Twin Peaks South P500
Twin Peaks North P500 CC

Mon, May 7, 2012
Twin Peaks South
Twin Peaks North
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile
Twin Peaks North previously attempted Sun, Apr 29, 2012

Twin Peaks is one of the more interesting summits of the Diablo Range and certainly one of the more difficult. Though well east of the crest, there is no easy approach from that side as I had found out a week earlier on a failed attempt from Billy Wright Rd. Public access on the road does not reach far into the range as the first gate is found while more than 13 miles from the summits. Coming from the west side of the range via Lone Tree Rd is only a bit shorter, around 10 miles one way. In addition, the two summits both exceed 500ft in prominence which is rather unusual for two peaks less than half a mile apart, which means they not only stand distinctly from each other, but from their surrounding terrain as well. The higher north summit is on the CC-list which is what had originally gotten me interested in them, and for more than six months now they have never been long out of my thoughts. I decided to pay them a second visit two evenings past a full moon on a solo outing. Even by my best estimate I would not get home until near sunrise - this was going to be as tough an outing as I could find in the range.

It was the third time this year that I had used this same starting point along Lone Tree Rd. Previously I had visited four other peaks along or near the crest of the range, using a good dirt road not shown on the 7.5' topo that contours nicely around the northwest side of Antimony Peak. I started just before 8:30p to the sound of barking dogs from a nearby home. This wasn't the first time the dogs had greeted me, and so far I'd never seen anyone bother to check on them, so I wasn't much worried as I stepped over a fence and started down the road. It was a clear, cool evening, fine hiking weather. The moon, just past full, would not rise until after 9p. Because much of the terrain I traveled was northwest or north facing, the moon would be of little help in navigating until I was nearly at Twin Peaks. I had the fading twilight to the west providing enough light to see by initially, and the wide dirt road made it possible to travel along as the light become poorer.

I reached French's Pass in just under an hour. Located on the crest of the range between Antimony and Mariposa Peaks, it provides the first view east to the Central Valley and the silhouette of Twin Peaks. The moon was set to rise in less than five minutes from behind Peckham Ridge, but as I dropped over the other side of the pass to the canyon below, I found the moon blocked for the next hour and more. The jeep trail initially traverses southeast from the pass for about a quarter mile where it meets a junction. Here I turned left, dropping in several switchbacks into the canyon formed by the North Fork of Los Banos Creek. Much of it is heavily shaded under the canopy of pine and oak forest. The road appears to be little used as the grass is high in places. A headlamp was needed to see in such conditions. Over the next hour I passed through several gates marking the various property boundaries. Cattle were found between two of these, a small herd that didn't seem much spooked by my presence. It was the only herd I saw east of French's Pass, though I'm fairly certain all this land I traveled through was used for grazing.

There is a network of roads passing through the area that did not neatly connect French's Pass to Twin Peaks. I plotted out a fairly direct route using these roads where I could, connecting them with short sections of cross-country where needed. I had entered some key waypoints in my GPS to help me make these connections, and for the most part they worked out quite nicely. The longest stretch was perhaps a third of a mile passing under some transmission lines (nicely depicted on the topo map) across some oak-studded grass slopes. Two hours into the hike I paused here under one of the towers to take a picture of Twin Peaks. The photo did not do justice to the impressive face they presented, towering high above me to the east. They did not look to be an easy scramble, framed with steep sides as best I could judge. I was making very good time and was less than a mile from both summits - it seemed I would be on top of them in no time. Little did I know another two hours would pass before I had reached the highest one.

I found a heavily overgrown jeep trail for the last stretch up to a saddle on the south side of the south summit. The road petered out in a high meadow where I found no sign of a road, though I recall seeing one distinctly on the satellite view that circled around to the saddle between the two summits. No matter, I decided, I would simply climb the south summit first. Towering some 600ft above me, it was a bit intimidating, but not so difficult in practice, turning out to be no more than class 2. The moon was a big help now in lighting up the landscape, but I kept my headlamp on to help with the uneven footing beneath me. The lower slopes were characterized by low density chaparral that had plenty of space to allow passage without significant bushwhacking. Higher up the slopes turned to chossy volcanic rock, interesting but not very good quality. It was after 11:30p before I reached the rocky top of the south summit. There was no cairn or other signs of visitation, though I'd have been surprised if there was. The lights of the Central Valley were now visible to the east and northeast. Peckham Ridge rose behind me, silhouetted in moon shadows. There was a fine view of the north summit directly to the north, rising another 150ft higher. It looked most imposing with cliff faces on the south side and steep, rocky slopes on the west and east. Of the three visible choices, the East Ridge appeared to be the easiest, so it was to that I would turn my attention.

