Peak 2,460ft P300
Peak 2,580ft P300

Sun, Dec 20, 2020
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Sometimes I get random inspiration from others peakbaggers when I happen to look at their logs and spot something interesting. In this case, I noticed that several of the usual suspects had been to a couple of peaks in the San Antonio Valley that I'd missed. The valley lies in a remote part of the Diablo Range east of Mt. Hamilton. I had first visited the area 16yrs earlier to climb Mt. Stakes, the highpoint of Stanislaus County. At the time, the land one starts from off SR130 was managed by a hunting club. In 2015 it was purchased by the CDFW as an ecological reserve. According to its website, the purpose is described as "... acquisition of this property were to protect sensitive plant and animal species, maintain valuable habitat linkages between adjacent public (Henry Coe State Park) and private agricultural lands and to provide research, educational and limited recreational opportunities for the public. The limited recreational opportunities appear to be hunting and nothing else as the reserve is still off-limits to the general public. Fires from the previous summer had swept over large portions of the range, the largest such fire since I moved to the Bay Area 35yrs ago. Driving in on Mt. Hamilton Rd (SR130), the facilities at Mt. Hamilton were saved but the grounds were mostly torched. COVID has further closed Mt. Hamilton to the public for the forseeable future, but one can still drive though on the narrow highway road. It was chilly this morning, with the shaded areas along the roadway white with frost and slow to warm up. Still, it would be pleasant enough when I started from the ecological reserve gate around 9:15a.

A very good dirt road runs all the way through the reserve heading south, passing through the Upper San Antonio Valley. Bulldozers had widened the road in an effort to make a firebreak during the summer with only limited success. It managed to stop the fire crossing in some stretches, but in other places it was apparent the fire had jumped across the roadway and continued east towards the higher elevations around Mt. Stakes. I followed the road for more than three miles, through several gates as the road climbs ever so gently to the Stanislaus/Santa Clara county line marking the crest of the range. Here, where the road goes over a saddle, one gets views looking south deep into the Henry Coe SP backcountry. The fires burned without a fight in this remote location with few human structures. Still, there were places where the fire line could be seen to have petered out on its own, saving chaparral-covered slopes in various pockets that will help with regeneration. The road goes around the west side of Peak 2,460ft, but the fire had burned off the vegetation, making for an easy ascent for the hundred yards of cross-country travel. I took photos looking around me from the rounded top, then beat a retreat back down the road.

The road shows sign of regular use and I had passed through at least one section of private property that had me a little nervous. I suspect most of the traffic was from the summer fire-fighting efforts, but was happy to find no vehicles come rumbling up the road to wonder what I was doing out there. On my way back towards SR130, I left the road for a bit of easy cross-country as I made my way northeast towards the second summit, Peak 2,580ft. This summit lies in an island separating Upper and Lower San Antonio Valleys. The summit lies a short distance outside the reserve boundary to the north. There is a sprawling ranch property to the east in the valley below, mostly a collection of rusting trucks and cars from the looks of it. It is far enough away that it is unlikely to be of any real concern, but one is visible while walking along the ridgelines towards the summit. Old firebreaks that others had described in their earlier visits had been freshly renewed for the latest fires. They seem to have been mostly ineffective as the fire jumped across the too-narrow break with ease and ignored other sections altogether. The bulldozer didn't quite go over the summit, leaving about 20yds of heavy bushwhacking through dry, head-level chaparral. The highpoint appears to be a small collection of rocks at the base of a surprisingly healthy manzanita bush. I left a register here as an easter egg for those willing to suffer the short thrashing through the brusy. There are really no views and little to recommend this second summit. I returned back to SR130 following the route used by Marcus Sierra and others in previous efforts. It was almost all along freshly bulldozed firebreaks heading west back to the highway. I finished up shortly before 1p to call it a day. It would be interesting to return in five years to see how the recovery from the fire was progressing...

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