Laveaga Peak P1K CC

Fri, Feb 10, 2006

With: Dingus Milktoast

  Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Having suffered through more than a week of poison oak trauma, I got over the bad parts associated with Little Blue Ridge Peak and began to consider what to do next. Why, try for another remote county highpoint of course. Laveaga Peak is the highpoint of Merced County, lying close to the triple junction with Santa Clara and San Benito counties, in a remote part of the Diablo Range south of Pacheco Pass. Of all the county highpoints, this one seems to be shrouded in secrecy to the greatest degree. The peak and everything around it lies on private land. Requests for permission to visit the peak have been soundly refused. The closest approach on public roads comes within about five miles of the peak at the end of Lone Tree Road out of Hollister to the west. A private home lies alongside the road where a gate bars further progress, and the homeowner is both active and vigilant. Bob Packard, who has climbed every county highpoint in the western states, was greeted by a county sheriff upon his return from this peak. Trespassing is not taken lightly.

I had made a first attempt at this peak a few years earlier, attempting to climb nearby Henrietta Peak as a means to bypass the home at the end of the road. In a predawn start, I managed to climb the steep hillside to the peak, only to find myself enveloped in clouds and unable to figure out how to get off the summit of the peak and headed in the right direction. Out for only about an hour, it was the quickest defeat in my peakbagging career. Time rolled on and I bade my time looking for a better plan. The new plan came together rather quickly a few days before it was put into action. Dingus (from the Little Blue Ridge outing) had mentioned that Laveaga was one of three CA cohp's he still needed. He had suggested a nighttime hike to avoid the ranchers. A week of unseasonably warm weather settled over California in the second week of February leading up to a full moon. It occurred to me that this might be the right time to go for it. Dingus readily agreed while several others I contacted couldn't make it on such short notice - it would just be the two of us.

I met Dingus at the junction of SR25 & SR156 just outside Hollister around 7p. We left his truck in the Albertson's parking lot in town, then drove my Miata up to the end of Lone Pine Rd. I had poured over the maps the night before and consulted with Google Maps to get a visual on the layout of the dirt roads and buildings along the route. I also read several trip reports to glean as much information as I could from them. So as we drove up the road, I knew exactly which mile marker to park at to put us within a quarter mile of the road's end without being observed by the home their. We had pre-packed all our gear and were ready with our boots on, so when we pulled over at 7:45p, we started off in less than a minute.

As expected, the nearly full moon was high in the starry sky, no fog and only wisps of clouds to be seen. The visibility at night was amazing. We could almost have read a book by moonlight, except for the fact that we were both over 40 and could hardly read anymore, even in daytime. My initial plan this time was both simple and bold. Whereas previous parties reported climbing over Henrietta or sidehilling high on its northern flanks to avoid the home, I proposed we simply walk around the north side of the home through an open field some hundred yards from the house. Dingus agreed, and other than some cattle that were spooked and fled, we disturbed no one. Lights in the home were on and visible, but no dogs (our worst fear) were heard barking, nor did they run out to tear our limbs from us. We circled around the backside to rejoin the road, and within 15 minutes we had passed the only serious issue for the whole night.

We hiked up the road, passing two homesites that at first gave us a start, but soon were revealed to be abandoned. When we came to the first of several forks in the road, Dingus asked a few questions, but soon relented to my confident choice of directions. Dingus has yet to experience my confident assertions that have been known in the past to lead in directions up to 180 degrees from the intended route. But tonight he would have nothing to make him worry - I was in top navigational form, never missing a turn, never even consulting a map. Not long after passing the second abandoned homestead, we came across a car blocking the road - evidently put there by one landowner to keep anyone from driving onto his property from the other direction. To back this up, there was a locked gate just beyond the car with several signs to ensure anyone passing by that trespassers were particularly not welcome. Good thing we weren't driving, eh?

