Collords Peak

Mon, Nov 4, 2013
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Collords Peak is one of the more recently minted summits in Santa Clara County. It was named for a long-time Los Gatos resident who was very active in the community. Members of the community created a website to promote the idea in 2009. It was approved by the BGN in 2010, but had only come to my attention this year. The summit itself is rather wimpy - it has no more than 20 feet of prominence, being part of a long ridgeline descending from El Sombroso which itself is a subsidiary summit of Mt. Umunhum and the main crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The 7.5' topo map shows an old trail or firebreak leading to the Collords' summit, but it has been long abandoned. Located in the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, the summit is a quarter mile off the Kennedy Trail that rises from Kennedy Rd in Los Gatos. Because of heavy brush for the last quarter mile, it took me three tries to reach the summit. It was more an exercise in cutting a trail than reaching a legitimate summit. Oddly, the summit is below the maintained trail, so the cross-country portion was slightly downhill, but mostly flat.

On my first effort, I hiked up the trail with my friend Steve, not really knowing what I was up against. I didn't even tell Steve about the objective when I invited him to join me for the hike. As we passed by the turnoff point, I noted that there was no obvious remnants of the old trail and we simply passed it by, continuing to El Sombroso. A power transmission tower is located at its summit and we got into a discussion about how effective the anti-climbing measures that had been installed might be. All the crossbeams for about 10ft are covered in pointy metal strips to deter humans from climbing the tower. Steve decided he could probably foil the deterrent and began to climb the tower. He was very cautious and slow to get by the metal strips, but in three minutes he had done what I had guessed would be far more difficult.

On the second effort I came back by myself with a pair of clippers. I found remnants of the old trail and clipped a route about halfway from the trail to the summit. But the old trail seemed to end at some chicken wire and other remnants of what may have been a pot farm long ago. Beyond this, I could find no continuation of the old trail. I was a bit short on time, my clippers' blade had been damaged some and I decided to leave the rest for another day.

The third effort proved successful. I came back again by myself, clippers resharpened, in the morning so I'd have lots of time. I spent about three hours clipping the remaining distance to the summit, about 1/8 mile or 650ft. It was brutal work, hacking through manzanita and other brush. Much of the undergrowth was dead and much of this could be broken with my boots. The live stuff required the clippers. Using the clippers on dead branches was mostly ineffective. I tried using a dust mask to reduce the amount of dusty material I was inhaling, but it was too warm and I gave it up after a short while. I would have to live with some dead organic material in my lungs. My legs would take several stab wounds that drew blood and my pants would take a beating as well.

I found a number of animal dens, piles of sticks and branches 2-3ft in height. Exactly what animals might use these dens I had no idea. There were a couple of cute little brown birds that hung out in the underbrush with me, I suspect they were inspecting the newly broken branches for insects they might enjoy for lunch. For the entire time I was some 3-10ft below the height of the brush, so there were no views to be had anywhere, including at the summit. I followed the GPS to where it indicated the summit was, but it was so flat and brushy that the highpoint could have been anywhere in a 1-2 acre area. It didn't really matter. Mostly I was curious as to how much effort it would take to blaze a trail through heavy chaparral. Now I have some idea. While much of the trail was cut to allow me to walk through without ducking, not all of it was. In some places I resorted to ducking and cutting a smaller opening to save time. Some of this I widened upon the return, but not all of it.

I left an Altoid tin with a pen and single piece of paper in a clearing I made where the GPS indicated the summit to be. I spent about 40 minutes retracing the trail back to the maintained one, most of this time spent making additional cuts. I think the whole trail would take only ten or fifteen minutes if one were just walking it. By 2:30p I was back at the car, taking about six hours to cover 9 miles.

If you're thinking of visiting Collords via this trail, I would recommend you bring a GPS with the gpx track I created. I referred to the GPS at a number of points on the return where it wasn't obvious where the trail was. It's a pretty good trail, but it meanders some and has some dead ends where I gave up to try a different route. If you're feeling more adventurous, go without the GPS. If you attempt it anytime after 2014, I would recommend you bring clippers, too.

boyblue comments on 11/04/13:
One of my 'funnest' bushwhacks was a trip up one of the branches of Pheasant Creek back in the mid-seventies or so. It was hot and steep with some of the most impenetrable brush I've ever encountered outside of Lower Goddard Creek in the 'other' Sierra, but at least I felt safe from being discovered by angry landowners.
My goal was Mount Thayer and I thought that I was going to top out on the crest of the Sierra Azul, but instead I found myself on top of that long ridge you mentioned that drops down from El Sombroso. Drat! My energy was spent (as well as my water), so from the top of ES, I headed back down to Hicks Road via Reynolds Road. Oh well, just another Saturday in south San Jose.:-)
David A comments on 11/07/13:
Hey Bob,

Ben and I thrashed our way to this summit back when we were in high school, though we had no idea of the name "Collards Peak" back then (this was even before the whole Collard Peak campaign had begun). About a year ago I discovered that site describing the peak. I think there is also a little plaque in Vasona Park that mentions the peak name.

We approached via a trail that started off Blackberry Hill Road, that started clear enough, but deteriorated quickly. After tagging the "summit", we continued along the "trail" and eventually popped out on Kennedy Trail, just before the first "false summit". Not the way you approached. Man, sometimes I miss these crazy South Bay bushwhacks. Thanks for bringing back the memories!
Toshi H comments on 11/25/13:
Hi Bob,
My friend and I climbed Colloards Peak this past Sat via El Sombroso ridgeline and signed your Altoid tin can. It took about 3.5 hrs with moderate route finding. At one point a Cal Fire helicopter was circling around us and deployed 2 fire fighters close to us. It was unnerving, but they just started cutting down trees. We were very happy to find your trail because we were crawling through a rabbit hole at that point. I saw an old Fresca bottle on the way out. It took us about 30 min to get back to Kennedy Trail, but we both enjoyed your trail and the work you put in. Thanks!
John Viss comments on 12/03/13:
via email:
Mr. Burd,

We came across your geo cache on Collords Peak. I work at Alma Helitack, & we happened to be cutting fire line, & a new LZ in that exact location. Unfortunately, we had to move it due to the fact in was in the middle of our LZ. I apologize for any inconvenience, I hope this doesn't effect future hikers geo cache expeditions. If you have any questions feel free to contact us on the email provided above. Thank you.
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