Church Hill NN
Mine Hill P300 NN
Blossom Hill
Lone Hill

Fri, Apr 24, 2009

With: Steve Sywyk

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2
Mine Hill later climbed Fri, Aug 26, 2016

This was a particularly weak outing, motivated as part of an ongoing project to reach the top of all the named summits in Santa Clara County. Church Hill and Mine Hill are located in the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, the site of the most productive mine in US history (according to information on placards at the park). Once used in large quantities for the extraction of gold, mercury from the mines here helped fuel the California Gold Rush of the 1840-50s, with the last commercial mining operations finally ceasing in 1976. The area is likely a superfund site, so contaminated with mercury that signs still warn of the dangers of mercury poisoning from eating the fish in the nearby Guadalupe River. So while the lands would never pass muster for future commercial or residential development, they make a fine county park and have remained so since the last active mine closed. The other two hills are both heavily developed, Blossom Hill and Lone Hill, but since we'd be in the neighborhood I planned to pay them a visit.

We took the shortest approach possible, from the TH parking off Old Almaden Rd at the SE end of the park. There are several trails to choose from leading up either side of Deep Gulch, we took one going up, the other heading down. Church Hill, the lower and eastern of the two summits was our first visit. There is no maintained trail leading to the top, but a weak use trail starting near an old brick chimney worked nicely. Unfortunately the summit rocks are buried under a canopy of tree cover and the grounds around the use trail are riddled with poison oak - one must watch one's step. Near the summit was a bright orange and white checkpoint marker for an orienteering event, quite probably forgotten by the event organizers.

Between the two summits we explored the remains of what was first English Camp (a small town of English immigrants come to work in the mines in the late 1800s) and later Madonna Camp (a CCC training site dating from the 1930s). Aside from a few dilapidated buildings and pieces of rusting equipment, little else remains of the once bustling sites.

We headed up to Mines Hill following a series of trails that circumnavigated the hill in a counterclockwise direction. We stopped at the San Cristobal Mine on the north side, finding all but the first 20 yards of the mineshaft permanently closed with a heavy iron gate welded shut. We looked around outside the tunnel for a use trail leading to Mine Hill, but finding things brushy and full of poison oak, we backed off. We continued around the hill on the trails, next looking for an approach up the grassy west slope. This lead to more thick brush and nastiness before we got anywhere near the summit. I still had fresh memories of my last bout of poison oak that took more than two weeks to get rid of, so I wasn't about to lead us through another bushwhack of the stuff.

I was ready to leave the summit unclimbed when we finally got around to the south side of the hill near an old bit of mine works called the Rotary Furnace on the park map. Above the fenced-in furnace works to the left was the sculpted face of the highpoint, bulldozed and carved out in a fashion leaving an open scar on the hillside. A few steep roads, long abandoned, led up through the mine scar to a grassy top. Climbing this, we found ourselves at the highpoint of Mine Hill, minus all the bushwhacking we thought it would take. Just below the summit was a modest rock cairn with the remains of colorful prayer flags (or something similar), along with dried grain offerings and a collection of cyrstals and colorful rocks. A wiccan offering, possibly? There were no other markers or a register to be found. The summit had a fine view of the main Santa Cruz peaks to the south and west, including Loma Prieta, Umunhum, and others. The Santa Clara Valley was spread out to the north, though partially obstructed by intervening trees.

After returning to the car we had a few other minor hills to visit in the area. One was Blossom Hill, which until recently I'd thought was just the name of a major road in the southern part of the valley. Turns out there is an actual Blossom Hill at the northwest end of the small ridge that forms the majority of the Almaden Quicksilver park. The summit of it is hard to pinpoint thanks to a long, meandering ridgeline, but a row of houses at the apex of the ridge makes it almost certain that the highpoint is on private property. We drove the highest road that joins Shannon Rd where the latter crosses over a saddle. This private road is labeled Sky Lane on Google Maps, but there was nowhere to get out and climb to - all private homes on either side of the road. Later I learned there is a second road (Santa Rosa Dr) that may go up to a water tank close to the highpoint. I may have to visit this one a second time.

The last hill of the day was Lone Hill, a thoroughly residentialized piece of land just north of Blossom Hill. In the days when orchards stretched across the valley this hill might have been a familiar landmark, but now that it has been completely tamed by pavement and homes, the hill is barely noticeable, and then only when driving right up to it. We found the highpoint appears to be in the middle of a road ending in a cul-de-sac. A nearby park with the name Lone Hill Park is the only remaining suggestion that there was something slightly significant on this spot. At 320ft, Lone Hill has the distinction of being the lowest named summit in Santa Clara County. Ok, actually it shares that distinction with a Christmas Hill of the same height located near Gilroy. I'll be looking in on Christmas Hill sometime in the future...

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