Past the car and gate, we got our first views looking down into the Quien Sabe Valley. It is a large valley, beautiful even at nighttime, a handful of lights twinkling in the far south. We followed the road down to a saddle, the low point between Henrietta and Laveaga Peaks along the watershed boundary for the valley. The road forks here, and we took the road that drops down into Quien Sabe Valley (the other fork drops down to the North Fork of Los Banos Creek). We descended about 200ft over half a mile, coming upon a third abandoned building on the right side of the road. This one was more of a temporary cabin unlike the two previously that had been regularly occupied at some time in the past. It looked to be a hunting cabin of sorts, perhaps just a place for the boys to get away and drink beers and tell lies. It had long been left to the whims of nature in reclaiming her land. A short distance past this building, and immediately before some high tension power lines that loomed overhead, we came across the last fork. We followed the left branch leading up towards the Merced County line. We climbed up some 700ft to reach the hunting cabin we'd read about in a previous account. We approached it cautiously, but found there were no vehicles about and no people, though it was evident that the place was fairly new. It sits on a small level spot overlooking the Quien Sabe Valley, and both Dingus and I were awed by the view it had - simply breathtaking. It was really more of a lavish home than a cabin, complete with outdoor gas BBQ and a fine patio deck. Water was stored in an adjacent tank with PVC piping leading to two additional storage tanks up the road a ways. We followed the road until it toppled out along the summit ridge at the county line. It had taken us about 2hrs to reach this point, so far almost entirely along easily navigated roads.

Now came the cross-country part. We had a bit more than a mile to make our way along the ridge to the summit of Laveaga. Dingus used a small red LED lamp and sometimes a white headlamp to navigate by, while I chose to use just the moonlight. There was plenty of light for the most part, but there was some unavoidable stumbling in places shaded by trees. With a bit of a bum foot that Dingus was nursing, he didn't feel like taking any chances with the stumbling part. We followed cow trails where we could, sidehilling across grassy slopes where the ridgeline was too rocky, or right on the ridge if it wasn't too bad. I was generally about 100-200ft in front of Dingus, but would check back regularly to make sure he was still there. It was a little spooky out there at night with owls hooting, cattle scurrying off into the bushes, and sometimes wondering if a mountain lion was watching us somewhere. Halfway along the ridgeline, I was startled by what I thought was a mountain lion screeching as it went running through the underbrush a good 100 yards ahead of us on a hillside. I got a bit scared actually, and waited for Dingus to catch up. "Did you see that?! I think it was a mountain lion!" Dingus didn't see anything, and further suggested if it was a mountain lion we'd have probaby never seen it until it was severing our aortae (I had to look up the plural of aorta). There was more rustling ahead in the same place as I saw two figures darting through the brush. It then occurred to me that it wasn't a mountain lion, but ferral pigs that were scared out of their wits thinking we were mountain lions. As we hiked up to the place they had been frightened from, it was evident from the churned up earth that it was a popular pig rooting area.

The entire ridgeline, defining the border between Merced and San Benito counties, was lined with a barbed-wire fence just off the east side. We found ourselves crossing this several times, depending on which side looked to make for the easiest travel. One could probably follow the entire ridge in blackness if needed by keeping one hand on the fence, Helen Keller style. Heavy leather gloves would probably be helpful, too. Shortly before the last saddle west of the summit, a last band of cattle were spooked off the hillside as we approached. Somehow they just rustled off into the brush and trees and seemed to completely disappear in a matter of seconds. The last push up from the saddle we did in a fairly direct manner. One trip report had said that class 3 climbing and bushwhacking was encountered here, but it was all class 2 with a very minor amount of bushwhacking if one was careful about looking for breaks in the brush. It was just before 11a that we found ourselves at the summit, about 3hrs after starting out.

The summit area is a small collection of rocks surrounded by low trees and bushes blocking most of the views. The best ones to be had were to the Quien Sabe Valley, but by walking around a bit one could get views down the other sides as well. It was surprising that there were very few signs of civilization that could be seen. I expected to see quite a few lights from the Central Valley and also towards Hollister and Monterey, but that was not the case. A few lights could be seen in the Central Valley, a handful in the Quien Sabe Valley, but none at all to the west except for the red warning lights of a tall antenna atop Fremont Peak some 20 miles to the southwest. Lower hills blocked all views of Hollister, Gilroy, Salinas, and the Monterey area. Dingus found a red can (along the lines of the red HPS double tin cans) containing a register dating back to 1996. As one might expect, there were very few entries, the last one from 2004. All together there were maybe a dozen entries in the last ten years. Dingus pulled out his camera and shot a few closeups of the register, the can, and each other. I had forgotten to bring mine along and was a bit sorry I didn't have it to make some long exposure shots - they might have come out quite well considering the amount of available moonlight. We stayed about 30 minutes on the summit before reshouldering our packs and starting back.

