Copper Mountain P300 CC
Mt. Oso P900 CC

Wed, Nov 17, 2010
Copper Mountain
Mt. Oso
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2

In trying to take advantage of both a full moon and fine Fall weather before a storm was due shortly, I managed to get out for a second night hike the evening after the previous one. I chose two CC-listed peaks in the Diablo Range on either side of Del Puerto Canyon Rd. This remote road is part of the only paved route across the range between Interstate 580 and SR152. The seventy mile route between San Jose and Patterson is incredibly windy and takes more than two hours to complete - not a quick route by any stretch. Copper Mtn is a short hike of less than two miles one-way, located near a Naval Bombing Range just to the south. Mt. Oso is some nine miles from the road along the dirt Mt. Oso Rd (not open to the public). The summit area is home to several dozen communication installations, possibly the largest collection in one place in Northern California (rivalling Orange County's Santiago Peak and Los Angeles County's Mt. Wilson). Google StreetView showed the gate at the Mt. Oso Rd/Del Puerto Rd junction open, so I held out some hope that I may get to make a drive-up of Mt. Oso.

Pumped up on caffeinated Starbucks, I made the drive over Mt. Hamilton in about two hours, a bit slower than estimated by Google Maps. Once out of San Jose, I saw only one other vehicle in the whole time. This place is pretty remote given how close it is to the Bay Area. My original idea to climb a ridgeline north of Copper Mtn proved unworkable as there were steep cliffs along the road in this area. I backtracked a mile and half to a bend in the road where I figured I could gain access to the ridgeline from the west. This worked out quite nicely, making use of a combination of cow trails, firebreaks, and old roads. The weather continued to be fine, perhaps 50F with a moderate breeze blowing, good enough to go without a jacket. The moon was about 3/4 full and high overhead, setting about the time I was done hiking for the night.

It took about 45 minutes to gain the main north-south ridge leading to Copper Mtn. Along this ridge at a saddle was an outhouse with dual commodes. I found it somewhat disturbing that both seats might actually get used, and even more so that someone thought to design it that way. Brokeback Mtn? Outside were the busted and rusted remains of various household items including a sink and porcelain toilet. I'm not sure I'd want to hear the story of what went on here.

Another fifteen minutes along the ridge brought me to the summit of Copper Mtn. There is a ten-foot steel structure with some type of reflective orb in the center, presumably used in a survey project, allowing someone down in the Central Valley to sight it from a large distance. I looked around for the benchmark indicated on the topo, but found none. There were a great many more lights of the Valley visible from this summit compared to the more remote location I was on the previous night. Patterson, Tracy, Modesto, and other towns I couldn't identify could be seen. Looking in the other three directions was rolling hills without a single light to be seen anywhere.

In retracing my route I tried to make better use of some of the roads, but they did not continue down the mountainside as I expected. They stopped in several clearings, possibly old mining sites, now just storage for random junk. I ended up climbing back to the original route along the steep, west-facing ridge and returning the same way. Just under two hours car-to-car.

Back in the car, I proceeded about four miles east to the junction with the Mt. Oso Rd. Just as in StreetView, the gate was opened at the start. I immediately drove in and started up the road. There are a handful of residences about 100yds inside the gate on the west side of the road as it turns northward. There were lights on in a number of these, but no signs of anyone running out to accost me. It looked like I might make short work of Mt. Oso.

The pavement ends just past the homes but the dirt road is in good condition and navigable by any vehicle. At an unsigned junction I bore left, the seemingly obvious choice. At Ballard Flat, 2.5 miles from Del Puerto Rd, another fork is encountered, this one signed for Mt. Oso to the left. Just past this a gate with a dozen locks blocks the road. Hmmm. It was just before midnight and it looked like I would have to do 13 miles of hiking. Oh well, better than 18 miles I would have had if that first gate had been locked. It took only a minute to park the car, gather my gear, and be on my way.

The good road, maintained for the myriad of technicians that must drive up this way regularly, makes navigation trivial. The road initial goes by some old cattle enclosures and a cattle ramp, then heads up a narrow, shady canyon before switchbacking up to the west-trending ridgeline north of Washington Canyon. The views begin to open up at this point with fine views of Del Puerto Canyon to the south, Ingram Canyon to the north, and the lights of the Central Valley to the east. Once higher up, the western horizon is occupied by the N-S spine of the Diablo Range, the border between Santa Clara and Stanislaus counties.

