I was looking for a way to get rid of my extra Halloween candy, so why not go on a hike fueled by M&Ms and 100 Grand bars? I chose one of my local favorite trailheads, the Hicks Road entrance to Sierra Azul Open Space. From the trailhead it’s about 12 miles round trip to the summit of Mt El Sombroso. As I arrived at the trailhead I decided to continue on to the next one near Bald Mountain – I had never been up there before and the lack of traffic and people made it as good a time as any.
I was the only car at the Bald Mountain trailhead at 8:40 am. A short and flat walk of about 3/4 mile takes you to the summit of Bald Mountain. It’s not a terribly interesting summit, but the appeal of the hike is the view across Herbert Canyon towards Loma Prieta, and back towards the Cube on Mt Umunhum.
The summit of Mt Umunhum is the site of the former Almaden Air Force Station. A radar dish once sat upon the top of the concrete Cube, and the remaining structure is a visual landmark for all of the southern Bay Area. The land of the former station is currently off-limits, but has been taken over by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space and will someday open to visitors and hikers.
After I did the quick trip to the Bald Mountain summit, I walked up the road past the closure to the intersection with the Barlow Road trail. This would take me down to meet the original trail I had planned on hiking, Woods Road. The cool thing about hiking this route was the constantly changing perspective on the Cube.
The Open Space District has a proposal on the table that will reduce the landmark to a boring modernized shade structure, but efforts are underway to preserve the concrete building. While not a visually stunning piece of architecture, I think the history of the mountain and its landmark status among Bay Area residents makes it worth keeping. I regularly use it as a visual marker to get my bearings when I’m hiking in the area.
Barlow Road descends about 700 ft over 2 miles to its meeting point with Woods Road. Here, I turned left and hiked the remaining ~3 miles and 1300 ft to the summit of El Sombroso. I watched the fog clear over San Jose as a light breeze kept me cool on the exposed stretches of trail.
One thing I really like about hiking here is that the trails are all wide fire roads. Since they are multiuse trails there is plenty of room for both hikers and mountain bikers, which makes for a friendly environment. Furthermore, nice wide trails mean I can completely avoid my nemesis, poison oak. It’s usually well disguised at this time of year when the leaves are gone, so I don’t like to take chances.
The summit of Mt El Sombroso is boring and crowded with power lines, but it’s a good turn around point for this hike. From here you can see the opposite side of the Cube as the view from Bald Mountain. At 2,999 ft it’s not the highest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains but it is high enough to be a good workout with good views.
I retraced my steps back to the car, and on the descent from El Sombroso I got a nice peek at the Barlow Road trail below Umunhum.
Finally, when I was back on Barlow Road I got the reverse view back towards El Sombroso. The power lines give it away.
Despite my leisurely pace I was back at the car before 1:30 with plenty of time left in my day for other weekend busywork. I’m looking forward to getting back when I can finally get to the summit of Umunhum, hopefully in the shadow of that giant concrete Cube.