Cibo Peak P900
Schoolhouse Ridge P500

Thu, Feb 9, 2012

With: Steve Sywyk
Bruce Ramstad
Marty Sexton

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Cibo Peak and Schoolhouse Ridge are two small summits in the Diablo Range east of Hollister, on either side of Quien Sabe Road in San Benito County. Both have more than 500ft of prominence though less than a mile from the road. Both are entirely surrounded by private property, the only public access being the road itself which ends at a gate located along the road between the two summits. It seemed a good choice for one of our group moonlight hikes, and with the moon now two days past full, it would be our last opportunity this month before the moon starts rising too late in the evening. As it was, the moon wasn't scheduled to rise until 8p, so I arranged the timing so that we would start after this time. We were not successful in getting out of San Jose as planned, but eventually got to the end of Quien Sabe Rd around 8:45p.

The moon had just risen over Reinoso Peak and the crest of the Diablo Range to the east and was casting long shadows across the landscape. The obvious choice was to climb Cibo Peak first as the SE Ridge we used was already bathed in moonlight while the west side of Schoolhouse Ridge was steeped in shadow. There is no warming up on this hike at all - once we hopped the roadside fence, the 1,200-foot climb starts immediately. We were quickly down to just tshirts as we climbed out of the cooler air in the valley below and our bodies warmed from the effort. Grazing cattle have left the grassy slopes short and relatively free of thistles, but the hillside was littered with rocks that had us tripping over our feet at irregular intervals, like a posse of drunken cowboys looking for their horses after an evening of too much drink. We lamented that the ranchers who owned the land had been too lazy to collect the rocks to one side or build a proper trail to the summit.

We spent about 50 minutes in climbing to the summit. We bypassed the rocky, lower east summit on the southwest side, traversing across slopes in shadow, taking extra care to avoid tripping. The highpoint was a small, rocky (no surprise here) area with a benchmark and the fallen remains of an old antenna tower. The views from the 2,800-foot summit extended west to the bright lights of Hollister, with the fainter lights of Santa Cruz on Monterey Bay visible in the background and Gilroy to the northwest. The views north, east and south were taken up by the softly defined peaks and ridges of the Diablo Range, the main crest to the east rising much higher and blocking views to the Central Valley. There were only a few smatterings of lights visible in the surrounding hills, some to the southwest along the road we had taken in, two lights to the northeast at the north end of Quien Sabe Valley behind Schoolhouse Ridge, and the faint light of a home at the base on Cibo Peak on the northwest side, part of the Quien Sabe Ranch.

While we were at the summit we spotted the headlights of a vehicle several miles off making its way slowly up Quien Sabe Rd. There was no concern that we might be spotted, but we wondered whether our car parked alongside the road would cause them to stop and investigate. There are only a few souls living out at the end of the road here, so it must be unusual to see unfamiliar vehicles, especially at this time of night. We had started down the ridge, all the while watching the car draw nearer, but it simply passed by our own car without even slowing down. It paused at the gate at the end of the road, opening and closing it before driving on to the distant lights we had seen at the north end of Quien Sabe Valley.

It was 10:30p before we dropped down the east side of Cibo Peak to the road where I suggested we should have a short pow-wow to decide whether to do the second peak. If we left now we'd be back around midnight, the time we had told our spouses to expect us. The additional peak would take another hour, probably. I think Steve would rather have called it a night, but Marty suggested we could start up the other peak and turn around if it "seemed it was getting late." We all laughed because we knew that was just code for "Let's climb the other peak," since no one was going to suggest turning around once we were halfway up. Off we went.

The moon was now high enough in the sky to provide lighting on the southwest side of Schoolhouse Ridge. There were two grassy slopes leading up to the ridge south of the highpoint and it was to the nearest, steepest slope we gravitated. We thought the crux was going to be the scaling of the barbed-wire fence on the west side of the road, but came to find there is a non-trivial creek crossing needed to reach the base of Schoolhouse Ridge. In the moonlight it looked like a cattle-stomped mud hole about eight feet across, too far to jump and too marshy to walk across. Marty tested it with one foot and quickly sunk up to his ankle. We walked north along the creek looking for a way to cross it, eventually settling on a brushy tree growing in the middle of it that afforded an ugly, but workable way across. Later we would find that 200 yards further north was a bridge across the creek that made our crossing choice laughable.

Once over the creek, we spent about 20 minutes climbing the steep western slope to the ridge and then north to the highpoint. Not as much rock on the grassy slope in the lower half, but more than compensated by the rock-strewn terrain along the ridge. Because the summit is some 400ft lower than Cibo, the higher peak blocks the lights of civilization to the west giving Schoolhouse Ridge a very remote feel to it, completely surrounded by the Diablo hills in all directions. I took some long-exposure shots looking west to Cibo, north to Laveaga, and south along the ridgeline, as well as a group shot that I had neglected to take on Cibo Peak when we were distracted by the approaching car. A dog was heard barking briefly up from the home below to the west, but we couldn't decide whether it had detected us (seemed unlikely) or just random release of pent-up energy. There had been a chilly breeze blowing over the summit of Cibo, but it was much gentler and more comfortable now on Schoolhuse. Still chilly, but not sending us rushing to grab jackets out of our packs. A truck came rumbling up the road while we stood around the summit, again driving past our car and up to the locked gate. To our surprise it simply turned around and drove back out to Hollister - odd that someone would come randomly out along the road this time of night seemingly without a fixed purpose.

It would be 12a before we got back to our car. We joked that we'd told our wives we'd be back at midnight, which we were. To our cars anyway, if not our homes. Was it our fault if they didn't ask for more specifics? We'd get back to San Jose well after 1am, an enjoyable evening out, though I'd have to sleep in a bit to recuperate. The others were gainfully employed but had the following day off work for various reasons. Sometimes it can be good for the soul to live with an economy not plowing ahead at full steam...

Anonymous comments on 02/14/12:
I don't understand the appeal of hiking in the night. Do you get a rush from sneaking around private properties in the dark?
Bob Burd comments on 02/23/12:
By moonlight it is anything but dark. Visibility is quite impressive though everything is in black and white instead of color. Even cross-country travel is relatively easy. And you don't get to see a sky full of stars in the daytime.
Anonymous comments on 02/25/12:
maybe someday we'll get off the private property kick, mental abstractions, its not your tree and its not my tree, it just is. We forgot about our kindergarden sharing lessons :) Humanity is evolving, the original people of this land can teach us something. Love the stories Bob. This is a beautiful area.
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