Passover 2006 Trip Report

Palo Escrito Peak (4,467 feet), Chews Ridge (5,082 feet), Mount Johnson (3,465 feet)

Dates: April 10 to 21, 2006


Passover 2006 was special in that my parents located a Monterey hotel sponsoring the event, so that my brother and his family could participate. Dale and his family live in Monterey and the adjacent hill country.

I met my parents in San Luis Obispo at the Apple Farm Inn on Monday afternoon the 10th. I was promptly and unfailingly treated to wonderful meals through Tuesday night. In return, I drove them through the downtown area on shopping expeditions - their navigation skills somewhat lacking.

On Wednesday the 12th we caravaned to Salinas, and I led them to Dale's Monterey office followed by the Hyatt Regency hotel for their eight-day holiday.

We celebrated the two Passover Seder meals on Wednesday and Thursday evening. The Seder is a religious event observing the historic release of the Hebrew Nation from servitude in Pharaoh's Egypt - and as described in the Book of Exodus.

Unfortunately Edward Earl miscalculated the days of Passover, scheduling his arrival flight into San Jose one day too early. As a result I left the second Seder midstream and drove the seventy miles to retrieve him.

Over the span of several telephone conservations in the trip planning phase I claimed that the first Seder is Wednesday evening - and yet Edward insisted it is Tuesday evening - having used a fallacious means of computing the holiday start date.

The flight was delayed some 2 1/2 hours, and, knowing this from a telephone call to Southwest Airlines, I did not drive until necessary.

Edward was not to be seen.

I drove around the airport FOUR times, finally parking in a short-term lot and entering the baggage claim area - now past midnight.

I was quite upset because Edward had caused me to miss the family Seder through his error; and had failed to notify me that he decided to rent his own car for the weekend hikes. Edward says he left messages on my cellular telephone - yet I could find them anywhere. I drove back to Dale's apartment and slept at 2:15 a.m.

One mitigating factor is that I was treated to "Grand Kiddush" mid-day Thursday - a post-religious services snack with much cake, wine, and assorted liqueurs. I was sufficiently drunk (in my parent's hotel room) that I could not safely return to Dale's apartment by car (all of one mile) until 6 that afternoon. At the time I doubted whether I could safely retrieve Edward that evening - and, having relayed this to him at 1 p.m., Edward decided to not rely on me for transportation once he learned his flight was delayed (as in his mind I might not be there for either or both reasons to retrieve him).

One Day Off
I received this "pass" to take it easy
and enjoy the day rather than work on
my latest prominence-oriented research project.
I wish Edward would have put more faith in my common sense to call the airline (so learning that his flight was delayed), and my ability to judge how much alcohol I can imbibe without sacrificing driving ability nine hours later.

I spent Friday through Sunday with Edward and Richard Carey hiking three 2,000+ foot prominence peaks in the immediate area. They slept at Dale's apartment, and each morning we started quite early on the road to that day's trailhead.

The weather was uncooperative for the entire three days. During the first hike on Palo Escrito Peak we got completely soaked - and the availability of a clothes dryer in Dale's apartment was essential to dry items.

My leather boots received special treatment - baked in Dale's oven on the lowest setting ("warm") for several hours that evening.

Boots Au Gratin, anyone?

Despite the weather and some serious access issues, all three of us climbed our three mountains as described in detail below.

Richard drove back south Sunday afternoon, and Edward met a friend for dinner that he knew from his music activities. He drove north for the departing flight around 7 p.m.; and, waking briefly from a nap five minutes later, I discovered his carry-on daypack still in Dale's apartment!

I ran to my truck (barely remembering my driver's license), and drove north on Highway 1 at excessive speed to catch Edward. I was more worried about a chasing policeman than the danger of 80+ m.p.h. speeds. I ended this wild goose chase on reaching Route 156 - having but one lane in each direction, it was not possible to drive quickly enough to overtake Edward miles ahead due to blocking traffic.

I returned the fifteen miles with the sole consolation that Edward had an E-ticket with identification in his wallet so that at least he'd be able to board the flight.

I was quite hungry; ate much food from Dale's kitchen; and, exhausted from arising at 3:30 a.m., was asleep by just 9:30 p.m. or so.

For the remaining several days I visited my parents every day at their hotel, enjoying lunch in their room as kindly provided by mother from the buffet-style lunch for guests. I do not eat at buffets because the tendency is to simply return to the food table ad nauseum - especially for desserts - and I have never conquered this weakness in my constitution. Hence I ate a fixed (but still very large) lunch in the hotel room where the opportunity for multiple returns to the buffet table is absent.