The return was the exact opposite of our trip out (with the exception of finding a steep grassy strip off the SW side of the summit to avoid the bit of bushwhack we had on the way up). Dingus's foot was bothering him more, slowing us down, but there really wasn't any rush to leave such a wonderfully enchanting setting. Some high, thin clouds drifted in from the west, but not thick enough to dampen our moonlight appreciably. The lights in the occupied home were out when we passed by shortly before 2a, and we were happy to skirt around it in the same fashion without setting off any barking dogs or awakening the occupants. We were back in the car at 2:15a, congratulating ourselves as we drove back down to Hollister. After dropping Dingus off at his truck, I was happy to see that the nearby Jack-in-the-Box was open 24hrs. A Jumbo Jack and shake seemed a fitting end to a fine outing. I was home in San Jose and in bed before 4a, but Dingus's drive to Sacramento was longer and more tiring. He tried to pull over and sleep alongside the road to no avail, tried again to sleep when he got home after 6a, finally getting some rest at 8:30a. That was two tough cohp's on two successive Fridays. I wondered if maybe I could do Table Mtn in Kings County the following Friday...

Photos provided courtesy of Dingus. I left my camera home on this one.

Dingus Milktoast comments on 02/19/06:
I must say, peak bagging with Bob Burd is a pleasure. On Laveaga, I lost my freaking map within a couple of minutes of leaving Bob's car, it fell out of my pocket while fence hopping I reckon. I realized at at the first road junction. What a moron. I was so embarrassed I never did tell Bob. So when he says I confidently left all the route decisions to him (and his amazing memory) I had little choice in the matter. He never pulled his map out, didn't need it.

I broke, no, I shattered my ankle, torn tendons, ripped bone fragments out, the works, soming up on two years ago. It still isn't right and our recent trip up Little Blue Peak in Yolo country aggravated it. Its bothering me as I sit here and type this pleasant Sunday morning. The 'gas pedal' motion is the worst. That is exactly the sort of thing I have to watch for in the dark, inadvertantly stepping into a hole or against a rock and causing my foot to unexpectedly be forced up toward my shin... that's how I broke it, a 30-foot lead fall, hitting a ledge on that foot at 25...

Anyway, I was literally hobbling out the last mile and as always Bob was patient with my 'truck' style hill climbs and limping in general. I'm confident he could have shaved off at least an hour and a half without me. After he scared up the pigs I commented, "It would be spooky out here in the dark alone." We heartily agreed, we were glad for each others company.

I am jazzed to have finally finished off the last of what I call the Las Prohibitistas... the california highpoints with, um, restricted access.

A couple of days later I get an unexpected email from another county highpointer, who was literally shocked to see a summit entry on Laveaga ON THE SAME DAY AS HIS CLIMB!!! What are the odds of THAT?

Turns out Ken Jones had done as we had done... parked on Lone Pine, skirted the ranch and hiked in. Where as we had exited at 2:30 am he began his hike at 3. We must have missed each other on the road up the mountain literally by a matter of a few minutes.

I commented I was glad he hadn't started his hike earlier, say at 2 am, as we all would have scared the living shit out of one another in the dark. Can you imagine... bandit hiking a peak in compete darkness and encountering another hiker doing the same??? My hike weary heart might have burst!

The entire area is hauntingly beautiful under the moonlight. I was spell bound and could have sat on the summit for hours, just gazing at the Californias. That interest prompted me to loan out East of the Gabilans from the library. I guess I hadn't appreciated that San Benito and Santa Clara counties were at the heart of the Alta California Mexican civilization, ranchos and missions. Mission San Juan Buatista used to have 17 bars and 4 newspapers!

The Rancho Santa Ana Y Quien Sabe (San Benito Cattle Company now) has been in continuous operation since the days of Old Mexico, though it has changed hands. And of course indians lived in the area for 8,000 years before that. Considering how the land was acquired from the original inhabitants, I feel guilty NOT for this bit of banditry.

Speaking of bandits, Tiburco Vasquez frequented the area from Pacheco Pass south and was hanged for the death of a man killed in a shootout at Paicenes (now Tres Pinos). He surely graced the Quien Sabe environs and may have done as Bob and I had done... stood on the summit of LaVeaga Peak and gazed out longingly on the hauntingly beautiful landscape of Alta California.

Thanks Bob, couldn'ta done it without you. Spur of the moment as it was made it all the sweeter.

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