This was in March, 1970...
My younger brother and I (we were 12 and 14 y.o. respectively) started from our house on Trinidad Drive in Almaden Valley early one morning. We were armed with only a Santa Clara County road map, a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a small Boy Scout sized (1 quart, maybe?) canteen. We hiked through new and partially constructed neighborhoods to the base of Los Capitancillos Hills. We crossed them (private property before the formation of Almaden Quicksilver Park- quite a risky excursion in itself back then.) and came down near Guadalupe Reservoir. We followed close to the east shore (not daring to follow any dirt roads for fear of discovery by land-owners) and eventually came to Hicks Road.
| |Mount Umunhum and Los Capitancillos Hills |We left the road at a bridge and followed the canyon of Rincon Creek upstream. The first couple of miles there was a nice use trail. Beyond that, the stream forks- the right fork heading up towards Mt. Thayer, the left heading for Umunhum's north face. I knew this from a recon trip that my older brother and I had taken about 6 months earlier when we'd climbed high on the south side of El Sombroso. We began following the left (east) fork. There didn't seem to be any kind of use trail up this stream. We found the bushwhacking to be pretty extreme and soon left the creek for the slopes to the climbers left (towards the northeast ridge). The higher we climbed, the less brush there seemed to be. In fact, we reached some areas of exposed rock which we climbed and eventually attained the crest of the northeast ridge. |
The views opened up and we were impressed with how high (and how far) we were above San Jose and our neighborhood. Above us, the giant, slowly spinning radar dish seemed quite close. The motor made a whining sound as it made one rotation every 14 seconds or so. (This was also occasionally audible from our house on the floor of Almaden Valley on calm clear mornings.) We were now quite excited about being so close to our goal. We were also nervous about the consequences of being caught. We could now see people moving around inside one of the 'altitude finding radar' towers that stood southeast of the main dish. We cautiously continued up along the crest of the northeast ridge.
Nearer the top, the ridge was littered with discarded electronic components: broken vacuum tubes, circuit boards, etc. Finally, we reached the top and the perimeter fence. We were elated, but also pretty exhausted, thirsty and hungry (our sandwiches and most of our water was long gone). We were still a little concerned about getting caught at this point, but since we were just a couple of kids, how bad could it be? Maybe they'd take pity and give us water and maybe even a little food. I don't think our dad would have been too happy about driving all the way up there to pick us up, if it came to that, though.
|The 'box' (as it's now known) with the ever rotating antenna was now the center of our attention. It seemed massive and very impressive. We could still see figures inside the smaller tower that stood near the main one. We followed the perimeter fence to the left down a ravine where we were able to easily crawl underneath to enter the base. Years later I realized that we had been trespassing on a strategic Air Force Base with a camera (I'd borrowed my parents Kodak Inst-a-Matic; unfortunately, the pictures we took were lost some time after I left home for college). This was also during a time of war (Vietnam). I'm glad we didn't have Russian accents :-). |
We eventually climbed up to a road that led down to the west and followed it. Our mission was now to find water. We no longer cared about getting caught as we brazenly walked down the road towards some of the small simple military buildings. Some of them seemed to hold offices. We could also see what appeared to be living quarters. One building had an empty swimming pool behind it. We thought about how nice it was going to be to jump into our own backyard pool- when and if we ever got back home. At any moment we expected to hear the inevitable, "HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!?" ...but it never came.
| |From El Sombroso- 1978
| |Mount Umunhum from Almaden Quicksilver Park -1978 |We heard a TV from an open doorway near the road. Looking in, we saw what we'd been looking for: A drinking fountain and a Coke machine! We hesitated a little an then went inside what turned out to be a recreational hall. The TV we heard was over in some other room. We had money for one or two Cokes which we polished off pretty quickly. After drinking our fill of water and replenishing our canteen, we were on our way once again- heading away from the main buildings and, hopefully towards the main gate. So far, except for the figures we saw up inside one of the 'altitude finding antenna' towers, we saw no one. We expected that to change once we reached the gate. We decided to simply walk out as if we belonged here and were on an afternoon hike- maybe a little wave to the guards. Amazingly, we found that the gate was wide open and no one was inside the guard station to challenge us. We walked right out. Was this the Twilight Zone? |
Soon enough, we were hiking down the main road back to Hicks Road and the Almaden Valley. We became increasingly aware of how late it was and how very very far we had to go to get home. (And yes, of how very tired we were.) Even though neither of us had ever even thought of doing this before, we began putting out our thumbs every time a vehicle came by going down the hill. It didn't take long before someone took pity and stopped to let us in. He was a nice guy in an Air Force uniform. That's about all I remember about him. He let us off near, but not at our house. (Our parents would have hit the roof if they knew we had hitch-hiked!) A long, but satisfying day.
|Even though we weren't shot by angry land owners, or thrown into Leavenworth by the US military, or yelled at and grounded by our parents, we still had a very unpleasant punishment waiting for us. We each had a very intense and widespread rash due to all the poison oak we'd naively waded through. Ugh! |
| |Mount Umunhum in 1978