Sunday, January 17, 2010

Two Fav Peaks

The weather here remained consistently grey, chilly, and overcast with lots of clouds and haze. All the reports have strong rain coming in for the next few days. But we still had an opportunity to ward off cabin fever on Saturday, even though the conditions aren’t the best. We decided to do a 2 peak hike from Ed Levin County Park in Milpitas. The Sandy Wool Lake trail head provides access to two different trails that can take you up to Monument Peak. We like to go up the Monument Peak trail, and sometimes return on Agua Caliente tail. These east bay hills have a lot of serpentine rock which have been showing a lot of interesting multicolored lichen in the wet season. The coloration becomes much more vivid when the conditions are moist. I’ve been seeing a lot of this lichen in Henry Coe lately too, and it gives the rock outcrops an interesting sort of seasonal airbrushed look. The Monument Peak trail makes good use of the terrain, and provides lots of opportunities for checking out the rock formations. On the way up the views out over the bay are usually good depending on the conditions, but at times you can’t help but notice a bit of low vehicular noise from route 680 far below. A few sections take you amongst some old stately oaks and sycamores near the little creeks. Sometimes there are cattle grazing, and there’s a resident flock of turkeys usually found in here. We saw a couple of groups of hens foraging around together. Coyote and deer are commonly sighted along here too.

We hiked up to the summit of Monument Peak but the wind was strong, so we found a place on the lee side just out of the blast to take a break with a view to the northeast. I was grateful for having my soft shell jacket back from last week. The views of the bay were mostly hazy and obstructed by drifting clouds and fog anyway. We didn’t hang around long before hiking on headed to Mission Peak. The trail passes behind Mt Allison which kept us mostly out of the wind. Burrowing ground squirrels are everywhere through here, and they seem to attract a lot of raptors looking to make a meal out of them. Along this section the views shift to the east to the grassy ridges along the Diablo Range. You can easily spot Maguire Peaks in Sunol Regional Wilderness, and trace the terrain all the way to Rose Peak in the Ohlone Wilderness. As we were approaching Mission Peak the trail runs alongside some rocky serpentine outcrops. As we were hiking up a golden eagle appeared above the rocks soaring close to the surface, probably searching for food. We did not see it until it appeared over the rocks about 10 feet above our heads. It cocked its head downward and I could swear I made eye contact. At that distance, the visual detail was awesome. We could see it using its tail and feathers to navigate in the stiff wind. I immediately struggled to get photos, but it was cold and I couldn’t get my gloves off and camera powered up in time to get a close up photo. The magnificent raptor circled a few times and I was able to some dark, slightly blurred, photos at distance. We had seen a golden eagle in Sunol a few years ago. I also noticed that some INCH hikers recently got photos a golden eagle sitting in a tree near Rose Peak. Wouldn’t it be great if eagles were making a comeback in the east bay hills? Wow. This was definitely the high point of this hike.

On the summit of Mission Peak it looked like some kind a youth convention. I think there must be some local youth group that does regular hikes up there. I frequently see large groups of kids up there. The views were forgettable this trip due to the poor conditions, so we headed back down without spending any time. I snapped a few photos just because, ….well, to ignore them later I suppose. Somehow it just seems wrong to leave a peak without any photos. On the way back we noticed that we were being watched by a coyote high atop a tall hill off trail with his ears pricked up. I couldn’t get photo of him either. There were a lot of hang gliders and parasailers making flights during the afternoon. I did get some photos of them. We were watching rain falling in the Santa Cruz Mountains and we hoped we would make it down to the car before it moved in here.

Click here to see my photos

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