I had set out on my bike to Mt. Hamilton, a ride of perhaps 50mi roundtrip
from my home with almost 5,000ft of gain, one of the more demanding rides in
the San Jose area. It had been many months since the last time I rode up here,
and with excellent temperatures (around 74F in San Jose) forecast, it seemed
a good day to pay it a visit. As I was starting up Mt. Hamilton Road out of the
Santa Clara Valley, it would be another two hours before I reached the summit,
giving me lots of time to take in the views and let my mind wander. I recalled
seeing some recent additions on peakbagger.com, a collection of six other
peaks named after various astronomers to go with Mt. Hamilton and Copernicus
Peak (the county highpoint). I hadn't intended to visit these minor points
when I set out, thus I was without my GPSr and usual camera. But I did have
my cellphone with which I could pull up the Peakbagger App to identify the
various locations, and the cellphone could suffice for pictures. And so after
I had reached the usual finish at the
Lick Observatory (where a tired cyclist
can purchase snacks and soda from the vending machines near the post office),
I went about tracking down these various extra summits. They were pulled from
having been in use by the researcher community for many years.
With the exception of Mt. Hamilton (called Observatory
Peak on the link), all the peaks are in restricted areas though none of them
seem to encroach on the existing living quarters of the observatory residents.
As the community has shrunk over the years with more automation and fewer active
instruments, it appears that up to half of the buildings have been
abandoned and left to decay.
Tycho Brahe Peak
Found on the north side of the highway, not far from the 120-inch reflector
which lies to the east. The Carnegie 20-inch astrograph lies just below
the summit to the west, the highpoint found at a small rock outcrop.
The residence just east of the top,
whose backyard one needs to go through, appears to be unoccupied and decaying.
There is an observatory just west of the summit which is the site of a concrete
water tank. Boring. I approached from the northeast so as not to be in
view of the occupied buildings to the west. A truck was parked up at the
observatory when I visited, so it appears to still be in service.
This is the most interesting of the bunch, lying at the end of a subsidiary
ridgeline heading north from Copernicus Peak. There is a
gated dirt road that
sees little traffic traversing the ridge to a saddle before it drops off
the east side. Careful route-finding along the ridge from this saddle can avoid
almost all the bushwhacking one finds. There is a nice view of
Mt. Hamilton's profile from the summit area, but otherwise
the highpoint is buried under some trees. I built an exceedingly small
cairn to mark the point on a rock outcrop under an oak. There is an old
cinnabar prospect nearby, poorly fenced to keep
trespassers and careless deer from falling in the 20-foot hole. A bit spooky.
There appears to have been no development on this summit.
This is the highest of the bunch and the Santa Clara County highpoint. I had
visited this site on two previous occasions. On the way back from Galileo I
approached from the north side under cover of the oak trees. Here I discovered
the Mt. Hamilton community picnic site with BBQ, benches, and a unique
astronomer's outhouse building. The lookout tower atop
Copernicus has been
decommissioned, but American Tower has contracted to use it for a telecom
installation. On my way back down the usual route via the road, I came across
another gentleman up exploring, both of us looking at each other with that
guilty "I know I'm trespassing" look.
This summit lies to the east of Copernicus at the end of the main ridge and is
the hardest of the bunch to get to because of brush. My route meandered to avoid
most of it. On the northeast slopes of Copernicus, hidden under the forest
cover, is the old lookout junkyard where all manner of waste was
area littered with rusting tins, glass jars and other debris. The summit of
Hipparchus is a small rock outcrop with views of Isabel Valley to
the east, Mt. Isabel to the south and Copernicus Peak to
the west. This peak has seen no development.
I had initially bypassed this one because it looked to be more open to
detection. If you're going to get caught, do so at the end. The Tauchmann
22-inch reflector sits atop a concrete water tank at the summit. Both
appear to be unmaintained. Not very exciting, though I did scare a bevy of
California quail off the summit area.
This last one is found off the road as one begins to descend Mt. Hamilton Road.
There are several old residences that appear abandoned along the gated
road leading to the Crossley 36-inch reflector. The highpoint, another
rock outcrop, is found between the reflector and one of
the residences. This one is open to easy observation from the road,
so I made quick work of getting up and back down.