North Peak P300 CC / NN
South Peak
Peak Mountain
San Pedro Mountain

Sep 12, 2004
North Peak
South Peak
San Pedro Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Montara Mountain, a short distance south of San Francisco isn't so much a mountain as a ridge. Running roughly east-west across the SF Peninsula, it is relatively free of development thanks to Montara State Park, San Pedro County Park, and the SF Water district that comprise most of the surrounding lands. There are at least 6 named summits along the miles-long ridge, and having six hours to spare, I headed out on a Sunday morning to explore the area and see if I couldn't hit all the named peaks.

In San Jose the weather was warm and sunny, but driving over SR92 to Half Moon Bay I found myself under a cloud layer that enveloped the surrounding hills as often happens throughout the year. It looked like I would get no views at all today, my only hopes being that it might burn off before I summited, or I might get above the cloud layer. I parked just north of Montara State Beach at a turnoff on the east side of SR1. My map was poor, having no marked trails on it, and the signs in the area were weak as well. But I had the general idea to head up the ridge and found there were several routes that one could take. Jogging along, I was soon in the clouds, and for the next hour or so I was just wandering around in the soup. I found my way to the highest point on the ridge, named North Peak on the map. A communications installation covered most of the summit area, no surprise there.

It had taken longer than I had expected, and I gave up trying to reach the other summits further to the east. I headed south for the next peak maybe a half mile away, creatively named South Peak. I tried the direct approach, but soon found myself in impenetrable thicket. Not actually impenetrable, but there was enough poison oak imbedded in the mess of it that I couldn't possible make my way through without brushing up against the poison oak (in fact I would come down with one of my longest lasting cases of the itchy stuff less than a week later from this encounter). Backing off, I found a use trail further west and took this to the peak with little additional trouble. There was nothing at the summit save more thickets and a few steel posts and other odds and ends of leftover rubbish from years gone by. I wanted to next hike out to Montara Knob another half mile to the east, but I could not see the summit from where I stood though I waited for more than 20 minutes for a clearing in the fog rolling by. The bushwhacking was going to be too brutal to do anything than a direct route to it, and eventually I had to give up the idea.

I returned back to the main road on the ridgeline, tagged Peak Mountain (another creative name) on my way back, eventually dropped down below the cloud level again. With a better view below I decided to continue northwest to San Pedro Mountain, a lower mountain ridgeline another mile in that direction. This part was very pleasant and I climbed over the rounded summit of San Pedro's highpoint (almost impossible to tell where the true highpoint was), and hiked down the other side. The clouds still obscured the higher peaks to the southeast, but I could see out to the Pacific Ocean and down to Highway 1 below. I decided to bushwhack my way down to the highway where the dirt road I was on came closest, and this took me somthing like 600ft down a very steep slope where having bushes to grab on to was as much an asset as they were a hindrance to make progress.

Once down on the road it didn't take long to realize I was on a No Pedestrian roadway, but I still had two miles to go along it before I could get back to my car. The road around the Devils Slide area is very twisty and visibility poor - it would be almost reckless to ride a bike along this stretch. Where I could I hiked/jogged along the cliff edges just outside the roadway, and where I had to move along the pavement I did so as quickly as I could. If a law enforcement vehicle came by in the next twenty minutes I figured I had about a 100% chance of getting in hot water. This thought didn't stop me from jogging up to the old WWII gun placements at one point along the road. Keep Out signs made it clear that the public wasn't welcome, but I couldn't resist the old concrete stairway running up several hundred feet of cliffside, the railing (if there ever was one) long gone. At the top I found two pill boxes overlooking the vast stretch of Pacific Ocean, the insides covered in graffitti and littered with broken bottles and other teenage refuse. Despite the unsightly paintjob, the feeling of history in the place was strong as I imagined the feelings of the time and how the citizens of California must have felt in fearing a Japanese attack from oceanside. Seeing how none came (at least anywhere near here), this must have been a fairly lonely assignment indeed. I climbed to the top of the lookout tower, still fairly solid despite years of weathering without upkeep. At least they had a great view to while away their time with.

After getting back down to the highway, I continued south, the last object of interest an old building of some sort, long abandoned, perched on an eroding pillar of sandstone atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. There were a good number of signs warning trespassers to stay away, with specific mention to climbers. The building and land are now owned by San Mateo County, but what they intend to do with it is far from clear. About three hours after I started out I was back at the car. As luck would have it, the clouds began to clear shortly thereafter, and within 15 minutes the fog had pulled back from the hilltops completely. Looks like I had showed up a few hours too early to catch the views from the summit. Ah well - next time...

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