I am getting stronger, but can I do this?
Sometimes I feel like I am my own worst enemy — at least when it comes to having the confidence to complete a hike. In this case, we wanted to tackle El Sombroso — near Los Gatos — in Santa Clara County. The problem facing me was that the hike, though rated moderate, was given as 11.6 miles round trip and it’s about a 2,000 ft. elevation gain. Because I have been dealing with leg pain for many months, I was feeling stuck at about 7 miles.
A Nifty Ninety PeakRead More
Climbing this mountain would give us #83 on the Nifty Ninety Peak challenge! We are at the point where the remaining peaks are all upwards of 10 miles, or a greater distance from home. For most we will have to either get a very early start, or camp out and stay overnight near the trail.
Since I didn’t think I could do the 11.6 miles of Sombroso as a dayhike without far too much pain, and possible injury, I tried to figure out an alternative. I considered approaching the folks at Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve to ask if we could camp partway along the trail (generally not allowed!). I don’t know anyone connected to the agency, but I thought that I could plead my case based on how close we were to reaching the 90 peaks and because of my age (79). Worst case scenario, they would say no.
Giving it a try
But, I decided against that and just decided that I would try to do the hike — if I had to turn back, I would do so. Not a scenario I wanted to see, but thought I could accept.
It was with these thoughts bouncing around in my head that on February 25, 2021, we drove south to give it a try. Our friends and hiking buddies, Tom Coroneos and Patricia Schaffarczyk, drove separately because of the continuing concerns about COVID 19.
Still not knowing which trails we would take in and out, we parked our two cars in different parking areas: one along Hicks Road in the Sierra Azul Jacques Ridge/Hicks Parking area (with the Woods trailhead), and the other a few minutes higher up the hill on the Mt. Umunhum Road (with Barlow trailhead).
The Woods route was described as an easier one, but was two miles longer. So, we decided to start from the Barlow trailhead, go out to the El Sombroso peak, and then — based on our observations, either return to the car we’d left at the Barlow trailhead, or go out on the Woods route to where we’d left the second car. Returning on the Woods would therefore save us one mile.
As it turned out, we had a fine hike. The Barlow was shaded most of the way by Bay, Oak, Madrone, and Pine trees as we walked the initial 1.8 miles along a wide trail. We joined the Woods (turning left), which was a fire road, and took it the rest of the way out to the unmarked, but easily determined, spur trail to the peak.
The peak, as advertised, was adorned with a cell tower, but despite that we were elated to have conquered our fears (at least I was). So we hooped and hollered at our/my success. Of course we were only halfway finished, but since it had been a much easier hike than I had expected, and painless, we felt great!
When we came back to the intersection of the Woods to the parking lot and the Barlow to its parking lot, there was no problem deciding to return on the Barlow.
Indeed the trail is up and down, steep at times, but alternating with relatively flat areas so that none of it is an exhausting grind. The initial part is shaded, but much of the Woods trail toward the peak is not, so bring plenty of water and wear a hat for sun-protection. This was a good time of year for this hike — during the summer it can be extremely hot.
And finally, enjoy the views of Mt. Umunhum (It’s also on the Nifty Ninety list) as you move along the undulating trail.
A fine day — and one I greatly appreciated because I regained my confidence for going forward on this challenge!
Hiked: February 25, 2021 Our #83 on the Nifty Ninety.