Orestimba Peak P500
Peak 1,521ft P300

Wed, Feb 27, 2013
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

I had one last opportunity for a night hike during this moon cycle. It was two days past full with the moonrise scheduled for 8:24p. I decided an east-facing hike would work best with the moon favoring that aspect during the time I would be hiking, and settled on Orestimba Peak in the Diablo Range east of Henry Coe State Park. David Naylor had put up a description of the peak on SummitPost which had brought it to my attention the previous year. It looked like I could take ranch roads the entire distance to the summit which would be a most welcome relief to my previous bushwhack-fest for which I'm still suffering the consequences of the poison oak encounters. I left San Jose shortly before 7:30p and made it to the end of Orestimba Rd by way of Interstates 880, 680, 580 and 5 in an hour and three quarters. The moon had risen on schedule as I was driving down I5, now it was just above the horizon and the Central Valley haze as I was locking the van.

The hike starts out heading west along the north side of Orestimba Creek. Even with little rain in the past few months there was ample water flowing in the creek which has a very wide flood zone. It was evident that the creek has a large drainage area, more than 100 square miles in fact, running to the crest of the range more than 17 miles from the TH. The multiple locks at the gate show the road is jointly used by a number of landowners, all ranchers, and it is kept in good condition. Any vehicle could have driven the three miles of the road I hiked. It made for a most pleasant walk over nearly flat terrain. Frogs could be heard loudly croaking away along much of the route. I flushed a few pigs from the brush in the flood plain as I walked along, their snorts first startling me before I realized what they were. An odd noise turned out to be an old, but still functioning windmill, one of several I passed by during the night. No doubt they are still pumping water from the ground to service the cattle's thirst.

At the end of three miles a large penned area is encountered. This appears to be where one of the ranchers keeps his bulls. Hopping a gate, I turned north and followed an equally good ranch road in that direction. David Naylor had taken the fork continuing west along the creek, eventually climbing to the summit via the long South Ridge. The route I had sketched out beforehand was slightly shorter in approaching the peak from the east and north, but both work nicely. My route followed up Oso Creek, a broad, grassy valley tucked between two ridgelines. Even by moonlight it was easy to tell that all was green, not just the valley bottoms. This was the finest times for these hills that are dry and brown for nine months of the year. Cattle were roaming freely over the landscape, drunk with more grass than they could possibly want. This was the time when their forage was soft and succulent. Later it would turn brown and become less palatable, but still offer nutrition. Much later in the year it would be grazed barren and the ranchers would be forced to bring in bales of hay to supplment their needs until the rains brought the cycle of new grass around once more. There were several herds of cattle I encountered along Oso Creek on two separate property parcels. Those far enough away might watch me but otherwise not move. Those nearer the road tended to move as a herd away from me but most often in the direction I was going. They hadn't the wherewithall to head sideways away from the road, some of them following ahead for more than a mile before tiring and changing strategies. A few of their numbers would take great umbrage to my presence and would moo loudly with great feeling. This would entice others to take up the call and sometimes even the distant coyotes would chime in. There was not so much of the wilderness stillness about this hike, at least for the moment.

After several more miles I reached the northwest end of this side valley and forked west onto an unused road that headed up into the drainage of Oso Creek's western branch. This road was hard to follow in places and several times I found myself off-track on cow paths before being led back to the road again. Oak trees partially shaded things from sight, adding to the minor difficulty. I realized I had forgotten to bring my headlamp which might have been of some help here. Luckily I had no real need for the lamp this evening or this oversight might have proved more problematic. An injury or a small patch of unseen poison oak might have made me regret this more forcefully. I didn't even have a way to check for ticks with any certainty, the moonlight offering some lighting, but hardly sufficient. Luckily there were no ticks tonight.

I was less than a mile from the summit and making my way up the narrowing creek along a steepening road when I realized I did not have to be so dogmatic in following the ranch roads. The slopes were all grassy, open and easy enough for cross-country travel, so I simply turned left and started up the nearest ridgeline. A faint cow path made things easier, leading me under oaks and around rocks. Several smaller herds of cattle were encountered at these higher elevations but they easily moved aside and out of sight in short order. As I neared the summit I spotted a deer in silhouette darting off the summit and out of view. It was shortly after 11:30a when I reached the 2,000-foot summit of Orestimba Peak. It had been breezy and a little chilly earlier in the valleys, but it was perfectly calm at the summit and quite pleasant. What a comparison to the efforts of a few nights ago where I had to bushwhack my way through heavy brush to three of the five summits. A benchmark was stamped "VA" with an elevation of 2073 (the 7.5' topo says 2074, oddly enough). There were no other human signs, but plenty of cow ones. A fine view of the Central Valley lights can be seen to the east. To the west lay the higher Wilcox Ridge with a branch of the Orestimba cutting deeply between the near and far ridge. Not a single light could be seen in the views towards the west, country seemingly untouched since history began when viewed by moonlight.

The hike up the ridge had proved so pleasant that I decided to take a much longer cross-country route on the return, passing over unnamed Peak 1,521ft on the way. The route headed east off the summit and southeast along a grassy ridge for more than three miles. The views all the while were enchanting. I passed through some large fields of flowers that looked white in the moonlight. Upon closer inspection with the camera they proved to be yellow with some purple mixed in. These covered whole slopes for hundreds of yards that must surely be more beautiful by daylight. Spring had come early to these hills.

The cross-country from the summit lasted a pleasant hour and a half, eventually bringing me back to the road at the junction with the bull pens. It would take another 50 minutes to hike back out to the car where I arrived at 2a, making for a very enjoyable 5hrs. The drive back was less enjoyable, primarily because I was pretty tired. I consoled myself that I'd be able to get a few hours sleep before dawn, then walk my daughter to school and decadently go back to bed for some more sleep afterwards. The second round of sleep never happened because I found myself with a broken washing maching in the morning, but I didn't let that take away from the enjoyment of the hike. I'll have to find another hike out this way next month before the hills start turning brown...

Anonymous comments on 08/23/15:
Please know that you were trespassing on private property. It is well posted in several locations, especially the first gate that you had to have climbed over. As one of the property owners, I do not want people on our land for many reasons, one being liability.
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