A couple of peaks high in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Palo Alto have been on my 'to-do' list for years. I'd recently found out what most of the rest of the peakbagging world had already known for months: That the region around Mindego Hill was now part of the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and open to the public. Borel Hill is on a high open ridge and has a reputation for great views, but I wasn't really very attracted due to the short relatively uninteresting hike to reach it. Throwing in a hike up Mindego Hill in the not-so-newly opened region added several extra interesting miles to what looked like an interesting loop. I was sold.I
was sold, but how about my wife, Nora? She'd had a relatively bad time on a recent hike to Fremont Older OSP and I was rather hesitant to include her in my plans. Her main complaints were that the hikes I take her on are almost always much longer than advertised and that we rarely just go for walks and strolls. Because of my peakbagging obsessions, there's always got to be a peak to climb on every hike we do. Fair enough, but I don't see anything wrong with that. She's a very stong hiker- probably stronger than I am at my age. I absolutely love the fact that we are an adventure loving couple and a pretty good team. But, maybe I've been selfish. I've resolved to include more stolls and hand-holding in our walks. A very small and worthwhile concession to continue having her as a hiking partner!
I told her my plans and she seemed eager to join me. I implored her to look at the map at what I was planning to do and to decide for herself if it was too much for her. She declined and decided to trust my judgement. I was wary, but also happy to see her back to her usual self. We left early on a Saturday morning to drive across the nearby Dumbarton Bridge to Palo Alto where we made our way to Page Mill Road. We drove up the winding road to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains and, after crossing Highway 35, found ourselves looking for our trailhead along the southern boundary of Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.
We were on our way to the Mindego Trail staging area about a mile from Highway 35 along Alpine Road. Even though the Russian Ridge web site claimed the gates were unlocked a half hour before sunrise, the gates were still locked- with the rising sun shining on them. D'oh! We'd seen the rangers at the Borel Hill staging area near Highway 35 checking out an illegally parked car just outside that gate. Were they on their way here? I thought about parking in the turnout for the gate of our trailhead to wait for them, but there were tons of 'No Parking' signs everywhere. Would I get a citation for waiting here? Maybe, if the rangers were assholes. I had no idea how long it might take for them to get here to unlock the gate.
For the sake of caution, I decided to drive back up the road to find and ask the rangers if they planned to open up our chosen trailhead anytime soon. We were almost back to Highway 35 when we passed them going in the opposite direction. We turned around and went back down the road to our trailhead and found them slowly opening the gates. Eventually, we were finally on the Ancient Oaks Trail heading for Borel Hill- the first stop on our planned loop.
The first mile climbed moderately up through a nice forest. Various bridges were scattered along the trail. A small breeze was blowing and the sharp cold reminded us that it was indeed winter. I was impressed with the amount of tree debris scattered everywhere on the ground. One of those recent storms must have been pretty intense to have caused so much tree damage. At least there wasn't much mud on the trail.
Eventually, the trail rises above the trees onto the relatively open areas on the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains. We marveled at the views in the early morning sunlight as we approached the top of Borel Hill. Looking around, the views were quite extensive indeed and encompassed most of the Bay Area and beyond. I easily recognized the summit of Mount Saint Helena poking above the haze more than ninety miles to the north. The Pacific Ocean was visible beyond some mostly unknown (to us) mountains to the west- the only one we knew was our next goal: Mindego Hill.
After taking several pictures, we made our way down the Bo Gimbal Trail back to the Ancient Oaks Trail and then on to the Charquin Trail which we followed to the Mindego Hill Trail. These trails feature many wonderful views of the distant Pacific Ocean as well as the many ridges and valleys on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Once again we marveled at the amount of living tree debris scattered on and around the trails. Big storms!
The Mindego Hill Trail is mostly shadeless, so we removed the warmer outer shells we'd been wearing and also took the opportunity for a short snack break. The distance along the trail to Mindego Hill was longer than I'd thought and I worried at first that Nora would start getting upset about the unplanned extra length of this hike, but no... She seemed to be enjoying herself as much as I was. While significantly lower than our previous goal of Borel Hill, Mindego was a far more scenic looking peak standing as isolated as it does. We passed through a couple of gates and followed the winding trail to a point near the top where there were some inviting rock outcropping for lunch and some photo opportunities.
Finally, after a nice break, we climbed the short remaining distance to the actual summit. The views were quite nice- especially to the west where the ocean was clearly visible. We took several photos of the views and each other before starting back down the scenic abeit muddy trail. In short order, we were back on the ridge we were to follow back to the trailhead.
On the way back I realized that once again, I'd not studied the map well enough to know what to expect. I'd thought that getting back to where we'd parked would be a short climb, but actually, as I now discovered, we were parked higher than the summit of Mindego Hill itself. Oops. We were getting tired and a bit footsore, so that last long climb back to the car wasn't expected nor welcomed, but we did it with hardly a single complaint (maybe we were too out of breath). At last we reached the trailhead and the truck. We were sore and tired, but basking in the success of this fine hike.
Borel Hill, Mindego Hill
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