Eagle Peak 2x CC
Ollason Peak CC
Black Mountain
Mt. Stakes 2x P1K CC

Tue, Apr 3, 2012
Eagle Peak
Black Mountain
Mt. Stakes
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Eagle Peak previously climbed Fri, Mar 21, 2008
Mt. Stakes previously climbed Tue, Jan 13, 2004

It had been two days since the last rain had come through the area, capping a needed wet March to help moisten the parched hillsides of California. The coast ranges were responding beautifully, finally turning a lush green and bringing a profusion of spring wildflowers. I made two separate outings this day, the first planned, the second on a whim after having such a good time on the first. I drove south from San Jose to the Salinas area to Toro County Park. It's the finest park in the entire area with lots of steep trails, wonderful canyon woodlands and a handful of summits at the north end of the Sierra de Salinas, a small range squeezed between the Santa Lucia Range to the west and the Gabilan Range to the east. This was my third visit to the park, the second this year, coming back to tag the CC-listed Ollason Peak that I had neglected to visit earlier.

I entered the park on foot shortly before 9a. There were a half dozen cars parked outside, none inside. The $6 fee ($8 on weekends) does a lot to discourage folks from driving into the park. I took the Wildcat Canyon Trail to start, knowing that almost all the trails lead to the Toyon Ridge. There was a great deal of fresh poison oak along the trails that follow in the wetter canyons and creeks, so much so that one had to keep a wary eye at all times to keep from accidently brushing against it. There were shooting stars and other flowers found along the way - Spring had definitely arrived. The trail meandered along the west side of the canyon before coming to a junction. I followed a random path that eventually took me to a 4-way junction higher up, and then onto the Toyon Ridge as expected.

From the ridge, views open to the north to Salinas and Monterey. Eagle Peak can be seen to the south, a grassy knoll another mile up the ridgeline. I reached the top of Eagle Peak in about an hour, just before 10a. One can get a view southeast to Mt. Toro, east and northeast to the Salinas Valley, north and northwest to Monterey Bay and the surrounding communities. Eagle Peak has almost no prominence, dominated by a somewhat higher, unnamed summit to the south (though without the fine views due to high brush). From Eagle Peak I followed the Coyote Springs Trail around the east side of the higher, unnamed summit where one first gets a view to Ollason Peak behind it. The trails south of Eagle Peak appear to be mostly used by mountain bikers. An old road leading to a saddle east of Ollason has suffered serious erosion, making it somewhat tricky to negotiate. From the saddle it's an easy five minute walk to the summit of Ollason.

The view from the top is even better than Eagle Peak as there are no obstructions in any direction of the rounded, grassy summit. The even higher Simas Peak can be seen to the east, the Santa Lucia Range to the south and west, the Monterey Bay area to the north. Heading west off the summit, one comes across a portion of the county park where cattle are grazed (the entire summit of Ollason is kept nicely mowed by the bovine herds). These particular cattle are so used to humans that they didn't bother to move more than a few feet from the trail as I passed by. One of the nursing calves hardly refused to interrupt its feeding to check me out. I jogged much of the route down the long, gradual NW Ridge of Ollason, a very scenic ridgeline. There were abundant lupines in the grassy meadows, smaller purple flowers gently carpeting large swaths, and a relaxing bench found at an overlook site. The trail splinters at several junctions and without a map it was not possible to figure out where they all go off to, but I kept a generally north or northeast course to get me back to the main part of the park near the entrance.

I was back to my car by 11a, the loop taking just over 2 hours. While driving back to San Jose, having enjoyed the outing very much, I considered that it might also be a fine time for an evening hike as it was just a few days before the full moon. Back home, I considered where to go that evening. I decided on Black Mountain in the Diablo Range on the boundary of Santa Clara and Stanislaus Counties, a ten mile outing. Black Mtn was the highest named summit in Santa Clara Co. that I had yet to visit and also the second highest summit in Stanislaus Co. after nearby Mt. Stakes. I had visited Mt. Stakes eight years earlier when I was chasing county highpoints, but didn't have Black Mtn on my radar at the time.

After picking up my daughter from school, doing afternoon chores, making dinner and other family fun, I left San Jose shortly after dropping my daughter off at volleyball practice at 7p. It took me until 8:40p to drive SR130 up and over Mt. Hamilton to its backside and the San Antonio Valley. All of the land in the area is in private hands - large ranches, hunting clubs, and a handful of small homesteads. Though forecast for partly cloudy, the sky was clouded over for most of the night. Often the moon would be entirely obscured, but this didn't prevent sufficient light from filtering down to allow me to hike without the need for a headlamp. It was cold, around 40F at the start, with a light breeze that would increase as the evening wore on.

It took an hour to hike the lower, flat portion of the roads along the Upper San Antonio Valley to the boundary between the ranch and adjacent hunting club. Some water from recent rains had collected in pools along the dirt roads, but these were easily avoided and for the most part the roads were dry. Several creek crossings were made difficult not due to high water, but by the sopping, muddy banks on either side that had been churned up by cattle, making a leap across one of the creeks a potentially muddy landing. The hiking in the open valley was quite picturesque with towering oaks, many aged and broken with time, dotting the landscape.

Shortly after starting on the hunting club property, one starts to climb out of the side canyon and onto a ridgeline leading to the the eastern crest of the range where Black Mtn and Mt. Stakes are found. The wind picked up as the ridge became more exposed and I dug into my pack for more clothing, a balaclava and gloves. It took just under two hours to reach the summit of Black Mtn, about half a mile north of Mt. Stakes. The old ranch road I followed wound around the mountain, but an old firebreak provided easy access to the last 50 yards to the summit. The lights of the Central Valley shown brightly to the north and east, but all was fairly dark in the other directions, the moon now hidden behind clouds. I found no register or benchmark to mark the summit, just an old fencepost marking a property boundary.

I paid a return visit to Mt. Stakes on my way back as it's only about 15 minutes between the two summits. In addition to the generic benchmark at the summit that I had seen before, there was a reference mark found nearby marked "MT. STAKES USE NO. 4" (whatever that means), dated 1967 and 1943. It was set loosely among some rocks, no longer secured to its concrete base. The register that we had found that first time could no longer be located. The winds were picking up more strongly, driving me from the summit after a few minutes.

The return proved more interesting and a bit disconcerting. Against the weather forecast, it actually began to rain, albeit just a drizzle, as I descended the mountain. I was carrying only a fanny pack instead of my usually well-stocked day pack, and was caught without rain gear, just a lightweight wind jacket. This proved sufficient to keep my upper body relatively dry, but had it rained more significantly I would have been much wetter and colder. Since I usually look for fair weather on all these night hikes, it was indeed unusual - the first time I can recall getting rained on at night outside the Sierra. Still, it wasn't too bad at all and there was still sufficient light diffusing down through the clouds to see by. My pants and boots would get wet, but mattered little - I had a change of shoes in the car and the thin pants would dry quickly. I made it back to the car around 12:15a, eventually getting back to San Jose, showered and into bed by 2a.

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