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The half moon was a few hours past the azimuth when we pulled over to the side of SR152 around 9:20p. It was another 20 minutes before we had our boots and gaiters on and were ready to go. I was a bit nervous the whole time we sat there, waiting for a state trooper to stop by and ask if he could help us out. Thankfully he never showed up.
We had seen lights from what looked like homes NW of the peak, but our route was from the NE side and we saw no lights at all where we parked about more than a mile east of the lights. We hopped a barbed-wire fence alongside the road and climbed down a small incline on the other side. I was much relieved to be out of sight of the road by then. We would be able to see lights from the highway nearly the entire outing, but once we got away from the road there was little danger of being spotted.
The first rains of the season had fallen the previous week, bringing water to Pacheco Creek which had been dry these past three months. Cows grazing in the area had trampled the streambed to a pulpy, muddy mess, and it was a non-trivial exercise to find a place to cross. The brush that grew thickly on either side of the creek had us ducking and crawling from one spot to the next until we found a place with rocks that we could cross over on. Once this was done and we had navigated the thicket on the other side of the creek, things got easier.
We immediately found the dirt road I had spied on Google maps. We followed this west a short ways, then took the left branch where it forked. This led us up a steep hillside (we imagined the difficultly even a 4WD vehicle would have on the road) that brought us to the saddle on the south side of Lovers Leap, the whole effort taking only about 20 minutes since leaving the car.
Our first effort would be to scale Lovers Leap, some 200-300ft above us to the north, and it would not be easy. I had thought this back side might be an easy effort in comparison to the cliffs that surround the summit on the other three sides, but now that we were looking at it by the light of the moon it seemed our chances of reaching the summit were far from assured. But as luck would have it, we found it both engaging and challenging. Once across the grassy saddle, we ducked under some low trees and almost immediately came across a steep slope of rock, grass, and brush. There was evidence that others had been up this way before - the crushed beer can and old snack wrappers, for example - which proved to be something of a use trail to get us through the thicker patches of brush. There was some rock scrambling up to class 3, but with little exposure and decent holds it was more enjoyable than scary, even by headlamp. In fact it probably would have seemed far more mundane in daylight, but the shadows and noises of the night scene made it seem all the more exciting.
We found our way to the uppermost reaches of the pinnacle where we found a collection of large, knobby blocks poking above the surrounding brush. We found no register, though admittedly we didn't look all that hard among the many cracks and crevices to be found. Red and white lights from the cars and trucks plying SR152 stretched out in the inky blackness below, showing us the meandering route taken by the road along Pacheco Creek as it makes its way up to the pass some five miles to the east. There were some lights from Casa de Fruta visible, but mostly just the moon shining down us from the west.
After retracing our steps back down to the saddle, we found our road again and began following it up the south-trending ridge towards our next, higher destination of Pacheco Peak. The road was quite steep in places, but easily managed by moonlight with our headlamps off. We climbed upwards of 1,000ft in maybe 40 minutes before we got our first view of the peak about a mile away still. Our road ended on a small knoll, followed by some rather easy cross-country for ten or fifteen minutes until we came across a more far better dirt road that circles around the peak before climbing to its summit.
The weather tonight was surprisingly mild, cool but not cold as I had expected. The cool breeze was fine for hiking uphill in only tshirts, but we did add another layer when returning downhill. No hats or gloves were needed, but we did find leather gloves particularly useful when scaling up and down Lovers Leap.
Pacheco's summit is home to an air traffic beacon as well as a microwave relay tower, explaining the excellent conditions we found the road in. Where it starts climbing up to the peak the road becomes paved as it wraps around the east and south side of the peak. Reaching the gated top enclosure around 11:40p, we stopped at the sounds of crackling and buzzing coming from inside the tower complex - the sounds of a good deal of energy being sent off the transmission antennae. Looking around, we spotted some large boulders outside the fenced area that constituted the high ground of the summit. We climbed what we judged to be the tallest of these, but in the dark and partially surrounded by trees it was hard to be sure. Little matter, we still claimed the summit as climbed.
The views were actually better than we might have guessed. We could see the lights of the Central Valley stretched out in a broad swath to the east, more concentrated pockets of light representing Hollister and Gilroy to the west. Even better, we could see the moon reflecting off the waters of Monterey Bay even further west, with some distant lights of the towns surrounding the bay also visible. Not bad for a peak only reaching to 2,770ft.
We returned by much the same route we had taken up, deviating only in the upper cross-country portion where we fumbled a bit before finding our way back to the original dirt road. It was almost 1a before we found our way back to the car, and shortly before 2a when we got home to San Jose. A most worthwhile outing, we both agreed, and one I would heartily recommend for those looking for something a bit different from the usual scramble.
This page last updated: Wed Jan 8 13:27:19 2020
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