Following a steady climb, the halfway point is marked by a small downhill to a three-way ridge junction, the main road now turning northwest towards Mt. Oso. A second locked gate is encountered shortly, all the telecom towers now located on property north of this gate. To the left is a fenceline signed as the property boundary for the Buckeye Ranch. Rolling terrain along the ridgeline is encountered for about a mile and a half, then the final steady climb up to Mt. Oso. By jogging the short downhills, I managed to make it to the summit in a bit less than two hours.

There appears to be two possible highpoints near the north summit (the south summit, half a mile away, is clearly lower). The topo map shows the measured highpoint to be to the north, past a third locked gate. I hopped the fence here, despite dire warnings of high RF fields and other hazards, and examined the rocky outcrop near a utility building. Nothing much of interest here. Back on the other side of the fence, I went up to examine the lookout tower. It is overshadowed by much higher antennae put up around it, but the lookout tower has a feeling of history to it as the original inhabitant of the summit. A powerful light is mounted on the underside of the tower, visible along much of the road I traveled to reach it. A nighttime exposure shows it with a green glow, but there was no such color when viewed in person. I took a photo of the moon a few hours before setting as well as a view east to the Valley lights. I climbed the tower stairs but found the trapdoor to the viewing platform locked. It had been fairly windy the last few miles to the summit but three flights of stairs up it was perhaps twice as windy - and cold. I didn't try to circumvent the padlock by climbing around the railings on the outside as I've done elsewhere - it was too cold to enjoy the platform anyway.

More jogging on the way back made the return much quicker, taking only about 70 minutes to reach the car. It was now 3a and time to head home. On the drive out I was accosted by a frantically barking dog near the homes, but he was no Cujo and no match for my steel chariot as I simply drove by and out the gate to Del Puerto Rd. Rather than repeat the ridiculously windy road back over Mt. Hamilton I drove the nine miles out to Interstate 5 and took the freeway route through Livermore. This turned out to be much faster and got me home to San Jose by 4:45a. It was still quite dark out, but I decided to stay up until the family got up at their usual time around 6:15a. I had breakfast with them, saw them off to school, and promptly went to bed for some much needed rest. A good night!

Casie comments on 09/22/11:
I drive I-5 everyday for work and I have always been fascinated with Mt. Oso, the white buildings visible form the Interstate and the one glowing light at the top. Thanks to your trip report many of my questions have been answered. I have always been fascinated with that desolate area that I pass each day and I have always wondered what it is like up there and if I could go up there. As I am not a hiker I got to live vicariously through you and see these sights up close through your description and photos. Thank you.
Anonymous comments on 05/21/12:
good read
Jon comments on 05/25/12:
As a resident of Modesto, I have always been curious, as I look towards the west, what the outer fringes of Stanislaus County have to discover. Recently, my family and I moved out to Newman and my daily commute to work in Tracy takes me up and down I-5. The move to Newman just increased my curiosity even more due to our closer proximity to this area of the county. I am dumbfounded to find out that many of these peaks and mountains are inaccessible to the general public. There is so much to discover in this part of the county that I am almost a life-long resident of, yet to my dismay, I am not lawfully permitted to see all it has to offer. Thank you for providing some much needed answers to my curiosity.
Sean comments on 09/27/15:
Do you know if there were any no trespassing or private property signs on the way up Copper Mountain? I'm thinking of doing it in the day, and would like to have the ability to play dumb if caught.
Anonymous comments on 09/28/15:
Tell Bob not to answer you then you really can play dumb and be worry free
Anonymous comments on 09/29/15:
Cool stories about Mr. Burd's travels but why don't you take the "high road" and avoid trespassing on private lands, it sure makes you kind of a loser.
David comments on 01/13/16:
Bob, you are my hero!
CommTech comments on 10/10/19:
I have been to Mt.Oso several times due to the nature of my work. You were trespassing. The family that lives in those homes beyond the initial gate are very private and do not appreciate people trespassing. Shame on you.

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