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121. Priest Rock Trail (05/22/99)

Hikers (7): Eugene, Jinglan, Peter, Russ, Sean, Steve, Taylor
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve near Los Gatos

Write-up by Sean

Although the official INCH prediction was for cool weather, the day was nice but very warm. The Lexington Reservoir was beautiful, and although a parking lot was promised in the Park-service directions, everyone ended up parking on the extremely dusty shoulder. The distance promised was six miles at a difficulty rating of three. Everyone expected a quick, cool, refreshing hike.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

After an initial uphill, the hikers quickly separated into two groups: Esteban, Taylor, and myself in front, and Rusty, The Man, Eugene, and Jinglan behind. The trail was a well-used fire-road, and very pleasant and shaded for about a mile. Within two miles the shade disappeared and the trail became very steep, and our group became even more strung out. The park was apparently popular with dirt bikers, and several came down the steep trails like dive-bombers. Happily though, there were no collisions.

I somehow got well ahead, and, not having been on many hikes, assumed I'd taken an incorrect turn, having lost sight of everyone for some time. I returned down the way I had come, and managed to group up with the rest of the hikers, except Jinglan, who had already turned back after correctly concluding that the advertised difficulty level was out-of-whack with reality. Rusty told me tongue-in-cheek that Steve had been quite perturbed that I'd pulled out ahead, but Steve merely called me a misanthrope for leaving the group.

After regrouping, the hikers again separated rather quickly, now with Esteban, Rusty, and I taking the lead. Suddenly Esteban let out a shout at what was ahead. A four-foot rattlesnake lay sunning itself fully stretched out across about half of the fire-road, apparently in no particular hurry or with any fear of the group of hikers now ogling it from a safe distance.

A brief debate ensued as to the proper way to proceed. I suggested tossing a few rocks to urge the snake along, but Esteban objected in the name of harmony with nature, saying the snake had as much right to be on the fire road as we did. After a few minutes, Esteban simply walked by the snake, pausing on the other side. Rusty and I were more reluctant, and decided to wait until the others caught up. A dirt biker was grateful for a warning, but also simply proceeded around the snake. The regrouped hikers then waited a couple of minutes, until the snake stirred itself and gracefully slithered across the road into the dense growth on the other side, not a whisper coming from the large set of rattles.


At about three miles we came to an intersection of fire roads with a set of signs with distances, and we realized that the planned route would be much longer than six miles (and the climbing had already made it seem longer than three miles). Peter suggested hiking to the end of the current trail and then returning the same way, yielding a distance of eight miles. Taylor and Eugene decided, however, that the heat and the difficulty level were sufficient to turn around immediately, having come far enough to complete the originally advertised six miles.

Rusty, Esteban, The Man, and I pushed forward, and came to an extremely steep trail that went straight up for about half a mile. The day was hot and everyone was running out of water (and gas!), but fortunately there were a few decent shade trees to rest under on the way up. (I was informed under one such tree that I'd been nominated for the hike write-up, apparently as some kind of revenge for pulling ahead.) The top was finally attained and after that the T-intersection marking the four-mile mark and the end of the Priest Rock Trail, where we had a brief chat with a cyclist, who confirmed the distances and the difficulty of the originally planned route.

The hike back was uneventful and fairly quick, with Esteban and I leading, and Rusty and The Man following some distance back. We finally reached our starting point above the reservoir, which was lovely and shimmering in the bright afternoon sunshine, and now several canoes were out on the water. Regrouping in the parking area, everyone agreed that just about every advertised detail of the hike was incorrect: the weather, the difficulty rating, and the distance. But that's OK, the unexpected is what makes it an INCH hike!

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