Sharp BM P500

Sat, Apr 8, 2023
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I was poking around at a California state map showing all the P500 summits (warning: long download), and stumbled upon one in Merced County and the Diablo Range that showed quite a few ascents on PB. I had driven by the nearby Los Banos Reservoir more than a hundred times without ever realizing it is a state park. Though the summit is on private ranchlands, the park provides an approach route that includes about half of the 10mi roundtrip distance. While others had started at the dam, Andrew Kirmse had been able to drive the first two miles on a good gravel road, and I hoped to be able to do the same. I also brought a bike to make things easier if I couldn't. There was a line at the entrance kiosk that seemed to move rather slow when I arrived around 9a. It turned out that the older woman running the show at the kiosk was rather talkative and didn't seem to mind the line one whit. She told me all about the 13 passes at the Los Banos Library giving free access to the park and all sorts of other info I asked nothing about, but I did get $1 off the $10 entry fee because I qualified as a senior. I asked about driving the road like Andrew had done, but she told me it was closed due to wet, muddy conditions, and that they had no money to fix it should it get damaged, and then more info that I don't even remember. Fair enough, but as I came to find out, the road was perfectly dry today.

I parked at the gate on the south side of the dam and rode my bike from there. The first few miles on the good road were swell and I thought I would get this one done in short order. Like many of the reservoirs in the state, this one was full to capacity, thanks to all the rain we'd gotten this season. The grasses were quite tall throughout the park, evidence that it sees no grazing. At the two mile mark I reached a lookout on the bluff overlooking the south side of the reservoir, with a few pine trees in an otherwise sea of grasses. The road ends here where a fence is found with a locked gate. The other side is signed for No Vehicles, but still within the park boundary, so over the fence I went with the bike. Riding this portion was a bit trying - there is no road per se as shown on the topo map, but an overgrown path dropping down about 100ft to a lower mesa and onwards from there. Green grass stalks found there way into the brakes and gears, with small, dry tumbleweeds from the previous season getting in there as well. A feral pig was roused out of the grass, first trotting off ahead of me, eventually working up to a run, ducking through the fence and out of sight. I was following the boundary fenceline for a short while through the tall stuff before noticing the grass was trimmed shorter on the other side (where grazing takes place). Time to leave the park.

I lifted the bike over the barbed-wire fence and went off riding, looking for a ranch road. It was surprisingly easy cross-country riding, but still, I was happy to find a more serviceable road when I neared some powerlines going across the property. I rode under the power lines then veered west onto a lesser track that had more tall grass over a rutted cow track that made for rough riding. I finally abandoned the bike when I reached a saddle, now only a mile from the peak, which was in view ahead of me. It was probably good that I had set off on foot, because the track was soon lost and I found myself in ever-taller grasses, knee-high, then waist-high, and some of it nearly head level. I marveled at all the new thorns and thistles developing on the grass stalks, glad they were still green and unripe, thankful not to be made to suffer death by ten thousand thistles. It was easy enough to walk through, as I left a well-defined trail behind me through the stuff. I saw the first cattle of the day off to the north as I was climbing up the last slope on Sharp BM's east side. About 70min after starting out, I'd found my way to the summit. All around the rounded top are more rolling hills of bright green, not a tree or bush for miles, it would seem. There were more cattle now, to the north and northwest, munching grass on various slopes, far enough away that they paid me no mind. I found the benchmark, but no register (and not really any good place to leave one that wouldn't get torched when the next fire burns through here). I took a few pictures and started back without staying even a minute.

The return would go about 10min faster, getting me back to the start by 11:40a. I spent a few minutes to remove all the biomatter from the gears, brakes and wheels before tossing the bike in the Jeep and getting on my way. I had planned to do another peak or two off Billy Wright Rd, but there was a traffic jam on the road leading to the disposal site, so I turned around and went home. Those could be done another time when the area isn't so busy...

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