Peak 2,303ft P300
Oat Hills P750
Rudolph Ridge P300
Peak 2,610ft P300
Peak 860ft P300
Peak 780ft P300

Sat, Nov 20, 2021
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 Profile

This isn't a collection of peaks in the Ventana Wilderness. The first four are found inside Fort Hunter-Liggett, the last of which, Peak 2,610ft, lies on the border of the Los Padres NF and the Ventana Wilderness. It was the last peak within the 2020 Dolan Fire perimeter that I wanted to get before the chaparral grows back, thick as ever, and the other peaks were mostly there to round out the day. Saturday was a good day to visit because the weekends are when much of Fort Hunter-Liggett is open to hunting. I would see a handful of other vehicles and a few hunters out on the prowl, but mostly it was pretty quiet.

Peak 2,303ft

This summit is also located within the Dolan Fire zone, but the fire wasn't required to reach it. It is located in a hunting zone west of the fort complex, about three miles of dirt road driving from paved Del Venturi Rd. I found the dirt roads all quite damp today, as though the area had seen rainfall in the past few days, though I don't recall seeing any in the weather forecasts. It might be that the heavy fog was all that was needed to provide the moisture. I was glad to have 4WD, because some of the road sections were steep and a bit loose. I found the summit in heavy fog with no views. A survey marker was found next to a small sign. Summit was open at least - plenty of room to turnaround, camp, or throw a party.

Oat Hills

This summit has more than 800ft of prominence and is located in the northernmost section of the military reservation. Andrew and Kerry and visited it two weeks earlier, so I thought I should do so as well. It's about seven miles of driving from Del Venturi, mostly on decent roads that any high-clearance vehicle can manage. There are roads leading to the summit from the north and south, and possibly from the west. The northern route looked most viable from the satellite views, so I used that one. The last mile gets steep and the road sees little traffic. I used 4WD and the rear locker on the steepest stretch. I found partial clearing at the summit, the fog not yet ready to give it up for the day when I arrived around 8a. A tattered American flag was wrapped around a pole. I found a reference mark, but no benchmark in the direction it was pointing - probably buried under some manzanita.

Rudolph Ridge

Done with the drive-ups, I turned my attention to nearby Rudolph Ridge after driving back down to the better dirt road. A gate is located here, blocking the road going north from vehicles. I thought this might be the edge of the reservation, but the land use maps show all of Rudolph Ridge and the approach I used to still be inside it. A short walk along the road leads to the start of a trail that runs to the summit, shown on both the topo map and satellite view. I didn't realize the start had moved a short distance north, and made an effort to bust through the brush where the start is shown on the topo map. I was close to giving up when I suddenly found the maintained (by who?) trail, after which it was an easy 10min walk to the highpoint. Views were still limited due to lingering fog.

Peak 2,610ft

This was the only summit requiring a significant hike, almost six miles with about 1,200ft of gain. Access from the National Forest lands is difficult. The topo map shows an old road running up to near the summit from the Merle Ranch. This inholding is now part of the National Forest, but the area is signed as an Administration site and off-limits to the public, probably because they haven't figured out what to do with the old buildings which can pose a hazard. The off-limit ranch area blocks access to the San Antonio River upstream as well as the old road. I decided to park inside the reservation boundary and hike up the river to reach the old road. Not exactly legal-like, but it would bypass the buildings by a wide margin. The hike was split into two distinct parts with different vibes. The first part was following the river upstream through NF lands. It is cool, green, and wet along the river, while the second half, following the ridgeline up towards the peak on the old road was dryer, sunnier, and more obviously burned. Neither section had much of a wilderness feel, though it did feel like a walk back in time. There are broken pipes along the river from irrigation projects, old fencing for corrals no longer used, an old dam along the river, now washed out. The road had various spurs going off to places unknown and rusting tins found occasionally from a bygone era. The going had some challenging places in both sections, with three river crossings that taxed my poor jumping abilities, and road sections with charred sticks where the burn was not so complete. There are two summits to this one, the road going to the saddle between them. The west summit is higher, its upper elevation covered in burned pine snags, all about the same 15ft in height. It seems there was a fire here a few decades ago that wiped out the previous forest. The trees at least had matured with plenty of pinecones, new seedlings already popping up everywhere. The highpoint is atop some large rocks with an easy class 3 route up the backside. It was a lovely little perch, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, though I now could identify most of the surrounding peaks thanks to my efforts over the past month - Cone Peak to the west, Wizard Peak to the east, Peak 3,442ft to the south, Peak 2,937ft to the northwest, Junipero Serra to the north, and others. It would be nearly 12:30p by the time I had reversed the route and returned to the Jeep. I enjoyed the relaxing drive back out through reservation. The early rains had helped green up many of the slopes and meadows, a nice touch for November when things are usually still brown and dry.

Peak 860ft

As I was driving back through Morgan Hill on my way home, I recalled that there were a few peaks in the area that I had neglected over the past decade, both on private property. With the help of the satellite view, I had identified a route to Peak 860ft from the southeast, but had neglected to pay it a visit. Lisa Barboza had used this very route in 2019, so I knew it would work. A few others had also visited, but did not report their route. Liza reported the old farm road as quite overgrown, but that is no longer the case. PG&E has a new transmission line running next to the road and has cleared it for access. There is a gate signed for no trespassing, but it is easy to walk around it and appears others often do now, too. The hike to the summit takes less than 20min, and there is a pair of chairs set out to take in the view just below the highpoint. All the hills in the area are very green right now and made for a scenic spot in the afternoon light. On my way back down, a gentleman came riding down from the top on a small motorbike. I pulled to the side to await my punishment, but he didn't seem much concerned by my presence. He asked if I'd seen a motorcycle riding up the hill (I hadn't), and continued down the road and out of sight.

Peak 780ft

This summit is low, broad, and all part of a gated community for rich people playing at rural life. The same three folks that had climbed the previous peak had also done this one. I drove up to one of the three entrances and found the gate closed and formidable. Getting over with a bike or even on foot would be a challenge. I was about to give up and was facing back out toward the public street when a guy drove past me. I looked around to see that even after he drove off, the gate was still open, so I turned around and drove in. Seems the gates stay open for at least a few minutes after someone passes through. Along with the rather large homes (one was even shaped like a faux castle), there were vineyards and horses, one guy with three cattle grazing on his large parcel, looking both pastoral and comical. I drove up to the top of Hayes Lane which was mostly flat and open. There are some short telecom installations, and more curiously, a large herd of deer to one side, including bucks, does and fawns. They watched me get out to photograph them, but none ran off. Someone's private herd, or community owned? Maybe that's what the formidible fence is designed to keep inside. I drove back down the road to let myself out via the same gate, then continued on my way home...

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