What had originally been planned as a rather long training hike through southern Henry Coe State Park became a bust due mainly to my laziness to drive all the way down to the Gilroy area and the Hunting Hollow entrance to the park. I love Coe, but I've already done most of the peaks around that area. If I had gone, my goals on that trip would have been a couple of insignificant local high points plus yet another (my forth) ascent of Mount Willson via a new (for me) route. I knew that staying home and doing nothing would lead to guilt and depression not to mention the possibility of having to do some of my wife's bidding in the form of chores and projects around the house. (D'oh!)
Luckily I had several alternative trips to choose from featuring only short easy drives. The one I chose was an oldie but a goodie: Mount Allison from Ed Levin County Park. Back in 'the day', one of my favorite Sierra partners, Dave McLaughlin, and I used to hike up to the top of Mount Allison and Monument Peak from a diminutive version Ed Levin County Park. The park, back in the early 1980's, encompassed Sandy Wool Lake and not much else. Hiking beyond this area was considered trespassing. We used to park inconspicuously at the playground below the dam and hike mostly cross country straight up the ridge above the dam- hoping we wouldn't be spotted and yelled at by those down below. Not such a difficult hike for the two of us who were seasoned Sierra climbers and still in our 20's. Now, after several decades, I'm not quite so strong anymore. Luckily, most of the region is now open to the public and a nice trail system exists eliminating the need to surreptitiously sneak up and down steep ridges and ravines.
The park gate opens at 8am and I was there at about 8:05 to pay my fee at the entrance kiosk. Usually, I park next to the dam, but today I needed a more centrally located spot, so I used the parking lot near the dog park. After quickly changing into my boots, I was soon on my way across some beautiful open fields to the Calera Creek Trail. As I hiked, I noticed with concern, the apparent deaths of several large evergreen trees along the way. I wondered what happened to them and if it was drought related.
Soon, I was at the trailhead gate. The first segment of trail (actually part of the Bay Ridge Trail system- still a work in progress) is a road with deteriorating pavement. It ultimately leads to a private in-holding occupied by an old house next to some old ranch buildings. The Calera Creek Trail turns off long before reaching the ranch and goes past a scenic golf course that was designed to surround small isolated 'islands' of very upscale neighborhoods. The trail follows the park boundary which I hope will be an impenetrable barrier to all future encroachment.
I found the trail pitted with the hoof prints of cattle that must have migrated along the trail during wetter times. The dryer weather in recent days allowed the ground to harden and become very difficult to walk on. It reminded me of hiking through spring 'sun-cups' in the snows of the High Sierra. This pitting went on for miles at a time and actually caused me several days of ankle pain during the coming week.
Eventually, I came upon a large herd of livestock gathered uncomfortably close to a gate I needed to go through. There were several young bulls and mothers suckling their calfs. I saw a lot of horns- even on the cows- and a lot of hoofs. I know they are domesticated and normally not a threat, but having to walk between and around so many of them always makes me a bit nervous. Especially when the don't move out of the way which is rare, but that's what happened this time. I walked very slowly and talked to them in a low tone of voice. I wanted them to know I was there and not trying to sneak up on them or threaten them or their young in any way. Finally, I made it to the gate and went through safely. Whew! As I hiked away from the herd, they began mooing and lowing- some of them quite loudly. I wondered if they had been waiting for someone to let them go through the gate to greener and tastier pastures on the other side. Sorry, cows!
The Calera Creek Trail soon comes to Calera Creek itself and follows it for short a distance to a gate. Beyond the gate, a steep climb leads to the junction with the Agua Caliente Trail and the end of the Calera Creek Trail. I marveled at the clarity of the air and the marvelous weather. The views were crystal clear and much of the Bay Area including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose were plainly visible even from this relatively low altitude. The signs of spring were everywhere as the Agua Caliente / Bay Area Ridge Trail climbs along a route carved out of the mountainside- around spur ridges and through deep ravines including the one that contains Scott Creek.
A small saddle is reached and then the trail makes its way up to a landmark that was named “The Pee Tree” by my then girlfriend- now wife, Nora and I- in the early nineties. There isn't a lot of privacy along this trail- especially for women, so this tree (actually a tight collection of trees) was kind of a god-send at the time. Beyond the Pee Tree, the trail climbs relentlessly for about 800 feet to the summit of Weller Peak. I was surprised to see a port-a-potty on wheels near the summit. Maybe for the benefit of people maintaining the com tower at the summit? It was not locked and I didn't mind using it myself although the gusty winds caused it to rock uncomfortably and I found myself hoping that it was well anchored so as not to go rolling and tumbling down the hill with very messy consequences. I wonder if the 'Pee Tree' would have ever gotten its name if this had been installed here in the nineties...
