A Valentine’s Day Hike – Mount Umunhum beckons

Mount Umunhum, the highest peak in the Santa Cruz mountains at 3488 feet is an ubiquitous presence in our life. The cube, an abandoned air force radar station and a relic of the cold war, on top of Mount Umunhum is clearly visible from our backyard. Our family had attended the grand opening of the designer trail, a 3.7 miles trail, from Bald Mountain to the summit in September of 2017. I was fortunate to get a guided trip down from the summit to Bald Mountain parking lot on that day. After that day, I had done the 7.4 mile round trip hike several times in different seasons.


However, the sixteen mile or so round trip hike from the Hicks Road parking lot up to the summit is a different matter altogether. I think the hike is moderately challenging, the nearly twenty two hundred feet elevation from the Hicks Road parking lot to the summit in about eight miles is OK except in few patches where the grade is steep and taxing. The hike, I should say, is more a test of endurance than being really challenging. Constantly changing microclimate of the mountain can be a challenge for unprepared hikers. For us, the day started cool but sunny at 40F. As we went up, we faced drizzle, light rain, warm sun forcing us to take off our jackets and howling winds at the summit. After about twenty five hundred feet, it was misty all through.


Sometimes in 2018, I along with my wife tried to hike up from Hicks Road but after about three and half miles and after hiking up a steep grade, she did not feel well and we returned back. Then sometime during the summer of 2019, I did that hike alone. But such a long hike in summer, unless, done really early in the morning, is not pleasant.


I was planning do this hike up to the summit from Hicks Road this winter. However my wife won’t allow me to do this alone and she planned to join. Something or other came up during few of the previous days we planned and ultimately everything fell in place on Valentine’s Day.
Thus we ended up on the trail on this Valentine’s Day and we did it our way, slow and steady. Started our hike up at about 8:45AM and at 6:30 PM, when we returned to the parking lot, ours was the only car there and the gates on Mount Umunhum Road were closed. Thank God that the exit gate opened automatically.

Cube on Mt Um as seen from the trail
Guadalupe River, just a stream here
What secret she holds down at the bottom of the gorge
At the summit. Cube was not tilted, my camera was.
Tree Arches
City lights seen from the trail during return trio

Valentine’s Day ended on a high note.
The body was sore but the spirits were high. To be on the trails with your valentine on Valentine’s Day is a reward itself.


Featured image is of Mount Umunhum from Hicks Road parking lot. Taken by author on February 14, 2021.

Of April Fools Day, Good Friday and Easter

Yesterday was April Fools Day as well as Easter.  I was thinking of posting this yesterday but then one thing rolled into another and before I knew it it was past midnight. So here it is.

Thirty five years ago, it was another April Fools Day.  I will always remember that day.  That was the day my elder brother, my sister-in-law and my younger brother were going to see my future wife.  Ours was an arranged marriage and I had not met her till that time.  It was early morning, around 9:00 AM when my family members were about to go to my bride to be house when my younger brother said, “Hope this not turn out to be an April Fool joke.”  My elder brother stopped in his track, looked towards me and said, ” Well, it is also Good Friday and the good will surely overcome the bad.” We are not Christians and Good Friday did not carry much importance to us in India except that it was a holiday.  To make a long story short, it definitely did not turn out to be an April Fool’s joke. In another month and eight days, it will be our thirty fifth anniversary and I must have been blessed by someone high up on that Good Friday.

Move forward thirty five years and to April Fools Day and Easter.  Leader of our hiking group had sent a message for a hike up Mount Umunhum, a 3486 feet peak in Santa Clara county, California.  The trail leading up to the summit was opened to the public in September of 2017.  We had been to the grand opening and was fortunate to be part of a group to hike down.  There are three parking lots for this trail, one at the entrance to the park at bottom, one somewhat in the middle and one near the summit.  Hiking up from the bottom lot is nearly a day long affair.  The trail that was opened last year starts from the parking lot in the middle (Bald Mountain) and goes up about 3.7 miles to the top parking lot.  There is another trail leading up to the summit and an alternate path is to climb up 159 steps and walk a small distance.  Bald Mountain parking lot is quite small and fills up very quickly on weekends and holidays.  On my last three attempts, I was not able to find a parking and was forced to drive to the top parking lot.  So I had never completed the round trip of the trail as it is harder to hike down and then hike up and had returned from about half way down the trail.  This time I was determined to complete the round trip so I told my group to be at the parking lot as early as possible.  I was at the bottom parking lot before 7:30 AM and was greeted by the wonderful sight of the moon setting on the western sky over the mountain.

