Three Sisters East

Sat, May 5, 2012

With: Marty Sexton

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Marty had been unable to join us for the hike two nights ago, but was eager to get outside for some air and exercise. Saturday was the full moon, a "supermoon" as it was dubbed in the press. Turning full at the point where moon and earth were at their closest point, the moon was said to be 30% brighter and 15% larger than a normal full moon. They say the eye compensates for the brightness all too easily so it was no surpise that we couldn't notice a difference, but we also couldn't discern the moon being any larger than usual either.

Three Sisters is a collection of three rocky summits in the Diablo range just east of Hollister in San Benito County. We had been to the area on numerous occasions, climbing nearby summits of San Joaquin, Santa Ana and Henrietta over the years. The hike is little more than two miles one-way so I didn't anticipate it taking us very long, but it was more difficult than expected and we were quite happy it wasn't twice as long.

We parked off Lone Tree Rd around 8:30p, just to the side where a dirt road meets the pavement. Even as we were getting out of the car Marty was excited about a small band of feral pigs we'd seen a few minutes earlier during the drive. "Oh, those were nice ones, two-hundred pounders and barrel-chested." Marty is the only friend I have that enjoys hunting more than just about anything, though perhaps on equal footing with fishing. He's regaled us with many stories of hunting deer, pigs and other animals over the years, exciting and often amusing tales that have nonetheless done little to kindle my own interest in the sport. We spotted the same band of sows and younglings a few minutes after starting out and would find another one during the hike. The thought of making one of them into sausage was never far from Marty's mind and he would return to the topic time and again. You could tell that he was passionate about it just by listening to his descriptions.

We hiked along the road for only about 15 minutes until we were at a saddle just west of Henrietta Peak. Here we left the road to head cross-country for another saddle, one between Three Sisters and San Joaquin Peak. The grassy hillside was initially quite steep, then undulating, then steeply down again to the second saddle. The moon had recently risen upon reaching the first saddle, ample for lighting the cross-country portions. We spent only 40 minutes to reach the second saddle, only six tenths of a mile from the highest of the Three Sisters, and it seemed we would have ample time to visit the lower two sisters as well. But here the terrain changed and the easy travel with it.

Following the oak-studded ridgeline proved no easy feat. The ground was littered with the volcanic rock that comprises most of the surrounding peaks. The rocks were the size of softballs or larger and were often well hidden in the tall grass. We walked like drunken sailors, stumbling repeatedly as we slowly made our way in a zigzagging fashion along the ridge. About a third of the way along I stumbled badly and fell backwards into the grass and low brush onto my back. As I lay there, I noticed what looked to be the outline of poison oak leaves about my feet, silhouetted in the moonlight. Not knowing just what I had fallen into, I asked Marty to get out a headlamp when he caught up with me. Yes, it was the nasty stuff that had caught me by surprise.

I was lucky to find that it was concentrated around my feet and it appeared I did not get my back, hands, or upper body in the poison oak. We both donned headlamps at this point to watch out for the stuff that was quite prevalent now that we were looking for it. How much of the stuff we walked through without knowing was left for us to ponder. Fortunately the stuff wasn't too thick to force a retreat, and with careful route-finding we could manage our way along without disturbing it. Of course I had to consider my shoes and lower pant legs contaminated by this time, and made a conscious effort to avoid touching anything down that way.

It was 10p when we reached the rocky summit of the highest Sister, the one furthest east. It had taken us almost an hour to go less than 2/3 of a mile. While I waited for Marty to catch up, I walked a bit further along the crest towards the middle Sister just to see what it was like, but within 50ft I found myself up against a wall of poison oak. Perhaps there was a way around, most likely on the southern side, but I didn't care at this point to mess with it any further. Marty seemed of the same mind. The views were not as good as I had supposed thanks to trees blocking views to the west and north. But there was a very good view looking south across the Arroyo Dos Picachos to Santa Ana Peak. Arroyo Dos Picachos means "Two Peaks Creek" which I assume refer to Three Sisters and Santa Ana which appear from Holisters to frame the steep canyon as it reaches higher into the range.

We spent perhaps 20 minutes at the summit playing with our GPS's and taking a breather. Our return back along the crest went faster thanks to our familiarity with where to avoid the biggest patches of poison oak. Once at the second saddle we took a different route, following an old road tread north to a third saddle where I thought we might pick up a more distinct road that would take us back close to the start. But the expected road didn't materialize and all we could see on the north slopes where I expected it were trees and chaparral mixed with grassy slopes. Rather than battle more poison oak (it seems to favor the north-facing slopes), we followed up and over the ridge heading west, over Pt. 3,088ft (the highest point of the evening, more than 100ft higher than Three Sisters) and back to the first saddle. An unproductive detour, but that happens sometimes - still, it was a very enjoyable walk without the rock and poison oak gardens found on Three Sisters.

It was 11:40p before we returned to the cars. Marty was still talking about the pigs and how good one might look hauled up for skinning. We washed our hands with water to get off what poison oak residuals there might be, then drove back to San Jose, getting to Marty's place just after 1a. On the way back down Lone Tree Rd we came across a truck with lights on that was partially blocking the road. At first I was a bit concerned because I thought it might be a local waiting to question us. But they moved aside and let us pass without signaling us - we then guessed they were probably there as illicitly as ourselves, perhaps more so if they were poaching or similar. They were probably just as happy that we didn't stop to question them. Little did I realize at the time that I would be driving back up to Lone Tree Rd two evenings later for a solo hike. The locals might start recognizing my car, I'm afraid...


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