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Oats Peak previously climbed Sun, Sep 5, 2004|
Valencia Peak previously climbed Sun, Sep 5, 2004
I had gotten up at 3a in San Jose so that I could start hiking at daybreak, get to Alan Peak and back, and make it in time for the service in Santa Maria at 3p. Unusual for a State Park, there is no entrance fee, only a fee for use of the campground ($25). I found the start of the Oats Peak Trail just outside the campground, and after parking at the park HQ nearby, I started up the trail just before 7a. The skies were mostly clear, chilly with a slight breeze. It was pretty early on a Saturday and I was the only person on the trail until my return later in the morning. A deer near the start held an internal debate on whether to run or stand its ground, eventually electing to take off up the hillside when it found I wanted to use the same bit of ground it was standing on.
The trail climbs gradually from sea level to 900ft as it skirts the north side of Valencia Peak. Though it starts off wide and well-maintained, the trail quickly becomes a trough cut through dense brush that grows abundantly on the north-facing slopes. Poison oak was evident in places, some of it sticking into the trail to molest the unwary visitor. I passed a trail junction for the Valencia Peak Trail that I would use on my return, continuing up to the northeast side of Valencia Peak where the trail goes through a more open grassy meadow on its way to Oats Peak. Valencia Peak is most impressive from the east where the tilted rock strata can be seen most clearly, giving the mountain its form. It took an hour to cover the three mile distance to Oats Peak, about a mile east of Valencia and only about 25ft higher. There is a benchmark and dilapidated picnic bench found at the top. The view to Alan Peak was obscured by the early morning sun, but it could just be seen in outline about two miles away, an indistinct bump on the left edge of a flattish ridgeline.
I spent another 25 minutes following the unmaintained, but easily useable trail along the ridgeline to False Alan. The old sign was still there, now almost 8 years since my last visit, looking only a bit worse for the wear (it was covered in graffiti back then, too). Beyond this point is where the real adventure begins. I donned gloves and headed into the understory of the lichen-covered oak and manzanita forest that covers much of the ridge east of False Alan.
It took more than an hour and a half to make my way along the decomposing trail to the summit of Alan. The trail is irregularly groomed by unknown individuals though it looked to have been years since it had last seen the blades of a pair of loppers. I carried a pair in my pack in case conditions warranted it. Much of the way is riddled with poison oak in all its forms - bush, vine, and ground cover. Though at first I was able to creatively dance or end around the stuff, eventually it was impossible not to contact it. I did my best to keep contact to my boots and lower pant legs, but I was only partially successful. Three days later I would be treating the rashes that were to break out on the backs of my legs and other locations. Ugh. I reached a point higher than Alan Peak with about a quarter mile to go. The trees gave way to moderately dense brush, but it was laced with poison oak to keep things difficult. Progress was slow.
The summit of Alan Peak was very unimpressive, though not without a decent view. It's not even the highpoint in the area. That honor goes to unnamed Peak 1,680ft about a third of a mile to the southeast. I had originally planned to visit it and the similarly obscure Coon Peak between it and Alan Peak, but the lack of a previous path and the thought of battling even more poison oak were sufficient deterrents. On the way back to False Alan I spent some good time grooming the trail, cutting back the brush that encroached on two sides and from above. The poison oak I left alone as much as I could - cutting that stuff would infect my loppers and probably lead to even more rash outbreaks. If anyone has a need or reason to visit Alan Peak in the near future, I've made the trail much easier to follow - but so far I haven't really thought of a good reason why anyone should want to visit it.
Once back at False Alan I put away the loppers and gloves, dusted myself off, and returned to normal hiker mode as I headed back west over Oats. It was still plenty early in the day, not yet noon, so I decided to make a side visit to the top of Valencia Peak again. It has wonderful summit views, the best in the park. The route I took up follows along the crest of the NE Ridge. There is no trail there, but the terrain is covered only in low vegetation and requires no real bushwhacking. There was a small boy with his dad at the summit when I arrived at 12:30p, Dad having carried him up in a backpack which he had left nearby. After taking in the views, I found the hiker logbook located in an ammo box attached to a trail sign just below and northwest of the summit. It was a messy and busy book which I glanced at only briefly before returning - it doesn't seem worth while to sign something that lasts only a season or two.
I descended the trail first switchbacking down the west side before following along the NW Ridge, eventually meeting up with the Oats Peak Trail I had started on in the morning. It was 1p before I returned to the park HQ and my car. An information kiosk at the trailhead has an old map that shows the Alan Peak Trail quite clearly - someone should probably update that. I would spend some time looking for a suitably private location to take a shower before heading to the memorial. I drove around some of the backroads of Baywood-Los Osos, finding nothing suitable, before finally finding a dirt road into a large undeveloped lot at the northeast corner of Broderson Ave and Los Osos Valley Road. An hour later I was in Santa Maria, clean, suited up and once again presentable...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Valencia Peak
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