Peak 1,509ft P500

Sun, Sep 2, 2012

With: Steve Sywyk
Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Peak 1,509ft is an (obviously) unnamed summit in Santa Clara county, part of the Santa Cruz Mtns and only a few miles west of Morgan Hill. It lies well east of the crest giving it a much drier climate than most of the Santa Cruz Mountains that are most often covered in redwood and oak forests. This lowly summit is more like it's similarly dry cousins of the Diablo Range a short distance to the east. The summit sports over 500ft of prominence which is what got it on my todo list. Eric, an old friend going back more than 25 years, was visiting for the long holiday weekend from New Mexico. Along with Steve, the three of us have shared a friendship going back to the days right after we all graduated from different universities and moved to Silicon Valley to begin careers working for the same corporation. Eric had initially been uninterested in doing a night hike during the full moon cycle that was upon us, but while perusing my website after a fine BBQ dinner (and a bottle of wine) he suddenly decided he'd like to give it a try. The trouble was that it was already 10p, a fairly late hour to be making such a decision. It occurred to me that this short hike of only a few miles might fit the bill nicely, so Steve and I readily agreed to the idea.

It would have been too easy had we just picked up and headed out, but Steve needed to go back to his house to change, get some gear, discuss family issues with his wife, inspect the work on his re-roofing project, check the dog for ticks, make a partial tax payment, invest in some mutual funds and God knows what else, but the upshot was that he didn't return until well after 11p. I was getting tired and thinking sleep might be better than hiking, so called his cell phone to cancel our plans. Cleverly, he didn't answer his phone and when I opened the door to his knock he said, "I saw you called. What did you want?"

The three of us piled into his Accord and headed off towards Morgan Hill. On the plus side, Steve tends to make up lost time when he gets behind the wheel, so he managed to shave five minutes off the Google estimate of 42 minutes. We found a wide space in Uvas Road to park for the outing. There are homes in the area, a mix of wealthy new mansions and rustic old homesteads, both themed around horses and their care. There was one nearby home higher on the hill to the east of where we parked, mostly out of view to allow us to start without being under the watchful eye of a neighbor. Uvas Road follows just to the west of Uvas Creek which we would need to cross. Though the creek is relatively small and easily forded on rocks, both banks are lined with dense vegetation that would prove the crux of the outing. Where we parked we were lucky to find a breach in the barbed-wire fencing that allowed us to drop down some grassy slopes to near the creek bottom. Stopped by a wall of green, we walked south until we could climb down the embankment to the creek itself. There was some poison oak initially that slowed us momentarily, but this was generally replaced by generous helpings of blackberry vines that grew 1-3ft high and made things more difficult. I took a good whipping across my upper thigh when I plowed into some of these thorny plants a little too quickly. They ripped into my pants and drew blood before I knew what had stopped me, the razor-sharp thorns making little distinction between cutting through the pants or my skin. We eventually managed to get ourselves across 30yds of such difficulties before landing on the opposite bank and into a clearing. A loud snort at this juncture brought Eric in the lead to a halt. "What was that?"

"A cow or a horse," I ventured. It turned out to be a horse. We were at the edge of a large horse enclosure and the occupant was not all that excited by our sudden appearance from the brush. We had emerged at the boundary between two properties, both used for the care and exercise of horses. We followed a wide, cleared path just outside the horse enclosure to the south, following what became a road or bridal path as it curved to the left. More horse enclosures were found to the north with several horses in each. The ponies would run to the far side of their territory before turning to watch us with a wary eye by moonlight. A dog was heard barking further to the north, but not very aggressively nor with much heart. We followed the roads roughly along the path that I had depicted on my GPS, a route garnered from perusing the Google satellite view. Trees had blocked some of the view, making the layout of the roads somewhat uncertain, but it was good enough to get us out of the horse areas and eventually further to the east and the base of the peak we were interested in.

A fork in the road presented itself when we reached the base. We took the left fork only to find soon after that it was heading too far to the north. Some cross-country through waist-high grass along cow trails got us back to the correct road. Here the road climbs steeply some 600ft in half a mile. No sissy switchbacks to mess with, just straight up the hillside. We couldn't tell to what purpose the road had been constructed, but it resembled one of those firebreaks that were so popular in Southern California back in the day. Upon reaching the ridge above, we turned right and followed southeast along the road that ran across the top here. In another half mile we reached a dilapidated fence at a property boundary, crossing to the little-used road on the other side. We followed this around to where it turned northeast and started up the final 300ft of elevation. The current road traverses around the south side of the summit, well below the highpoint, but an older, brushier version runs up to the top more directly. I halted the others along the better road where I expected to find the older one, finding it easily enough after pushing through a bit of brush to the left. Eric was surprised that I had the route dialed in so well, but Steve assured him it was standard procedure.

At the top of this last rise we were confronted by what seemed a dead end just below the summit. Steve noticed that we could see city lights directly through the brush, so we must be virtually at the top. A bit of exploring left and then right found us pushing our way through on the right side to reach the crest at the point on the map with a spot elevation of 1,509ft. The small clearing we found was cramped for the three of us, but we could see east to the city lights of Morgan Hill, southeast to Gilroy and Holister. Twin Peaks could be seen SSW a few miles away. It wasn't a good place to relax or take much of a break, so after a few minutes we snapped a photo and headed back. We might have stayed longer to enjoy the vistas, but Steve unleashed a poisonous gas attack that had Eric and I reeling into the brush. Finding this initial onslaught just a warm-up for his bowels, Steve took unabashed liberty to continue the assault during much of the descent. "Hey, are you going to put this in the trip report?" Steve asked with a laugh. "No," I replied simply, not wanting to encourage him further. In 25 years, I've learned that there are certain super-humans capable of releasing intestinal gas nearly at will, and Steve is one of these. He became almost despondent at my reply, offering, "Awww, I've never been published before." He can no longer make this claim.

We did a better job of navigating the blackberry maze and Uvas Creek on our return, getting back to the car at 2a, making the whole outing barely 2hrs. The drive back to San Jose was slightly faster, partially due to less traffic, but mostly due to Steve taking greater liberties with the various speed limits. We got home quickly enough, but one of these days I'll be writing about a traffic ticket we got on the way home...

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