Brushy Peak P500 CC / NN

Sun, May 23, 2010

With: Steve Sywyk
Bruce Ramstad

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Our monthly moonlight hike took us out to Livermore Valley for what was expected to be a much-too-easy hike for the hourlong drive it would take us. Though not very high at barely 1,700ft, Brushy Peak is the only named peak within a ten mile radius and possesses a fair amount of what prominence highpointers call "isolation". The peak is on the CC list which prompted my interest in paying it a visit. I had not realized beforehand that the summit and southern flanks of the peak lie within the Brushy Peak Regional Preserve/Park, and expected a clandestine operation across private property.

The three of us drove out in Bruce's Honda driving north on Vasco Rd off Interstate 580. I was last on Vasco Road almost twenty years earlier, before it had been rerouted around the Los Vaqueros Reservoir. Back in the day, it was a lonely county road providing access between Livermore and the heart of the Sacramento Delta, but now we found the road almost a freeway, with a 55MPH speed limit and almost no exit points. As we drove around the north side of Brushy Peak we missed one small turnoff then another because they came up too fast on us. We finally pulled over at the third one that provided us more warning. The GPS said we were less than a mile from the summit and from what we could see in the fading evening light, a series of dirt roads would get us close to the summit. The area is in the heart of windmill country in Alameda County and the dirt roads provide access to the various installations on either side of the road. Because Vasco Rd is so busy, we intended to get over the gate and on our way as quickly as we could manage. Three minutes, it turns out, was not quick enough.

Bruce had just gotten to the other side of the fence while I was taking a few pictures for the start when I heard someone comment, "Guess we won't be going this way." I turned around to see an SUV with it's lights on me, having just turned into the small dirt turnout in front of the gate. The truck was labeled Guardian Security, which meant they were probably there to keep folks like us from trespassing. Steve used his standard trick which was to walk back to our car without talking to or even acknowledging the other vehicle. In this way he puts the onus on them if they want to strike up a conversation, making them get out of their vehicle. I walked behind the truck and noticed the window being rolled down as I headed for the Honda, so I walked over to be polite (my strategy), while Bruce was rejoining Steve in the Honda. "I guess we're not allowed to hike here," I offered to which the lone security guy said, "Not only that, but you're trespassing." I said simply, "Ok, we'll leave," before walking back to our car.

That was the extent of our exchange as we all piled into the car and took off, initially heading north because we didn't think we could make a left turn across the road (the striping in the middle is a bit confusing). We drove more than a mile before realizing this road had no exits, it seemed, so at a break in the traffic we made a U-turn through the widely spaced, plastic posts that were probably installed to keep traffic confined to one side. We then drove back to a turnout on the north side where we thought we could find a side road to drive down, park and try again. But this side road (the old Vasco Rd, as it turns out) is gated shut and part of a nature preserve or some such open space area according to a sign we didn't have enough time to read. We had just pulled over when our security friend pulled in behind us, so without coming to a complete stop we turned back out onto the road and continued back towards Interstate 580. It became a source of amusement after this point as we joked about the guard escorting us out of the area. Steve began to relive his high school days in small town Illinois where evading the police was a regular part of the curriculum. With Bruce at the wheel and Steve navigating, we ducked into a residential neighborhood, made a number of turns in the maze of streets and pulled over, lights out, within view of Vasco Rd. We never saw our new friend again.

At this point we were more than three miles from the summit and would not have an easy time getting to the peak with much private property intervening. So after a few minutes of waiting, we drove back north on Vasco and found a side road we had seen earlier, driving this to near it's end. The road followed just east of Vasco Rd and one could easily see the traffic above us, so we wasted little time in killing the lights once we found a place to park. A residence with lights on could be seen on the right side of this side road not far ahead of us, so we needed to avoid that as well. We were about two miles from the summit, now out of view, but with the GPS it would not be hard to head off in the right direction.

We climbed a small hill above and south of the residence, then went over the other side. The land is mostly covered in grass, tall this time of year, with thistles thrown in to needle us in our knees and legs, to keep us on our toes. We found a wide dirt road, fallen into disuse, on the other side, and we followed this down to a small canyon to the east, in the general direction of our peak. At the bottom of this shallow canyon we found the road improved and 4-5 construction vehicles parked in a large clearing. We examined the large bulldozer and earth compactors, thinking we had stumbled upon a development site, perhaps abandoned since the downturn. It took only a few minutes to realize from the plastic and other debris protruding from the ground, along with a mild stench wafting through the air, that we had stumbled into the Alameda County landfill.

It was almost like we deserved it, and we all found it both amusing and of mild interest. With headlamps we could see the freshest layers were in the middle of the canyon, so we avoided those by climbing out of the canyon to the left up moderately steep slopes (ouch - more thistles - ouch) to get us out of the landfill. Once above the mess we went over another barbed-wire fence and followed a road to a small saddle on a ridgeline west of Brushy Peak. Here we discovered a kiosk in the moonlight, sporting a trail map and announcing that we were in the Regional Preserve. Sheepishly I thought to myself that a little more research on the peak might have been warranted (the very first link that comes up on a Google search of "Brush Peak" is the Regional Preserve).

We found cattle grazing in the park, to no great surprise, and made an effort to walk around them to the south to avoid spooking them. Ranch buildings and several homes are located higher on ridgeline, but our route took us south of these, down to another canyon southwest of Brushy Peak (now clearly visible) before climbing up to a saddle on the south side of the summit. Along the way we came across one of the park trails and used this to switchback our way up to the saddle. Where the trail continues down the east side of the saddle we struck off uphill to the north, making our way through the tall grass and under the shade of the oaks that dotted the landscape here. They were the only large collection of trees in the area and probably the source of the peak's name (From the satellite view, it is the only large collection of trees to be found in the area). A use trail was found near the top that offered a relatively easy way to the top.

It was 10:30p when we reached the summit, having taken about an hour and a quarter to cover the two mile distance. The views were open to the north and east, giving an unobstructed view to the lights of the Central Valley in the Brentwood, Stockton, and Tracy areas. A battered benchmark was found among the rocks at the very top. We stayed about 15 minutes, chilled by the wind that was blowing in from the west. The weather had been chilly most of the night, but the hiking had kept us warm enough. Our descent route was much the same, with a modification to stay high on the ridgeline north of the landfill to avoid that bit of unpleasantry whose novelty had already worn off. A small herd of cattle grazing on the slopes along this ridge were spooked and ran off, initially running ahead of us in a fruitless effort to get away, finally veering to one side where they could be left in peace. We managed to shave about 15 minutes off on the return time, thanks to a more direct route and fewer fences to negotiate. The easy evening turned out to be of moderate effort and it wasn't until nearly 1a before we finally got home. But at least the evening had provided some unexpected interest to compensate for the extra effort.

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