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I had to drive my son and three other Scouts to Monterey for a leadership training function there for about 4 hours on a Saturday morning. I figured this would easily give me enough time to drive to Carmel Valley, tag the peak, and drive back. I had been in the Monterey area back in February on a similar mission and had tagged nearby Pinyon Peak, but didn't have enough time for this second one.
It was 9a by the time I had found my way to the trailhead (there are no signs along Carmel Valley Rd, so you have to do your Google Maps homework ahead of time to find it). There was only one other car in the lot at that time. The trail from the parking lot leads to a pedestrian bridge crossing the Carmel River, more of a collection of small ponds at this time of year. On the south side of the river is a trail that follows along that side, heading in both directions. I had to guess at which direction to turn since it wasn't obvious. I got lucky with a right turn that shortly led to the start of the Saddle Trail. This steep trail can be taken all the way up to the Vasquez Trail, or a slightly longer, but pedestrian-only single track called the Gabilan Trail can be used that branches off the Saddle Trail. I took this second option because it looked more pleasant. It was a well-constructed trail up a steep hillside with a few well-placed switchbacks to help with the gradient.
The views on the initial climb are sporadic due to tree cover (typical coastal oak, madrone, bay, and other trees) and only to the north towards Carmel Valley. Coastal fog covered the upper hillsides to the north across the valley, but this would pull back towards the coast over the first hour. A horse show was going on at a facility just northwest of where I had parked and I could hear buzzers (missed obstacles on the course?), announcers, horses and other sounds emanating from the field below. Some of the competitors took a break to ply the park trails and I would pass by them on the way back. I asked what sort of competition was going on, to which a cowboy responded with, "Just about any type you could imagine." I don't know, I could imagine quite a lot... At an overlook bench someone had left a Chick Tract that I paused to read because, well, I had a lot of extra time to burn - this wasn't a long outing. It was strange and disturbing but not for the reason the author intended. If you want to see what it's about, I suggest the dissected version. It's the sort of stuff that makes religion look silly, at best. I put it in my pocket and tossed it when I got home. I'm probably going to Hell.
Where the Gabilan Trail ended I picked up the Spring Trail and turned right. This took me past a compact trail-building tractor parked off to the side. It had been used to grade some of the trails and to build a new section higher up. It was a nice piece of equipment that suggests Monterey County has some money even if the state doesn't. Views open to the southeast as the trail moves onto the ridge above. Soon the view west to Pinyon Peak opens up, the best looking summit in the area. The Vasquez Trail is the last leg inside the park. An hour after starting out I reached the park boundary marked by a fence and a small sign. It was clear that I wasn't the first with the idea to hike outside the park as the fence was compromised where the trail abuts it. A pair of jeep tracks continue on the other side and I followed these to the top of Vasquez Knob about 15 minutes later. There are two summits that showed to be nearly equal in height according to my GPSr. The eastern summit is reached first, a rounded, grassy bump on an otherwise undistinguished mountain (I guess I was hoping for a bit more with 400ft of prominence). The main problem is that the summit is a collection of broad, grassy, oak-studded bumps so the views are never that good. One can see south to Mt. Carmel and the Ventana Wilderness and east to the upper Carmel Valley and the Sierra de Salinas. I wandered over to the west summit to check its elevation and then to the lower north summit where there's a view across in that direction to Monterey Bay and the rolling hills separating it from Carmel Valley.
It took but half an hour to return to the TH, jogging much of the way. The whole outing took just under two hours, a nice little diversion in a picturesque part of the Monterey area.
This page last updated: Sun Sep 15 15:36:36 2013
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