Fri, Mar 27, 2009
We started off from Del Valle Reservoir shortly after 7a. We had paid the $6 parking fee, but did not pay the extra fees required to hike the Ohlone Trail, which for the four of us might have amounted to another $10-12. Cheap bastards, us. Our group was an odd mix with thirty years' difference in age between the youngsters, Dave & Ben, and the older guys, Steve & myself. It seemed comical that Steve and I have known each other more than six years longer than the other two have been alive. More sobering, I was only a year or two younger than both of their fathers. How could this social mismatch work out? Quite well, actually. Turns out they know more about music from our generation than we do, and can play most our favorite tunes on Guitar Hero. Not bad.
We spent the first two hours climbing over 3,000ft up from the reservoir. This involves two steep pushes with a drop of almost 1,000ft into Williams Gulch in between. In the shade for most of the first half, our biggest obstacle was to avoid the profusion of poison oak that grows right alongside much of the trail. I was still suffering from the massive exposure a few weeks earlier and was particularly shy around the stuff. I was happy to see that it had been groomed from the direct path of the trail, even if only barely in many places. By the time we had crested the second ridgeline it was 9a and the sun was getting well on its way in its arc overhead. This was a blessing to help take the chill off the breeze blowing over the ridges, but a bit unwelcome by me since I had forgotten to bring a hat today - sunscreen on the scalp is only a partial remedy for us balding guys...
It was nice to be done with all the hard uphill and get on with the more mundane task of simply enjoying a walk. Once that second ridgeline was crested, the views opened up and the hills became studded with oaks and pines with grass underneath. The poison oak was completely absent above 3,000ft, probably due to the periodic snows and freezing temperatures they get up here, a nemesis of the vile plant. Cattle were sparsely scattered about the area, fattening nicely on an abundance of new grass.
We reached Rose Flat at 9:30a where I paused to photograph the odd USGS marker not found on a summit. It didn't seem to have a line of site to anywhere in particular, and I could not imagine the reason for its existence. We missed an intended turn at the junction at Rose Flat, but by examining the map it seemed we could make it work just as easily by an alternate route to the west. At a bend in the road we came upon an RV trailer parked a short ways below the road. The curtains were all drawn, but the surrounding condition of the camp area made it look to be in use. We grew a little nervous starting at this point and moved off to the opposite side of the road out of view to consider the situation. We decided on a short cross-country jaunt to connect us with an old 4WD road shown on the map. We found this old road easily enough and followed it south. It has been many years since it was driven on, making us feel more relaxed as we hiked along the pleasant ridgeline it followed.
Around 10a Mt. Lewis finally came into view, still a few miles to the south. Our old road reconnected with another that showed more recent use, and we followed this down into Hamilton Flat. Our nervousness increased again as we hiked along this road, one of the few stretches that we were most vulnerable along. When we got down to the bottom of the small valley we found some old ranch buildings, but did not go close enough to see if they were abandoned or still in use. We followed the road downstream as it crossed back and forth over a creek half a dozen times. The stream led us to Hamilton Lake, a medium-sized lake that does not show on the 7.5' topo map, but did show up on Google maps when I looked at the area the day before. All was fairly quiet, but it did not allay our nervousness. David suggested we might take the more direct route up to Mt. Lewis from the south end of the lake and I readily agreed. It was not only shorter than the circuitous road, but it would get us out of the obvious lines of sight for anyone who might happen to be driving along.
Along the way through the forest understory we hiked up through knee-high grass, over a lot of deadfall, and a couple of fences as well. It was shortly before 11a when we broke out from the trees and onto the last grassy stretch leading to the summit of Mt. Lewis. We were all pleasantly surprised to find as fine a summit as we did. From afar, it looked like a pretty frumpy summit covered in trees, but the true highpoint had been further south than that first look, and it had an unobstructed view for some 270 degrees looking northeast, sweeping to the south, and then to the northwest. The view south was especially pleasant, comprising the grassy headwaters of Alameda Creek which eventually flows down Niles Canyon and into SF Bay. Ten miles to the south was Mt. Hamilton, Black Mtn even closer to the southwest about 3 miles distance, and Mt. Eylar about 7 miles to the east. The only signs of civilization in our sweeping view were the telescopes atop Mt. Hamilton, a few antennae west on Mt. Alison and Monument Peak, and the dirt roads that interconnect the vast ranchlands.
The chilly breeze had us putting on the jackets we'd brought along, but it was still fairly nice sitting around the sunny summit eating our lunch on the grass. There were several old antennae, no longer in use, installed at the top. They were not really big enough to take away any of the back-country feel to the mountain, and had some historical interest. After our lunch break we took a few group photos, then started back.
To avoid the vulnerable section through Hamilton Flat, we decided to take the more easterly route that avoided the more frequented roads. After hiking back down to the lake we crossed over at the outlet and then started up the other side. This took us up to Peak 3,841ft, actually higher than Mt. Lewis, and having the modest distinction of being one of several possible highpoints to Alameda County. It shares the same number of elevation contours as Discovery Peak, but because Discovery's contour area is larger, it is assumed to be higher - though I don't know that a definitive survey has ever been carried out. We found two things of interest at the summit. One was a short class 3 summit block about ten feet in height. The other was a small zippered pouch in a rock cairn left by a highpointer. Inside was a single 8.5x11 sheet of paper from the highpointer club, but there was no date or signature to identify the owner (From a similar one left on Discovery, I think it may have been Andy Martin). I took a reading atop the summit block to compare it to the reading at Discovery Peak on our route back. Not a definitive study, just an interesting datapoint. The reading I got after letting it settle was 3,836ft, 5ft lower than the USGS measurement given on the 7.5' topo map.
Just north of Peak 3,841ft we picked up another jeep road that follows the ridgeline to Discovery Peak. This was our initial planned route route to Lewis, and judging by the less frequent use, it would seem a better route to take. It was 12:45p when we pulled up to Discovery Peak, stopping here for another short break. I climbed partway up one of the tall towers here for the minor thrill involved. The others sat around below, content to keep their feet on the ground. Back down, I took another reading with the GPS. It came up 7ft lower than the last reading. About all we could tell was that the two must be close. I don't think my GPS is accurate enough on elevation readings to give any serious consideration to dethroning Discovery Peak as the county highpoint.
We hiked back through Rose Flat and onto the Ohlone Trail, once again. Our foray onto private lands had gone unnoticed, or at least unchallenged. We soon came across the first of perhaps six different parties out on the trail. Some were backpacking the long route to Fremont from Del Valle, others like us were just out for the day. Steve and I stopped a number of times to take pictures of the many varieties of wildflowers that were on display. Yellows, blues, violets, reds, and white, almost every color seemed represented. I took to jogging much of the long downhill sections. Steve was the only one to follow me as we dropped down into Williams Gulch and then hiked back up from there. Steve dropped back to hike with David and Ben as I continued jogging down the last long drop to Del Valle. I got back right at 3p, the others returning about 20 minutes later. In all we were out about 8hrs, a pretty good time for the 22 mile outing. Next up on the agenda for this area is finding a way to Cedar Mtn and Mt. Eylar...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Discovery Peak
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