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264. Mine Hill Loop (05/18/02)

Hikers (4): Cal, Eugene, Oliver, Steve
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 7 beauty
Park info: Almaden Quicksilver County Park in south San Jose

Write-up by Steve

The last time we hiked the Dipsea Trail was January of 1998. When The Man planned a return trip, it certainly sounded like fun: 671 steps up and eventually winding down to Stintson Beach. What could be better? But at the last minute on Friday, he inexplicitly switched the hike to Almaden Quicksilver. Then, in an even more bizarre twist, he came by my office later in the afternoon and said he didn't think he could make his own hike. It was as though The Man had been sucking on some of that wacky Almaden ore!

With The Man out, and Russ trumping up some BS story about helping a friend move, I was the only person expected to attend. Joy!

On the way to the new car pool location, it occurred to me that this might really turn out to be a solo hike, so was pleasantly surprised to see Eugene (a rare sensation), followed later by Oliver. Looked like it might be a "normal" hike after all. Better yet, Cal was waiting at the trail head. Four people -- not bad for a last minute notice -- things were looking up.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

Normally our hikes here head straight up to the Mine Hill Peak, even when it used to be closed. But now that the peak is a legal destination, it's not nearly as interesting. To mix it up, Cal (with some 15 years of Almaden Quicksilver experience) took us around the back of the peak along the Castillero trail to the park's very first mine. This is where the local Ohlone Indians got the red ore that was later identified to be mercury-rich cinnabar. The trail was named after the Mexican cavalry officer who the Ohlone first brought to the mine. And how did Castillero return the favor? He filed a claim and got the mineral rights. Go figure!

It's no surprise INCH had never been on this trail before since this part of the park is even deeper into the previous "hazardous area" on the old maps. The Man had stuck it to us again, of course, because the maps he had made for the hike came from those old maps -- we were hiking "blind". Fortunately, it wasn't too far off the beaten path, and Cal had been there may times. We eventually ended up back on our old friend the Mine Hill Trail.

From there we headed toward the reservoir and took the steep Prospect #3 trail all the way down to the New Almaden trail, giving up all the altitude we had acquired in the first part of the hike. This turned out to be a great idea because the park was having some sort of equestrian race (as we learned from talking to the many, many mounted participants we kept encountering). The New Almaden trail is about the only part of the park off limits to horses, so we finally had the trail to ourselves. It wasn't entirely without pain, however, as the trail down to New Almaden was overgrown with all sorts of burr-bearing plants, resulting in much lamentation from The Master Hiker.

This was a new park for Oliver, so we took a steep side trip back up to the most interesting part of Almaden Quicksilver: the Buena Vista Shaft (Note: we could have been enjoying Irish coffees at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Fran if The Man hadn't shafted us by changing the hike). It was surprising to see how overgrown this area has become in the last couple of years. As we ate our lunches, Cal told us that this fairly large structure (now just large stone blocks and metal rods) was used to lower the miners into the mine. This made us appreciate our cushy day jobs.

With the exception of finding a tick on my sock and running into a group of four wild turkeys, the rest of the hike was uneventful (but enjoyable). We soaked in the remaining scenery and sauntered back to the parking lot after another great visit to Almaden Quicksilver.

Cal's 10th leaf

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