Sunday, June 12, 2011

Woods Trail

View to Mt Umunhum from trail
Some of the highest peaks in the South Bay are located within Sierra Azul open space preserve. Unfortunately, the highest of them, Mount Umunhum, being the site of the former Almaden Air Force Station, and its toxic material residue, remains closed to the public. The huge, cube shaped, concrete dish pedestal that remains there can be seen from more than 50 miles away. The site was part of the old cold war era NORAD radar network designed to keep watch on the air space of the west coast. With a commanding vantage point at 3486 feet, one can only imagine what the vistas would be like from the summit. MidPen has a project underway to get the site cleaned up, but for the foreseeable future, it remains off limits. Mt Thayer at 3483 feet, about a half a mile to the west, is similarly closed and off limits to the public.

Iris blooming along the Woods Trail
If Mt Thayer is the sister, then Mt El Sombroso at 2999 feet, less than a mile away as the crow files, is the uncelebrated ‘ugly cousin’ of Umunhum. El Sombroso is the highest of the legally hike-able peaks within the Sierra Azul. Its summit being a tangle of overgrowth does not provide even the slightest glimpse of the views to the bay that you know is possible having hiked up the trail. The only clear ground being the trail itself and the cut swath that provides maintenance access to the power trusses that string high voltage across the preserve and up the peninsula. The higher peaks to the south, which do have clear sightlines to the ocean, block that view from El Sombroso. Whether you hiked up from the Lexington side, the Quicksilver side, or Kennedy Road in Los Gatos, you have some great view opportunities from sections of all three routes that have clear sightlines, but the peak itself looms like more of an obstacle than a destination. Hikers may find this a little anticlimactic, but even still, I love hiking these trails. The views that do present themselves are amazing if you get a clear day, and I enjoy a challenging hike. But there is an even better reason to hike up from the Quicksilver side during spring. The wild flowers displays are enough to keep an admirer interested all day.

This hike begins at the trail head just off of Hicks Road. The Woods Trail provides a gradual, winding, 6 mile assent to the summit that is dotted with an impressive variety of wild flower species. If you go to the trouble of setting up a car shuttle, you can also hike through from Los Gatos by way of Lexington Reservoir, or Kennedy Road. The best diversity of wild flowers are here though, making the Woods Trail a sweet little out-n-back within close proximity of the city. The upper section of trail is mostly exposed, and can be hot and dry, but most of the lower trail is shaded. A great way to get some exercise in while enjoying the mix. Someday the higher summits will be open making Sierra Azul even better, but for now the Woods trail is about the best you can do in spring.

Click here to see my 2011 photos on flickr
Click here to see the track log on EveryTrail
Click here to see my 2010 photos in flickr

No comments: