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We had only Monday or Tuesday night for this adventure as I was scheduled to take the family to Los Angeles for the holiday on Wednesday. The weather had changed since the previous week and more than half an inch of rain had fallen in San Jose over the weekend. The forecast for Monday night showed more rain, and then yet more rain for Tuesday. Acknowledging that I'm mostly a fair-weather hiker, I wrote to David suggesting maybe we should leave the effort for another time as the weather wasn't cooperating. David replied that he was still very much game for it, regardless of weather, a polite way of telling me I was being a pussy. I acquiesced and resigned myself to potential misery, packing my rain gear in my daypack. On Monday afternoon I noted that it had hardly rained all day and the forecast was now making Monday night look like the better choice. I emailed David who was driving down from San Francisco at the time and within a short time we had set plans to head out within the next few hours.
David had grown dreadlocks since the last time I had seen him more than a year ago. Now going to school in Colorado, he is only home in Los Gatos around the holidays. So on our long drive out from San Jose, through Livermore and up Mines Rd, I made him give me a dissertation on the development and care of dreadlocks. I had been under the misconception that dreadlocks were the natural result of not maintaining one's hair, but came to find that that is not the case at all. A great ammount of effort it seems goes into initiating the process and keeping it up. Not that I'm going to get to make any practical application of my new knowledge - what hair I have is barely attached to my scalp as it is.
We arrived at our destination with the aid of a GPS coordinate we had picked from the map to land us at the start of the swath. Worked beautifully. It was just before 6p when we hopped the fence alongside the road and made our way over to the start of The Swath. It turned out to be a rather steep, but delightfully grassy ridgeline. It looks to have been plowed as a firebreak or similar some time in the past. Cows now grazed it regularly and there were numerous cow tracks angling up the slope as evidence (as if all the poop wasn't enough evidence). We climbed this open slope for almost 800ft and perhaps half a mile before we had some modest brush to contend with where the unbroken grass slope finally gave out. The easy brush slope took us higher and then left in a traverse to avoid heavier brush above. This led to another open slope under an oak canopy and soon thereafter to the road we were looking for. We never saw lights from either of the two houses so we weren't sure exactly where they were. Later in the evening on our drive back we saw a truck driving up the road so perhaps we were just lucky to find them not at home.
The ground was wet from the start. Patchy snow found on the ground became more uniform the higher we hiked. My boots held out for only the first half hour before my socks and feet began to get wet and eventually soaked. The moon had risen during our ascent of The Swath and was just over the trees when we reached the road. We could see stars to the east but found clouds overhead and thicker to the west from where they were coming. We would not have much help from the moon. The lower part of the road was on the Biel Ranch, the middle on the N3 Ranch, and then the upper back on the Biel Ranch, judging by the labels we found on several gates we passed through. My toes grew numb with the cold water that seeped in through the boots and surrounded my feet, but it was only a minor inconvenience. Cold hands would be a bigger problem and I kept these in my pockets to keep them warm, eventually pulling out wool gloves when it grew colder. Luckily the rain/snow held off even as we found ourselves in a thick fog for the last several hundred feet of elevation to the summit.
It was probably only with the help of the GPS that we found the summit in such a fog as we found ourselves in. The summit is crowned with the remains of an old lookout tower. The cab atop is missing, but the support structure rising more than 30ft was still intact. There was no stairway or ladder by which one could access the top had one wanted to. There wasn't much to photograph. The pictures we took were mostly blurred by the fog, the flash ineffective as it reflected to brightly off the suspended water droplets. We spent some time looking around for the benchmark indicated on the topo, but found this fruitless due to the several inches of snow that covered most the ground.
Our return to the car went via the same route, largely uneventful. The short outing took two hours. The Swath is undoubtedly the way to go, we agreed. So much so that it would probably be fine to use it for a daylight ascent as well, provided one look out for trucks on the road - the evidence was clear that they are regularly used.
We had a second peak in mind, Red Mtn, located on the opposite side of Mines Rd, along the crest of the range. The start was about four miles further south along Mines, so we headed off to do what looked like an even easier peak. There was a house with lights on not 50 yards from where we parked. Right from the start, this was not going to be a piece of cake. We hiked east along the gravel road south of the home, the gate left open but marked Private Property. We found another house with lights off the south side of the road about a quarter mile in, but like the first, no dog or persons stirring to confront us. Near the end of the road about a mile from the start is another home marked as a school on the topo map. The home is a small collection of buildings and a great amount of junk and trash judging by the satellite views I had seen. The obvious route to Red Mtn goes right by this home with a bright outdoor light to dissuade us. We choose to take another road, not shown on the map that continues east along the drainage. After a short time we realized this did not lead to where we needed to go so we backtracked some, then did some moderate bushwhacking up to a small ridgeline southeast of the home.
When we came into view of the house we heard a dog begin to bark and it kept at it. We were more than 100yds from the home but it was clear the dog was sensing our presence. We studied the map and concluded our only way up was going past the house. And though no one came out to see what was up with the dog, we decided not to chance it and returned to the car, content to call it a night. Further investigation would be needed to find a way this peak.
We drove back to San Jose, arriving around 10:30p and early enough to surprise my wife. "What are you doing home?" she asked. Keeping her on her toes, of course. :-)
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This page last updated: Mon Feb 8 01:49:58 2016
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