Buck Peak P500 CC

Thu, Feb 2, 2012
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The moon was now two days past half full and the weather was continuing clear. I had just been out the night before in the Santa Cruz Mtns, but was itching to get back out again with such cooperative weather. So after making dinner for the family I changed into my hiking garb in preparation to leave. My wife and daughter already knew I was heading out but my 15yr-old son looked at me and asked, "You're going out again tonight?!" I felt somewhat like a teenager getting if from my parent, but having the upper hand in this I simply replied, "Yes." He couldn't understand how I haven't already climbed everything around home already, but my explanation of how all the land taken in by the radius of a two hours' drive is quite extensive was somehow lost on him as I don't think they cover this in freshman algebra. He'll need some trigonometry to really grasp it. The women in the family simply accept it for what it is, so they won't be needing any additional math skills.

Buck Peak is a CC-listed summit in the heart of the Diablo Range just south of Panoche, itself a little rural roadstop deep in San Benito County. It took almost two hours to drive out there from San Jose. Portions of the windy Panoche Rd were being repaired, potholes filled in with a layer of loose gravel sprinkled on top. The gravel turned out to be slippery and the back end of the Miata would slip out whenever I made a turn where this fine gavel had been put down. It was a little unnerving, forcing me to slow down a bit, but still good fun.

The route I planned started southeast of the summit off New Idria Rd in Griswold Canyon. A good dirt road leads up several miles northwest to some ranch buildings northwest of the summit and a thousand feet above the canyon. A side road continues to the summit of Buck Peak. From the satellite view it appeared the ranch buildings might be occupied, so I gave them a wide berth, going cross-country up a hillside after about 1 3/4 miles in. This turned out to be unnecessary as their were no lights on at the buildings when I viewed them around 9p. Still, the cross-country was a good shortcut and turned out to be easier than expected thanks to cow trails that crisscross the slopes. The whole area below and somewhat above the ranch buildings is used for grazing, though there were no cattle seen during my visit. The land is still very dry and in dire need of rain to start the grass growing again, most of last year's crop having been stripped by the cattle. The highest elevations around the summit are populated with small pines and tall brush, forming a greener island around a sea of brown hillsides.

There are very few lights that can be seen anywhere during the hike. There are a few homesteads in the broad Vallecitos Valley to the southeast towards the New Idria Mine area, and a few out on the broad Panoche Valley to the north, but mostly just hundreds of square miles of hills looking so very peaceful under the moonlight. Once I got closer to the summit I could see east over the Panoche and Tumey Hills to the lights of the Central Valley, but even these are few as the visible stretch of the Central Valley is lightly populated.

The summit had the remains of about half a dozen concrete footings, the foundation for a structure that once stood on the summit. Some old boards are scattered about, but not enough to make a building of any sort, so much of the old structure must have been carted away or tossed down the side of the peak. There was only a light breeze blowing tonight, calmer than the previous night, but still chilly. I was able to easily stay warm while I was hiking but grew cold within a few minutes inactivity at the top. There was a survey marker sign but no benchmark that I could find. I took a long exposure of Vallecitos to the southeast before packing up to head down.

It had taken about an hour and 15 minutes to cover the 3.5mi and 2,000ft of gain to the summit. It would take but forty minutes to return, jogging most of the way back. The upper portion of the route above the cross-country section was on a soft-pack road that appeared to be freshly graded. The recent light rains had soaked into the earth as a sponge, making the road springy and an absolute delight to run down by moonlight. I was back to the car by 10:10p and home to San Jose just after midnight. It had been a much better hike than I had anticipated, one I thoroughly enjoyed.

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