Reinoso Peak P300 CC

Mon, Apr 11, 2011
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Reinoso Peak is a CC-listed summit lying entirely within private property in the Diablo Range southeast of Hollister. Located five miles south of the Merced County highpoint of Laveaga Peak, both are part of the massive holdings of the San Benito Cattle Company, described by Suttle in his book as "a 110,000 acre spread, one the largest in California". Though a private company by most measures, they seem content to allow the county to maintain more than twenty miles of paved roads through their property that appear to provide access to only their property. This bit of political wrangling for cost-savings purposes advantageous to the company has the unpleasant side-effect of allowing the public to legally drive within about five miles of most of their holdings, Reinoso Peak among them. And so it was that I drove out to near the end of Quien Sabe Rd in the Little Quien Sabe Valley where I parked and started off shortly after 8p. I hopped a fence and started east across an open field. About a half mile further north on the road is a bright light signalling the end of the public portion of the road where a gate is located. Two trucks came lumbering past my car and through this gate about ten minutes after I had started off. Luckily it was dark enough that I would be impossible to spot in the open field and they didn't bother to stop and check out my vehicle parked on the side of the road.

There are two nearby peaks, Cibo Peak and Schoolhouse Ridge on either side of the road that both exceed 500ft in prominence. Though the approaches are short, the routes are steep climbs up grassy hillsides. If Reinoso was not such a distance, I would have liked to include these two as bonus peaks. They will make a good future visit, at least. The topo map shows a dirt road starting from approximately where I parked and heading east to meet the main dirt road that connects Little Quien Sabe Valley with the much larger Quien Sabe Valley. As far as I can tell this side access road no longer exists, but it was easy enough to hike through the tall grass heading east. I was stopped short of reaching the dirt road by a creek that was too wide to jump and an ugly, muddy affair (the cattle watering trough, for all intents) that I was loathe to cross barefoot. Luckily I found an oak tree not far south that had a large branch to facilitate a dry crossing. I then crossed under a fence with an electrified ribbon atop it before joining the road immediately on the other side.

I spent the next hour plying the road for more than three miles heading roughly east across the narrow dimension of Quien Sabe Valley. Running primarily north to south, this valley is nearly 10 miles in length and surprisingly flat. Even at night it is a beauty to behold. A half moon hung high in the sky, illuminating the oak-studded hillsides around the valley. I came across only a handful of cattle anywhere near the road. At times I could hear them lowing in the distance, probably alert to my presence, but there were far fewer cattle than I had expected on so large a ranch. A gate is located where a wooden bridge spans the main Quien Sabe Creek. Passing through this first gate, I continued northeast to a second gate located where the topo map shows a landing strip. The road turns sharply left at this point (I saw no evidence at night of a landing strip), but my route continued straight on a much fainter track. This led to an old corral, dilapidated and unused now, from the look of things. I was momentarily startled by what I thought was a horse snorting, but came to find it was a group of feral pigs wallowing around in the broken pens. They were not immediately frightened off by my approach, turning to stare me down as I approached to see what had made the noise. I had confidence that my headlamp would give me the appearance of an alien force not to be trifled with, and as I walked closer to attempt a photograph, they broke ranks and ran off.

It was time to head cross-country. As I had been heading east across the valley I could make out in the sillouette against the night sky what I believed to be the three named peaks on the ridge to the east - Laveaga to the north, Portrero in the middle, Reinoso to the south. Another lower peak is located just north of Reinoso and because it is more in the foreground, it appears higher and lies just above the corral at which I stood. The satellite view had shown the south side of the West Ridge of Reinoso to be mostly brush-free, so it was in this more ESE direction I headed in order to avoid the unnamed peak and hit Reinoso directly. Up until this point the route had been almost completely flat. Now it rose in a gradually increasing gradient, rising nearly 1,800ft in only a mile. Luckily the way was almost entirely grassy. It grew rocky in places underfoot and would require me to be cautious lest I twist an ankle carelessly. Though most of the sky was free of clouds, a thin but persistent fog had clung to the higher points of the ridgeline and about 2/3 of the way up I found myself within it. The moon could still be seen, though faint at times, and the air hung damply with my heavy breath as it added to the fog already there. As long as the moon was visible I was confident I could find my way back down, but I was happy to have a map and compass with me in the event it should become obscured.

The last several hundred feet to the summit were particularly rocky and some scrambling ensued over generally rotten rock, but not steep enough to become problematic. Only a small bit of poison oak was found anywhere on the slope, much to my relief. I began to think about the difficulties of finding my way down and built a handful of ducks that I thought might make useful waymarkers. In the end these proved almost useless since they were too far apart and I only found one of them on the way down. Because of the fog it was not clear that I had neared the summit until I was almost upon it. The breeze picked up to a chilly wind and gave me the first hint that I was close. Because the moon was shining weakly, my headlamp was needed to illuminate the immediate ground, but it did more harm than good in making the fog more visible than the ground ahead of me. I couldn't see more than about 20 feet. When the slope gave way to a rocky jumble at the top I switched off my light to find I had better views afar without it. I could see that the top rolled away in all directions around me, down into the thicker fog below. A few more hundred feet and I probably would have been above it, but for now had only a thin layer above me. It was an eerie and beautiful view though I could not see all that much. It felt like I had reached the top of the world.

I wandered around the summit area looking for some sign that I had indeed reached the top. A better one could not be found than the benchmark I stumbled across in my search. I had not looked closely at the map to see that it had indeed indicated one, and the label "REINOSO" gave me no doubt I had reached my goal. A few boards arranged around the benchmark in a triangle were all that remained of the survey tower dating to 1962. It was just after 10:15p and had taken all of two hours to complete the five mile trek.

The return trip proved to be far less eventful than the possibilities my active imagination had conjured up. For the most part the moon was still visible during the descent, though when it disappeared briefly for a few minutes I got out my compass as a precaution. My headlamp was needed to navigate the near ground, but by turning it off periodically I could make out the rounded curvature of the West Ridge ahead of me and keep to the correct path. By the time I was half way down from the summit I had gotten below the fog layer and could make out the sillouettes of the lower hills to the west that I could navigate by. I managed to return to the corral more or less directly though the route there wasn't the same I had taken on the way up. I used the leadlamp to return to the good dirt road and from there walked by moonlight without incident back to the car (using the headlamp again briefly to effect the tricky creek-crossing in Little Quien Sabe Valley).

It was a lonely midnight drive though the countryside to reach the edge of urbanization at Hollister. It would be another hour before I would reach home in San Jose. It was 2a by the time I had had a shower and slipped into bed - sleep would not be difficult tonight...

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