Moonset over Mt UmMount Umunhum with old radar station on the left and the setting moon on the right.

I had to wait for about fifteen minutes before my friends arrived.  I left my car in the bottom parking lot and four of us drove up to the Bald Mountain parking lot.

mount umearly morning
Mount Umunhum in early morning light

Being early had its reward as there were still few parking spaces available.  We parked our car and started our hike.  The trail is a designer trail with very decent grading and switch backs with lots of shade.  Trail is about 3.7 miles long from the Bald Mountain parking lot to the parking lot at the summit.  It was a perfect hiking weather, sunny but cool with a light breeze.  We had a very pleasant hike, wandering around from time to time, exploring.  Completed our hike of nine miles with an elevation gain of about 1300 feet in three hours and forty five minutes with many stops along the way to enjoy the vistas.  So another happy April Fools Day and the blessings of Easter.  I am sure I won’t be here for next thirty five years to tell another April Fool story.  But as long as I live, I will remember these two April Fools Day.  They were perfect.

View of the valley from Guadalupe River Watershed Vista Point on the left and Doppler weather radar on Mount Umunhum on the right

One Tree Hill

Today’s Tuesday Photo Challenge prompt by Frank is Hills.  This is a topic near and dear to my heart.

Readers of my blog by now must be familiar with the featured image of my home page. It is a photo of Dana Peak (13000 ft) in the high Sierras taken by me in September of 2014 hiking down Gaylor Peak (11000 ft).  But I am not going to talk about it today.MtDana_1.jpg

My current residence is in a valley (Almaden Valley) inside a valley (Santa Clara Valley / Silicon Valley). As such we are surrounded by hills.  Mount Umunhum (3300 ft) to our west hovers over us and can be viewed from our front and back yard.  But I am not going to talk about it today.MtUm1The white cube seen on top of Mount Umunhum was a radar station in the air force base that was closed nearly forty years ago.  During its heyday it used to keep tab on all flights coming in from the east over the Pacific Ocean. The radar station is still off limits to public due to asbestos hazards, but Mount Um was opened to the public in fall of 2017.  It’s a gorgeous hike up there and on clear days one can see past San Francisco to Mt Tamalpais ( about 75 miles north) to the north and Monterey to the south and whole of Silicon Valley to the east.
MtUm2Mount Umunhum as seen from my back yard.

Now that I have gotten these out of my way, let me come back to the main topic of today.  Near our house is a small hillock (or a knoll ) hardly a couple of hundred feet tall.  The landscape changes with the season.  It is verdant in winter, slowly turning to golden brown with advent of spring.  On top of the hill there are three oak trees.  Looking from the bottom, only one oak tree is seen at a time.  I think that’s where it got its name, One Tree Hill.  Generations of kids have grown up swinging on homemade swings attached to its branches.  Many graduating high school seniors use the plateau on top with the oak tree as a background for their high school graduating yearbook photos. I use the hike up the hill as my excuse for exercise but mainly to let my dog Skooby run around freely on the few soccer field size flat top.  He enjoys the freedom, absolute lack of traffic and gallops, canters or sprints as he feels like.  It’s pure joy to see him enjoying the freedom.
1040533_1.jpg
OakTree1Oak2     Alas, as spring comes the hills will slowly turn golden brown.
This enchanting hill can become dangerous fire hazard if some idiots drop their cigarette butts on those golden brown grass as can be seen from a photo taken couple of years back.
Thank God (and quick responding fire fighters) that no one was harmed and no property was damaged.

Yesterday it rained here, just sparingly.  As the news channels said, it was just teaser rain (Flirtatious Rain Clouds) , harbinger of more rains to come in the next few days.  God knows we need as much rain as we can get.  But there was a forecast of snow at higher elevations.  So come morning, I along with my best friend, Skooby, trudged up One Tree Hill.  It was a gorgeous morning, cool,crisp and clear.  And what a sight it was.  Mount Hamilton (4300 feet) to the east of us was covered with snow.  It was difficult to get a good photograph as the mountain was to my east and the sun shining bright in the morning.

I know I have gone completely overboard with this post.  But as I mentioned at the beginning of my post today, this prompt is very near and dear to my heart. I wish I could have just given you a birds eye view as seen by the falcon flying over my head today.


All photographs by the author.