Vasquez Peak NN
Rock Springs Peak P300
Burra Burra Peak P500 NN
Willson Peak P500 NN

Fri, Apr 13, 2001
Burra Burra Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Burra Burra Peak later climbed Sat, Apr 5, 2014
Willson Peak later climbed Sat, Jan 4, 2014

Springtime is undoubtedly the best time to visit the Diablo Range in California. The weather is generally pleasant (very hot in summer, wet in winter), the roads and trails firm, and the wildflowers outstanding. Henry Coe is the second largest state park in California, having added nearly a third more area in the last five years with the Redfern and Hunting Hollow additions. Burra Burra Peak is located in the southeast corner of the park, ten miles from the nearest entrance which are all located on the west side. I decided to go visit the new additions and take in the wildflower displays in a grand tour of the region. I was not disappointed.

I arrived in the Hunting Hollow parking lot just after 9a. This park entrance is new in the last year or so, a nice addition to the Coyote Creek entrance a few miles further north along the road to Gilroy Hot Springs. A sign near the trailhead indicates that the San Juan Batista Historical Trail runs through here. Here was a guy way ahead of his time -- in the last quarter of the 18th century, he took his troops for a hike up and down California. While he could have chosen the easier routes along the mission roads (approximately where US101 is), he chose to march through some of the more remote areas of the Diablo Range. Why? Maybe he was looking for valuable mineral deposits, or maybe he just thought it would be fun. I don't think his exact route is known, so it's been difficult to recreate this part of his journey. There were a half dozen cars in the lot and a few people milling about when I arrived, but I saw no one on the trail the whole day. The trail into Hunting Hollow is a dirt road that lazily crosses the streambed several times in the first mile. The water level was low even though the last rains were but a week ago, and crossing the streams presented no problems.

I headed left up the Lyman Willson Ridge Road after the first mile. As most trails in Henry Coe go, this one climbs the ridge in a direct line, climbing over a thousand feet in a mile. Right from the start the I found the flowers both abundant and spectacular (one could easily argue this to be redundant). It had rained little in March, but early April showers in the past week gave the flowers a huge boost, and they were quite impressive. Never in several dozen previous trips had I seen so many flowers as I would today (which might explain why I spent so much time photographing them). Before reaching the top of the ridge I took a right on The Bowl Road which took me to Willson Camp (or Ranch, depending on your map), three miles from the trailhead.

Willson Camp is the site of the Willson Ranch which used to be the center for a large ranch in this part of the park. Several abandoned buildings still stand among equally abandoned trailers and stables. A few rotting mattresses can be found in two of the bedrooms, some kitchen fixtures still in the main room. Light switches are still on some walls, but all the electricity, gas, and plumbing have been disconnected since it was made part of the park. A jar of Folger's Crystals left in the kitchen spoke of campers not long gone, still using the house as a refuge. While the house left much to be desired, the view from the back porch was to die for. In it's prime, one can easily imagine this was quite a ranch site.

I headed up the Wagon Road out of Willson Camp, and soon after turned right on Vasquez Road. This road is seldom used, and much of the graded road is being reclaimed by the vegetation. The road follows a ridge eastward, crossing the summits of two other bumps along the road, Vasquez and Rock Springs Peaks. The gently curving tops were carpeted in grass and wildflowers, studded with oaks and pine. Somewhere up here I started looking for Burra Burra Peak. It's not one of the taller peaks in the park, and is rather non-descript. I think it's draw is more for it's remoteness than anything special. It's location puts it just about in the center of the Diablo Range. In any case, I mis-identified the peak, thinking it was another one further away (the true peaks was closer and to the left of this one).

The road turns northeast, then north, as the ridge drops down to the Canada de la Dormida, a small creek that cuts deep canyons in the hills here. Many sections of the road along here were covered in yellow flowers, looking much like the Yellow Brick Road. I descended over a thousand feet to the bottom of the creek, and turned left to follow the road, barely descernable. In less than 50 yards I lost the trail altogether, and pondered where I was supposed to go from this point. My map (yes, I had one) isn't too clear on this, showing the trail continuing north up a ridge just past a side stream that comes in from the north as well. I had seen the trail running up the ridge on my way down to the creek, but in among the trees here, it was impossible to see the road clearly. I wandered down a few beaten paths a short way before deciding I was just adding to the illusion of a trail in these locations. I then decided to head cross-country straight up to the ridge I believed the trail to be on. After climbing 150 feet up, dodging poison oak as I went, I happened to look back to see the trail clearly rising up from the side stream. Darn. I headed back down, making a beeline for the trail, but found myself on some steep, loose hillside 30 feet above the creek. The trail was on the other side. I inched down slowly, hoping my tennis shoes would grip enough to keep me from going into a slide which would probably end in the creek. While not likely a serious fall, I would be subjected to a gauntlet through the poison oak that seemed to cover this part of the hill, and the results of that would have been most unpleasant, indeed! I slipped a few times, only a foot or so, trying to be careful not to clutch the poison oak with my hands. In fact I spent as much time figuring where I could dig my fingers into the soft earth to arrest a fall as I did looking for foot placements. Surviving this (my only tough moment all day, entirely unecessary), I reached the creek and the trail on the other side.

