Mon, Apr 22, 2013
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Discovery Peak previously climbed Fri, Mar 27, 2009|
Challenger Peak previously climbed Fri, Mar 27, 2009
The TH at Lake Del Valle is located inside a State Recreational area managed by the East Bay Parks District. It opens at 6a this time of year, but I was not able to manage that early a start. I left San Jose around 6a, getting to the lake around 7a. I paid the $6 fee at the manned entrance booth and made my way to the southwest side of the lake. Not surprisingly, mine was the only car in the large lot that early on a Monday morning. It was forecasted to be warm today, but it never got uncomfortable. A cool breeze at the higher elevations across the ridges kept things nice.
I spent the first 45 minutes hiking the trail from the lake level to the top of Rocky Ridge, rising more than 1,500ft in two miles. There is much poison oak along the trail here, but it becomes much less common after reaching Rocky Ridge. The hills in the Diablo Range are starting to turn brown, but they still manage to hold onto much green in this area. The ridgeline is graced with oaks, both those with fresh new leaves and more ancient ones that have seen better days. The trail soon drops 600ft into Williams Gulch before starting another 1,500-foot climb to a higher ridgeline to the southwest. The ridge features a small lake for the cattle that freely graze the area here. Several gates that one passes through help to sequester the cattles in their alloted parcels.
From the small reservoir the route turns south to Shafer Flat, then starts rising another 400ft at a more gentle gradient for the next mile to Valpe Ridge. Valpe Ridge runs for something like 12 miles across two counties and contains the highest points found inside Alameda County. The Ohlone Trail travels west to Rose Peak before beginning the long descent to Sunol Regional Park. My route headed south, across the park boundary to Rose Flat and up to the recognized highpoint of Alameda County, Discovery Peak. The summit is home to several small towers, with decent views in most directions including Mt. Hamilton more than 12 miles to the south.
My primary goal, Baby Peak, lay almost four air miles to the southeast from here. Still a long ways off though I'd been at it for two and half hours already. I continued southeast off the summit of Discovery, following a seldom used road along Valpe Ridge. Less than a mile later I turned right on a subsidiary ridge along a road shown on the 7.5' topo that barely exists any longer. It has been many years since a vehicle has driven it, but the grassy ridge is easy to follow and the cross-country travel delightful. The ridge drops into the Valpe Creek drainage at Hamilton Flat. There are some old ranch buildings found down here. At least one looked to have a fairly new roof, so I gave it a wide berth in case it happens to be an occupied residence. The condition of the road I followed south along Valpe Creek suggests it is not regularly traveled, at least not daily.
At the south end of Hamilton Flat I found a large lake not shown on the topo. The road follows around the west side of the lake to a junction at a property boundary. I crawled under the gate here on the right fork, following this lightly-used road around the west side of Mt. Lewis. I had visited Mt. Lewis with a few friends four years earlier, but we had used a more direct, cross-country route up the north side. The road traveled through more grass and oak woodlands. A shaded picnic spot was featured on one side of the road, equipped with a stonework BBQ pit. Once over a saddle southwest of Mt. Lewis, the road begins to drop gradually into the Alameda Creek drainage. There are more delightful views of grassy ranchlands, Black Mtn atop Oak Ridge to the southwest, and more views to Mt. Hamilton to the south.
Baby Peak rises to the north above the confluence of Alameda and Valpe Creeks, though from the angle I approached via the northwest it is not impressive at all. Dropping 1,000ft on my way to Baby Peak, I noted that the ranch roads down lower were regularly graded and traveled. If there was anywhere to be nervous about getting spotted, it was in the last 20 minutes or so on my way to and then from Baby Peak's summit. The summit was a cozy little spot, mostly free of trees with good views to the south overlooking the confluence and another nice view looking northeast up the Valpe Creek drainage.
Leaving the summit of Baby Peak after a quick visit, I did not return back up the road around the west side of Lewis Peak, instead following a looping route to the northwest, first down to Valpe Creek then up 1,000ft to the junction of Valpe and Beartrap Ridges. I had intended on reaching the highpoint of Beartrap Ridge but was confused about its location and ended up taking a shortcut that bypassed it - leaving me another reason to come back sometime in the future for another visit. The 1.5 mile stretch of road I followed northwest along Valpe Ridge was another well-maintained road that I was nervous traveling on. After gently dropping a few hundred feet to a saddle, I was happy to leave the road and continue cross-country up the steeper slope leading to Peak 3,841ft which I later dubbed Challenger Peak. Near the summit I came across a cow with a very small calf that I suspect had only recently been birthed. There were no other cattle that I could find in the area and it appears she had wandered off in order to give birth in private. Mom watched me warily as I passed by, but neither her nor the calf moved away.
It was 12:20p when I reached the top of Challenger Peak. This summit turns out to be more interesting than I had previously thought. It is one of two points on the 7.5' topo that show a 3,840-foot contour inside Alameda County. It has a spot elevation of 3,841ft which suggests it just barely deserves the contour and has been dismissed in the past as lower than Discovery Peak although no one has made any quantitative measurements between the two points which lie 1.6 miles apart. Trees at the summit of Challenger Peak make the use of a hand level exceedingly difficult. The summit features an 8-foot summit block, easy class 3 to scale. I took an elevation reading with my GPS and then another one at Discovery Peak which I reached 35 minutes later. I was surprised to find that Discovery came in 18 feet lower than Challenger. The barometric altimeter on the GPS is spec'd by Garmin to be +/- 10ft, and with other variabilities (pressure changes, for example) does not leave any definitive proof. But it was enough of a surprise to sow doubt in Discovery Peak's claim to the CoHP title. I would later post notes about this on both SummitPost and the Yahoo Group of CoHP.org, but neither would provide any additional evidence one way or the other. I suppose if I cared enough I could learn more about accurate survey techniques and pay another visit, but in the meantime I would have to be satisfied that at least I had visted both points.
I returned to the park boundary shortly after 1p, happy to have run into no one over the last three and a half hours on private lands. I pulled a Doubleshot out of my pack as a reward and to provide an extra boost for the several hours remaining. I decided to take the detour to visit Murrieta Falls after reaching the junction near Shafer Flat. Upon reaching Murrieta Camp, I was unhappy to find the water source was signed as unsafe to drink without treatment. It was cold and refreshing to run over my head to wash the salts off and probably would have been fine to drink, but I decided against it. I've never been able to trust Diablo water to the same degree I do that in the Sierra. Continuing down from camp, I soon reached the falls. This was the first time I had visited them and was disappointed to find the water was no longer running over the rock. There were some stagnant pools teeming with tadpoles, but no water running in the rocky channel or over the 40-foot falls. Guess I'll have to come back in the rainy season.
After more uphill/downhill/uphill and finally the long downhill to the lake, it would be 3p before I reached the parking lot, more than 25 miles since I had started out in the morning. It was warm down at the lake level and I could have used a cooler with cold drinks in it. But I hadn't taken the time to arrange it this morning, so I had to settle with washing off at the fish cleaning station they had in the picnic area. That proved refreshing. And then the hour-long drive home. It was the first long hike in nearly a month and I was happy that April hadn't slipped by without at least one good outing...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Discovery Peak
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