Wolf Hill
Elliot Hill
Elliott Hill
Leary Hill

Sat, Sep 15, 2012
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

I didn't start the day planning to tag any summits. I had to drive to Monterey to take my son and a friend to a Scout function taking place at the Presidio there. They would be occupied for the better part of five hours, giving me some time to burn through. In looking over a list of peaks in the area, I had no luck finding ones in the area I hadn't visited or could get to in the allotted time. Instead, I brought my bike and planned to ride it around the peninsula, through Carmel Valley, up and over Laurles Grade, and back to Monterey. And for the most part, that's exactly what I did. 17 Mile drive, a scenic tour around the coast of Pacific Grove, Monterey, and Carmel, with some of the most beautiful coastline anywhere in California. There are also some hugely expensive homes (the one I had my eye on was being offered at $13M) and some of the finest golf courses on the planet. The weather was typical for much of the year - fog and chill. Though not great for views along the coast, it was nice for exercising - cycling or running and there were plenty of folks out doing both. There were also lots of folks on the golf courses, bundled up and not looking like they were getting the full enjoyment for their $300 round of golf that they'd hoped for.

As I left Carmel, crossed Highway 1 and started up Carmel Valley Rd, I rode out of the fog and into the sun of the interior. It was still cool, in the 60s, but sunny now and I stopped to take off the fleece I'd had on since the start. The ride up Carmel Valley is pleasant, scenic, and with surprisingly little elevation gain. There was some sort of classic car rally going on in the area as there dozens of restored vehicles from the 1940s to the 1970s were on the roads going both directions. I could often tell by the throaty sound of their engines when one was coming up behind me. Along with the usual traffic, the road was quite busy. A wide bike lane for most of the route keeps this from being a more dangerous exercise. Nine miles from Highway 1 and a few miles short of Carmel Valley Village, is Laureles Grade Rd, the only through road between Carmel Valley and SR68, the main thoroughfare between Salinas and Monterey. The Laureles climb rises to an elevation of 1,200ft in three miles before dropping down to SR68.

When I reached SR68, and was just turning west to head back towards Monterey, I noted the entrance to Laguna Seca Raceway on the north side of the highway. I had recalled that there were some low hills in the area north of the racetrack that might be counted as named summits if one were so inclined. Having never been to the area, I decided I was so inclined, at least to scout it out. The lands between SR68 and the coast are rolling coastal hills composed primarily of sand blown in from coast, it would seem. There are some oak forests covering parts of the landscape, but most of it is dry scrub that grows about hip level. The racetrack is built into these hills, tucked below the surrounding ridgelines that aren't more than about 800ft in elevation. Around the track on three sides are shooting ranges, a campground and acres upon acres of parking lots. The road leading up to the entrance kiosk is steep - a 10% grade for several hundred yards than had me panting harder than I did all day. There were no major races scheduled for the weekend, but there were enough folks milling about in the campground and the track areas to keep it from looking deserted. The classic car rally used the pit area for one of their stops, and again I saw a number of the same vehicles I had seen in Carmel Valley and on Laureles Grade. The racetrack was being used for some amateur racing and driving, but was currently closed while a car that had skidded off the roadway was in the process of being hauled onto a tow vehicle.

Using my GPS, I found my way to Wolf Hill on the west end of Laguna Seca, near the Mazda administrative office and the heli-pad. Though no mountain by any stretch, even as a hill it was a disappointment. It was not the highest summit (although nothing really stands out as a summit in this whole area) yet it was the highpoint of --- the Purple parking area. The area is mowed-over to make a dirt and sand lot that can hold hundreds of cars. Right next door is Fort Ord property with the tell-tale danger signs for unexploded ordinances that are possibly the best trespassing deterrent, ever. I hadn't realized that Fort Ord ran up against Laguna Seca and that they were actually connected with several paved roads. I next turned my attention to seeing if I couldn't exit north or west through the hills and canyons without having to return to SR68. As a bonus (and in this case, a very small bonus), there were a number of named summits on the Fort Ord lands that I might be able to visit.

At one time, Fort Ord was a sprawling US Army complex covering perhaps 100 square miles from the Monterey Bay coast reaching into these hills. The army base has been in the process of decomissioning for more than ten years and will probably be doing do so for another ten. About half of the available land has now been turned over to the NPS which is tasked with managing it as the Fort Ord National Monument. This involved not just getting the army off the land, but clearing it of dangerously dilapidated buildings and far more dangerous unexploded ordinances. Because of the sprawling nature of the landscape, it is far better suited to cycling than to hiking. And far better suited to mountain bikes than road bikes since most of the roads are dirt and sand. The network of paved roads is sufficient for road bikes to get around and I used these to good effect on my tour. Coming from Laguna Seca, I passed through a closed gate connecting it to Fort Ord. A pedestrian/bike bypass was found at the gate which was my clue that I could exit Laguna Seca from this access road legally. The roads are old but in decent condition, without potholes and other significant dangers. It was a pleasant enough ride, mostly downhill as I headed north.

There were three named summits within a single square mile that showed up on my GPS. Two were similarly named - Elliot Hill and Elliott Hill, making me think the USGS somehow gotten confused and double-booked the name. Elliot Hill was the lowest of two at 400ft. It was about a fifth of a mile off the pavement, along a dirt track leading past a chained post. I left my bike at the gate and hiked the short distance to the summit indicated on the GPS. Thinking it wasn't possible, this was an even lamer summit than Wolf Hill, having maybe 5-10ft of prominence with a bit of a view looking off the small bluff I stood on amongst the manzanita and other scrub. I got the distinct impression this was the USGS mistake I was expecting.

Another half mile up the paved road (steep!) and a quarter mile from the pavement was the other Elliott Hill at 600ft elevation. Like the first, a chain between two posts blocked vehicle traffic but allowed mountain bikes and hikers. In walkng out to this one, I followed another sandy path that led across the ridge to some random utility poles and a few instruments set up in the open, just off the trail. As before, there was no distinct summit to feel concrete about. Another third of a mile to the southwest, continuing along the same trail, was Leary Hill. The topo shows these two peaks to be on opposite sides of the same ridge, nearly within the same contour. Four summits, all jokes. Four mountain bikers came by while I was walking back from Leary Hill, asking if everything was ok. It was only then it occurred to me that I must look somewhat odd with bike helmet and gloves on but no bike to be seen. I assured them I was fine and that I'd left my bike back at the pavement. One of the cyclists had more trouble than the others with the sandy ruts, the result being that I got back to the pavement just behind them.

Back on the bike, I headed west, passing out of the national monument lands into the non-decomissioned portions (paved roads are usually open but sometimes closed, all off-pavement travel is prohibited) and then through the army housing sections and eventually through the town of Seaside and the coast. Much of the fog was gone by now and there were many folks enjoying the beaches along the bike path I followed between Seaside and Monterey, eventually landing back at the Presidio. I spent nearly six hours covering some 55 miles mostly on bike, probably only 40 minutes of that to reach the four summits. Yeah. I need to head back to the Sierra...

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