Another steep climb of a thousand feet, and I was soon back up on the higher ridges. The Vasquez Road ends where it intersects the Center Flats Road, a recently re-graded road that looked to get more traffic (probably because it offered the better way to get here from Willson Camp). I was now three hours from the trailhead and figured I had another hour to go to reach Burra Burra. I had a pleasant hike/run along the ridge there that meanders between the Canada de la Dormida and Mississippi Creek, dividing the two watersheds (I hiked all the uphills, jogging on the flat and downhill sections). Not realizing how close I was to the peak, I jogged a few minutes past the turnoff to the summit before realizing my mistake. The trail began to descend off the ridge towards the Kaiser-Aetna Road and Dowdy Ranch which I could see a few miles in the distance. I retraced my route and took the turnoff marked only be a bare signpost (actual signage to come later I supposed). About half a mile from this point, at 12:45p, I reached the summit, 3 1/2 hours enroute.

The weather had been perfect the whole way, neither too warm or too cold, accompanied by a pleasant breeze along the ridgelines. In the summit register, I found Michael Golden's signature among the most recent entries from two weeks ago. It had been his description of the hike and his goading that I go climb it, that had provided the inspiration for today's adventure. Interestingly, it was the second peak in a month that I climbed that had been climbed by Michael shortly before. Perhaps I am now chasing his ghost, or perhaps he simply gives enticing accounts of his climbs. :) The summit is mostly covered in chaparral, the vegetation of choice in the drier eastern parts of the park. One has to stand on the rocks in the center to view over the scrub, but the views are quite nice. Though mostly washed out in the midday haze, they were still enjoyable. Some photos, a quick snack and some water, and I was soon on my way back. My jog would get interrupted every few minutes or so to either photo some more flowers, or the few interesting samples of wildlife I came across such this snake or the deer I found lazily napping under the oaks.

I retraced my steps to the Vasquez Road turnoff, and continued west on the Center Flats Road. This turned out to be the better choice by far, as it stays high on the ridges, barely dropping below 2,000 ft, avoiding the drop down, and climb up from the creek below. Somewhere along here I felt a slight prick in my leg, thinking it a bit high above my sock to be a thorn poking me. I got a sneaking suspicion and stopped to confirm a tick had gotten under my pants and started making a meal of my blood. He hadn't dug in too far, so I was able to coax him out by "flicking" him gently in the direction to back him out of there. I had had half a dozen ticks that I had shooed off my pants earlier, so I knew I was in tick territory. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) I have had a previous tick get to my skin so I knew what it felt like -- not a sharp pain, just a slowly increasing, nagging prick, as if someone held a pencil against your skin and ever so slowly increased the pressure.

After two more miles I reached the Wagon Road, which runs north-south on the ridge here, and took a pee break. It was a bright, iridescent color, and it made me laugh thinking how Michael would disapprove. He gives me a hard time for not drinking enough water on my hikes, and stresses the danger and damage to my body this can cause. No doubt I should drink more water, and the quart I drank on this hike was insufficient, but I was never really thirsty, and carrying more water entails carrying more weight. Michael sweats a great deal more than I, so his water intake is naturally much higher. As a result I take his lectures with a grain of salt. Still, it's nice to know he cares. After a mile I came to the junction with the Wasno Road and was surprised to see the newest, neatest pit-toilet structure I'd ever seen. An excellent design, no smell (probably because they've barely been used), solid masonry, completely out of place here in the boondocks. Images of excess park funds and administrators scrambling to use them danced through my head. This thing looked to cost plenty, but seemed so unecessary here. There was no water and therefore no suitable campsite nearby, so it could only be used by folks who happened along here. A mile later at the next trail junction, I came across another of the same outhouse structures. I began to think they might be most convenient to those on bikes or horses.

I decided I had enough energy to climb up to Willson Peak, the highest elevation on my route today, at nearly 2,600 feet. A steep trail leads almost directly to the top, where again I was treated to outstanding wildflower displays. The ridge here is just high enough to allow one to see into the Coyote Valley and Gilroy areas. Even through the haze, the hills as far south as Mt. Carmel in the Ventana Wilderness were visible. It was difficult to pick out the true summit, as any of three spots looked to be eligible among the rolling hilltops here. A couple of Geological Survey markers, one from 1943, showed I had picked the right spot. The marker declares the location "La Canada" instead of Willson Peak as shown on my map. Later I found both names attached to the peak on the 7.5 minute topo.

I followed the Steer Ridge Road down from here, as it makes its way along the western end of the ridge. The road gives out a short after descending the ridge, replaced by a faint trail that follows the rest of the way down. A few hundred feet above the creek I spotted the parking lot below me, signalling the end of a most excellent hike/run. I returned at 4:45p, after six and a half hours on the trail. Aside from the little foray into the steep hillside and poison oak above the second creek (oh, and that nasty tick, too), it was a most relaxing time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the spring day.

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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Burra Burra Peak - Willson Peak

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