Peak 1,502ft P500

Sat, Feb 23, 2013

With: Steve Sywyk
Marty Sexton
Bruce Ramstad

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It had been more than a year since I had managed to get all four of us together for a moonlight hike. It had been five months since any of them had joined me on an evening outing so it seemed there was some pent up demand. The weather forecast had a clearing trend but cold, around 40F. I picked an unnamed summit with 500ft+ of prominence between Morgan Hill and Gilroy, just above Coyote Lake in the Diablo Range. It was a fairly short hike, just over 4 miles without much elevation gain. I had some trouble finding the start which was to be inside Coyote Lake County Park. Online, I had read that fishing is allowed 24hrs, so I figure the park ought to be open at all hours to drive in. So I was somewhat confused when we pulled up at the park entrance to find it gated and signed, Closed at Sunset. We parked at the side of the road just outside the gate and started to prepare to hike anyway. There were a few nearby homes from which dogs could be heard barking and it seemed only a matter of time before one of the owners looked out the window and made a call to the Sheriff's office. I looked about nervously and commented, "I'm not feeling the love on this one, guys." They weren't so much either. We got back in the car and drove on, as I was quickly changing gears for an alternate hike we might do inside Henry Coe State Park. But a sign popped up indicating another entrance to Coyote Lake County Park. This was the one I intended, but didn't realize there were two entrances. We were still in luck.

We drove into the park and spent some time trying to use the automated fee station. After inserting his credit card, Steve selected "Day Use" to which he was prompted, This pass will be good until 5:30pm, Feb 23. Continue? This was of little help since it was several hours past this time. Steve tried several other options, including the yearly pass good until 5:30pm, March 2. Not only was this only a week from now, but it was a $90 fee. No good, that one. We finally selected the Overnight Camping option for $12 and put the ticket in our window. So far, this was not the nefarious illegal activity we'd come to expect. We drove the windy road to its end more than three miles to the north where the dam is located. Along the way we passed by the campground, surprisingly alive with activity and campers. We commented that we'd better not find anyone in our camping spot when we came back this way later. The wide dirt parking lot was empty as one might expect at 8p. On the west side was a trailhead kiosk with a map detailing an extensive trail network in the hills to the west. I had thought from looking at Google maps that these hills were all private ranch lands, but apparently not so. It looked like there would be very little illegal about our hike this evening.

The moon was high, surrounded by a few wisps of clouds, and the air was cool - cold actually, as we started out. We all wore at least two layers from the start and I never really warmed up on the hike. I added my balaclava and an outer shell when we reached the breezier ridgeline above. Despite the cold, it was a beautiful night for a hike. Once on the ridge, we turned right on the Bay Ridge Trail which we followed to the park boundary a short distance south of our summit. The city lights of the Coyote Valley from Gilroy to Morgan Hill were brightly displayed in panorama towards the west while we hiked along. Cows were found periodically grazing in the night or resting. None of them seemed much concerned by our presence and didn't bother to move off. At the park boundary, we hopped, or rather crawled through an old barbed-wire fence - finally, something illegal - and followed along a good dirt road we soon found on the other side. This road meandered along the west side of the ridge, eventually rising up to our highpoint. There are two summits, we found. The southern one we came to first is smaller and nearly the same height as the northern one, a few minutes further hike with a shallow saddle between them. The north summit is much broader and flatter, making it impossible to tell where the highpoint is exactly. We didn't care all that much. We took a few photos of each other, but couldn't take one of the city lights as there was nowhere to set the camera down for a long exposure that could see past the grass. It took an hour to cover the two miles to the summit at a leisurely pace.

To make a loop of our return, we continued north, picking up a jeep trail that drops east into the Coyote Creek drainage. Large oak trees shaded much of the route, but there was enough residual light to allow us to continue hiking without headlamps. Just before reaching the creek we came to a gate at a fence enclosing some old, unoccupied ranch buildings. These seemed to be outside the park boundary, but no longer maintained, perhaps to become part of the park at some future time. Another gate is found nearer the creek and this is where we returned to the county park property. It was coldest in the creek canyon. I could see my breath as we hiked and though I kept my hands in my pockets they were still cold. Over the mile and a half that we followed the oak-lined creek, we crossed over two low concrete bridges (in high water these become difficult to ford), eventually climbing back up to the level of the dam around 10p. We paused here to take a picture of the lake immediately to the south, Marty using his I-Phone app to identify constellations in the sky above us.

In all, our hike was just over two hours. All agreed it was a good evening and enjoyable hike, despite the tameness. Marty was also a little disappointed we didn't get to see any ferral pigs - the sight of these always brings him pleasure as he sizes them up and mentally sections them into hams, bacon, ribs and other delicious portions. Like many Americans these days, we had spent some time on the hike discussing gun control, and like most such discussions, came to no definitive conclusions. Though we did agree that guns were good to allow Marty to kill delicious things that we could all eat. But since it wasn't hunting season and Marty had left his guns at home, we stopped at the Gilroy In-n-Out on the way home as compensation. Yum!

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