Sat, Nov 23, 2019
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On my second day in the BLM's Red Hills Recreation Management Area, I made a tour of the southern peaks in the ACEC, about 15mi all told with 3,600ft of gain. The first two peaks were located on private property, just outside the BLM boundary. Marcus Sierra had visited all of these summits over the past few years, leaving some notes and GPX tracks on PB that I would find helpful. I had spent the night camped at one of the trailheads, signed per usual for No Camping and Day Use Only. It was a quiet spot away from the main road and I figured I'd have the place to myself. I didn't count on turkey hunting season. Somewhere in the middle of the night I was awaken by someone in a truck calling out, "Are you alright?" When I replied to the affirmative, he said something like, "I'm here with my dog and it's legal" which made no real sense to me, but it allowed me to go back to sleep. I could hear music coming from his truck as I periodically awoke, thinking maybe he was an insomniac. He drove off at one point, only to return later. When I got up in the morning I found several other vehicles there as well, and watched as they pulled out gear and rifles and headed off on one of the trails. The original truck had loud barking noises coming from it - I don't see how that guy slept at all. I had breakfast and dressed and was the last one to leave the parking lot not long after 6:30a.
The trail heading east is an old ranch road that forms the main branch of an extensive trail network found through the area. The signed trails are depicted on the BLM map, but there are numerous other single track trail, all unsigned, meandering through the area. It seems to be particularly popular with equestrians though the morning saw the hunters having the run of the place. I met up with a man and his young son, about 10yrs of age. They were both dressed in camo clothing, carrying rifles and daypacks. The father was the only one who actually spoke to me, the young kid seemed not in best of spirits, perhaps not liking to be awake at such an early hour. Dad was in fine spirits and it he that described the short turkey season to me. I bid them best of luck and headed off ahead of them. I never did hear a single gunshot the whole day.
I decided to tackle the two furthest peaks first, Hungry Hill and Peak 1,785ft, also the ones on private property. The road/trail has several rises and dips as it crosses several creeks, most of them dry this time of year. The road drops to Six-bit Gulch on the southwest side of Hungry Hill, the only place where I found some water flowing, though barely. Worse, there was heavy brush growing in the gulch that I had to cross, a bit reminiscent of my thrashing the previous day. This one wasn't too bad, but it took me several tries to find a way across it - seems most of the folks visiting the area don't take the road past Six-bit Gulch. Once on the other side, I regained the road and almost immediately left it to start up the modestly brushy slope to Hungry Hill, about 3/4mi away. The brush was never too thick to be a problem, but I did have to weave around lots of it with some sidehilling before reaching the SW Ridge. There I found brush at head level, but a cow path neatly cutting a route through it. I found a fence running up the ridge, too, and as Marcus found, it doesn't really match the BLM boundary given on their map or the online overlays. To the east in Poor Mans Gulch is a large ranch that lies between Hungry Hill and Peak 1,785ft. There's zero chance of being seen or found a nuisance on the trek to Hungry Hill though the other one is another story. I found a fallen survey tower and a small, non-USGS survey marker stamped with "HUNGRY" at the highpoint. There were some views, but trees blocked much of them. I descended the SW Ridge on the way back to start, then turned southeast for the lower half to intersect the main trail further east where it goes over the shoulder of the ridge before descending to Poor Mans Gulch. There is a dry creek crossing here, no brush at all, before the trail starts climbing another slope to the east. This part is well outside the ranch property. Once the slope is climbed, the trail turns northeast towards Peak 1,785ft, still two miles away. After following along a rounded ridgeline, the road drops to a saddle and a road junction. The right fork goes southeast towards Don Pedro reservoir, the left fork northwest to the ranch. Ideally, one could avoid the ranch by continuing cross-country to the northeast towards Peak 1,785ft. Unfortunately, the slope here is heavy with impenetrable brush and the only reasonable way around is to go through the forested area closer to the ranch. I went down the road towards the ranch, passing through an open, unsigned gate (I never did encounter a No Trespassing or Private Property sign anywhere on this outing, btw). After about a quarter mile I left the road when I could begin to see open passages through the brush on the right side. The brush is well over head level in this area but with areas opened by the passage of cows over the decades. I could periodically see the ranch buildings not all that far off, but tried as best I could to stay out of sight. I crossed over a barbed-wire fence, again not where the BLM suggests one should find it, before starting to traverse back upslope through forest understory towards the peak. All of this should lie within BLM lands, but it seems the ranch has chosen to carve off a chunk of it for their own grazing purposes. The fence is decades old, so whether accidental or on purpose, the extra land effectively belongs to the ranch now. I could hear cattle lowing loudly in protest from time to time and could see them off in the distance but never close to my route. Just before reaching the SW Ridge of Peak 1,785ft, I crossed over a well-graded dirt road. It was loaded with cattle prints, but no sign of tire tracks, so I figured I was good. I was well away from the ranch buildings now, so felt more at ease as I made the final trek to the summit. I found two rounded bumps at the top under cover of forest, either of which might be the highpoint. No real views and not much to offer other than about 600ft of prominence.
