Black Mountain 2x P1K CC
Mt. Day 2x CC

Thu, Jul 14, 2011

With: Bruce Ramstad

Black Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Black Mtn and Mt. Day are two high peaks of the Diablo Range on San Jose's eastern skyline. People see them every day, but almost no one has heard of them. They are the 6th and 7th highest peaks in Santa Clara County, but because they do not stick up prominently from the skyline they are not obviously seen as notable peaks, unlike the observatory-topped Mt. Hamilton a few miles to the south. I had been to both peaks on separate occasions many years in the past by more arduous routes, not "discovering" the easier backside route from the east until I was looking to visit other peaks in the area in more recent times. The hike to both summits would be less than 12 miles roundtrip and perhaps 2,000ft of gain, a longish but easily manageable amount for a night hike, made easier because most of the hike would be along good ranch roads. Bruce would join me on this full-moon night in July, Steve being out of town and unavailable.

After a somewhat long drive, we arrived at the end of Kincaid Rd just after 7:30p. Because of the long hike and short nighttime hours, we decided to start before dark by more than an hour. This gave us the opportunity to see some of the countryside we hiked through before the nighttime engulfed us. Just beyond the initial fence we found a trailer with several ATVs aboard. We presumed one of the landowners left these for use in accessing the property when they visited. There were fresh tire tracks in the dust of the road, indicating someone had passed through here during the day or perhaps yesterday. Often times these ranch roads get used during the day but then the owners/workers leave before evening, living somewhere less remote. I wasn't too worried, but we'd keep an eye out for trucks.

A third of a mile up the dirt road we came to the only buildings known from the satellite views to be along our route. The only structure of concern was a home or cabin that had looked to be maintained on the west side of the clearing through which the road passed. As hoped, it was unoccupied, appearing to be a temporary residence, perhaps a hunting lodge. There were no vehicles anywhere around the property. An old stable or barn and a few smaller, dilapidated buildings were the only other structures in the area. The road also passed over a small creek several times in the first mile. Bruce noticed that the shallow banks of the creek in our direction of travel were wet from tire tracks running through them. Likely, someone had driven in within the last few hours. Disconcertingly, the opposite sides of the creek were not wet, indicating they had not yet come back out. Our alert meters went up a notch on this realization.

We climbed over a locked gate just past the barn and proceeded up the road. Not five minutes later we suddenly caught sight of the top of a stopped truck ahead in the road, just beyond a small rise. I saw the top of a car door closing as Bruce and I instinctively backed up and started into the grass east of the road. I found the large trunk of a fallen oak to hide behind in a prone position while Bruce continued up a shallow drainage and into the taller grass on the side about 50yds off the road. And then we waited. We really had no idea how long we might be there. They could have been attending to cattle, or making a repair to a structure or fence and we might have waited for some time. It occurred to me that I might be inviting ticks while lying in the grass, but of course that was a secondary matter at the moment. Luckily we didn't have long to wait, perhaps a minute before a large white pickup truck came rumbling by. I could clearly see the face of the driver 30ft away as he went by which means he might have seen me as well if he happened to glance in my direction. As expected, he looked straight ahead as he headed down the road. After another minute, we got up, brushed ourselves off, picked some thistles out of our clothing, and continued on our way.

We immediately came to a second locked gate and it was then obvious that the truck had stopped to relock the gate behind him. We congratulated ourselves in our astute observation of the clues provided by the creek and our heightened awareness, but there was a large component of sheer luck that allowed us to escape unnoticed. We hopped the second gate and continued once again on our way. The road now started to climb out of the canyon in a modest manner, gaining altitude gradually. By 8:15p we were nearing sunset, and although it had long set on the ridge to the west immediately before us, we could see the sun still shining on the Mt. Hamilton ridgeline three or four miles to the south.

At a bend in the road Bruce noticed an earthen dam just to the north and suggested we go up to check it out. We found a picnic table with umbrella, a storage shed, an aluminum dock extending into small lake with a swimming platform in the middle. Tall reeds surrounded parts of the lake in this otherwise dry part of the range, making for a delightful scene - undoubtedly someone's private picnic spot. We were also startled by flashes of light that we soon discovered came from automatic game cameras that had been set up around the area. We would find several more of these surprises as we continued up the road and we joked about the surprise the owners would find when they went to review the captured images.

The full moon rose just after 8:30p, capturing our attention for several minutes as we admired the scene and took a few pictures. After this, evening slowly moved into night. By 9p we had readed the main ridgeline between Mt. Day to the south and Black Mtn to the north. An orange sky was about to fade away to the west where fog had begun to move in over the Bay and surrounding cities. I turned us north to head for Black Mtn first, the furthest of the two, about 1.5 miles from our junction on the ridge. The ranch roads do not connect along the ridge, disconnected at a property boundary. We had to slip through a barbed-wire fence and navigate cross-country through the oak forest understory to reach the next dirt road to the north. I had spotted this section when doing my satellite survey of the route and had marked the start and end points in the GPS as navigation aids. They worked beautifully, far better than I might have done with just a map and compass in the twisty terrain that we found ourselves in. Hiking along the road, still heading north, we came across a USGS reference mark off to one side, pointing in the direction of Black Mtn, but labeled "MT. DAY". The reference marks are usually a short distance from the benchmarks, but we found none nearby and I guessed it must indeed be pointing to the Black Mtn summit. This second road brought us to within a quarter mile of Black Mtn before it veered off to the southwest and started down a slope, away from our peak. Luckily the last bit of cross-country to the summit was mostly tall grass, easy enough to navigate through by moonlight.

It was nearly 9:45p before we found our way to the small, rocky summit. There was indeed a benchmark labeled "MT. DAY" embedded in the summit rocks. Immediately to the west the Arroyo Hondo Canyon dropped more than 2,700ft to the creek below, one of the main feeders into Calaveras Reservoir to the northwest. On the other side of the creek rose Poverty Ridge and behind it the city lights of San Jose and the South Bay. A light wind came over the summit from that direction making things chilly, and I did not last long before having to dig into my pack for my fleece pullover. We stayed about ten minutes admiring the views before the chill sent us on our way back.

We retraced the route south along the main crest, through the meandering cross-country portion and back to the ascent road. We continued south for another quarter mile, then headed west, cross-country for the summit of Mt. Day. It was nearly 11p before we found our way to the top, taking just about an hour from the first summit to the second. The city lights were a bit closer here, but we still had the Arroyo Hondo and Poverty Ridge separating us from them. Behind us to the east, the Diablo Range was mostly dark, softly illuminated by the moon now high overhead.

Compared to earlier, the descent was rather uneventful. We set off one of the game cameras near the pond again and a dark shadow moving across the road turned out to be a large toad on the prowl for the local nightlife. The ATVs that had been parked near the start were gone as well. We had no clue what the truck driver thought of our car parked just outside as there was no note left on the car or other suggestion that he even cared. In all we spent about 4hrs on the hike to the two peaks. It would be 1:30a before we got home to San Jose, but it had been a very enjoyable outing, well worth the time and effort.

Anonymous comments on 08/01/11:
Hey Bob, how about finishing up your trip write ups from the last two months while I'm still young enough to read them.
JJ comments on 09/08/11:
Yeesh. Hope those weren't people cameras...
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