Cerro Bonito CC
Meyers Peak P750

Mon, Dec 5, 2011
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Cerro Bonito can translate as "Tuna Ridge" or "Pretty Ridge" depending on who's doing the translating, but I'm going to go with "Pretty" since even in the dark I can't see how it might look like a tuna. Cerro Bonito is a CC-listed peak deep in the Diablo Range in San Benito County, just south of Panoche Valley. If this doesn't really help you picture its location, you wouldn't be alone - this is about as remote as it gets in the Diablo Range. I'm not sure how Cerro Bonito landed on the list (I suspect it was semi-random, judging from past experience with this obscure list), but nearby Meyers Peak is higher by several hundred feet and lands in the California Moutain Atlas with over 750ft of prominence and would make a good companion summit. The peaks and all of the access to them are on private ranch lands. Because of this, it seemed an ideal candidate for a moonlight hike. As I hadn't really given it much thought until the day I was heading out, I didn't have time to round up any suitable accomplices for this venture and would be heading out solo.

Using the satellite views on Google Maps, I had worked out a series of connecting roads to reach the peaks, though the last half mile section to Meyers looked to be strictly cross-country and possibly too brushy. I had entered the significant junctions and parking locations in my GPS, and brought along a topo map for backup. The main concern regarding trespassing is that there is an occupied ranch home adjacent to the starting point along Panoche Rd. My plan was to park 300-400ft further east and cross-country the beginning portion to give the home a wide berth.

It was after 6:30p when I arrived at the parking location. I had gotten all my gear together beforehand so that I had only to lock the car and be on my way seconds later. Good thing too, as there was another car following about a mile back, now approaching. In hopping the fence along the road I tore a shallow inch and a half cut in the palm of my hand. I ran out to the middle of the field so as to be out of view as the truck came rumbling by half a minute later. I looked at my hand in the moonlight and could see blood where I had grabbed a barb, but it didn't seem bad enough to worry about. I paused in the field to put on my fleece, jacket, balaclava and gloves - it was forecast to be in the low 30s after 10p and it was already quite cold. The initial cross-country turned out to be even easier than I had anticipated. The field had been mowed and stomped by cattle making it possible to easily run across the field by moonlight without danger of stumbling. I found my way across the field, over a dry creekbed, and onto the dirt road heading away from the home and Panoche Rd.

There was not a single head of cattle to be seen the entire evening. They were either all out of sight or, more likely, had been removed for the coming winter until the new grass begins to grow. I was not far along the road when I was startled by the only animal I saw all night, a feral pig that took off with much grunting at being chased from his napping site alongside the road. As the road began climbing out of the valley the temperature moderated some - evidently the cold air was collecting in the bottom of the valley. I was able to remove the balaclava and outer jacket and stow those back in my pack. The roads at first were well-graded and a piece of cake to navigate along. After the first hour, I reached a property boundary where the roads on the other side did not appear to be used by vehicles in a long time, possibly several years. These had taller grasses, encroaching brush and more shadows from overhanging trees, but still it was possible to navigate along the road without headlamp.

Once I reached the crest of Cerro Bonito, the views opened up to the south and the place took on a remote, magical feel, to a time before California became heavily populated. I could see to the Central Valley but there are no major poulation centers around the Panoche area, so the lights were few and scattered. In the other three directions there were almost no lights at all - just a few lights from ranch homes over hundreds of square miles that were visible. The moon and stars were both bright, providing abundant light on the dry hillsides. Brush and grass lower down was beginning to be replaced with scraggily pines and other trees that managed to grow at the higher elevation around 3,000ft.

It was 8:30p when I found my way to the summit of Cerro Bonito. The road I had last followed did not lead directly to the summit, bypassing it to the southwest, but it was mostly open across the east-west ridge running to the highpoint. The summit is flattish, about 50ft on a side, half covered in juniper and other brush and trees, half open to views looking north, east and south. Meyers Peak to the southeast about a mile away by air, is the best-looking summit around. There was no cairn or register or benchmark or anything else to mark the summit, though I did not make a very careful search.

The route to Meyers from Cerro Bonito is along a curving arc, following the connecting ridgeline with several dips, the lowest saddle about 200ft below the summit of Cerro Bonito. At one time a road or firebreak had been run over most of this ridge, and though it has long since been left to recover, the cattle have kept it relatively open and easy to travel along. At the low point around 3,440ft I came across a freshly graded road traveling over a portion of the ridge, connecting Mine Canyon to the west with the drainage south of Meyers Peak. Where this road goes over the ridge and begins dropping to the south, I turned east and followed the ridge through the open understory until I came to a fenceline about a quarter mile still from the summit.

This last section had no indications of there ever being a road or trail and appears cattle are not grazed in the area immediately around Meyers Peak. After hopping the fence I dropped down a brushy slope, losing about 100ft of elevation before starting the final climb to Meyers Peak. To my surpise, the Southwest Face of Meyers Peak is composed largely of huge sandstone slabs pockmarked with caves and pits like some of those found in the Santa Cruz Mtns and elsewhere, and initially it looks like I might have some trouble finding my way to the top. But by skirting the left side of the headwall at the base, I passed between the edge of the rock and some large manzanita to eventually find a short gap that allowed me to gain the lower-angled rock surfaces above. I left a duck here to aid me in finding my way back down through the rock should I not find an easier way back down (I didn't). Though a few bits of class 3 were involved, most of it was class 2 as I spiraled my way around the the west and north sides to emerge at the small rocky outcrop marking the highpoint.

It was 9:20p now and with the air calm and temperatures quite bearable, I took a ten minute break to enjoy the views, take a long-exposure photograph, and enjoy the meager snacks I had brought with me. I made a search for a register hidden among the nooks and crannies about the summit but again came up empty. I'm sure Meyers has been visited in the past, but I'd bet it isn't very often.

My return was very much along the same route I had taken up. Now acquainted with the lay of the land, I did a better job of following the ridgelines along the most open paths. I also jogged much of the downhill sections along the dirt roads, making a two hour return versus the nearly three hours it took to ascend. It would be 11:30p by the time I found my way back to the car and 1:15a before returning to San Jose. Despite the forecasted cold, it had been a much more pleasant outing than I had anticipated. Perhaps I'll see if I can't get out again in a few days...

Anonymous comments on 12/07/11:
Bob, Please finish the write ups for the 2011 challenge "mountains" last summer before any more night strolls on private "hills".
Anonymous comments on 12/07/11:
They wern't private before we as Europeans deemed them private.
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