As the highest point in the Santa Cruz mountain, Loma Prieta is often mistakenly assumed to be a California county high point. Unfortunately, it is not in Santa Cruz county (where it would be the high point) and must yield the honor to Santa Clara's Copernicus Peak.
However, the peak does claim the distinction of being on the 2000' Prominence List for California, ranked #30 in California with 3,426 feet of prominence.
Loma Prieta is surrounded by private lands, and even the nearby roads are flagged for use by "authorized vehicles and local residents" only. This lack of access detracts from a peak that otherwise might see the same activity as other public Bay Area peaks like Montara Mountain and Mission Peak.
The top of the peak is dominated by multiple antenna sites and, unfortunately, the highest point, a large boulder, is located just inside the fence of the main complex.
Loma Prieta Road Route
Most routes lead eventually to the roads to the south of the peak. In order to directly reach these roads, take Highway 17 towards Santa Cruz from the Bay Area, turning off on Summit Road after passing the Lexington Resevoir. Take Summit Road southeast, passing the Loma Prieta School and other likely sounding place (like the Summit Store). The road meets another which is signed as "Mt. Bache Road". Take this road a brief distance, where you will intersect "Loma Prieta Avenue (to the left)/Loma Prieta Road (to the right)". Turn right on Loma Prieta Road, and take this until reaching the end of the paved road section. Shortly after this, there is a gate which is signed for use by "authorized and resident vehicles only". My recommendation for maximum legality is hiking beyond this point, and staying on the road. For a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, there is a lot of traffic on it, but people waved and were generally friendly.
An alternative trailhead begins in the Uvas Canyon County Park. Directions to the park may be found on the park website. This route appears to join the roads above with a bit longer distance and elevation gain. A good description of the route may be found here.
It is possible to hike from Summit Road directly north to Loma Prieta Road. The best way of doing this is to use a jeep road signed CA parks "Area Closed" slightly west of directly south from Loma Prieta. This jeep road leads steeply up from Summit Road, jaunts briefly to the west and then meets up with Loma Prieta Avenue. The jeep road is clearly marked on topographic maps.
When ascending the jeep road, it may appear that the next ridge over (to the east) would be a better connector to the main Loma Prieta ridge. This may be true, but this route involves significant (ie: 0.1 mile per hour speed) bushwhacking and isn't recommended -- although it is all outside the "Area Closed" fence line above.
No fees or permits are required from either start point. Some amount of diplomatic skills may be required, depending on your intended level of interaction with local landowners.
When To Climb
Non-summer months are best to moderate the heat of this exposed hike. There is no water available on any of the ridge areas leading to this peak; although in spring there are flowing streams in the bushwhack valleys between ridges.
Loma Prieta History
Loma Prieta was orginally named by the Spaniards and Mexicans who looked up at it from the Mission of Santa Cruz in the nearby Pajaro Valley. At the time, they saw the dark, blue-green chaparral covering the high brushy hill and called it Loma Prieta ("dark knoll").
In the mid 1800's, the mountain was renamed to "Mt. Bache" in honor of Alexander Dallas Bache, the Superintendent of the US Coast Survey from 1843-1867; however, that name never gained widespread acceptance and now we are left with only the street sign to remind us.
An account of William Brewer's ascent of Loma Prieta may be found here, notable for its description of San Jose as a "bustling thriving town of six or seven thousand".
Located just one mile from the San Andreas fault, Loma Prieta is also well known as the epicenter of the 1989 magnitude 6.9 (the largest since 1906) earthquake. The USGS report in 1999 on the earthquake may be found here.
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