Tue, Mar 6, 2012
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It was past 7:15p before I'd left home after dropping my daughter and her friend at volleyball practice. With a bit of concentrated driving I managed to reach Isabel Creek in just over an hour (where we started Sunday night's hike) and got to the Patterson Junction about 20 minutes later. I was using both lanes of the road for cornering and straightening out the many bends, focusing more on unexpected wildlife on the road rather than other cars. At this time of night there are very few cars traveling this remote road, and in fact I didn't find a single vehicle for some 40 miles once I left San Jose. But I did find a most exciting surprise just before reaching Joseph Grant Park - a mountain lion on the road turned and sped up the hillside upon my approach. I didn't get a good look at his face, but his long tail was unmistakable and the last thing I saw before it was out of sight. It was only the second mountain lion I had ever seen in the wild, and with perhaps 2 seconds of viewing time, it was 4-5x longer than my first brief encounter some years ago in Santa Barbara County.
It was somewhere around 8:45p before I was parked at the starting point and ready to go. A home just off the road lies only a hundred feet beyond, partially blocked by some trees, but fully exposed to view along the gravel road I would hike east. The home is well-lit and occupied, and I was careful to quickly turn off my lights, silently lock the car and head out. After the first minute the home is out of view and I could walk in a more relaxed manner under a bright moon, nearly full, that clearly illuminates the road I walked. The roadbed appears to be largely graded with crushed white rock. There are several additional homes about a quarter mile from the pavement on the right side of the road, but these were all dark tonight. The last house is located about 3/4 of a mile from the pavement on the left side of the road at the location marked "Harney School" on the topo map. This is definitely a school no longer, but an occupied home surrounded by acres of collected junk from old recreational vehicles and cars to mining equipment, boats and other detritus of a collector who can't seem to part with such things even after they are thoroughly rusted and worthless. All of this stuff was seen more through the satellite view than in person. I kept as wide a mark of the place as I could, staying closer to the creek just south of the road where I could until past the home. There were was no barking dogs or other sounds to disturb the night. No frogs in this part of the range either, it would seem.
The route I picked out followed from the previous abreviated outing, going up a bulldozed cut along a ridge line to a road circumventing the property. By following this road down to towards a dry creekbed, I found byself several hundred yards behind the home to the east, well out of view. From here I had two choice - continue following one branch of the road that climbs back out of the creek, passing just above the house as it makes a wide switchback to the west, or try to follow up the dry creekbed more directly. The satellite view seemed to show that the creekbed had only a modest amount of brush to contend with, but the detail available is insufficient to give this more than a 50% chance of being true. Still, I didn't want to chance going closer to the house if I could, so I chose to follow the creekbed.
It was a good choice. It appears that much of the rock lining the creekbed comes from the mine tailings that were extracted half a mile up the creek in a large, defunct mining operation. At one time there was an extensive amount of mining in the area as it is littered with tailings, old mine works, and a network of roads that fan off to deadends where shafts were dug into the earth. There were all kinds of rusted drums, cables and other effects from mining found along the way as I hiked up the gully. It was a pleasant enough scramble, the most enjoyable part of the outing, the moon high overhead providing ample illumination even when I had to duck under trees or push past shrubs in the few brushy places I found. I came across an old mining car half buried in tailings. Large steel cables, probably used to bring ore in buckets down the gully back in the day, crossed low over the route at one point requiring me to duck to avoid getting clotheslined. As I neared the base of the tailings, I found the route constricted and more choked with brush. I considered climbing the steep pile of tailings directly, but instead chose to exit left up the north side of the canyon to the road that my GPS showed only 400ft away. Though very steep with loose, gravelly footing, it worked nicely and I soon found myself on the road above.
I followed the road further east to where it rejoins the creekbed higher up, above the tailings. Here I had some trouble finding the correct fork to take me higher to Red Mtn. I first tried several subsidiary forks off the main right fork before going back down and taking the left fork. Turns out either way would have worked as they rejoin further up - I had just failed to explore the right fork high enough. It was 10p before I managed to find my way to the main crest of the range. The air, cold from a recent front that had passed through, was made colder by a steady wind blowing over the crest from the northeast. I had to pause to put on warmer garments to deal with the colder conditions. At the crest I turned left and hiked up a wide cut through the brush to the highpoint of Red Mountain. The views here are somewhat lacking as it is just west of the main crest and the views to the Central Valley are mostly blocked. In other directions there is a fine view of the enterior of the range, butthere are almost no lights at all in that direction, save for the few down below and those for a couple other homes along Mines Rd. The flashing red lights of a tower atop Monument Peak on the western crest could be seen, but no lights from the Bay Area. I then went back to the shallow saddle and up to the point marked 3,675ft on the topo. This point is on the crest and has an excellent vantage for viewing the Central Valley lights from Tracy and Stockton in the north, Modesto and Turlock to the east, and Los Banos and Merced to the southeast. I found no cairns or registers or survey stakes at either summit location.
I began my descent by following the same route back to the gully and along the road to the point where I had climbed up to it on the steep hillside. Here I chose to continue along the road, emboldened by the lack of a barking dog earlier, judging I could pass closer to the home on the descent without drawing unwanted attention. After half a mile or so I found a steep descent route dropping south into the canyon, along a bulldozed road not shown on the topo. As I was starting down this slope I spied the headlights of a car on Mines Rd just starting to turn onto the road I had hiked along. The car paused only briefly at the entrance, probably to check out my empty car looking somewhat suspicious there, then drove the length of the road to the very last house, the one now directly below me. I could see the truck drive up to the back of the house where I had a view of someone getting out and going into the house. Though I had a clear view, it would have been practically impossible for them to detect me, high as I was on the slope and protected by cover of night. I continued descending quite a ways, slipping a few times enroute, before coming upon the main road cut into the hillside, traversing the slope, east-west. At this point I was only a few hundred feet above the house and I could almost see details through the window to the lighted home inside. I was happy to turn left and away from the house and jogged myself back out of view.
After rejoining my original track where the road meets the creekbed, I retraced my way back around to the south side of the house and eventually back to the road on its southwest side. I continued my moonlight jog, returning quietly to the car at 11p. The house immediately adjacent to the road was now dark, the inhabitants off to bed no doubt, and I was happy to get away without disturbing anyone. It was another long drive back to San Jose, but pleasant enough, and I was home by 12:45a, even with a brief stop at Safeway for some needed groceries - can't neglect my household chores in these evening romps...
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