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387. Mt. El Sombroso and Bald Mtn (04/17/04)

Hikers (12): Cal, Carissa, David, George, Janice, Jennifer, Mark M, Nancy, Padraig, Steve, Sue, Tammy
Distance: 14 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 9 beauty
Park info: Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve near Almaden

Write-up by Steve

Mt. Umunhum, with the five-story rectangular building on top, is visible from just about everywhere in the South Bay. Guarded by an armed man and a dog, its very inaccessibility begs one to visit. Until they clean up the supposedly toxic Air Force Station up there, though, the best we can do is hike nearby, and that's what this hike was all about.

The nearest named peaks to Umunhum are Mt. El Sombroso and Bald mountain, so we set out to conquer them both. It was supposed to be a little rainy, but 12 people still showed up. It had been four years since we last visited this side of Sierra Azul. Definitely an oversight, as the park was great. In the time since our last visit, they had built a fat new parking lot, too.

1-2-3 INCH!

Walkie-talkies were in full use as we hiked up to Mt. El Sombroso. While the trail was pretty straightforward, the actual peak wouldn't have been found without a GPS--it's just up a short service road off Woods "Trail" (which, itself, is a fireroad). The view of Mt. Umunhum along the way is amazing. It is a spectacular looking mountain, with an unusually steep face compared to the mountains in the area (which explains why the guy guarding it has an easy job--he only has to watch one side).

Mt. El Sombroso wasn't so spectacular, but it was a nice place to stop for lunch beneath the high-voltage transmission lines. At one foot shy of 3000ft, we were as high as we'd be all day. As we were getting ready to head off, the skies started to look a little grey. By the time we got back down to the junction with Barlow Road, it was raining lightly.

Barlow Road goes down hill a little and then heads back up. This last climb caught a lot of people by surprise, but by then it was too late to turn around and take the Woods Trail back! From Sombroso, we had seen quite a few of the buildings on Umunhum's Peak, but from this road, the sky way dominated by that one enormous building. It was so tantalizingly close. . .a little later we passed what looked like it might be a trail to sneak up the mountain. Maybe on another rainy day. . .

Not too much later we were on Mt. Umunhum Road, with virtually no elevation gain left to go to Bald Mountain. The trip wasn't without excitement though. Along the way, the rain had let up, then it got a little windy, and finally it hailed on us! Everyone seemed to love this part, mostly because the hail was pea-sized at best. A bit larger, and we would have been scattering for shelter.

Bald Mountain was supposed to be a mile or so down the road, and yet it seemed like there was nothing on the horizon that could be a mountain. Long story short, Bald Mountain is barely higher than anything coming from the direction we did. When we got to the top, though, we could see it was quite a bit higher than the valley immediately below it. Just as promised, there wasn't a tree to be found on top. One wonders if they have actively prevented trees from growing up there all these years (just to maintain the name), or if maybe THIS is where the Air Force base actually dumped all their toxic waste?

After we enjoyed the view for a bit, I busted out my grand plan to cut a mile off the hike by cutting down an overgrown fireroad that appeared on my topo map. About 20 yards into it, we ran into a sign that said "No Trespassing". So I turned everyone around and headed out the "right" way. When I caught up to Cal, he informed me that he had taken the proposed route before and it was fine--where was he when we were turning around!? But no matter, it was too late now.

We all motored down the paved Mt. Umunhum Road to get back to the parking lot. We passed several single shoes sitting along the side of the road. Why no pairs? Were they the remnants of people who had tried to get to Umunhum and didn't make it? There wasn't enough time to solve the mystery before we got to the cars, so it remains unsolved.

Side Note: Back at the cars, we all headed off. There had been a dedication ceremony of a new trail heading into Almaden Quicksilver from the (other) new parking lot directly across the street from our trailhead in Sierra Azul. This event forced the late comers to our hike, ironically, to have to park in the Almaden Quicksilver parking lot because the Sierra Azul lot was full of Almaden revelers. Go figure? This weirdness allowed some of us to visit the Almaden lot, which is even bigger than the Sierra Azul lot. It boggles the mind that so many people would ever come to these "back entrances" to the parks. At least we know INCH will always have parking. . .

David's 50th leaf

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