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Palassou Ridge is one of the Diablo foothills, rising several thousand feet above Coyote Lake and the Santa Clara Valley. I had been to the same area only three days earlier on a night hike with my pal Steve. The half moon had only been sufficient to provide various shades of gray to the landscape and I couldn't help but think it would be far better in the daytime when the green hills would be in brilliant display. Early seasonal rains had brought vibrant color to the range much earlier than usual. On that previous occasion we had climbed Nesbit Ridge. Today I would start from the same point but climb the next ridgeline to the south. A lower summit, Larios Peak lies on the north end of this ridge, a summit I had climbed almost five years earlier, but I had neglected to visit the highpoint of Palassou Ridge about 6/10mi further south. The route up would be almost completely different than that first visit to Larios when we approached from the south along Timber Ridge.
It was just past 11:30a when I pulled into the dirt parking lot at the TH located at the far northern end of the lake where the dam is found. On my way I had passed by the campground and a number of fine-looking picnic spots along the road in the county park, but they were mostly empty on this New Year's eve day. The lake was calm save for some ducks and what looked like cormorants plying the water. The boat launch facilities were closed so the only recreational activity on the lake were a few fishermen trying their luck. A fence across the dam bars further vehicle use, but an opening for hikers is provided. There are several plaques found along the dam, testaments to the engineers and directors who designed and managed the building of the dam in 1935. Not far east of the dam a small sign announces unsafe conditions and No Trespassing. This appears to have been erected to avoid an eroding edge of the roadway but it's also close to the park boundary and perhaps meant as a general Keep Out. I see, read and then hear what I want to hear. After crossing a small shady cove's inlet I climbed a steep embankment on the south side to find an old ranch road I was looking for. It has been more than a decade (and possibly several decades) since any vehicle has traveled this road. In places the road is fairly open and clear, but where it switchbacks up the north side of the hill it has become terribly overgrown. Some of this stuff looked like it could be poison oak (no leaves this time of year) and it was impossible to wade through it without contacting the suspect branches (I would do the standard Technu wash when I got home). About half a mile of this old road has fallen upon hard times and it was so overgrown that I lost it on the way up. The alternative to the right (west) turned out to be better than the roadway itself, some open clearings mixed with animal trails. A fenceline I encountered had been conveniently cut, allowing the passage of people (but probably cut to allow pigs to cross). I eventually came back upon the road higher up and found it in much better condition. There were no signs of vehicle use on any of the roads I traveled all the way to the summit, but they were far more open. The upper 2/3 of the mountain are kept clear by grazing cattle. I came across a small herd near the summit and another lone straggler on the descent, but for the most part there were few cows out today. A bobcat crossed my path, pausing briefly to inspect me before hurrying off. A pair of coyotes I came across shortly thereafter took off immediately, probably fearing I was out to hunt them. The other curiosity I noted was one of several small ponds, one of which had a thin layer of ice on it. Though it was pleasantly in the 50s during the daytime, it must have gotten to below freezing at night. Its location helped keep it chilled, exposed to the direct sun for only 4-5hrs on the day.
The views opened up nicely as I climbed higher, with surprisingly clear skies following a day of very strong winds. One could easily see the Santa Lucia Range to the south and the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay to the southwest. Upon reaching the highpoint I could see the snowy summits of the Sierra Crest 150mi away. I had expected the highpoint to be at the location marked by the SHEEP benchmark, but a point 100yds to the west proved about 5ft higher. From here I traveled north along the road to its terminus atop the slightly lower Larios Peak. From this nice viewspot, I could look down on the dam side of the lake and even see my parked car. I scanned the slopes along the drainage leading more directly to the lake, noting other old roads and wondering how useable they might be. Rather than take the all-roadway route I'd used for the ascent, I chose a pleasant-looking, grassy ridge that descended more directly down towards the dam. I knew it would intersect with the original road about halfway down, but didn't know if I might run into some brush before I got there. Thankfully, I didn't. The ridge had nice cowpaths to follow, more gaps in the fences I came across, and soft footing to make the cross-country travel most enjoyable. I rejoined the road near the two ponds I had passed by earlier. I was able to follow the road all the way back down without losing it as I had done previously, though it was so choked with brush that it proved harder than the section I had done after losing the way. It was 2:30p by the time I returned to the lake and the dam, making for an easy 3hr hike and a most pleasant 157th day for 2014. Happy New Year, all!
The poison oak did a number on me afterall. I've got it on both arm, my hip, and one leg. Probably find more soon. That old road is definitely not worth the trouble. Better to take the clear route from the south.
This page last updated: Mon Jan 5 08:29:30 2015
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