Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hike // Black Mountain Loop, Monte Bello OSP

black mountain

I live in Mountain View, California. The mountain we have a view of is Black Mountain (2,812 ft). It’s probably the most prominent peak from the Sierra Azul to San Bruno Mountain. It’s surprising how well the mountain hides in plain sight though. Crowds at the top are calmer than you might expect from such a prominent peak. Once you know it’s there though it’s no surprise how fantastic the view from the top is. The wild Santa Cruz mountains sit to the west and urbanized Bay Area sprawls out to the east.

From the trailhead in Monte Bello Open Space Preserve (OSP) - Black Mountain is visible during almost all of the hike. The first half of this hike is all tromping up the sunny and exposed slopes of Black Mountain - the second half is all about exploring in the shady canopy of Stevens Creek Canyon. The contrast between those two worlds highlights the diversity that makes Monte Bello OSP so unique.

Hike Summary
Difficulty Moderate
Distance 6.3 Miles
Popularity Moderate
Peak Season Winter, Spring, Fall
Fees None

I snuck up Black Mountain on Super Bowl Sunday 2012 (49ers/Ravens). I was bitter and seeking to avoid football for awhile because my Patriots had just been beaten in the AFC championship. You’d be bitter about that one too - seriously - go google Ray Lewis deer antler spray. After watching Wes Welker get concussed about 70 times I decided I wasn’t in the mood to watch the confetti fly. As it turned out the football gods decided I should probably watch as “The Blackout” extended the game just long enough for me to catch the end. I should have known that would be the case when I shared the summit with a pair of ravens (the actual bird).

Really, the Super Bowl always provides a nice excuse to get outside, and on this particular day - take advantage of a relatively warm winter afternoon. Although I encountered a few other hikers during the day it felt almost as though I had the park to myself. Probably because most other people were with their friends, not being a total buzzkill like me. Their loss.

From the parking lot, the Stevens Creek Nature Trail runs a few tenths of a mile over some very flat terrain until it reaches a junction with the Canyon Trail. This is the only leg of the trail that I would hike over twice on the loop. I followed the Canyon Trail off to the left, choosing to keep the mountain in front of me on the way up. This route is the most direct and even grade to the summit.

monte bello deer

Deer near the Bella Vista Trail.

The Canyon Trail followed the contours of the ridge for a short way before it dropped down into a Willow and Oak tree covered area around a small tributary to Stevens Creek. This was the last leg of the trail fully sheltered from the sun until I returned to the Stevens Creek Nature Trail well after the summit. I was quite glad to be hiking this on a winter afternoon and not under a scorching summer sun.

As I hiked in I made another left after about a half a mile onto the appropriately named Bella Vista Trail. From there the trail sauntered over the grassy hills, diving in and out of a few small drainage canyons as it steadily climbed up the slope of the mountain. Any monotony was broken up by the sight of isolated and staggeringly beautiful heritage oak trees. I spotted several groups of deer grazing near some of the small patches of vegetation that dot the sides of the trail. All this with commanding views of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the background. Basically, this part of the trail is pretty nice.

monte bello osp

Looking back towards the trailhead from the Bella Vista trail.

The terrain leveled off near the backpackers camp. As I approached the summit the wind began to pick up. Very suddenly the hill dropped away, the climbing ended, and I myself joining a couple of ravens (presumably there to remind me of the Patriots’ loss) standing on the rocky top of Black Mountain. A few other couples trickled in over the half an hour or so I spent on top of the mountain, enjoying the scenery and scarfing down a delicious burrito from Super Burrito I had purchased just before the hike, but basically I had the summit to myself.

black mountain summit

Ravens on the rocks near the summit of Black Mountain.

black mountain hiker

Two hikers approaching the summit of Black Mountain.

After retracing my steps a short distance from the summit I followed my first opportunity to begin descending and took a left down the Indian Creek Trail. The trail dropped very steeply down a very wide open trail. I was quite pleased with my decision to save this bit of trail for the descent, rather than worry about climbing it.

stevens creek canyon

Stevens Creek Canyon.

After a mile or so the open trail sneaks under a light oak forest canopy which eventually becomes thicker and thicker until the trail flattens out at the bottom of Stevens Creek Canyon. It was later afternoon at this point and there was very little light this deep into the canyon so I tried to hustle as much as I could to get back before it became dark. The trail has a number of cute wooden bridges which add to the charm of the trail. After tracing the banks of Stevens Creek for a mile or so the trail eventually popped out of the forest, right near the junction I passed earlier in the day with the Canyon Trail.

upper stevens creek

Bridge over upper Stevens Creek.

I retraced my steps from the start of the hike as the sun dipped down below the horizon. Working my way back to the car where I kicked off my boots, drove home, and ended up watching the final drive of the game and then the purple and black confetti fly.

monte bello sunset

Dusk in Monte Bello OSP. Near the trailhead.

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