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The sun was nearly set when I turned off SR25 at Paicines around 7:30p. There is a large winery that appears to account for most of the GDP of this small town that features a few bars masquerading as restaurants and a handful of residents as well. Panoche Rd is a long and windy road, something like 32 miles between Paicines and Panoche. The moon had been up for more than an hour when I went over Panoche Pass Summit near 8p. 20 minutes later I was in Panoche Valley and parked at the start I had identified for Red BM.
Red BM is located to the northwest of Panoche Valley, a five mile hike from Little Panoche Rd. I followed a well-used ranch road into the northwest corner of the valley to approach the mountain. There were no cattle hereabouts, but the evidence was everywhere, particularly the close-cropped grasses, now brown, that looked like late Fall rather than mid-Spring. I crossed a property boundary and followed a little-used ranch road onto the SE Ridge which I then followed to the summit. Orion could be seen in the night sky, hugging the horizon and getting ready to set. There are only a few lonely lights from the handful of residents that inhabit this surprisingly large valley, more than 12 miles in length. The views from the ridge are ancient, going back to times before civilization, for miles and miles in all directions, save for those few dots of light in the valley. The moon caste a surprisingly bright glow on all the hills, providing definition and a soft glow over the landscape. Only when one climbs high enough to see into the Central Valley does the illusion of times past fade. Then the lights of Mendota, other small towns and farms come into view to the east.
There are few trees, save for the northeast slopes at the higher elevations above 3,000ft. There is little chaparral, too. These lands lie in the rain shadow of several ranges to the west - the Gabilan Range and the Sierra de Salinas which squeeze most of the moisture from the weather systems that come in off the Pacific. The ground is very dry. I was surprised to see a small, lone tree growing right on the ridge, looking so out of place. It looked thirsty, too. A short time later, not long before 10p, I landed atop the rounded highpoint. I was able to find the benchmark without a headlamp, stamped with the year 1940. A stake stuck into a small cairn was all that marked the summit aside from the benchmark. It was a very peaceful location with views in almost all directions (an oak tree partially blocks the western view).
On my way back down the ridge, I stopped to marvel at some white flowers showing nicely by moonlight. They appeared especially bright partially because they were actually white - yellow flowers for instance show up as light grey at night, darker colors hardly at all. Considering the dryness of the earth, it was a surprising amount of flowers. I jogged much of the downhill route until I reached the valley floor. It was shortly after 11p when I got back to the car.
Due east of Red BM, just across the narrow section of Panoche Valley is this six mile-long ridge separating the larger valley from Little Panoche Valley. Little Panoche Rd splits the ridge in two, with the highpoint found on the southeast half, about 2.5 miles from the pavement. It has just under 500ft of prominence, but I wasn't being a stickler. It seemed an interesting point to visit. My starting point was only two miles back south along the roadway, so it didn't take long to get from one trailhead to the next.
For the first 1.5 miles I was heading due east across the flat Panoche Valley, following several unconnected fencelines that mark some of the property boundaries. Cattle grazed quietly on the southern half, but took off to safer quarters when they spied me. Only after I had passed by and was heading well away from them did a few decide to protest loudly. A brave lot, these bovines. At the edge of the valley I came upon the base of the ridge just past a last set of barbed-wire fences that needed to be scaled. There were many possibilities in getting to the summit. These hills are even more barren than the west side of the valley and it would have been possible to follow almost any ravine or any subsidiary ridge to the main ridgeline. I used the route I picked out on the satellite view that featured a ranch road running up nicely along a ridge. Where the road traverse off towards the north under the summit, it was an easy matter to simply hike up the hill cross-country, getting me to the summit by midnight. There was a simple cairn off to one side, about 50ft from the highpoint. It looked like a small vein of rock with fractured pieces that made it an easy location to stack up a few chunks. It was probably too much effort to carry them the extra distance to the top - clearly not the work of a highpointer. As I was poking around the cairn looking in vain for a register, I was startled by a mouse that was nesting inside the cairn. It came to check on the flashlight I was waving about and probably as startled by me as I was by it. The Panoche Valley was beautifully illuminated to the south by moonlight, a much better view of it than from Red BM. As the summit of Glaucophane Ridge is only 2,100ft, it is not high enough to see into the Central Valley. This helped with the illusion of isolation, far from civilization. Utilizing the same route on the return, I was back to the van by 1a.
Walker Peak lies southwest of Panoche Valley, a few miles south of Panoche Rd. It made for the shortest hike of the evening. Ranch roads lead to the summit in a somewhat roundabout fashion, but these go directly by a ranch complex in Moody Canyon that looked to be a permanent residence. The shorter route that I utilized followed a ranch road on the north side that ends near a dry ravine on that side, but could be connected with the higher roads coming in from the west with a bit of cross-country that didn't look too difficult on the satellite view. This turned out to be pretty much what I did and it worked nicely, with the exception that the cross-country was not as easy as I had hoped (I was spoiled on the previous two peaks), but still fairly straightforward. I picked up a few ticks in the long grass that grew on the slope, giving me something to worry about for the rest of the evening. I would have to do a number of tick checks including a thorough one before I got back in the car and an even more thorough one before getting in the shower later at home. It took less than an hour to reach the rounded summit at 2,800ft. There wasn't so much as a tiny cairn or a disturbed blade of grass at the summit. It looks like it has been years since anyone has driven a vehicle on the fading road that reaches to the top. The 600-foot plus of prominence gives it nice views all around. The lights of the Central Valley were just visible over the Panoche Hills to the east. Three miles to the west rises the (nearly) 4,000-foot Big Mountain that I hoped to climb as the last summit of the evening. It would be 2:30a before I got back to the van and my best estimate for getting back from Big Mtn would be sometime around 4:30a. That would get me back to San Jose at 6:30a and I would be one mighty tired puppy. I decided to leave Big Mtn for another time. I was still tired getting back to San Jose after 4a, but at least I made it back in one piece. It would take me a few days to catch up on some needed sleep after this long evening...
This page last updated: Sun Dec 15 20:54:14 2013
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