Lions Peak

Tue, Apr 7, 2009

With: Steve Sywyk

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
later climbed Thu, Jan 29, 2015

Barely reaching past 1,000ft in elevation, Lions Peak is about as insignificant as they come, even for Santa Clara County. The rain was scheduled to start coming down around 11a, so we wouldn't have much time after dropping the kids off at school. I grabbed a map with Lions and a few other nearby peaks, picked up Steve, and headed south towards San Martin.

The town of San Martin is small, nestled between the larger towns of Morgan Hill and Gilroy in southern Santa Clara County. The peak lies just west of town, entirely on private property without any obvious way to reach it's grass-covered summit. We picked out the peak to the southwest as we drove through San Martin (all of about two blocks' worth) and followed whatever roads could get us close. The area to the east and north is under recent development, with new roads not shown on the topo map I had as a reference. We drove past the No Trespassing signs into the new development to the northeast, looking more like prospective buyers than one of the construction crew that made up most of the activity in the area. Each of the several dozen multi-million dollar homes under construction were already fitted with vineyards about their property, saving only a small portion around the back of the homes for private use. Called The Vineyards or some similar name, the idea of this development is to give the homeowner the feel of being a winemaker in beautiful winecountry, views of the vineyards right out the front door. But without all the hassle of actually harvesting grapes and making wine - that would be left to another party. We found the concept somewhat humorous. In any event, we had no luck driving around this area to find an access point. On the side facing our hill, the development was surrounded by a tall, 8-foot fence that looked sturdy enough to keep the deer and cattle out, but not so sturdy for grown men to scramble over. Steve was all for giving it a try, but if we got caught for trespassing, I didn't want them to blame us for damaging their new fence.

We drove back out and headed south, finding Fitzgerald Road on the east side of the peak. The road ended where it abutted at the base of the mountain, an old fence blocking access to a dirt road. The area is a mix of new, expensive homes shuffled in with old ranch homes with chickens and goats doing their thing about the property like they'd probably done for the last eighty years. We wondered how the old hands felt about the newcomers buying acre-sized plots of land and building these huge mansions. We also wondered what both might think of a couple of shady-looking trespassers invading their pastoral retreats. We found a small turnout near that end of the road that would neatly just fit our car. It wasn't exactly hidden, but it wasn't blocking the road either.

After we parked the car, I impatiently pushed Steve to get his butt in gear so we could get over the fence and out of easy view from the neighbors. He's a dawdler by nature while I'm more a worrier, so this was just our standard interaction before one of these outings. After hopping the sturdy fence, we followed along the road a short ways before turning sharply left and following a cattle track up a small ravine. This got us off the road and out of view and I was able to relax more easily. The muddy track and the presence of poison oak prompted Steve to start chiding me about the choice of peaks. Though he admitted he had contributed nothing to the work of finding a place to hike, he felt compelled to point out that my choice of peaks seemed to be scaping the bottom of the barrel. "Let's see, we're trespassing, there's poison oak all around us, hiking up a muddy bog to reach the top of a grassy knoll. Nice." Of course he was right. And the really funny part (to me) was that I could probably continue to degrade our hikes even further in the future and Steve probably would happily join in each time. He might complain, but he wouldn't stop joining me. Gotta love him for that.

It wasn't all bad. Near the top of the ravine we came across a decomposing carcass of one of the cattle. He was mostly bones, but part of his hide still covered the rear portion of him and select other places. We guessed that he'd broken a leg or fallen ill and his absence in the heard had gone unnoticed."Cool!" we both exclaimed. We took pictures, Steve gave it a kick. We could have been nine year-olds instead of our 48 years. I suppose nine year-olds would have picked up a rock to throw at it, or poked it with a stick. Not that we didn't think about it ourselves.

Out of the ravine, we landed on the grassy ridgeline leading in a wide arc towards the summit. We could see the top about half a mile away, and even closer a white pickup truck lumbering over a saddle. We froze in our tracks to avoid detection, then slowly moved down and out of view. We watched the truck drop south down the other side of the saddle and soon out of view. That was two outings in a row now we had to avoid trucks on our route. Maybe we really were scraping the bottom. It's probably only a matter of time before we are confronted for our wrongdoings.

Happily, there were no further sightings of ranchers or others. We passed by a small antenna building (the guy might have been a service technician, in hindsight) and then hiked up the east ridge to the summit. We could see rain off in the distance in several directions, but thankfully none fell on us, at least not yet. We noted a higher peak to the west and wondered momentarily if we had further to go. A check of the map showed an unnamed peak 13ft higher in that direction, so we were indeed on Lions Peak. The clouds enveloped most of the Santa Cruz Mtns to the west, as well as most of the Diablo Range to the east. Mostly we could see the towns, farms, and ranches (and a nearby golfcourse) around us, and little else. We admired the green hills, the flowers about us, and the mild workout we had gotten to reach the summit.

On the way back down the rain started, and we were fairly damp by the time we returned to the car. Another pickup truck came slowly up to where we were parked, causing Steve to remark, "Looks like we're going to get talked to." But instead of a lecture, the confused Hispanic driver asked us if we knew where the chickens were. We gathered that he was looking for a location he'd been told about to purchase chickens, but we were of no help whatsoever. It probably wouldn't have helped if I told him I buy my chickens at the grocery store, so I kept silent.

The rain started down more earnestly and our hiking day was brought to a premature close as we headed back for San Jose. Steve has only a few weeks left before the prison doors of his new job close behind him, so he's eager to get in as much of this as he can manage. Of course, I'm only too happy to oblige him...

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