In leaving the south summit I first downclimbed the rocks north of the highpoint, then made my way through broken rock over steep ground down the east side, eventually reaching easier ground and brush similar to that found on the south side. When off the steepest portion, I angled north towards the saddle between the two peaks, then traversed the base of the north summit, angling for a saddle at the base of its East Ridge. I never actually reached this other saddle as I found a route up through the brush to reach the ridge. As I started upward I saw a rock wall stretching out across the ridge, appearing to block further progress with a short cliff of some 50ft or so. Imposing as it appeared, with some effort I found a weakness of sorts through it, though it would probably rate a class 4 or low 5 rating. I had to groom some dead brush from the rock above me to get through this step, about 20ft in total height. All I needed to complete this picture of solo moonlight brush scramble would have been some poison oak to step gingerly around. I would find that higher up a few minutes later.

Once past the rock step things were much easier. There was a summit ridge of sorts to traverse as the highpoint was found at the western end. This came as no surprise as I had seen the profile of the north summit from the southern one. There was indeed some poison oak on the north side of the summit ridge, but it was not hard to avoid. Finally, around 12:30a, I found myself at the top of the peak where a tall metal pole had been planted. It had taken four and half hours to reach the two summits, a good deal more than I had expected, the last mile and a half taking two and a half hours alone.

At the base of the pole lay an American flag which I presumed had been flying atop the pole at one time. A bit tattered, it had come unhooked, probably in windy conditions. I took a few minutes to figure out the flag arrangement, then reattached it atop the pole. The wind blowing over the summit immediately picked it up and started it fluttering in the moonlight. Next to the base of the pole was a rusted ammo box with a register inside - this was a surprise. It was not very old, dating to 2003, and contained the names of local landowners. The Periera brothers had placed the register, then a few years later two gentleman named Zachary had raised the first of three flags at the summit. This led me to conclude that there must be an easier way to the summit than the East Ridge. From above, the South Face did not appear to be the impractical cliffs I had supposed them to be from below, the moon now showing steep but workable routes down that side. The north and west sides were cast in dark shadows making them impossible to judge correctly from above - for all I could tell it was all cliffs down those sides. I took a few photos looking south to Peckham Ridge and west across the crest of the range (the red lights of the tower atop Fremont Peak was just visible some 25 miles away).

After downing a caffeinated beverage I had brought to revive my spirits, I packed up my stuff and started down the South Face. The route worked as well as I might have hoped and within 15 minutes I was down at the saddle between the two peaks. This was obviously the better of the two routes I chose, no more than steep class 2. From the saddle I contoured around the east side of the south summit (finding the road I had recalled from satellite view) to join my original route. Here I used my GPS on traceback mode to help me navigate back across the various road sections, pausing once more in the open field under the transmission lines to take a last picture of the Twin Peaks North. Shortly afterwards I came across a sign fastened to a tree, all in Spanish. Translation: Property under careful guard. Working in partnership with law enforcement, this property is protected by Sheriff's Deputies and farmers. Any suspicious activity will be investigated aggressively.) I imagine that trespassing would qualify as a suspicious activity.

It was a pleasant hike back up the road along Los Banos Creek, the moon now providing both light and shadows on the tree-lined route. There were several eerie sightings found in the shady canyon to keep me on my toes. By now I had learned that a pair of eyes at ground level ahead on the road were small birds that were trying to sleep for the night. These would fly off when I got within 20 yards or so, though sometimes not until I was right on top of them. Eyes spotted in the tall grass to the side were usually deer bedded down, but they looked like they could also be a mountain lion crouching in the grass, most disconcerting. At one point I found a pair of widely-spaced eyes staring at me from the brush not ten feet off the trail. Too big for a mountain lion or deer, I was a little frightened until I realized it was a cow. For whatever reason it hadn't moved off as they usually do, nor made any sound, just stood there staring at me at close range. I said, "Hi cow," as I passed it by, still looking as if frozen in time. The most eerie sighting this night stopped me dead in my tracks as I spotted a slowly wavering, faint greenish light near the base of a tree. Most unnatural, I thought at first it was someone dozing against a tree with a headlamp on. I turned my headlamp on lest I be spotted if they woke. As I moved closer, it appeared to be something alien, like green slime glowing in the dark, slowly moving. Perhaps some sort of phosphorescent glow worms I had never encountered before. I slowly approached, racking my brain to figure out what it was. Finally, I turned on my headlamp to see a green mylar balloon swaying gently in the breeze. The moon had filtered down through the trees and was reflecting off the balloon's surfaces. So much for alien life forms.

It was 4:15a before I returned to the car, eight hours after starting out, the longest outing of the year so far. The peaks had made for some good scrambling, a very remote adventure unusual for the Diablo Range. I didn't get back to San Jose until 5:30a by which time the eastern sky was already growing quite light. I would barely have time for a shower and get to bed before the rest of the family was getting up for the day. It felt somewhat decadent crawling into bed at 6a to sleep, but it was oh so good...

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