Cathedral Peak P1K
Mt. Ararat P300 CC

Wed, Mar 7, 2012
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

So far, 2012 had been a series of fairly short hikes - interesting, but not really very difficult. Today I had time for a longer hike and planned to revisit an area I'd hiked with David Alexander a few months earlier. On that outing to the Diablo Range east of Hollister, we climbed Antimony Peak and Mariposa Peak, two CC-listed summits. We had hoped to climb the next peak further, Cathedral Peak, but our initial effort in leaving the summit of Mariposa soon devolved into an ugly bushwhack and we gave up the effort. Today I hoped to visit not only Cathedral (the highest summit in the immediate area with over 1,000ft of prominence), but another CC-listed peak, Mt. Ararat, a few miles beyond Cathedral. There was some hope I might find shards from the ark on this second peak. The entire outing would amount to some 16 miles and 5,000ft of gain - no easy feat for a night hike. To facilitate the effort and keep from being out all night, I started the hike early, Leaving San Jose by 4:30p and getting to the start by 6p. Since this was the first time I'd driven up the road in daylight, I paused to take some pictures of the various peaks in the area, including Santa Ana Mtn, Coyote Peak, Three Sisters, San Joaquin Peak and Antimony Peak.

There are two occupied homes in the immediate vicinity of where I parked. One is located at a spot marked Ranchos Los Cimas on the topo map, tucked at the base of San Joaquin Peak on its NE side, just across the road from where I started. Unlike the previous visit, this time there were signs of occupation, including a truck parked out front and some lights on. Luckily I heard no barking dog this time. Some portions of the hike in the beginning are visible to this house, so it was with some trepidation that I slipped under the barbed-wire fence and quickly moved away from the road. It wasn't until I was a third of a mile from the start that I was out of view and could relax. There were places along the route visible to the second house, located at the end of Lone Tree Rd, but the distance was far enough that there seemed little cause for concern.

My route followed a newly-graded dirt road starting from Lone Tree Rd, traversing the NW side of Antimony Peak across several ranch boundaries. The large grader we'd seen on the first visit was missing, but the work that had been done to improve the road was evident for several miles. A low concrete bridge had been installed at the only creek crossing, really just a series of concrete and steel rectangular slabs fitted together over the creek. Elsewhere the road had been smoothed and drainages installed under the roadbed in several locations. Portions were left still under construction, so it appears that the work is not yet complete. The sun set soon after starting out and twilight came and faded over the next half hour. The surrounding hills, green with recent rain, began to transform from green to shades of gray with the coming darkness.

The first hour was taken in following the series of roads to Frenchs Pass where I then followed along the crest of the Range towards Mariposa Peak. Now quite dark, from this point on one could see lights to the east to the Central Valley and west to Hollister and Gilroy. Following the crest in a northeast direction, travel continued to be easy over grassy hillsides. Grazing cattle were periodically disturbed from the outset, resulting in much lowing, indecision on which way to run, more lowing, herd mentality in action. If one cow chose to run the opposite direction, he would stop and think better of this and then almost run me over in order to rejoin the others. More lowing. But at least they kept the grounds nicely mowed and cross-country travel was a breeze.

I reached the Mariposa Mine located on the southwest side of Mariposa Peak before 7:30p. It's not much of a mine, really. A hole dug in the ground was mostly filled. White, chalk-like rock had been excavated, crushed, and before long abandoned. A rusty piece of equipment was all that remained aside from the shallow depression. From this point I started up the west slope of Mariposa, traversing north to the NW Ridge, towards a point I had picked out on the satellite view (and saved to the GPS) as providing the most brush-free route past Mariposa. The heavy brush that I feared I might find on the way to Cathedral Peak did not materialize. The stuff we had run into on the NE flank of Mariposa's summit appears to be the heaviest stuff around - a bit of bad luck on that first effort. The cows grazed high on the slopes here and it was not too difficult to find a pleasant enough route to Cathedral. It was necessary to drop more than 500ft to a saddle before climbing back up the western slopes to Cathedral's summit, a bit of a chore. There would be two more ups and downs of similar magnitude to Ararat, and again on the way back, so it was something I had to get used to - there was simply no way to avoid a large amount of gain on this outing.

