China Grade BM 2x P900
Ben Lomond Mountain P1K
Peak 1,475ft P500

Apr 29, 2024
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX
China Grade BM previously climbed Jul 14, 2010

More accurate LiDAR data is quickly supplanting current elevation data based on decades-old topographic maps. This has already changed a few P2Ks in the state and will undoubtedly cause more changes in summit locations that are based on prominence. It had recently come to my attention that Ben Lomond Mountain, a P1K in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has had its highpoint shifted by some two miles. With a day to kill, I hobbled together a few other summits, half of them PB-only points that I would normally shun, and set out in the morning for Big Basin State Park on what would mostly be a driving exercise.

The 2020 CZU Lightning Complex had burned through the entire Big Basin SP and much more, amounting to something like 20% of the entire range. I hadn't visited the burn area since the fire, so this would be my first time seeing the damages inflicted. Others have reported hikes in the area as "difficult", "miserable", and the like, and they weren't exaggerating. Almost four years later, there is still much work in reopening roads and trails, as well as rebuilding homes and businesses affected. I didn't hike more than a mile total in visiting four of the summits, and all of them involved some amount of bushwhacking combined with downfall. On a positive note, the fire did not appear as devastating as some of those I'd seen in the aftermath of those in the Sierra Nevada of late. Much of this is due to the resiliency of the redwood trees themselves. Though many of them had their entire folliage consumed by the fire, most of the trees were not killed. They have resprouted branches for much of their height, giving an unusual appearance, more like tall junipers than redwood trees. I have no doubt that given time, the branches will grow out to recreate much of what the trees looked like before the fire.

Cowell Mountain

This is a PB-only point submitted by Bill Peters, found just outside the NE corner of the park along SR236. A short hike of only a few minutes got me to the summit area strewn with downfall. This was the least brushy of the day's peaks that I visited on foot.

China Graded BM

I had been to this P900 back in 2010. It is found along China Grade northwest of SR236. The pavement is a bit rough, but I managed it without trouble in the Miata. A Road Closed is posted at the SR236 junction, but I conveniently ignored it and drove on. I parked at a small turnout just east of the summit. Brush has grown up vigorously along the sunny ridgeline and there is much downfall underfoot. What took less than a minute on my first visit took more than five minutes now. What a mess. Unlike that first visit, I found the benchmark this time, embedded in a small concrete pillar above the forest duff. As an added bonus, I discovered a banana slug underfoot during the descent.

The real reason I had driven up China Grade was to hike to the highpoint of Butano Ridge a few miles further west. I drove a short distance past China Grade BM to find an open fence. As I had less than half a mile to the TH, I parked outside so as not to get stuck behind a locked gate later. As I hiked up the road I could hear voices ahead. I then spotted a state parks vehicle parked on the road. I decided this might not be a good encounter. Salvage crews might not care if I'm there, but state park officials might not take kindly to my flaunting of the Road Closed sign. I turned around and left the area.

Henry Cowell Redwoods SP HP

Another PB-only point, it was no surprise that a state park highpoint was submitted by Jim Retemeyer. Jim was able to make a short walk off Patrick Rd back in 2015 before homes in the area had been completed. Since then, folks seem to start from below to the north, at the corner of Empire Grade and Alba Rd. Andrew Kirmse and Brett Moffat had both visited it recently, describing a wet and unpleasant bushwhack through head-high brush and much downfall. I decided to make a shorter but steeper climb from the west. Everything was dry today, but it was a really tough bushwhack with far too much poison oak - what a mess. Not sure if I saved any time, but I think I found the same summit rock that Andrew mentioned, below the property line of the home above it. Our GPX tracks seem to converge on it.

Ben Lomond Mountain

This is found just above the last one, adjacent to Patrick Rd, in someone's yard. If one were to drive to the road's highpoint, it might be possible to quickly visit the highground about 10-15ft from the road. If one left their GPS device in their vehicle, there might be plausible deniability in a future trespass lawsuit.

Wilder Ranch SP HP

This was the third PB-only point, the second annointed by Jim. It is found about 3mi south of the new Ben Lomond Mtn HP, right along Empire Grade. The brush isn't too bad on this one, but again, there's lots of downfall and its not very scenic up there after the fire.

Peak 1,475ft

I've had my eye on this private P500 for more than a decade. It is located north of Scotts Valley at the end of a long, windy and steep drive - not very enjoyable when driving a clutch. As others have discovered and shared online, the owner Gary is happy to provide access to his backyard if he's home and you ask for permission. I was a bit lucky - he and his wife drove onto the property not a minute after I had arrived and just gotten out of my car. I was kindly granted permission and walked the few hundred feet to the small knoll in his backyard, mostly surrounded by redwoods - this was well outside the fire zone and more like what one expects from the Santa Cruz Mtns. I took a few photos and then quietly left.

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