I drove mom and dad to nearby Carmel on two days so she could shop and he could get some needed fresh air and exercise walking the streets. Carmel is a fancy-shmancy community known for its art boutiques and fine shopping. I view the road navigation to/from Carmel and handling the 30-minute parking zones as trival. Nevertheless I received much gratitude from mom, her claim being that it would be far more difficult for them to drive it alone.

I returned to San Diego on Friday the 21st with wonderful memories; perhaps 2-3 pounds gained; and three more prominent peaks on my resume. The weight disappears without effort owing to a very high metabolism. Thankfully, the same cannot be said for the other items!

Climb Details

Richard Carey, trip participant, provides the following review as a personal note to Mark Adrian.

"Edward, Adam and I did Palo Escrito, Chews Ridge LO and Mount Johnson this past weekend. I left them Sunday afternoon and spent the night in Hollister and then did Call BM and Call Mountain Lookout on Monday. I didn't have any problems with this peak and it was a lovely hike. The heavy rains lately have made the hills bright green. I started near a gate at Panoche Pass on highway J1 and walked west up a ranch road all the way to the top. The area by the gate had a sign for Summit Ranch, but there were no signs restricting access. I parked a bit away from the gate to the north at milepost 19.65 and hiked up ravines to intersect the ranch road at a cattle guard. I noticed that a home on a hill on the east side of J1 was in clear view and anyone there looking out west would have seen me. The high point is south on a trail through the brush to the BM. Several had signed in including Gordon and Barbara. The lookout building is north and is a tall wood structure that is falling apart.

Palo Escrito went OK although it rained a lot and we got totally soaked. We parked by an open gate at the end of Sanchez Road which did not have any signs. It was close to a home and business so we parked partly out of view of the business. Hiked through orchards to a locked gate (no signs) then on a road that went all the way to the top. Your register was there in the rocks, but it was pouring so we didn't open it or hang around.

Mount Johnson - We started in the dark on highway 25 and hopped over a gate about 1/4 mile in on a road to a ranch. This put us on an old road leading west up to higher pastures. We went around or over many fences to reach a wide power line access road which had little use. It was a long hike to this peak. All other access points along highway 25 were fenced off. Your register was there with no other signatures.

Chews Ridge LO - This can be driven almost all the way to the top on Tassajera Road although we hiked from about 1,500 feet down. The lookout building is wood and hasn't been used in many years. Elevation of the lookout is 5,082 feet from the datasheet and it is the highest point around. This value should probably be used to compute the Prominence. There is a Chews BM about 450 feet down the ridge, but it is definitely lower at 5,045 feet."

I now elaborate and amplify on Richard's description.

Palo Escrito

Having failed to meet Edward, doubt existed as to whether I should drive to our meeting spot with Richard Carey the next morning. Nevertheless, I met both Richard and Edward on the main east-west street in Gonzales just after eight o'clock - with Edward in his own rental. I held my anger inside upon learning that Edward had tried to notify me by cellular telephone.

With everyone inside my truck cab we scouted approaches for Palo Escrito from the east side of the range. Note that approaches are also possible from the west side. We found two promising places to start walking - and selected the second location based on access considerations, namely, the likelihood of being spotted at some point.

We parked here at 700 feet, along Sanchez Road, so making for a 3,700 foot net (and 3,800 foot total) elevation gain.

A brief walk southeast, some 150 yards, is followed by the hike southwest on a jeep road into the hills. We made good progress even though it started to rain at perhaps the 2,000 foot level. By the time we reached this junction at 2,900 feet the visibility was so poor that we could not see the 50 horizontal feet needed for finding the correct way that bypasses a cattle gate!

Rain made the hike thoroughly unenjoyable. Upon reaching this 3,600 foot junction I asked whether if it was worth continuing. Richard and Edward wanted onwards.

At the summit conditions were so miserable that only the briefest of time was spent. My planned lunch was postponed, and we started down hurriedly to stay warm - I was beginning to shiver.

We returned to my truck in less than 5 1/2 hours round-trip - quite admirable given the elevation gain; and due largely to the general absence of rest stops and a normal duration summit break.

A pint of hot cocoa in Gonzales set things right, and we caravaned as three vehicles to my brother's apartment in Monterey - arriving around 5 p.m.

