Antimony Peak P300 CC
Mariposa Peak P500 CC

Wed, Jan 4, 2012

With: David Alexander

Antimony Peak
Mariposa Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Mariposa Peak lies in the Diablo Range very near the junction of San Benito, Santa Clara, and Merced Counties, about fifteen miles south of Pacheco Pass. Along with nearby Antimony Peak, they are on the CC list that I have been periodically persuing between other projects. With a waxing gibbous moon high in the sky and a forecast for thin clouds, it seemed a good time to visit these private summits nestled in the middle of many square miles of ranchlands. Home on Christmas Break from school in Colorado, David had signed up to join me on this medium-effort hike shortly before he was set to leave California.

I had spent some time with google maps looking at the satellite views of the route. A dirt road not shown on the topo appears to offer the best approach from a gate along Lone Tree Rd, northeast of Hollister. I picked David up at his home in Los Gatos shortly after 5p, and with a stop in Hollister for gas we were at the gate around 6:30p. The nearby house I had identified from the satellite view on the opposite side of the road appeared to be dark, but a couple of dogs began barking as soon as we stopped the car and got out. We wasted no time in grabbing our packs from the trunk, hopping the fence, and starting out.

It had been cold of late in the Bay Area, but here in the hills some distance from the coast, it had been warmer during the day and the nighttime temperatures were very pleasant for hiking in tshirts. A variable wind would pick up now and then, but never cold and never really very strong. The road we traveled had been recently graded from the gate almost all the way to Antimony Peak. The grader was found a short distance from the start off to the side of the road. Even by moonlight a thin stream of oil could be seen stretching along the road - the grader had evidently sprung a leak during its workout and would probably require some repairs before continuing.

After about ten or fifteen minutes, the road makes a sharp left turn as it drops a short distance to cross a creek, the Arroyo de las Viboras, then starts its steep climb up towards Antimony Peak. About half way up the road levels out to traverse around the northwest and north sides of the summit, and it was here that we left the road to follow the rounded ridgeline towards the summit. The cross-country travel in the area turned out to be rather easy, mostly open grasslands made easier by the mowing action of the many cattle that graze the hillsides. We ran into small herds several times on our hike, but they would invariably move from the resting places, sometimes with lowing protests, to another spot where they could be left in peace. The combination of grazing and lateness of season meant that there were almost no thistles of any sort to latch onto our socks and shoelaces. Rocks were the only real obstacle that we found to hinder us, and though we managed to trip over these regularly, there was plenty of moonlight available to allow us to avoid them if we paid closer attention to where we were walking.

We reached the summit of Antimony after about an hour's effort, finding the top littered with lichen-covered rocks and an open view is all directions. The lights of Hollister and Gilroy could be seen plainly to the west, with the fainter lights of Santa Cruz behind them in the far distance. Lights in the Central Valley were also visible though we could not positively identify them (other than to guess the brighter patch was perhaps Los Banos). We could identify other peaks in the open views, including Laveaga to the south, Twin Peaks to the southeast and of course Mariposa Peak to the east. Fremont Peak was visible to the west beyond Hollister with a tall antenna mast bedecked with flashing red lights. Some old boards and baling wire marked the remains of a small survey tower that once stood at the Antimony summit. There was no benchmark or register found among the rocks. Just off the southwest side of the summit there were some enormous bay trees in a small grove, perhaps 30ft high with trunks maybe three feet in diameter, growing quite nicely. We had originally mistook these for a rocky bluff as we were approaching them, their great height seeming to be out of place in this dry climate. We would find other groves of these trees growing equally healthy elsewhere in the course of the evening. How they survived the periodic wildfires that must sweep across the hills was a mystery.

Though nighttime photos aren't all that great to begin with, my camera's battery had died by this point and I was unable to get any more badly-taken photos of the remainder of the hike. Probably a blessing.

After a short break we continued northeast off the other side of the peak, following the ridgeline as best we could down to Frenchs Pass about a mile away. The route grew indistinct on the second half as we dropped through oak-studded slopes runneled with small, dry ravines, but the GPS I carried allowed us to hit the pass we were looking for almost directly without accidently dropping too low on either side.

We made use of a combination of newly graded roads, cow trails and cross-country travel to make our way about a mile and half to the summit of Mariposa Peak, taking about an hour from Antimony's summit. The final pitch started where we scared off the last band of cattle at the abandoned Mariposa Mine (a small hole in the ground now mostly filled in), a 600-foot climb in a quarter mile, making for a rather steep climb. Most of the top half of the peak is covered in oak and bay trees, so we followed the more open grass slope we had spied from a distance up as far as we could. The last several hundred feet went through the trees that were surprisingly open underneath, though the grass had given way to a jumble of licheny rocks that we picked our way through to the summit. We used headlamps in the dark understory of this last bit, expecting to find the summit without views under the enormous canopy of these trees. But we were happily surprised to find that trees gave way at the last moment to a rocky summit that afforded very nice views indeed. Though only 150ft higher than Antimony, we could now see some of the lights of Monterey, and those of the Central Valley were less obstructed with far better visibility. One could even make out the lights of vehicles slowly making their way along sections of SR152 as they go around the north side of San Luis Reservoir. Again there was no register that we could find, but there was a 1930 USGS benchmark (marked, 'Mariposa' appropriately) and a pile of old wood from a defunct survey tower.

We had planned to visit a third summit, Cathedral Peak, about half a mile further east. It is slightly higher than Mariposa and has a good deal more prominence as a result, with a 500-foot+ drop between the two. I had plotted a more circuitous route off the north side of Mariposa judging from the satellite views, but based on our good-fortune in reaching the summit of Mariposa without any bushwhacking at all, we set off down the east side intending to make a more direct route between the peaks. We very soon bogged down in brush, some of it which may have been poison oak (no leaves at this time of year) and quickly grew despondent. We decided to keep what had so far been a very pleasant outing from becoming something much less pleasant and retreated back up the hillside to the summit, only a few minutes after leaving it. A quick discussion revealed that neither of us were much interested in pursuing Cathedral further, even though the original plan would probably have worked nicely. Suddenly the idea of getting back home before midnight seemed desireable.

And so we decided to leave Cathedral for another time, possibly never. Our return was about half an hour faster than the route out, much of that due to the need not to return over Antimony's summit. From Frenchs Pass we picked up the road that contours nicely around the peak to the northwest, though it was not without its ups and down. We were surprised how much uphill there was during our ten mile hike, almost 3,000ft-worth I found out later. Our starting point had been only a thousand feet below Antimony, but there was sufficient highs and lows to triple that elevation gain. I was happy to find the dogs no longer barking when we returned to the start around 10:45p. All was quiet and peaceful - just the way I prefer it. Another beautiful evening in the dead of a California winter. And with that we would be sending David back to Colorado to finish out his last term...

Anonymous comments on 01/06/12:
I missed the bounty of nighttime photos of nondescript objects and terrain.
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