Peak 2,900ft P500
Peak 1,438ft

Tue, Oct 20, 2015
Etymology
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About six miles south of Hollister at the north end of the Gabilan Range can be found the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area. The terrain varies from rolling hills to rugged mountain slopes and offers all manner of off-road recreation from easy to horrendously challenging for motorcycles, ATVs and 4x4 vehicles. The SVRA is split down the middle by the San Andreas Rift Zone through which paved Cienega Rd follows to provide access to the park. The park itself is broken into a number of different sections, limiting the vehicle types that can access them so as to avoid conflicts. In perusing maps of the area the night before, I noticed a few unnamed summits just outside the park boundaries and decided to pay them a visit the next day, hoping that midweek would be quiet and no one would make fuss of someone hiking through the area on foot.

When I got to the park not long after 10a I found a whole collection of firefighters from various agencies at the entrance staging area preparing for some sort of drills/exercises. I walked past them wondering if someone was going to tell me the park was closed to the public today, but nobody seemed to take much notice of me, or at least not enough to ask me what I was doing. I hiked up the main road to the south through the Upper Ranch section of the park, passing through the Sycamore Campground and then sticking close to the park boundary on the SE side. A very difficult route that goes pretty much straight up a steep ridgeline has been closed for some time due to excessive errosion that has made the route dangerous. Not too difficult for hiking however, and I was happy to be on a route that would see no traffic. This route no longer is depicted on the park maps (nor are several old motorcycle tracks that I took advantage of) but shows easily in the satellite view. I followed this up to Hector Heights Overlook, the highest point in the park. As one might expect from the name, there are fine views of the surrounding Gabilan Range, the Diablo Range to the east and the Hollister area to the north. A gate barring vehicles leads along the fenceline to a small antenna site, the park boundary found just beyond this. I passed through a break in a barbed-wire fence to find some lightly used ranch roads leading to the summit less than half a mile further. Though several hundred feet higher, the views are no better thanks to some high brush and stately oaks that partially block views. There is a decent view to Fremont Peak about 4mi to the northwest and Pacheco Peak can be seen prominently in the Diablo Range 20mi to the northeast.

After returning to Cienega Rd where I had parked, I hiked a short distance along the road to a gated entrance to the Hudner Ranch section northeast of the road that I used to access the second summit, Peak 1,438ft. This park section is not as steep and rugged as the Upper Ranch, offering a more relaxed 4x4 experience (though not without its own challenging route options). I followed various road branches around Pt. 1,320ft, then struck off cross-country on a game trail to traverse the south side of Pt. 1,419ft and reach the park boundary for a second time. The grass on the private ranch lands has been mowed to nearly bare earth by the cattle that graze here, making cross-country much easier than it is inside the park. I climbed the easy slopes to the top of Peak 1,438ft where I found a black water tank and views overlooking miles of ranch lands with a nice profile of the Diablo Range in the background. I found a much more direct return route that stayed outside the park, partly using the ranch roads and partly some cow paths to get me back to Cienega Rd. I spent a little over 3hrs on the hike to the two summits at a fairly leisurely pace. Springtime would make for a much nicer visit when the hills are freshly green, but I was happy to pretty much have the place to myself (the firefighters must have been exercising in another part of the park since I never saw them or their vehicles on the route I took).


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