Hiking Stats as of 11/19/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Feb 9, 2014 - El Sombroso


Partners: (None)

Distance: 12.51 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,333 feet

Trip Time: 5:06

Maps and Stats:
Winter finally arrived to Northern California by early February, with the forecast calling for mountain snow and Bay Area rain for the entire weekend. I had considered hiking somewhere local on Saturday, as is my preferred hiking day, but decided against it thinking that the wet weather would result in some less than fun conditions. Well, the rain was intermittent at best, and so come Sunday morning I decided that I had no excuse for not braving the misty conditions and bagging another peak. Choosing a destination was not too difficult, as I have had my sights set on completing the "Everest by the Bay" list of 9 prominent Bay Area peaks. I had completed 7 previously, and for number 8 I chose El Sombroso (leaving only something called Black Mountain as my final peak to attempt to complete this list). For an added bonus El Sombroso is also on the CC peak list, and a successful summit would be my 25th on this list.

El Sombroso is located in the south bay, although unlike Mt. Sizer from the previous weekend, it is located on the western side, in the Santa Cruz mountains. I made the quick drive down through San Jose to the town of Los Gatos, where I found the road leading to a reservoir where signs indicated that a permit fee was required. I pulled into the large parking area and attempted to dutifully pay my entrance fee. I swiped my credit card multiple times, but the machine couldn't read it. Perhaps the machine was malfunctioning in the rain? I tried another card, but that didn't work either. So I put in a $20, and much to my displeasure the machine spit back 14 individual $1 coins along with my receipt. Great. Looking around, I noticed I was the only car in the lot, and when I pulled out my GPS, I discovered I was nearly a half mile from where I was supposed to park. As I started up my car, I hoped that permits were required to park up the road as well, but when I found the correct location it was obvious that I had a $6 useless permit in my car. I was quite embarrassed by my mistake, and made sure to hide the permit under my car seat so as to not alert the locals as to the tourist visiting their area.

I set off into the mist, and noticed that this was a fairly popular trail for the locals. I ran into many hikers coming down the trail, most of whom hadn't even bothered to wear any waterproof gear. The forecast had called for only light rain until afternoon, when the rain would intensify, so perhaps they knew they would be out of the elements before that time. The trail was quite easy to follow and quite tame for the first mile, before finally turning uphill and gaining significant elevation over the next mile. As I went up this section, I was passed up by two women whom I chatted with for a few minutes prior to their resuming their impressive pace. I was both impressed and a bit concerned that I was being too casual with my pace, so I picked it up but found I didn't make up any ground, although they stopped pulling ahead of me. Once we reached a flatter section I easily passed them up (I think they were waiting for other members of a group) and I never saw them again the rest of the day. Being overly sensitive, I made sure to make sure they knew that I was going to the summit as I passed them by, as if maybe they might think I was simply conserving energy on the uphill portion so as to ensure an energy reserve later in the day.

Hiking in the rain or mist is actually somewhat enjoyable, I have good rain gear and I like not having to worry about getting sunburned or overheating. The downside is the views are non-existent. I had similar views for the much of the rest of the trip up to the top, and I imagine that on a nice clear spring day the scenery would be fantastic. I did see a salamander on the trail enjoying the rare rainfall, which was a fun diversion from the continued view of the mist cloud over the trail.

There are two trails that reach the summit, essentially forming a figure 8, with the trails starting about a quarter mile apart at the bottom, crossing each other at the mid point, and reconnecting again near the top. I was taking the Priest Rock trail up to the top, with the final approach of this trail following underneath some massive electrical towers which took away from the peaceful environment. Even though I was listening to an audio book with earbuds, I could easily hear the hum of the towers and wires - so much so that I continually looked behind me thinking that a vehicle had to be approaching. Apparently there is a lot of concern that people might want to climb these monsters, and so they have been outfitted with spikes that only the most determined electrical tower climber would dare brave.

The main trail doesn't actually run up to the top of the summit of El Sombroso, although an obvious path leads up the final 50 feet to the top. Or so it seemed, but as that path crested and began to head down, it was obvious that the summit of El Sombroso was off to the left (north) which just so happened to be blocked by dense vegetation. I figured I must have missed a use trail to get me to the true summit, so I walked back down the trail but was only met with more impregnable brush. This was going to be ugly. I descended some more, and found a gap where it appeared that I could at least get through some of the vegetation, and actually found a very faint use trail that faded in and out as it wound around the expanse of trees and brush. The biggest obstacle by far was not the trees or brush, but the vast quantities of poison oak which were visible in all directions - on the ground, in bushes that reached head height, and coming down in vine-like fashion from the trees. I tucked my hands in my pockets, and with my pants and jacket figured I would be reasonably safe from exposure. I ducked, crawled, twisted, and kicked my way through this junk, doing my best to not touch the poison oak but knowing it was constantly in contact with my clothes. I began to worry that the poison oak could be carried down in the many raindrops that were falling down the poison oak leaves above me, and that despite my efforts at safety I was going to pay a heavy price for this activity. I was extremely excited to find a bit of a clearing, from where only a short distance later I found what appeared to me to the be the highest point around. My watch showed an elevation of 3,021, which was just about right for the summit so I was satisfied. Only a sadistic fool would think of searching about for a summit register, and after spending a half hour wandering less than a quarter mile I immediately made my way back to the trail.

Once I got back I was quite concerned that I had come into contact with a tremendous amount of poison oak. I quickly washed my hands in a muddy puddle, scrubbing them with all the dirt I could find. A few minutes later I found a nice large puddle where I splashed dirty water all over my clothes in an attempt to wash away whatever residue I had picked up from the poison oak. I set off down the Limekiln Trail, which winds around by some sort of quarry as it descends down the mountain. Having no trouble routefinding I was down in less than 2 hours, although in this case "down" meant back to the parking lot of the Figure 8 which required a quarter mile hike back up the road to get back to the car. Along the way I had nice views of the reservoir that I had mistakenly paid my permit fees at earlier in the morning, and soon I was back at the car where I carefully removed my raingear and placed it in a bag in the trunk so as to avoid spreading any poison oak residue in my car. I drove home in about 75 minutes, and took a shower to try to rinse anything off that managed to make the trip with me. A couple of days later I thought maybe I was getting a bit of a rash on my knuckles, but if it was related it didn't last long and it was quickly gone without having impacted me at all. I suspect that was simply me looking hard to find something wrong and somehow I managed to avoid the poison oak altogether. At least on Everest they don't have to dodge a jungle of poison oak!

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