As I was starting back down from the summit, I was soon aware that the cattle were getting louder and on the move. I then heard a vehicle honking so I dropped into the grass to get out of obvious view. Seems I had chosen my summit visit at the same time the ranchers were herding the cattle onto another area of the ranch. The honking was to alert the cattle to the known drill, where the truck would drive to a location to unload piles of fresh alfalfa, far better stuff than the dry grasses they've been munching on. Cattle came from far and wide for this extra treat and the truck soon drove off to leave them to eat lunch in peace. I wasn't sure if the truck was gone for good or just rounding up some stray cattle, but after about 15min I got up and carefully jogged my way down the slope and across the road into more sheltered territory. I retraced my route back up to the saddle and road junction where I could relax on safer ground.
I returned west along the main road, crossing brushy creek at Six-bit Gulch once more, thinking this was the end of any real bushwhacking. Next up was Soaproot Ridge which has a signed BLM trail going neatly right over the summit, the easiest of the two days. It was along here that I realized there were many other unsigned branches, far more than are really needed, probably created by the equestrians over many years of use and wandering about. I took a few photos at the rounded summit, then headed back to the main road to the southeast, part cross-country, part trail. The last summit of this excursion was Peak 1,602ft, which Marcus had described as not so bad, "pushing through thick brush and downfall only a few times." I didn't use his route from the north, instead following another good trail around to the northeast side until it began to drop away from the summit. With only 1/6mi to the summit from there, I didn't expect it could be all that bad. Yet ... it was. Some of the thickest brush I've been in all year awaited me for that short, steep distance to the summit. I crawled over and under all sorts of vegetation, even some poison oak branch, I imagine. I was reminded of that old adage I read from a veteran Ventana adventurer that suggested brush has a its own rate-of-travel that varies with the difficulty. So I slowed my efforts considerably, letting fewer branches whack me in the face and searching more carefully for alternatives. With the right attitude, even crawling through the dusty understory can be fun. Sort of. Anway, I spent about 30min on this last section, finally reaching the partially open summit with a nice view of the reservoir. A small collection of rocks were all there was to mark the highpoint. I descended a different route hoping to find something easier, but it turned out to be about the same. It west faster thanks to the downhill which allowed me to step over more of the brush than I could on the way up. Once I was back to the main trail, I had less than a mile to get me back to the trailhead where I arrived at 2:20p. All the hunters had gone by this time, leaving only the Jeep.
I still had a fifth summit in the area which I could reach more easily by moving the jeep to another trailhead. This took but 10min and I was soon off hiking towards Peak 1,575ft, about a mile away. It wasn't obvious at all where to find the trail I knew would head south towards my objective. I found more fencing that didn't match expectations as it seems the rancher at the junction of La Grange and Red Hill Rds had usurped some BLM lands, too. No matter. I spied a large group of about 15 equestrians through the woods and guessed I could find the trail near them. I wandered some through brush to get on the south side of them and found the trail as expected. The trail and several branches follow roughly the fenceline to the southeast. Where the trail goes over a low saddle, the fenceline turns west and allows for a route up to Peak 1,575ft. From the satellite view I knew the more open route was up from the southeast side, but I was willing to take a chance for a shorter ascent up the northeast side. I did find some heavy brush, but nothing too troublesome and certainly nothing like I'd found on the previous peak. It took but 25min to find my way to the summit with an open view of the Central Valley and the receding foothills to the west. I was back in slightly less time, finishing up by 3:15p. I decided to call it a day and head home. There were other peaks in the broader area that I had planned for a half day on Sunday, but now I was more interested in sleeping in my own bed and happy cut the trip a bit short.
This page last updated: Sun Nov 24 18:56:02 2019
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