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193. Monument Peak (12/16/00)

Hikers (5): Atul, Lixin, Pistol Pete, Russ, Steve
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 7 beauty
Park info: Ed R. Levin County Park in the Milpitas foothills

Write-up by Steve

After visiting Mission Peak the previous week, it seemed apropos to visit her sister, Monument Peak. Surprisingly, it had been almost two years since last visiting Ed Levin County Park, and high time to visit the most radiant (as in electromagnetic) heights in the area.

Pistol decided to meet us at the trailhead, mostly to show off his newly-purchased VW, a replacement for his last car, which he totaled a few weeks prior. Traumatic experiences like that have made Pistol appreciate the beauty of hiking almost as much as the magic of airbags. After we found everyone scattered among the several parking lots, it was time to hike.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

Actually, our cheer was hushed as we discovered the trails were supposedly closed. Although we normally abide all trail signage, there was no good reason for a closure. Plus, the ranger happily took our entrance fee without mentioning this rather critical piece of data, so we guessed the sign was just old. Whatever the case, we "snuck" up the slopes on a trail that turned out to be surprisingly firm (shiggy-free) despite the recent rains. A prior visit after similar rains made us expect tons-o'-mud.

Up, up, up we headed toward the tower-crowned peaks. The trail near the bottom is quite nice, winding through some wooded areas before heading upward. Near the top of the mountain it became extremely windy and cold, a condition for which none of us was entirely prepared. We kept hiking onward, but eventually concluded that we were hopelessly lost (nothing new here) among the dozens of antenna-ridden peaks and had definitely hiked much farther than necessary to get to Monument Peak (any farther and we would be at Mission Peak!).

The wind was literally sandblasting us, so we decided to take the nearest route downward. After a while, the wind abated, but it became apparent that the trail we had picked would ultimately end up somewhere far from the confines of Ed Levin Park. D'oh! What to do? Atul wanted to keep going down and hitch a ride from some kindly Milpitisian, but somehow I managed to convince everyone to climb back up the steep trail into the blustery winds.

When we made it back to the crest, we scurried for shelter and ate whatever food we had left. We then hiked a quick semi-circle toward the tallest antenna in the area, which Russ and I remembered from a previous hike. This would at least guarantee that the trail attached to it would head back to the park. As it turned out, that whole area was labeled "off limits," but by this time no one was going to turn around. We hiked past the giant tower and over a cattle fence onto charted territory. Finally we knew where we were and headed on down! I was suddenly reminded that this very area was where Mrs. Egg called Egg a "Pumpkin Monkey," a term of affection we still use today. Those rascals!

The trip down was pretty tame, with all of us totally worn out and happy to not have been blown off the mountain. Some of our faces were totally red from "wind chap" (pictures from a party five hours later also show my face as red--it really wasn't the liquor!), and we crawled into our cars for the trip home. Ah, maybe THAT'S why it had been two years since the last time we visited this park!

Advice to the next hikers: In the two years between our visits, the park service had allowed many more towers and service roads to be built (without any additional signage), so without the GPS coordinates of the peak or a new detailed map, it is a crapshoot to find the actual Monument Peak. All the same, you can certainly find plenty of peaks that are just as good and afford sweeping views of the area. Plus, you can be sure you will have excellent cell phone coverage. Unless you MUST find the peak, it's still a great hike. Whatever you do, bring a windbreaker, just in case!

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