Peak 1,340ft

Thu, Apr 30, 2015

With: Steve Sywyk

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This seemed like it would make for an easy moonlight outing. Steve's knee was bothering him and he didn't want to be doing any cross-country and preferred we did something less than 5mi. I picked out two low summits in the Diablo Range not too far from home that we could manage in a few hours' time. We parked at the end of the publicly assessible part of Animas Rd which can be reached either by San Felipe Rd in East San Jose or Metcalf Rd off US101. There are some homes near the junction of San Felipe and Metcalf but these didn't seem like they would be a problem.

About five minutes after we'd parked and turned the headlights off, we were contemplating where to cross the somewhat rickety fence. I went over while Steve was digging in his pack for his gloves to protect his hands from the barbed-wire. Almost as soon as I was over the sound of a motor vehicle could be heard. We didn't know if it was coming our way or turning into or from a gated side road not too far back. It didn't seem like I would have time to go back over the fence nor Steve the time to get over and join me. For a split second I considered tossing him the car keys and letting him take the confrontation alone while I hid in the tall grass. Recognizing the impending hazard as headlights could be seen through the trees, Steve went over the fence and dived into the grass where I was already prone just as the car zoomed by. We hoped they might just ignore our car and continue through whichever of two gates at the end of the road they were heading for, but it seems they had come looking for us. The car slowed down as it passed our car, and while it was making a U-turn, Steve and I dashed about 40ft higher into the woods where we could hide more effectively. The car stopped and a person's voice could be heard to shout repeatedly, "Hello?! - Hello?!" We of course said nothing and made not a move, face down and wondering if we'd planted ourselves into poison oak. After about a minute, the car drove off in the direction it had come. Clearly they weren't ignoring our presence. It must have been disconcerting for them to see our car parked where no car should ever be parked on this lonely road. I'm sure they assumed we were there for nefarious purposes - to poach, rustle cattle, God knows what. We briefly discussed what to do next - do we continue up to the peak or go back to the car and beat it? Just lying there offered little danger as we let our racing hearts slow down. I had some concern that our car could get towed (this seemed unlikely since it was a public road and there were no signs indicating it was illegal) or possibly vandalized (a bigger concern). If we drove out now, that might illicit an immediate response if they were waiting for us. We decided to continue. After climbing another 50ft up the hillside the quiet was interrupted by the same vehicle coming back down the road. They passed by the car, made another U-turn, and drove back off. Had we decided to turn around there was little doubt we'd have been confronted. A lucky choice.

The hike itself was less than a mile in length, one way, illuminated nicely by the nearly full moon overhead. After climbing the steep slope we picked up an old ranch road, little used but by the cattle that graze the area. We followed this up, alternately easy to follow, then tall grass as though it hadn't been grazed, then stepping into potholes created by the cattle when the ground was muddier. Steve's knee wasn't doing great, so we went rather slowly, discusssing our friend in the car down below trying to keep tabs on us. We passed through a brushy section of road as we approached the summit before opening to a large grassy area. The summit was above in a particularly harsh patch of brush with some poison oak that we didn't venture very far into. As we came back through the overgrown stretch of road I used my headlamp to discover it was riddled with poison oak. We had both brushed through it, across our faces and upper torsos and naturally feared the worse. We were screwed.

We continued descending back down the way we'd come, maintaining radio silence as we got close to the road. Somewhat to our surprise, our friend made another pass by our vehicle only minutes before we arrived back at the road. As he drove off again, we made a hurried dash for the car, threw our packs in the back and drove off. At first I kept the headlamps off to keep from attracting attention too quickly, but the oak forest we drove through did not let sufficient moonlight through to see by, so the headlights soon came on. I nervously drove us up the winding road waiting to find a roadblock around each corner. None was found. Though we were happy to escape without being confronted or followed, our attention was quickly diverted to the ticking time bomb that was the poison oak. Luckily we were both equipped with Technu wash which was the first thing each of us did upon arriving home. Only time will tell if our efforts were sufficient to ward off the noxious plant's dreadful effects. Needless to say, this was not one our better night hikes...

I did get a few small areas of redness and itching, but it appears the Technu Extreme did a fine job of getting rid of the majority of it. I washed off the inside of the car the next day as an additional precaution.


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