Peak 1,900ft P300

Thu, Dec 19, 2013
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX

Alum Rock Park is nearly as old as the city of San Jose in which it lies. Located on the east side, at the foot of the Diablo Range along Penitencia Creek, the park has several dozen seeps that once passed as mineral springs more than 100 years ago. This was the heyday of such resorts, where folks would vacation to "take the waters", either drinking or bathing in the mineral springs for their medicinal benefits. Science came along to spoil the party, showing the theraputic values for which they were reputed to enjoy did not exist, darn it all. The springs at Alum Rock contain a mix of alum (best known as an anti-perspirant deodorant) and hydrogen-sulfide (rotten egg smell), an interesting mix. Before such places lost favor with the general public, Alum Rock had seen significant development, including a hotel, swimming pool and a dedicated trolly line to bring visitors from downtown. Most of the structures have been removed as has the trolley line, though the stone buttresses for the bridges that supported the rail lines are still very much in evidence. So too are the many intricate stoneworks that were built in the park, including bridges, walkways, and elaborate enclosures around the seeps. Today they look like the remnants of ancient catacombs, the smelly waters slowly trickling from the rocky tombs. The park sees heavy usage particularly in the summer when it's cool shade created by the creek, abundant trees and steep canyon walls are most appreciated. On a weekday in mid-December, I found only a few other visitors in the park, which was just fine by me.

I rode my bike across San Jose, passing through downtown and City Hall on my way to the East Side and Penitencia Creek. There are two paved entrances to the park, but the one along Alum Rock Rd has been closed for some years now, leaving only the entrance along Penitencia Creek Rd open for vehicle traffic. My goal was an unnamed summit on the south side of Alum Rock Park, Peak 1,900ft with nearly 500ft of prominence. Though located outside the park on private ranch land, it appeared that it might most easily be reached from within the park and the South Rim Trail. So I steered my bike to the start of the Canyon View Trail at the east end of the Mineral Springs Loop Trail. I locked my bike to the fence at the trailhead, and started up. Windy and cold, I left my fleece and gloves on that I had been riding with. It never did warm enough to remove them. After a number of switchbacks climbing out of the narrow canyon, I reached the South Rim Trail and headed left. I had intended to go only a short distance east before finding my way cross-country up the steep grass slopes above the trail. The satellite view showed only a short section of brush to contend with once leaving the trail before finding open ground, but I found the brush particularly thick and uninviting while wearing shorts. Worse, the area is riddled with poison oak, now just sticks and branches, but still problematic. Half blindly diving through the brush was sure to become a serious regret. I continued on the trail past the planned exit point, wondering if I might find something more suitable further along. I didn't hold out much hope and began to think I'd have to come back another day.

I continued along the trail past where it turns a corner and continues southeast, high above Arroyo Aguague, now under cover of oak forest. My luck changed while I was exploring an unmarked trail above a junction (shown as the Upper Meadow Rest Area on the park map). Though the official trail ends at a grafitti-ridden sign, one can follow this past some encroaching poison oak and then steeply upslope along a subsidiary ridge. Few people seem to have traveled this way, but there was the unmistakable signs of cattle tracks and pig rooting. With little poison oak evident, I climbed up through the understory and eventually onto the open grass slopes I had been seeking. A handful of cows were found near a shallow saddle, at first just watching me but soon growing concerned and then jogging off out of sight. Just about an hour after starting out, I finally made my way to the summit. The views were hazy at best, but take in much of the South Bay around San Jose. Sierra Rd and the higher Alum BM can be seen to the north. To the east rises Poverty Ridge and Mt. Day in the background. Even windier at the unprotected summit, I made a hasty retreat after dashing off my photos.

I returned to the maintained trail and followed it down to the Arroyo Aguague, dry in the upper reaches, but the water flowing underground emerges downstream near the confluence with Penitencia Creek. A bridge here takes one back into the main area of the park where pavement and old stonework are more evident. Just past a stone bridge that leads to some of the mineral seeps, I returned to the trailhead and my bike. An hour later I was back home.

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