San Joaquin Peak CC

Thu, May 7, 2009

With: Steve Sywyk
Bruce Ramstad

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

San Joaquin is an obscure peak in the Diablo Range not far from the community of Hollister in San Benito County. As part of the CC list (similarly obscure), it was of some interest to me. Because the peak lies on private property, it seemed a good candidate for a moonlight hike with friends Steve and Bruce, the third in our continuing series.

We did not have a great deal of time this evening as the others had to work in the morning, so I tried to plan a hike of under three hours. The drive to Hollister and up the winding Lone Tree Rd was further, and took longer than I had expected, and it wasn't until 8:45p that we got started. We parked Bruce's car at the junction of Lone Tree Rd and an unnamed dirt road about a mile before the abrupt end of Lone Tree Rd. We situated the car to be off the pavement in addition to not blocking the dirt road. From Google maps I had identified the few occupied homes in the area and picked a route that should bypass them and keep us from disturbing anyone.

We hopped a metal gate about 50ft up from the pavement, and followed the dirt road as it wound its way up and away from the main road. All seemed to be going quite well until about 15 minutes later when the headlights of an approaching vehicle were spotted coming down the road. We had a few moments' time but our initial reaction was to fly into panic - we certainly didn't expect to see vehicles on the ranch roads at night. We ran off a short distance in three different directions before Steve called out, asking me which way we should go. This made me pause, look around the landscape, then call back that we should get on the downhill side of the road, out of view. We scrambled over the road and jumped into the 8-inch grass on that side. There was plenty of thistle mixed in with the grass and we protested as the little barbs jabbed into our hands and other body parts as we lay on the ground. We hadn't been using headlamps so there was no chance we had been seen. A minute went by as the driver had to stop to unlatch a gate before driving through and relatching it. Like teenagers we lay on the ground, hoping we wouldn't get caught and sent to the dean's office. The truck came by not six feet from our prone bodies, the headlamps passing over us as hoped, and we went undetected. When it was out of sight we got up and dusted ourselves off, picking thistles from our palms.

It then occurred to us that our car would be easily spotted when the truck got down to the pavement. What would the driver do? I was somewhat confident that he wouldn't drive back up the road looking for us. Lone Tree Rd is used more frequently to tag Laveaga Peak, the Merced County highpoint, which was off in a different direction. But when we heard the sounds of furiously barking dogs down below, my confidence melted and we had another moment of panic. Crap! Steve and I fumbled in our packs for our mace canisters, then stood still and listened. The dogs sounded almost like coyotes in their barking, but the good news was that they didn't grow closer which would have indicated they'd been let loose for the hunt. We had another small scare as the truck lights lit up and started moving, making us think it was heading back up the dirt road. We hopped over a barbed wire fence and hid in the bushes before realizing it was only heading down the pavement. The dogs continued to bark, but less frequently. What was that about? Did the truck wake some neighborhood dogs? If so, why didn't we set them off when we drove up ourselves? Did he tie his dogs to our car? A brilliant, if evil idea. We weren't going to head back down to find out, so we continued up the road to get on with our hike.

Where the road topped out at a gentle saddle, we got out the map to lay out our options. I had originally hoped to reach Santa Ana Mtn, about 5 miles distance on road and cross-country. It was already nearly 9:30p and there was no way we could reach the peak and get home by midnight. We chose the easier option, to do the two closer peaks, San Joaquin and Three Sisters. So from the saddle we turned right and headed up the steep, grassy hillside to the top of Pt. 3,088ft which turns out to be the highest point within a few miles, even though it was unnamed. This was also the junction of the two ridgelines heading to our separate goals, and we chose to head west towards San Joaquin. A small herd of cattle were spooked by our presence, bellowed, and ran off in the same direction we were heading. On the undulating ridgeline we would pop up on them unexpectedly several more times, each time seeming as frightening as the first to the herd. Eventually they figured it out and moved off the ridge.

We hiked downhill to one saddle, hopped a fence, then climbed up to an intermediate highpoint about half a mile from San Joaquin Peak. The ridgeline grew rocky and our pace slowed to keep us from twisting our ankles on the smaller rocks hidden in the grass. We came across a fenced enclosure, too small for a pot farm, and upon closer inspection found it to be the gravesite of a Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. Nelson Roberts, born in 1907 had lived for 82 years before dying in 1989. His wife, Mary, was 5 years younger and had been a widow for 13 years before dying in 2002. That was about all we knew them, an Internet search later revealed nothing further.

It was just after 10p when we reached the rocky top of San Joaquin Peak. The summit blocks were nearly class 3, leading to a small perch with enough room to hold the three of us, though not very comfortably. The west side of the summit dropped off in a precipitous cliff that made me a little nervous, but the views off in that direction were striking. We could see the city lights of Hollister, Gilroy, and Morgan Hill in three separate clumps from southwest to the northwest. Further west we could see the lights of either Watsonville of Santa Cruz, it was impossible for us to tell which. The Gabilan Range rose up behind Hollister, blocking views towards Salinas and Monterey, but we could see the red lights of a tower atop a peak in that range, possibly Fremont Peak. The weather was delightful, about 55F with a slight breeze. We took in the lights, chatted, and enjoyed the summit for all of about fifteen minutes.

We headed back via a similar route, stopping at the barb-wired fence to further consider our plan. It was about 1O:45p by this time and there was no way we could get back to San Jose by midnight, that much was certain. We could see Three Sisters in the shadows to the south less than a mile away, but judging by our progress on San Joaquin it would probably be an additional hour at best to tag the second peak. We hemmed, we hawed, and in the end decided to leave it for another night. We hiked back up to Pt. 3,088ft, then down to the dirt road. At my suggestion we hiked silently from the saddle back down to the pavement, lest we should arouse the dogs to excitement again. We were happy to find no dogs, no angry ranchers, no notes on the car, no additional trouble for our naughtiness. Next time we come back, we'll have to remember to bring a different vehicle...

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