Solano County High Point Trip Report

Mount Vaca

Date: February 14, 2004
Author: Robert Greene

After the previous weekend's bushwhack-fest, I was ready for a bit of just walking-up-the-ole-road highpointing. As usual, I referred to the county highpoint list for all available information; however, I was stymied as there was only Roy Wallen's single report which said, if I may paraphrase so boldy "I used the Suttle approach". There was a clue that I missed, which was that the highpoint was to the "right (southwest)", which implies a north-ish approach. The lost art of trip report reading!

I approached from the south as follows:

- I80 to the Pena Adobe turnoff
- Left (west) on Pena Adobe, follow 0.6 mile
- Right (north) on Pleasant's Way, follow 2.7 miles
- Left (west) on Gates Canyon, follow 3.2 miles

Upon turning on Gates Canyon (Canyon), there is a sign which indicates there is a locked gate at 3 miles. It's a bit farther, probably around 3.4 miles. The gate is a heavy duty white metal one, with a private residence on the left side of the road and a nice flat area you could park in (except for the predominantly posted "Don't park here EVER" sign) to the right. Although the gate was open when I went, I opted to turn around, descend back down the hill and park outside the gate this time. The road becomes much rougher and 4-wheel drive would be required (though see end of trip report) in my opinion past it.

After parking at 2:00 pm, I started hiking up the road, and past the white gate. The well worn and rutted dirt road generally proceeds to the southwest, past numerous gated private (and marked) areas on both the left and right. It is not necessary to enter those areas -- although at one point, I blundered into one because I thought it was the correct right hand turn to approach the mountain. After taking a tour of a new home site, I reached the end of this private spur road.

After triangulating my position using compass, topographical map and visible points of reference -- and referring to the GPS solely to verify what I already knew, I determined that I had, in fact, taken the wrong course. My alternatives were few: retrace my steps and walk all the way back, almost 0.3 mile (!) or bushwhack through a section of dense brush and then walk back, saving almost 0.1 mile!

I considered trying to cut through the chaparral with my pocket knife but decided that was only likely to require me to bust out the first aid kit. So it was left to a choice of elephanting through dense brush over slick rocks. Soon, I was back on the road out of this private tract of land and rejoined the main road, continuing southwest along my original trajectory. Around this time, a brief rain shower began, the drops beading on my Goretex rain jacket and pants are a memory that I shall not soon forget.

Suffice it to say that shortly thereafter, the road dead-ended into a fence line. On the left (to the south) was a green gate, with a predominantly posted "NO TRESPASSING" sign. On the right (to the north), was a red gate. The gate was unposted, but had been buried in a pile of dirt -- I assume to prevent opening it.

I turned right and followed a fairly unused looking road to the northwest. The road was relatively straight and easy to follow. Shortly after embarking upon this road, I saw the first of a long series of radio towers. About the time the towers come into view, a long series of gates also obstructs the road -- these are generally white gates (like the first one at the car parking spot) and sadly, each one is marked (though sometimes it has worn off), "Private Club - Please No Trespassing".

I walked past the first tower (unmarked) and took the central road (which appeared to go "up" more), this led me to tower 26. There is a left road, which rejoins further on and I assume goes by 27-31 on the ridge. It's not necessary to climb up on top of that ridge. I next passed towers 26, 25 and 24. In between 24 and 23, I ran into landowners at work fixing the road. They seemed like nice, fairly-tolerant folks. They wanted to know where I was going and if I was "just hiking" (I guess as opposed to hunting). I told them about the county high point and used my GPS which was only for showboating to amaze and confuse. In the end, they said they generally frowned on anyone coming up here because (a) most people were 4wheelers trashing the road which made them have to come out and endlessly fill it back in, (b) most hikers were notorious for leaving endless trash all over that they had to come pick up, and (c) a lot of "freaky" people were wandering around in the countryside. I sympathized, told them, I'd certainly pack out my extra food and not leave it for the bears. I also told them I'd pick up some of the trash on my way down as my contribution to their efforts; they seemed happy, and I was on my way to the final destination. (They weren't forthcoming on a contact point for future hikers since they didn't want to encourage it, sorry guys.)

The rest of the hike was easy, I passed tower 23 and arrived at the tower 20/21 complex. I walked all the way around 20/21, and decided that the highest point did appear to be to the southwest of 20. I saw a flat slab with a cairn built on it which looked to be the highest spot on flat land. There was also a pile of slabs which was about 10 feet higher in overall elevation resting a bit farther down the side of the hill on the southwest. I climbed through the underbrush and ascended that pile of slabs, just in case. (After analysis of my GPS track, it looks like the slabs are actually in Napa county, so the cairn must be the real high point.)

The trip down was mostly a non-event, I followed the road, skipped the private land detour, and made nice good downhill progress. About 1/2 a mile from my car, it started to get cool and I heard a vehicle coming up the road, so I stopped and put on my extra warm clothing. Amazingly, a Turbo Saab 900 appeared at the bottom of this big mud pit dirt road. They were revving it at about 80,000 rpm and sliding it back and forth; every now and then they'd hit a rock and manage to climb a foot up the hill. Now, I'm all for trashing cars and being stupid, but it was almost painful to watch. I stood off to the side of the road in case they actually managed to get some traction but after about 5 minutes, I could see it wasn't happening, in fact, they were sliding down the hill instead, wheels spinning like mad.

I walked past the car, giving them that "y'all aren't from around these here parts, are you?" look my pa had learnt me in Texas. It turned out they were (well, from nearby Davis anyway). After a brief consultation which included a disclosure that they were planning on driving "all the way to the top" and my questioning "Do you have keys for all those locked gates between here and there?", they saw the error of their ways and decided to back down the hill.

I almost beat them down to my car; 2:47 had elapsed, and there was still daylight to burn. I patted my headlamp in my pocket, bemoaned the fact that this day I would not need the matches to light my candle, jumped in my car and beat a hasty exit.

Trip statistics: distance 6.34 miles; duration 2 hours 47 minutes; elevation gain 1,532 ft.