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Day 3 of Local Peaks Week saw me heading to the Diablo Range in the vicinity of Sunol, off Interstate 680. Sunol Peak is the unofficial name of the highest point along Sunol Ridge, and the highest point in the Diablo Range between Interstates 880 and 680. The two peaks I chose to visit today are on the Coastal Counties peak list, one of the lesser-known lists originated by the Sierra Club. It was never formalized nor cross-checked before that section was disbanded, and there are a number of errors that can be found by close inspection. But they made for easy targets to shoot for.
Sunol Peak and all access to it lie entirely in private hands. Though Google maps shows something named the Sunol Ridge Trail reaching to the summit, it is really two separate roads, one paved, one dirt, not trails at all. I chose the shorter and least exposed to observation of the two approaches, figuring if I'm going to trespass I ought to do so as stealthily as possible. Driving up Palomares Rd off SR84 (also known as Niles Canyon Rd), I found the road I was looking for 1.3mi up from Niles Canyon. A small turnout was found just below and south of the gated side road.
I parked the car and hopped the fence before any other cars had driven by with a chance to spot me. Here's where I found the road to be paved and in decent condition. At first I thought this might signal homesteads ahead, but I think it is primarily to service the communications towers found along the summit ridge. I saw no homes, no cars, no other persons during the hike, but there was definitely signs of recent vehicle traffic on the road - most likely technicians as I'd surmised.
The road starts off in a narrow, shaded canyon, thickly crowded with oaks and vegetation more typical of the Santa Cruz Mtns. Within the first mile the road leaves the canyon as it climbs steeply up the hillside through a series of windy switchbacks. Two thirds of the way up the route breaks out of the forest cover to open, grassy hillsides, green and lush after the first few winter storms. A few majestic oaks looked far grander in their isolated positions on the hill than did their brethren crowded in the canyons below. Cattle dotted the hillsides in places.
The views opened up more as I neared the summit (it lies about two miles from the start), though haze marred the views over the Bay and the surrounding communities. There are two summits along the ridge, both crowned with towers. The lower north summit had fewer, and though at first I was unsure which was higher, I found that the paved road leads directly to the higher south summit. The usual warning signs were found on the fenced enclosures, though the main gates were open to allow me access to the highest point. A benchmark labeled SUNOL was found inside a second fence that I didn't bother to trespass since the ground was no higher than where I stood.
Good views could be had by walking around the towers, the Livermore Valley to the east, the higher peaks of the Diablo Range to the south, lower ones to the north, and the San Francisco Bay to the west. Despite the haze, the city of San Francisco was also visible with tall skyscrapers.
I headed back down the same road I had come up, at a leisurely jog. The whole outing took one hour, car to car. This was well ahead of the two hours I had planned on, so I was doing better on my schedule than the previous two days. I next drove back to Sunol and south on Calaveras Rd to Sunol Region Park. Maguire Peaks are two relatively low peaklets at the north end of the park off Welsh Rd. I had visited the park three days earlier with my son, but we did not have enough time to reach the summit. It did provide me with the knowledge of where the various THs are.
I drove to the second TH a little more than a mile up the narrow, twisty Welsh Rd. Unlike the other two trails, this one was not so much a trail as an old road. It leads up and over a lower hill, at the top of which one gets a good view of Maguire Peaks about a mile to the north. Like the Sunol Ridge, the area was wooded with oaks with open grassy slopes that were a brilliant green. Cows graze here too, but I saw none today.
The trail network does not actually reach to the summit, but circumnavigates around it in a five mile loop. At the base of the twin peaks on the southeast side, just past a small creek crossing, I left the road and headed up the steep, grassy slopes. It was easy cross-country hiking with good footing in the rich, loamy earth. I reached the SE Ridge below the lower east peak, and got a fine view looking north to the San Antonio Reservoir and Mt. Diablo beyond. I continued on the ridgeline through an easy class 3 rockband (trivial to avoid by walking around it) to the top of the east peak. It took another five or six minutes to cross the small gap between it and the higher west peak, with another rock band, only slightly harder.
There were small summit rocks that made for a nice perch on which to rest and have a snack while taking in the views. There were some oaks growing at this summit which blocked the view somewhat, but really of little consequence. I could see Sunol Peak to the northwest that I was atop only a short time earlier, Mt. Rose to the southeast, and Mission Peak to the southwest. The haze had only increased in the intervening time, so the lighting was not so good for pictures as it might have been earlier in the morning.
I headed down a use trail I found on the SW Ridge, following it about half the distance along the ridge before dropping off the steeper south slopes. This cut off some distance in getting me back to the dirt road. I followed the road back another short distance before taking a fork and following the Lower Maguire Trail back to Welsh Rd. The trail was a delightful single track that followed along a small creek down to the main Welsh Creek. This was the lowest of the three THs, and I had only to walk back up Welsh Rd about half a mile to reach the car. The whole outing took about an hour and twenty minutes.
By now it was just after noon, and if I'd had more maps with me I might have looked for another easy peak to climb in the area. I think there are more of these peaks west of Sunol Peak, and may check them out tomorrow.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Maguire Peaks West
This page last updated: Wed Oct 25 15:36:18 2017
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