Laguna Mountain P1K CC
Black Mountain P750

Tue, Oct 19, 2010
Black Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

I went back down to San Benito County for the third time this month, intending to tag two more CC-listed peaks, Laguna Mtn and Hepsedam Peak. The latter was further away and ultimately blocked by private property on the route I took, but I'm not certain it is reachable any more easily by other means. Leaving San Jose at 4:30a, I pulled into the BLM parking area at a highpoint along Coalinga Rd shortly before 7a. I wandered through the hunter picnic/staging area on the south side of the road but found no roads or trails heading up into the hills from there. A check of my map revealed I had stopped at the wrong location. This was the starting point for Black Mtn that I would use later in the morning. I got back in my car and drove about a mile further to a second staging area, the correct one.

Economic Recovery dollars have been put to use making these very nice picnic and staging areas at various places along Coalinga Rd. A sign indicated that this was a measure to invest in the American workforce. To me it seems odd to call it an "investment", as I picture those sort of jobs as ones that create things or provide services that eventually contribute tax dollars, not use them. Oh well. In the bigger picture, as one of the poorest areas in the state, San Benito County can use all the federal help they can get.

At the far end of this second picnicking area was a gated road leading to the Laguna Mtn area. I had no BLM map of the area and only Google satellite views to pick out a route to the peaks. This road was the one I had spied leading along a low ridgeline towards the east side of Laguna. Though no motor vehicle access was allowed, it looked to have been freshly graded for the first few miles. There were trail markers leading off to the left of this road that I ignored, not knowing where they went, but would find myself using them for the return. I was atop the low ridgeline in time for sunrise and a good view of Laguna Mtn about five miles to the south. I passed by a trail sign labeled The Gorge that drops down into Miller Creek to the west. Several miles upstream from there, on the northwest side of Laguna Mtn is a feature called The Gorge on the topo map I carried. The map showed no trail dropping down into the canyon nor up the creek. I would remember this trail later on my return to make use of it.

Sunrise came around 7:20a, clouds to the southeast obscurring the sun for a short while. I hiked along the ridgeline for most of an hour enjoying views off both sides. Behind me, Black Mtn and the Hernandez Reservoir were in bright sunshine, though the latter was blanketed by a layer of early morning fog that would burn off as the day warmed. The well-graded road turned left and downhill, away from Laguna Mtn, so I follwed an older road that traversed the lower east slopes of the peak. This secondary road also turned away from the peak eventually, but a nice use trail continued across the grassy slopes, flagged in a few places and leading me to think I was on the right track. My goal was to reach the southeast side of the peak where the satellite view had shown existing roads leading up to the summit, but my use trail faded out into nothingness well before this. I then followed what was probably an old firebreak steeply up the east side where I was blocked by thick brush about ten minutes later.

Luckily I had only to fight my way through this stuff for about ten minutes more before I reached the more open understory of the lightly forested upper slopes. This led to the unforested, but also not-so-brushy summit plateau. I eventually found one of the old roads in this area and followed it to the summit.

The top of Laguna Mtn isn't very impressive. Thick brush covers much of the large flatish area that has a larger clearing on the west side. Views are best gotten by walking around to the edges of the flat area. To the east is the CCMA with San Benito Mtn, Santa Rita Peak, and Condon Peak all visible. Pinnacles NM lies to the northwest, South and North Chalone peaks easy to identify. The Gabilan and coast ranges stretch out behind them to the west. To the south rose some interesting-looking peaks in the distance that I couldn't identify. And lastly there is a good view of Hepsedam Peak to the southwest.

I headed south along one of the old, rutted roads on that side of Laguna Mtn. It appears to be many years since any vehicle last navigated its deeply eroded surface. At the base of the hill I came upon a very well-maintained dirt road and started following it west towards Hepsedam. I suspected I was no longer on public lands though I had found no fences anywhere along the route I took - at least I would feel I had a good excuse if I was accosted. I followed the road past a small flat area with an Airstream trailer and a large teepee, perhaps someone's summer retreat? Next to the teepee was a small pond fed by a spring and it was obvious someone had spent some time landscaping the water feature. Further down the road I heard barking dogs which naturally made me nervous. I stopped when I spotted an occupied home on the south side of the road. Were the dogs fenced? Was this an inholding on BLM land? Did the nervous owner run a meth lab? These and other questions entered my mind as I stood there a few minutes deciding what to do.

I decided to continue walking down the middle of the road as I'd been doing, but got my pepper spray near at hand in case the dogs came after me. I spotted a man up by the dogs that looked to be behind a fenced area. He didn't call down to me, so I figured so far, so good. But as I was going by his property I noticed that the road ahead was gated shut - someone else owned the land beyond and it was not going to look good for me to hop the fence in front of this landowner. Hepsedam would have to wait for another time.