Even though Weller Peak was the lowest of the four peaks I would climb that day, the views were amazing. The air was being cleaned by a strong gusty breeze blowing across the ridges. The wind chill actually compelled me to don my sweatshirt and wind shell for the next few hours as I visited some of the peaks that were scattered up there. My next goal was Mount Allison- the high point of Mission Ridge. It lay about 1.5 or so miles to the north along the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The last time I had been along this stretch of trail was in the mid nineties with Nora on a hike from Mission Peak to Monument Peak and back. Back then, we skipped Mount Allison due to the “No Trespassing” signs that were posted. Now those signs are gone- except on the fences surrounding the com towers. There seems to be an easement to the nice bench installed at the very summit of the peak.
Or is there? Shortly after I arrived at the summit, a white truck driven by a technician drove past me on the way to one of the towers. I waved and he kind of glared at me without returning my wave. Hmmm... Oh, well. I ate a granola bar, drank my Gatorade, and took several pictures of the amazing views all around: north, south, east and west; and of the two different benchmarks. I looked to the north at the surprisingly impressive Mission Peak and all the people on the summit of that popular mountain. Should I continue on and tag that summit as well so as to be able to claim doing all 5 main summits on the same day? I might have, but I was worried about my recently injured knee and decided to skip it this time until I was sure I could do it without turning a good hike into an ordeal. Nevertheless, the hike back to the Monument Peak area was kind of painful for my feet and I wondered if I should skip the next two summits that I planned to do and simply head back down the trail to the car.
I reached what seemed to be the lowest point between Mount Allison and Monument Peak North and took an altitude reading on my GPS. This was my opportunity to measure the rise between the saddle and the summit to see if there was a possibility of a 300 foot prominence and, therefore, a potential LOJ ranking for that peak. The climb to the summit seemed like a lot more than 300 feet due to fatigue. I very nearly decided to skip it, but dutifully decided to continue to the top at the last minute. The lovely spring flowers along the way helped to take my mind off the pain in my joints and feet. My altitude measurement at the summit did show a 300 foot rise from the saddle, but just barely. Nothing conclusive.
The views from this- the second highest peak of the day after Mount Allison- were sublime. The snows of the High Sierra were clearly visible as were the endless ridges of the Diablo Range spreading out to the east and south. To the north were the Diablo and Livermore valleys- Mount Diablo dominating the scene in that direction. Much of the Bay Area views are blocked by Weller Peak and Monument Peak. Though limited, they were still quite good because of the lack of the usual haze that is usually present.
My feet were now quite sore- especially my ankles- by the time I reached the road at the foot of Monument Peak North. My truck was still 4 miles away and 2000 feet lower. Should I start heading down or should I tag Monument Peak? My common sense was telling me to go down, but my feet- sore as they were, began carrying me to Monument Peak. I guess this was to be a four peak day. I reached the summit rocks of Monument in a short time and, once again, I enjoyed the grand views from the top. The Bay Area was spread out at my feet- a view I've seen many times in the last 35 years, but it never gets old. I ate a granola bar and drank a lot of water before I began the long painful journey back to the truck.
I chose to return via the Monument Peak Trail. I think it's slightly shorter than Monument Peak Road which is how I usually like to descend in the course of a Monument Peak hike. How nice it was to see so much green grass after years of drought! The flowers were out in profusion and I stopped several times to take pictures. In fact, I stopped so many times that I worried that I might not make it down before dark. From time to time Sandy Wool Lake would be visible far below and it seemed so far away. I tried to focus on the task at hand instead of the hike in its entirety. Just get to that next bush, then make it to that boulder. Baby steps, baby steps. Eventually, I would get to the end. As usual, no matter how painful, there is always a part of me that enjoys these hikes immensely.
The final mile and a half of this trail has several uphill segments along with the downhill to kind of offer temporary relief to sore knees and ankles. I have to admit that at this point in my life, going uphill is ironically less painful than downhill. I sometimes find myself counting how many downhill sections are left in a long familiar hike like this one- each one more painful than the last. This hike was no exception. Soon, thank goodness, I was on the final downhill segment and walking across the paved parking area of the noisy dog park. As usual, I tried not to look as tired and sore as I felt to the non-hikers I passed along the final part of the hike. They just wouldn't understand how good it felt to be in such agony.
Weller Peak, Mount Allison, Monument Peak North, and Monument Peak
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