Wed, May 9, 2012
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There were no lights in the immediate vicinity of where I parked, though just west across the road was a ranch complex that looked to be largely composed of old vehicles and discarded or little used ranch equipment. On the east side of the road was a gate which I hopped and almost immediately found myself up against the shallow but wide Pancho Rico Creek. I followed it upstream a short distance until I could find a crossing, after which I missed the start of the road I was looking for. I ended up cross-country across grassy slopes in the oak understory for half a mile until I had reached the top of the ridge and the road I had been looking for. There were lights from at least two homes visible across the creek to the west, so I held my headlamp in my hand just above my knees to minimize the chance of being spotted as I made my way up. Within 20-30 minutes the lights were faint and there was little chance of detection, allowing me to relax for the remainder of the outing.
Two miles from the start I reached the junction with the Smith Mtn Rd, which I found to be excellently graded, at least for the next few miles as it leads north into Bourdeieu Valley. The grade was good enough to walk along without using a headlamp even though there was no moon. The stars in the night sky were as plentiful as I'd ever seen in the Sierra or desert regions. There are no major towns on either side of the range here, the largest being King City which isn't much of a city at all. I passed by two formations, Eagle Rock and Squaw Peak just off the right side of the road. If I had time and inclination later in the evening, I planned to visit them on the way back when the moon would be up. At the 2,700-foot level is another fork in the road. The well-graded fork heads left to Bourdeieu Valley while the less-used route heads right to Smith Mtn. I had to get out the headlamp again to keep from stumbling over obstacles hidden in the knee-high grass that characterized the last two miles of the Smith Mtn Rd. A tick managed to find his way to my pant leg on this last section, though it did not move with much deliberation. The Permethrin that I had sprayed on the pants a week earlier seems to have curbed its usual enthusiasm.
It was midnight before I reached the final stretch of road along the crest. The moon had risen a few minutes earlier, and was already a short distance above the horizon across the Central Valley when it was first visible. I reached the lookout atop the 3,947-foot summit at 12:15a. It was not a very high tower, the observation deck standing just a single story above ground level. The door to the cabin was locked, the insides a mess, much as many of the other towers I have visited that are no longer manned. I took some pictures of the moon and the lights of the Central Valley while I had a rest break. The weather at the summit was unusually nice, around 55F and calm. There is a small communications tower near the lookout and some solar panels nearby to power it, but for the most part it appears the summit sees few visitors. The road did not appear to have had any traffic so far this year aside from the deer and the occasionally lost cattle.
Upon leaving the summit, I set my sights next on a rocky formation called The Pinnacles about two miles southeast of Smith Mtn along the crest of the range. Though not shown on the topo, a ranch road follows along the northeast side of the crest for most of the distance. With the moon now up, it made travel along it fairly easy. A small herd of cattle was found about halfway along, and not liking my presence much, they scurried off into the trees further east. The Pinnacles is a thin volcanic blade of rock more interesting-looking than the higher Smith Mtn. Where the road passes east of the highpoint, I headed cross-country up the grassy slope and some mild brush found just below the start of the rock section. Poison oak could be found as well, though thankfully not in abundance. At first glance the summit appeared to be guarded by a near-vertical wall on the east side, but by moving north I found a break in the wall to allow me access to the ridge. From there a convenient broken catwalk provided relatively easy travel to the highpoint. The highest point was colored in shades of orange, apparently from lichen that covered much of the rock. It was a peaceful spot to take in the views, with few lights visible to either the east or west, the moon now dominating the sky to the southeast. Looking north one could just make out Smith Mtn rising just above the crest.
I returned back to the Smith Mtn Rd, then started back down it towards the other two summits, Squaw Peak and Eagle Rock. I left the road too early for Squaw Peak and ended up making a circuitous route around to the back side of the summit where access to the summit is easiest, at least from what I could judge off the satellite view. I managed to keep out of the chaparral, finding flowering grass slopes right up to the saddle on the southeast side of the rocky summit. The peak itself was surprisingly steep, chossy rock that almost (but not quite) qualified as class 3. It was nearly 3a before I found my way to the summit. The north side drops off dramatically and I stayed away from that side after peering into the inky blackness of the shade on that side. The moon cast a long shadow of Squaw Peak across the landscape to the north that was plainly visible. It reminded me of a miniature version of the early morning shadows cast by Shasta, Hood and Rainier. I collected a few summit rocks to build a small cairn before starting back down.
I dropped off the west side of the peak which turned out to be somewhat easier. This led in ten minutes to the easy highpoint of Eagle Rock which turned out to have very little rock at all when approached from the southeast side. It was so easy that cattle had left plenty of evidence of their summit grazing. But make no mistake, there are some formidable-looking rock formations on the north side that might make for challenging rock climbs. These were only evident as I was descending down the west side and could look back to see the moonlit shapes looming up from the forest.
I was back on the Smith Mtn Rd by 3:15a, spending the next 45 minutes retracing my route back to the start. The only variation was in descending the secondary ranch road back to the start, utilizing the half mile section at the end that I had missed in the beginning. The creek proved more of a challenge than I'd expected, where what I thought was a damp, muddy embankment turned out to be a cleverly disguised tract of water four inches deep that soaked an entire foot right at the end of the hike. It was 4a before I finished up. I left my wet boots and socks in the trunk and put on some clean socks before starting for home. The sun was just rising as I returned to San Jose, and I even managed to find myself in some rush hour traffic near downtown. My family was already up when I came in, though they didn't hear me driving up. They thought I'd been in bed for hours and wondered why I was up so early. I sheepishly admitted I had just gotten home - like a wayward husband who'd been caught sneaking in from a late night visit to his mistress. Sometimes I wonder if my wife wouldn't rather that be the case so that at least it would make sense when she explains my hobby to her friends...
This page last updated: Wed May 16 16:53:23 2012
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