I walked back along the good dirt road, following it around the south and southeast sides of Laguna Mtn. I came across several signs indicating routes with green circles and blue squares, presumably describing the road conditions. It seemed likely that I was on a private hunting ranch and in fact that is where I was. The Laguna Ranch is a working ranch and private hunting club with large acreage. The good road I followed was signed Mail Trail, the same name indicated on the topo map. But I had trouble finding a junction also shown on the map as the road drops to a small body of water called Mail Trail Pond. Backtracking through a small meadow, I found the other road I was looking for half-buried in brush. It apparently is no longer used and at one time connected to the BLM land. I found a fence across the road at the boundary with BLM land back on the east side of Laguna Mtn. But the fence was quite short, not extending more than about ten feet in the direction towards Laguna Mtn. It served to keep vehicle traffic out, but it was easy to walk through the brush to the other side.

Not much later as I was heading back north along the road I was surprised to see a bison, of all things, trot out of view and over a small rise. I ran off the road in the direction it headed, getting out my camera in hopes of getting a picture of it. I guessed that it belonged to the Laguna Ranch but had found it as easy to cross to the BLM land as I had. It saw me come over the rise but did not move off further. I could easily tell that it was a bull and did not try to get closer than about 40yds distance. I stayed near some large rocks that I could use to hide behind should it decide to charge, and left shortly after getting a few photos. No need to push my luck on that one.

Back around on the northeast side of the mountain I met up with the route I had taken earlier in the morning. Seeing how it was still pretty early, I decided to investigate a branch of the road I had passed by in this same locale. It turned out to be another old road shown on the topo that drops down into Miller Creek. It seemed like a nice side trip to drop down in the canyon and then hike back out the BLM trail I had seen earlier. If I was unable to find the trail I knew I could continue hiking out the canyon downstream to Coalinga Rd, about a mile northwest of the parking lot. The only issue was that the lower part of the canyon was private property, but if I was unable to locate the BLM trail it seemed a valid excuse to trespass.

The overgrown but useable road switchbacked down to the dry creekbed where it ended. Upstream was The Gorge that I decided not to investigate though I would like to come back at some time in the future to do so - it may offer a way to Hepsedam Peak I concluded later. As I headed downstream much of the rocky creekbed was wide enough and clear of brush to hike in, but at various points it would be choked with trees and such. Luckily there was always a clearing either on the west or, more usually, on the east side of the creek, often with a use trail through the grassy sections. After about twenty minutes of hiking along I came across a simple sign with and arrow that led across the creek to another sign and the start of the trail leading back up to the ridgeline. Success! The trail was quite steep and overgrown, but workable. Several times I got off-route by following what looked like a fork, only to have it end in a wall of brush a short time later, but in twenty minutes I had found my way back to the dirt road. On the east side of the road the trail continued down that way, so I followed it back to the TH, a nicer alternative to the dirt road I'd used earlier.

Back by 11:30a, ten minutes later I had driven to the higher trailhead further north that I had stopped out at daybreak. A BLM truck drove by on Coalinga Rd as I was getting out, and we exchanged a quick wave. Located north of the road, I figured Black Mtn would be a simple affair, a two-mile hike up a dirt road to the top, less than a thousand feet of gain. It isn't on any list, just another named summit I noted as I was perusing maps of the area. It wasn't quite so simple, but no trouble either. Turns out that only about a third of the route is on BLM land, the lower part. One follows up the road to one of two gates indicating private property. Grazing is evident on the private property, but I saw no cattle while I was there. They may have been removed before the prescribed burns that were planned in the area for later in the month. In any case, I had no trouble and saw no one on my 40 minute hike to the summit. There is a small building with an adjacent tower just below the highpoint. Views were decent. A USGS benchmark is located at the highpoint, otherwise nothing of special note. I was back to the car again by 1p and soon on my way home. I even managed to get back before the kids were home from school. Nice.

Anonymous comments on 10/19/10:
a BUFFALO? Wow I bet you did a double take when you saw that.
Anonymous comments on 10/21/10:
Bob, something doesn't seem right. Coalinga Rd. is south of San Benito Mountain on my map, yet it says you went south of Coalinga Rd. to Laguna Mountain and then had a view of San Benito Mountain to the southeast?
Bob Burd comments on 10/23/10:
Coalinga Rd runs NW-SE and is both west and south of San Benito. But I was a bit off in my description - San Benito Mtn is almost due east of Laguna Mtn and I've corrected the text to reflect that. Thanks!
Anonymous comments on 06/07/12:
Lots of illegal dope growers around Laguna peak I always carry a gun there. And if u would have hiked up the gorge about 3/4 of a mile you would have run into Laguna falls. A nice unexpected water fall
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