Get ready, get set, hike El Toro

Each year, the Morgan Hill Historical Society sponsors a spring

Each year, the Morgan Hill Historical Society sponsors a spring
hike up El Toro, the town’s trademark hill west of downtown.
Weather permitting, that hike is Saturday.
Each year, the Morgan Hill Historical Society sponsors a spring hike up El Toro, the town’s trademark hill west of downtown. Weather permitting, that hike is Saturday.

I have lived in Morgan Hill for 27 years, all of them at the very foot of the mountain. Over that time, on my various comings and goings, I always cast an eye up the slope, casually monitoring activity.

In the 1980’s or 1990’s, when I hiked up the mountain, it was truly rare to see another person. I was certainly the only person to visit the top that day, perhaps that week, maybe even that month.

These days, I rarely cast a glance toward El Toro without seeing a colored dot or two slowly inching up or down its flank. Rather than simply look at it, people have begun to walk it – and that’s great. If you haven’t done so, Saturday is a good time to change that. Here are a few tips that might make your climb safer and more enjoyable.

Wear shoes with an aggressive waffle sole. The trail is very steep and climbs directly up the slope; there are no switchbacks. The veneer of loose soil over the hard pack compounds the chancy footing.

This sounds crazy, I know, but when you descend, lean your upper body forward. When people walk down a steep incline, their instinct is to lean back which tends to push your feet out from under you. Leaning forward (not toooo far forward) places your body weight over your feet for a more solid purchase on the slope.

Things are starting to bloom up there. Black sage covers the lower reaches of El Toro.

On branches rising from this shrub, notice the tiers of flower-clumps that decrease in size as they ascend the stem like a Chinese pagoda. Pick a leaf, twist it between your fingers and enjoy the minty aroma.

The tight cluster of blue flowers you will see sitting atop a long naked stem are blue dicks (I just report them, I don’t name them). Two shrubs are beginning to bloom. Purple nightshade, or blue witch, has clusters of purple-blue blossoms with a yellow cluster of anthers in the middle. Blossoms of the sticky monkeyflower are long yellow-orange flower tubes. In a few months, its flowers will soon color the entire mountain side. Feel the sticky back of the shrub’s leaves and lightly touch the white tip of the flower’s protruding stigma and watch its two lips close, grabbing the pollen deposited by a visiting bee.

The real attraction, of course, is the view — and it is spectacular. Try to find a copy of Bayard Taylor’s “Eldorado or Adventures in Path of Empire” and, on page 97, read his description of his after-dinner ride to the top of El Toro with Martin Murphy in 1850. I first thought his description of the view was overdone in the too-syrupy style of Victorian writers until my next trip to the top reminded me just how special it is. On a clear day, I have seen Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, the San Francisco skyline, Bay Bridge, Oakland skyline, Stanford’s Hoover Tower, and so on. Taylor nailed it.

Two hikes are scheduled Saturday morning; the first at 7:30 a.m., the second at 10. Meet at the Morgan Hill Library, 660 West Main Ave. Bring your waffle-soled shoes, water, gloves to protect your hands along a fixed rope that will help you manage the steepest portion, and your strong legs and lungs. You won’t be alone.

It can be a bit of a traffic jam, but when — not if — you reach the top, pat yourself on the back and let your eyes and your spirit reach out and embrace all that is before you.

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