It would be 8:15p before I reached the summit of Cathedral Peak. From a distance it bears a resemblance to the more famous peak of the same name in Yosemite NP, though of course far less dramatic. I was surprised to find the top thirty feet or so of the peak to be class 3. The rock is volcanic in nature, a poor hybrid of surface volcanic rock and granite, a brittle, lichen-coated amalgamate that would make for poor rock climbing, but decent enough scrambling. Tucked under the summit rock by a small shrub was a register in a plastic tub. It was the first I had seen anywhere in the area and it came as a surprise. The register had been placed two years earlier by a party of four from the Wildcat Adventure Club, a Meet-Up group based out of Oakland (not something I knew at the time - I had to look it up afterwards). They had started from SR152 at Pacheco State Park - about the same elevation gain and perhaps four more miles, but a much better route for a daytime adventure such as theirs. I took a long exposure photo looking west to Mariposa Peak from the summit, then climbed back down off the rocks and continued on towards Mt. Ararat.

I had some trepidation about this section as well as it was not possible to tell how open the terrain would be from the satellite view. I marked a route on the GPS to avoid the places depicted with chaparral on the topo, and for the most part this made for a good path to follow to Ararat, a bit less than two miles further east. Not far off the summit of Cathedral I came across a rocky impasse along the ridge. After first exploring a route across the north side of this and finding too much brush, I went back and dropped down 100ft on the south side where I found an easy traverse under the base of the rock. Past this, there was a lot of broken rock along the ridgeline I traveled. I got out the headlamp to help me negotiate the uneven ground and decrease my chances of twisting an ankle or worse. In places I found wildflowers starting to spring up after the recent rain, notably daisies and many shooting stars. Where the rocky terrain decreased I found myself in low oak forest, ducking under branches and threading my way through the understory, luckily without much real bushwhacking. I kept a vigilant eye out for poison oak, but didn't find any (though I'm itching in places a few days later). I had to go up over an intermediate highpoint before descending to a saddle just west of Mt. Ararat. Here the terrain opened to grassy slopes and I scared off the first cattle I had seen in the last two hours. The final slope up to Mt. Ararat was steep, but open grass, and by 9:30p I had found my way to the summit.

It had taken three and half hours to go eight miles, about an hour longer than I'd hoped, but little matter - I didn't have anywhere else to be for the rest of the night. The summit of Ararat was somewhat disappointing. Besides not finding Noah's ark, most of the view north and east were blocked by trees and brush. A small cairn marked the highest point which was at least out in the open. The best views were south towards Laveaga and west towards Gilroy. After taking a few photographs, I packed up my stuff and started back.

There are three climbs of around 500ft each on the way back to Mariposa Peak, a bit of work I was not thrilled with. In getting my early start I had skipped dinner, and my muscles were now beginning to feel tired. Food would have been a good idea. But I resigned myself to the work ahead which turned out to be not so bad afterwards. By 11:10p I had returned to the Mariposa Mine from where the rest of the route was along dirt road, cow trail or grass slopes, all easy terrain. The cows were beginning to settle down for the night and there was only a few dissatisfied customers bellowing from a distance, and a few forced to move out of my way on the road. When I approached Lone Pine Rd near the end, I heard the barking of a dog at the house at the road's end, but it soon quieted as I moved past it. The other house near the start had a few lights on, but all was still and no dog was heard barking from that direction when I returned to the car at 12:30p. I tossed my pack in the trunk and drove down the road with my headlights off until I had passed by the house. It had been a good outing, the first hard one of the year, and it was obvious I could use more of these to get in better shape...

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