across two small creeks on the shady, north-facing hillsides. The flora here was more like temperate rainforest than open grasslands. This mix of biomes is one of the interesting things about the Santa Cruz Mtns, along with the nice views out towards the Pacific Ocean on one side of the range, and the San Francisco Bay on the other. We came across another party of three that gave a small cheer upon seeing us. A woman was carrying three empty water bottles, and one of the two guys commented that they were happy to finally see other faces. Unsure where they had come from (we thought this was just and out and back dead end route), and not totally sure ourselves, I responded that we were somewhat lost as well. That didn't seem to hurt their small celebration.
The 4x4 rd ended at a junction with a gravel road that spans across a saddle between Alpine Rd and Mindego Hill. A sign here pointed out the private property to the east, which is why we couldn't have taken this gravel road from the start. We followed the road west to the OSP boundary where we were met with a locked gate and more warning signs. But our peak lay on the other side of the gate, so over we went.
There was a path leading through the grass up to the summit, but the amount of visitors aren't enough to forge a decent use trail. So there was more agony in fighting thorn and thistle all the way to the summit. The top was rounded, but well-defined and unambiguous. There was a fine view to the southwest of the Pacific Ocean, two large container ships were plying the waters about 10mi off the coast. Langley Hill could be seen clearly to the west, but I could distinguish none of the other peak names for the dozen or so visible from our vantage point.
After a snack we headed back down. Our return was via the same route, with the exception that we didn't do the cross-country section in the middle. Instead, we stayed on the road and found the all-trail route that was only a bit longer in the end. Ryan was very thankful we didn't have to struggle uphill through the thistle and tall grass. We ran into several other parties once we got back to the Ridge Trail, a combination of older couples and young families with kids. It was nice to see so many people enjoying the parklands.
It was already 2:30p when we got back to the car. What I had thought would take two hours took three and a half, so we had little time for the remaining five hills. I figured we could get one more in, and stopped at the OSP parking lot at the SW corner of Alpine Rd and SR35 on our way back. Borel Hill was 0.8mi from here which we covered in just under twenty minutes. It is a very hike and there were probably a dozen other parties out on the hike. Oddly, we had the summit to ourselves for the short time we were there. A survey marker labeled MINDEGO was placed in 1947.
Borel Hill is higher than all the other hills west and northwest of it, the next higher peak being Mt. Tamalpais north of San Francisco. Consequently, the hill affords a wonderful view of the Pacific as well as the Bay and surrounding communities. We could easily make out the tall buildings of San Francisco and Oakland, I pointed out the hangers at Moffet Field and the signature red roofs of the Stanford campus and its bell tower. We could even see one of the main columns of the Golden Gate Bridge far to the north. Ryan found all of this rather impressive. That will probably make it a bit easier to drag his butt out again a second time to take in the other four hills we didn't have time for today.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Borel Hill
This page last updated: Mon Jun 8 08:58:28 2009
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