Scouting Mount Johnson

The next morning, Saturday the 15th, we all drove in my truck through Hollister; then south on Route 25, to investigate approaches for Mount Johnson - and with intention of possibly hiking it that very day.

The previous afternoon we had encountered a locked gate on the western approach via Johnson Canyon Road from Gonzales. Hence we explored eastern options.

Of all the access-sensitive approaches located, the least worrisome was chosen for a pre-dawn stealth the next day, and as described here. Next to milepost 30.00, along Route 25, is a bridge. Immediately south on the west side is a private residence, and a dirt road leading 0.4 mile west to a ranch complex. The carpark / hike start is shown here.

We decided to take Edward's rental the next day seeing as it was not the same vehicle, as my truck, that may have been spotted the previous day driving back-and-forth along the highway. Edward would park his car on the gravel pullout along the east side of the highway immediately south of the bridge and across from the house. Richard and I would be dropped off north of the bridge (having come via Hollister), and walk the few hundred feet to meet Edward for the walk west along the dirt road. A 5:30 a.m. start was planned - fully one hour before sunrise; and necessitating a 4 a.m. departure from Dale's Monterey apartment.

We continued five miles south on Route 25, turning west on a public road that leads into and across the range before dropping down into Gonzales. The eighteen mile drive saved going all the way back to Hollister, and allowed us to get a better idea of other stealth options.

We returned to my brother's apartment and had a quick lunch of corn dogs.

Chews Ridge

Chews Ridge is easy compared to the other efforts. It can be driven within 200 vertical feet of the summit, generally southbound along Tassajara Road.

With Edward along we "Earlized" the peak by starting 1,500 vertical feet down at roughly 3,600 feet. Our approximate carpark is identified here.

This was the only hike with generally fair weather. It was also by far the shortest and entailed the least amount of effort. That said, the top 200 feet was in the mist of a cloud layer - again, no views - but at least it was not raining.

On the drive back to Dale's place Edward took over because I was losing a serious amount of sleep. We stopped at a Safeway to buy some food for dinner, and partly replace what was being used in Dale's kitchen.

The weather forecast for Sunday was ominous - 70% chance of rain - with thunderstorms.

Mount Johnson

At 3:30 a.m. my alarm sounded - and we checked the weather conditions, especially the radar returns for the region at - my favorite weather website.

It was a "GO", with inclement weather forecast for the afternoon during only our descent.

The hike began, as planned, at 5:30 a.m. We walked 0.3 mile west on the dirt road, and negotiated a fence located here at the base of an overgrown jeep road heading backwards at a severe angle to the southeast. The ranch entrance is 0.1 mile west and need not be reached on-foot.

By moonlight we walked the road, reaching 1,600 feet at first light. A maze of trails takes one through a cattle grazing area, generally trending north and west, until reaching an 1,800 foot junction some 1 hour 30 minutes from the carpark.

Walk the jeep road west-northwest as it gradually gains elevation over some two miles. At 2,300 feet the grade steepens, right at the point where the road disappears from the map and becomes a faint, violet line that wriggles south under obvious electric power lines. We took a break around 2,950 feet approximately here at about 8:20 a.m; departing at 8:30 a.m. with a summit ETA of 9:15-9:30 a.m.

Continue the road as it rounds the southeast flank, clockwise, of a 3,095 foot hill. The road grid from here to the summit entails a three-contour elevation loss (120 feet), and generally trends west. Set your sights on an obvious, skinny antenna mast - it is your goal.

We arrived at the summit 9:20 a.m. under bad conditions of high wind; murky skies; and the imminent threat of rain. Richard photographed the benchmark; we noted a 1999 cross in memory of a dead ranger; and we departed in favor of a "summit" break 200 feet down in a saddle.

It started to rain. The entire descent was henceforth marred by periods of intermittent rain.

We deemed it too risky to hop the gate in broad daylight. Instead we dropped down to the ranch's dirt approach road, on a steep (45 degree) slope at a point where the (higher) jeep trail turns from generally northeast to generally southeast; and as shown roughly here on the topographic chart. The roadside fence need not be stepped over - there is a large (fifteen inch diameter?) drainage pipe with a crude opening in the fence that allows its passage.

On the approach drive I felt like a D-Day paratrooper ready for "insertion" into wartime France. Once back in Edward's rental I felt like Bonnie and Clyde after a bank robbery.

Unless somebody is shooting at you, as in these two examples, I find the risk acceptable.