Topo BM P500
Buck Ridge P1K

Oct 2, 2012
Buck Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

This was a short outing to a few prominence summits in San Benito County, both just off SR25 south of Pinnacles National Monument. Buck Ridge comes in at just over 1,000ft of prominence, the tenth most prominent in the county. Topo BM has 566ft of prominence and was really just a bonus I tacked on because Buck Ridge alone would have been too short an outing. It was mostly a last-minute decision to head out for this one - I had taken a nap in the afternoon "just in case" I wanted to head out that evening, so I told the wife. Apparently I never told her I was going for sure, which she pointed out upon my return. Oops.

The warm weather across the state was continuing, and I had such an enjoyable evening of driving and hiking the night before that I was looking forward to more of the same. Having the top down was most enjoyable when I got south of Hollister. Here the city lights fade behind you as the stars come out in all their glory, the Milky Way streaking across the sky high overhead. This lasted until shortly before I reached Pinnacles NM when the moon rose above the hills to the east and began to wash out much of the night sky. Highway 25 cuts right down the San Andreas Rift Zone, forming long, narrow valleys where it slices through the Diablo Range. The hills on either side are a parched, golden brown (more of a soft gray by moonlight) so late in the summer when there is very little water left in any of the creeks and it's been more than six months since the last rain.

I found the gate for the start of Topo BM (the summit is unnamed officially, the name here refers to the benchmark installed at the summit) which I had dialed into the GPS. Dirt roads can be used to reach both of the evening's summits, though I would use some easy cross-country to make a few shortcuts. After following just above the highway for a quarter mile, the road turns west and heads across Dry Lake Valley towards the summit. Ranchlands predominate in the area and this was no exception, the ground having been grazed close to the dirt in all directions around the valley. I followed a series of dirt roads I had marked on the GPS though the higher ones were little more than a plowed strip running along a fenceline, taking about 40 minutes to cover the one and half miles to the summit. There was a small solar-powered monitoring station found inside a fence enclosure. A reference mark I found outside pointed to the benchmark that was presumably inside the fence though I couldn't locate it from without and didn't want to damage the flimsey fence in scaling it. A large oak grew magestically near the summit which I made an attempt to photograph. There are few city lights visible, the Gabilan Range blocking most of those from the Salinas Valley to the west. A faint glow from the lights of Soledad to the west and King City further south could be seen above the hills. North and South Chalone Peaks were the most distinguishable summits to the west. To the east were the highest summits of the Diablo Range around San Benito Mtn, but none of these were distinguishable, fading together as a series of long ridgelines. It was again a warm night, probably 70F at the summit at 9:30p, fairly comfortable with only a slight breeze.

The last several hundred feet had been cross-country up the steep hillside and I was surprised to find a road running across the summit. I followed this initially on the descent but had to abandon it when it began turning north and then west. Turning east, I dropped down the northeast side of Topo BM, then across Dry Lake Valley where I picked up a road near a large barn and a water tank. There were no cattle anywhere in the area that I could discern, possibly there was too little left for them to graze on. Finding my way back to the original road across the valley, I jogged the rest of the way back, returning to the car at 10p.

Fifteen more minutes of driving south got me to the start for Buck Ridge. A sign on the gate here indicated the lands were part of a private game bird club. This usually means a cattle ranch being used for dual purposes. Extra access roads are provided for hunters to drive their ATVs around the various ridges and canyons. Most of the roads I used to drive to the summit were freshly graded, though not hardpacked. The soft dirt may have been churned by the ATVs or left by the graders, but it made descending the steepest parts much easier.

It took about an hour to climb some 1,500ft over two miles, about half that time coming down thanks to the good running characteristics of the roads. The summit was not all too exciting. A fence ran along it's length, a road on either side. At over 3,000ft, the summit area supported a handful of scraggily pines which partially block the views. It was high enough to see west over the Gabilan Range, making the city lights in Salinas Valley visible. A cool breeze had picked up more strongly by this time, but only at the highest elevations. Before returning to the car I paused in Rabbit Valley near the highway to photograph an old windmill that stood alongside the road. It was not yet midnight when I finished with the second and last hike of the night, getting me back to San Jose by 1:30a - an easy but enjoyable evening.

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