Yosemite’s Cloud’s Rest, at 9,926 feet, beckons in July for 50 or so hiking enthusiasts who gathered for an 8.5 mile training excursion recently at the Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve.
Unspoiled chaparral and oak woodlands greeted the group of nature lovers, many of whom are gearing up for what may be the most challenging adventure of their lives – the Clouds Rest Challenge coming up July 13.
The July hike was inspired by Morgan Hill Times columnist Ron Erskine in his Dec. 7, 2012 “Getting Out” column. Erskine outlined a series of hikes taking place between January and July 2013 and invited readers to participate. The end goal, for hikers who choose to go the distance, is an eight-hour trek across 13.2 miles of mountain terrain to Yosemite’s Clouds Rest summit, which stands at a lofty 9,926 feet.
“These hikers have got their mojo on,” said Erskine. “There’s a lot of excitement in the group to tackle Clouds Rest this summer and most of them have already reserved rooms or campsites.”
The Rancho Cañada del Oro hike, which peaks at 1,800 feet, gave participants a small but enjoyable hint of what’s to come. The paved staging area at 4289 Casa Loma Road is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Morgan Hill.
Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve is the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority’s most significant set of acquisitions in the western watershed bordered by Almaden Quicksilver and Uvas Canyon county parks. Hundreds of California native plant and animal species thrive in the 4,334-acre preserve, which can be accessed via Casa Loma Road just west of McKean Road and south of Calero County Park.
At the top of Bald Peaks Trail two weeks ago, hikers were rewarded with a clear-sky view that stretched more than 70 miles to San Francisco’s picturesque skyline.
Cori Miller of Gilroy said, “this is so my element. I like the variety of Bay Area trails and Morgan Hill makes for beautiful hiking in the spring.”
For 50-year-old Miller, a married mother of four children, it was her first time hiking at the preserve. When she’s not busy home-schooling her two youngest children, Miller squeezes in gym workouts and long walks with a friend. She occasionally takes family members around the Bay Area for “letterboxing,” an outdoor hobby that combines elements of orienteering, art, and puzzle solving.
Outdoor enthusiasts Don and Barbara Pence of Llagas Valley will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary this summer, and their plans include the Clouds Rest Challenge. Don is a software architect with Western Digital Systems. Barbara runs painting workshops and trains service dogs. Now in their 60s, the Pences have incorporated hiking into past vacations in Yosemite as well as Canyon Lands and the Arches in Utah. They enjoy having local access to county and state parks.
“People are often surprised to find small waterfalls in Uvas Canyon, and you get traces of local history like the old logging camp site there,” Don pointed out. “At the south end of Henry Coe, trails like Hunting Hollow help you escape the noise and busyness, like you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
Michael Shropshire returned to hiking and joined the Clouds Rest Challenge after becoming burned out on cycling. The 57-year-old Morgan Hill native and senior account executive for Sirius Computer Solutions credits the challenge as a big motivator to get out and hike.
As Shropshire tells it, “like anything in life, if you don’t have a goal you’ll never get there. Having a date on the calendar makes it a goal. I want to enjoy Clouds Rest without feeling like it is a killer hike, so every weekend I look for longer and more difficult trails.”
Meeting other hikers and sharing other jokes along the trail is half the fun, he added. Shropshire recalls how, on one particular hike at the Pinnacles National Monument, “I was among several people who stopped to look at a pair of condors flying overhead. We began debating the differences between a crow and a raven. It all boiled down to the birds’ wing feathers. One fellow mentioned that a crow has eight pinion feathers while a raven has nine. I couldn’t resist following up with a punch line. ‘So,’ I said, ‘as far as what makes the birds different, it’s really just a matter of a pinion (opinion)!’ Needless to say, not everyone got the joke.”
Joining Shropshire for the Clouds Rest Challenge is Sharon Roeder, 51, a professional software developer who lives in Morgan Hill. Roeder, a third-generation native of the South Valley, typically hikes several times a month averaging 8 to 10 miles per hike. She not only enjoys discovering new local trails, but finds the scenery “beautiful, a real change of pace from cycling or the gym.”
As for her preparation for Clouds Rest, Roeder’s goal is to arrive the night before to adjust to the high altitude, and to be well-equipped for the journey.
“My best purchase for the trip was a Camelbak,” she said, referring to a lightweight pack that eliminates the need for disposable water bottles and allows hikers to drink from a water tube without removing the pack. “It’s the easiest way to carry water if you plan to be climbing and doing long hikes.”
For Diane Scariot, a 71-year-old Gilroy resident and retired medical/surgical nurse who serves as a part-time docent volunteer at Henry Coe State Park, soaking up South County’s rural riches is just as fun as educating those who come to visit.
Scariot and a few other hikers shared information about the preserve’s many wildflowers, shrubs and trees as hikers made their way along the well-kept trails. The list included Miner’s Lettuce, Indian Warrior, Wild Cucumber, Lupine, Chaparral Clematis and Tomcat Clover as well as patches of serpentine grasslands. Nestled among the oaks were Madrone, Manzanita and Ceanothus trees.
According to Scariot, who plans to undertake the Clouds Rest hike, “we are blessed with some of the best state and county parks in all of California. It’s great to see people get out and enjoy them while taking care of their health at the same time.”
-Upcoming hikes in the Clouds Rest Challenge include Harvey Bear Ranch May 4, Henry Coe State Park June 1 and Mount Madonna County Park June 22. Hikes begin at 9 a.m. Learn more about the Challenge at www.gilroydispatch.com/cloudsrestchallenge. To join interim local hikes in May and June, email Ron Erskine at [email protected]
Directions to Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve From Highway 101:
-Take the Bailey Avenue exit west
-Turn left onto McKean Road
-Turn right onto Casa Loma Road
-Staging area is at the end of the paved road on left
Looking for a fun and interesting hike this spring? Find all of our outdoor columnist Ron Erskine’s columns online