San Felipe Hills HP P500

Fri, Jul 23, 2010

With: Steve Sywyk
Bruce Ramstad

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

I had just driven five or six hours from Weed, CA, back to San Jose with the family to end our little Oregon vacation. The van had not been unpacked yet when I saw some emails for a moonlight hike. It was originally going to be the following night, but Bruce couldn't make it as he'd be gone for the weekend. So with some quick phone calls, a little groveling with the family ("didn't you get enough hiking on vacation?"), and some perusal of the maps, we got an outing quickly thrown together. The San Felipe Hills hadn't even been on my radar until about a week earlier. I had just gotten through adding all the unnamed summits from the California Mountain Atlas (peaks with more than 500ft of prominence) to my own database, and was then looking around to see what got added to my home area of Santa Clara County. The San Felipe Hills are a sub-range of the Diablo Range and its highpoint happens to sport some 560ft of prominence. It looked to be about five miles from the Mt. Hamilton Rd. The first half travels through Joseph Grant County Park, the remainder on private property. There looked to be no homes anywhere along the route, so we did expect to have any difficulties with the hike.

And so we did not. The parking area for the park on the north side of the road is open only until sunset, but there is adequate parking for several vehicles on the south side of the road which we utilized. The western sky was still glowing orange over the horizon as we started off shortly before 9p, the moon already high overhead. The only times we used our headlamps were for consulting the map or the junction signs. The air was warm for most of the hike. The few places where cool air collected in the canyon bottoms were deliciously welcomed. The entire route was along ranch roads, making for an easy although moderately long hike.

We reached the park's southern boundary around 9:45p, climbed a fence and continued on the road along a ridgeline. Ten minutes later Bruce spotted headlights above us through the trees and we quickly ducked off the road behind a large oak to get out of view. We had a good laugh when we realized they were the lights of a small aircraft that had appeared just above the horizon in front of us.

There were a number of road junctions encountered along the way. The combination of map and GPS made the navigation easy, but without them we would not likely have found the summit. I had input the major junctions visible with the Google satellite view into the GPS, and these we ticked off in succession with only a bit of hesitation. The route had more ups and downs than I had first guessed from looking at the map. I had thought it was mostly along higher ridgelines, but upon closer scrutiny could see that there were indeed drops into shallow creekbeds and other dips that would provide us with almost 2,000ft of gain for the night.

It was just before 11p when we reached the broad summit just off the road to the east. Resting cattle were startled awake and moved off the summit as we approached. Dodging their soft, organic landmines, we made our way to a large oak at the center and called it the highpoint. It was a nice spot from which we could see the city lights of San Jose to the northwest and Morgan Hill and Gilroy to the southwest. Even by moonlight we could discern much of the boundary of the San Felipe Hills. Smith Creek to the west cut a canyon between the San Felipe Hills and the higher main crest of the Diablo Range to the east. To the west the San Felipe Creek cut a broader valley between us and the front range on the opposite side. It was a fine summit, we all agreed.

Just west of the summit on the opposite side of the road was a monument atop a small knoll. It turned out to be a collection of memorial plaques for the LeDeit family that owned the land, including several generations. Back near the park boundary we stopped by what we thought was an old hunting cabin but turned out to be an old barn, no longer in use. It was the only structure we found along the route.

Aside from the cattle, the only wildlife we saw were a handful of large toads that we almost stepped on as they hopped off the road to get out of harms way. We were back to the car at 1a, somewhat later than we had planned, but a good outing. It would be after 2a before I was asleep. It was the first time I had been out hiking past midnight for two consecutive nights and the lack of sleep was evident. I don't think I could make a habit of this...

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