Mt. Zion
Olofson Ridge

May 19, 2024

With: Steve Sywyk

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Mt. Zion is located outside the northwest side of Mt. Diablo State Park, on property owned by CEMEX as an aggregates quarry. I had first noted Mt. Zion more than a decade ago on an earlier visit to the state park. There aren't many summits in the state beginning with "Z" (19, for those keeping count), so collection the lot of them has been a long-term goal. This would be a re-creation of a loop David Naylor did back in 2017 that would also take in another, more obscure summit, Olofson Ridge, also outside the park. We would be traveling about half the distance inside the park, half outside on private quarry and ranch lands. Steve took me up on the offer to join me, making the hour-long drive in the early morning to get us started at the Mitchell Canyon TH just before 8a.

Not surprisingly, the TH was fairly busy on a Sunday, but there were plenty of parking spots at that time, mostly full upon our return. We started out on the Mitchel Canyon road/trail for about half a mile, leaving it as we turned right to cross Mitchell Creek (easy this time of year) and onto the adjacent ranchland. We figured it would be better to get the private property stuff done early rather than later when more folks were about. We followed the southwest perimeter of the ranch on a rough road to reach the quarry property. Here the going gets a bit brushy and we picked up a few ticks in the chaparral. There are portions of old firebreak and quarry roads to make things easier, but it's a pretty steep climb and can be quite tiring. This is also the portion most open to observation from the ranch and the park trailhead. We eventually picked up the old firebreak and road seen in the satellite view and followed these to the summit in a little over an hour. We found the gate just before the summit open exactly as depicted in David's picture from seven years earlier. There's an old antenna and utility shed in disuse. The highpoint is just north of these.

The next segment went south and west, following the edge of the western open pit on old roads, fairly easy going with little brush. We made an improvement on David's route by traversing the northwest side of Pt. 1,703ft, rather than going up and down it as David had done. Just before we were done with the quarry property, there was a short section of bushwhacking (with poison oak to avoid) before emerging onto grassy slopes and a barb-wire fence marking the boundary with the western ranch property. Things were going swimmingly now, traversing brown grass slopes with cattle far below, hardly a care in the world. Then our luck changed. Without warning, a loud shot was heard and I dropped to the ground reflexively. I stood up and looked back at Steve, a short distance behind me. When he caught up we discussed it briefly in whispers. Steve thought it was someone slamming the door of a truckbed. Either way, it seemed like someone was west of us in the little vale through which the ranch road ran that we had been aiming for. As we considered the various options, a second shot rang out a few mintues later - definitely gunshot. We crept up on the site, edging close to the heavy brush that lined the upper end of the grass slopes, so as to hide ourselves better. We looked into the vale and saw a clearing under the oaks, but no vehicles, no persons. We began to think that if it was gunshot, it could be further away than we thought. We peered down through the tall brush in various places, looking for something on the road, still mostly hidden from view. Another loud shot rang out some minutes after that last one, and again I dropped to the ground. Whoever was shooting was getting the most out of each shot. About the time we were ready to convince ourselves that it was further away, we heard distinctive voices - they were definitely in the vicinity. Eventually we spied a shooter lying in the prone position in the back of a pickup on the road, shooting facing west. It seems they were aiming for a small target about a hundred yards away, hanging on a fence. The road ran south through a boundary fence, into the next property, where we intended to go. It was clear we couldn't stay out of their peripheral vision, certainly not if there were two persons.

After some time and a few more widely-spaced gunshots, we decided we were going to have to endure a brutal bushwhack up higher to get off the property. We climbed back up about 150ft, then dove into the brush, guessing they were too far away now to hear us breaking branches and stumbling about. It took us about 25min to go maybe 100yds, but it was enough to get us slightly around the corner from the truck and shooters, out of view and then into the adjacent property. We went over a low saddle and were able to relax more, went past a few cattle and then over a gate and back onto state park property. Safe now, we paused for about 15min to remove the stickers that we'd collected over the past few hours. That ranch segment certainly didn't go as we had hoped, but as Steve pointed out, it made for a better story.

Next up was Olafson Ridge, about a mile to the SSE. TRs on PB describe it as fairly tame until the last 200ft which requires crawling through the heavy brush. We followed various park trails in a mostly uphill direction, eventually reaching a barb-wire fence at the park boundary near Pt. 1,753ft. We were able to unlatch the wire gate and pass through without going over or under the fence, then onto the unused ranch road that continues on the other side. We soon left this to climb grassy slopes to the southeast, reaching the wall of brush with the expected 200ft remaining. We paused here for a breather while I told Steve the crawling would soon commence - now was the time to bow out if he wasn't up for it. Steve had no intention of missing the full adventure, so after about five minutes' time, we left our poles and packs at the resting spot and dove into the brush. In the lead, I could see that there was an old trail through the brush that had been cut maybe a decade earlier, now heavily overgrown. We could stand in a few places and bull our way through, but I found it nearly impossible not to get back down and crawl. Steve wanted to believe he could manage this without crawling and put up more of a fight. The skin on my arms would be shredded enough without the extra fight, despite the long-sleeve shirt I was wearing. Most of the punishment had been from the earlier bushwhack avoiding the shooters, so this section seemed almost tame by comparison. The summit area opens a bit more to allow walking about with little thrashing, but we were unable to locate the register David had left on his visit. In retracing the route back out, I missed a turn with about 70ft remaining. This caused some unnecessarily more brutish whacking, but we emerged with most of our skin and clothing intact.

We headed back to the old ranch road and back onto the trail system inside the park, carefully relatching the wire gate as we'd found it. I paused at saddle nearby for a potty break while Steve went ahead. I noticed a use trail through the brush going up to Pt. 1,609ft that I went to investigate when I'd done my business. It led to the top but then stopped. Later I found that this point is called Olofson Peak on PB, but really just a bump off the much higher Olofson Ridge. After catching up with Steve, we spent the next hour plying the trails back down White and Mitchell Canyons to return to the TH by 2p. We'd spent six hours to cover 8mi and 3,200ft of gain - that was enough for one day...

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