Cedar Mountain P500 CC

Fri, Apr 3, 2009

With: Steve Sywyk

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Cedar Mountain lies in the Diablo Range in Alameda County, entirely on private property. Normally this would have been a good target to go after on one of our moonlight hikes, but after dropping our kids off at school Steve and I decided to go on a hike, rather spur of the moment. The hike itself isn't very long, but the drive to reach the start is nearly an hour. Our constraint would be the need to get back before 3p when it was time to pick up the kids again from school.

Since I had entered the position in my GPS, we had no trouble finding the likely starting point along the paved Mines Road. Almost immediately we noticed buildings just off the road, down below, along with Beware of Dog on the gate at roadside. Drats. We moved further south along the road, stopping a few times before finding something suitable for (hopefully) getting by undiscovered.

Our first bit of work was to drop about 300ft from the road down to the creek at the base of our mountain. This was done by a combination of cross-country down grassy hillsides, a section of rarely-used dirt road, and then more cross-country to get us down to the Arroyo Mocho. The creek looked cool and inviting, not enough flow for a swim, but enough for a drink. We didn't, of course, knowing most of the land around us was well-grazed ranchland. There were dozens of newts in the creek, lying still, probably waiting for likely meals to float by in the current. Steve found these particularly interesting, stopping to watch them and take pictures. Having seen hundreds of these creatures and no longer holding my interest, I waited patiently while Steve marveled at them. I was impressed by the abundance of the small amphibians, more than a dozen were visible from where I stood and just looking around.

Our route down to the creek was chosen to intersect the only dirt road in the area that goes across the creek (this wasn't strictly true - it was the only crossing shown on the topo map, but as we came to find there has since been a large ranchhouse built to the south with an access road another mile or two further south off Mines Rd). Taking the road more directly down from Mines Rd would have entailed passing by more buildings and possibly dealing with a dog. It was easy enough to cross the creek over rocks. Immediately on the other side was a small private picnic area with a dilapidated deck and even a few lawn chairs - it didn't look to have been utilized for the past few years. We continued up the zigzagging road as it followed up the east side of the mountain under a set of high voltage towers. We could hear the lines buzzing as we passed under them. Where the trees had been cut under the power lines, wildflowers grew among the grassy slopes in large numbers. We crossed over a gate in the road to the adjacent property to the south. It looked like it hadn't been opened in years.

Not long after we passed the gate we came across a view to a cattle pen that caught our attention through the trees. More alarming was the sight of a rancher securing a gate to the pen. We ducked down on the road out of sight, wondering if he had seen us. We continued up the road another fifteen minutes or so, periodically exposed to view from a ranch home next to the cattle pen. Our nervousness increased when we passed by another home, this one looking unoccupied. We heard a rattling diesel engine approaching from below and quickly got off the road and out of view. A few minutes later, a large pickup hauling a load of cattle in a trailer came lumbering by at slow speed, winding its way up the mountain - the same road we had intended to follow to the summit of Cedar Mtn. We waited until it had passed and climbed several hundred feet up the switchbacks and out of sight before starting off again. We would need to find an alternate.

The map showed a second road further north, passing through the unoccupied home site. It looked unoccupied when we spied it from afar, but the grounds around did not make it look unused. So we hiked up the main road past this second home site, then left the road to hike up the grassy hillsides where we were unlikely to be spotted. This led to some brushwhacking and traversing of hillsides and general tortoising of progress. We eventually emerged half an hour later through the manzanita and onto the road we were looking for. Judging by the absence of recent treadmarks, we guessed this second road was much less traveled.

Though only the two roads were shown on our topo map, there were several junctions we passed on our way towards the summit - at least three additional roads had been cut through this area since the map was last updated. Where our road started to head downhill, we took an overgrown side road that traverses around the west side of Cedar Mountain's summit. There were stashes of old, forgotten gear, including a pile of old signs left to the elements. We passed behind yet another old home site, looking unoccupied, but possibly used in season as a hunting lodge (we had seen both deer and wild turkeys on our way up).

Almost two hours after starting out, we finally found our way to the antenna-topped summit of Cedar Mtn. No cedars that we could see, the summit was surrounded by brush that made the views weak, and hard to come by. We could see south to Mt. Hamilton, west to Mt. Lewis (where we had been a week earlier), north to Mt. Diablo. Through the unfortunate haze we could just make out the suburban developments in Livermore Valley to the north and the Central Valley to the east. The previous week we had seen the snows on the Sierra over the haze, but no such luck today.

There was a small pile of rocks and an implanted pipe at the highest point at the summit. No register or benchmark to be found. We ate what snacks we brought with us, but a check of the time showed we might be running up against our time constraint. We discussed briefly which route to take back, eventually opting to take our chances on the main road which would be the fastest way back. By jogging downhill we figured we could probably go about the same pace as the lumbering truck were it to return while we were headed down. We had no idea if the truck was still up high near the summit somewhere, had gone off down the other side, or possibly already returned after relocating its load of cattle. We were surprised to find it took us only ten minutes to reach the place where we had left the road on our way up, a stretch that had taken us something like 45 minutes cross-country.

We continued down, stopping only for some quick pictures of the lupine and other wildflowers that were decorating the hillsides. It looked like the height of spring season with the grass so green and lush and the flowers out in abundance. But without any rain on the horizon it would probably be only a few weeks before the landscape began to dry up and the flora start to turn brown. We were happy to make it down without further incidence, no trucks, no ranchers, no troubles at all. We were soon back at Arroyo Mocho, then climbed the last few hundred feet up the steep, grassy slopes back to the car. The whole descent had taken less than 40 minutes. This put us well within our time limits, and even with an hour of driving we were back with time to spare.

Next on the radar would be an ascent of Mt. Eylar. At just over 4,000ft, it is one of the highest peaks in Santa Clara County. And like Cedar Mtn, it is on the CC peak list. Unfortunately, it has several homes guarding the most straightforward access...

Anonymous comments on 04/07/11:
Maybe next time you should contact the owners before you hike... Since you are Trespassing on Private Land! Which I happen to know the owners, the Rancher, and all the surrounding property owners.
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