This trip report was written when I was 15 years of age. It is riddled with poor grammar and spelling errors, however; I choose to leave the report in its original format, as this particular outing is what ignited my obsession with adventure, the thrill of pushing into the unknown. I have gone on to bigger and better things, both from a climbing standpoint and law abiding standpoint, but I will always relish those carefree teenage years, sneaking around places deemed "off-limits". Enjoy.
-David Alexander, February 2016.
All my life, I had been staring up at this mountain. Ever since I could comprehend things, I've always wondered, "Hey, what the heck is that?", referring to the infamous "box". That thing is part of my life. Growing up in its shadow, I had always wondered what it looked like close-up. It's weird that when the moment finally came, on a clear January day, I was just on one of my "normal" bike rides with my friends, and the day had just started out like any other...
We got a late start on the ride. It was around 11 o'clock when Daniel came over. I said that Ben wasn't ready yet and we hung out for a couple minutes. Around 11:30, Ben came over and we started to ride south, into the mountains. Ben asked me, "Where are we going". I answer, "Just up Soda Springs Road. I don't know exactly what's up there, we'll just see what we see." I kind of knew that Soda Springs went up by Mt. Thayer, Mt. Umunhum's neighboring peak. I didn't think that we could get up Mt. Umunhum from that side. All I had on me was a Santa Clara County Street Map from the 70's, so I figured that this road that it showed was probably nonexistent. So, the three of us turn on to Soda Springs Road and climb up the moderately steep, rural road. We pass some nice houses and some run-down houses. Ben had an appointment of some kind later that afternoon, so we kept our eyes on the clock. Pretty soon, we're on the upper stretches of the road. We stop for a break, when a UPS truck pulls up to deliver a package to a house. We ask him what's up the road. He said that it ended at a gate, and if we were to go past the gate, the people who lived up there would call the cops. This is what I half expected during the ride. I thought that we'd get to a gate, there'd be a bunch of "No Trespassing" signs, and we'd trun around and zoom back down the hill. From our conversation with the UPS guy, this is what the plan seemed to be. We were pretty close to the gate, so we continued. Just a few minutes later, two mean-looking dogs come barking out into the street. We just kinda stop in the middle of the road and stand there with our bikes. We wonder what to do when this guy comes walking down his driveway. Now, Ben and I have a theory: in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the higher people live, the crazier they are. I looked at my altimeter. It read 3,000 feet (high for the Santa Cruz Mountains). Our theory proved correct. This guy was a little wacky, but in a good way at least. He would talk to us rather calmly, then all of the sudden, yell at the dogs, "SHUT UP!" However, the news he told us was good. He told us that he went hiking past the gate all the time. Of course he was a local, but if he went hiking up there, why couldn't we? We thank him, and ride on. In no time, we come to the gate.
I see a small "No Trespassing" sign posted on the side of it. There are about 4 houses past the gate that I can see. The three of us didn't really say anything. We just kinda fell into the motion of lifting our bikes over the gate. Before we know it, we're riding up the road again. From here, it gets a bit hazy. I get a sudden adrenaline rush. Here are three teenage boys riding up a road through private property, surrounded by houses which house some strange people that probably have guns. In about 100 feet, the road turns and heads up a steep hill. I can see that the houses end beyond this hill. We sprint up the hill and are above the houses. This is when the view opens up. The whole bay area is seen from a perspective that not many people see. That was a cool feeling. We pull up behind a bush and inspect my map from the 70's. Supposedly, there is a road from where we are that heads around Mt. Thayer. We decided to follow that one. The first challenge was to find the darn road, which we spent about 15 minutes doing. It was Ben who saw it. It was just a small, overgrown fireroad. We found it a nice change to be riding on dirt instead of asphalt, since we were on mountain bikes. We cautiously pass a van that is sitting to the side of the road. With a relief, we see that it's unoccupied. We follow the road for a little bit, my heart racing. We come to another gate. Again, we fall into the motion of hoisting our bikes over and pressing on. I look up the hill and see a couple of old, boarded-up houses. Staright ahead is the summit of Mt. Thayer. We come to the third gate, and we're happy to see it. We recongnized it as a Sierra Azul Open Space gate, marking the boundary between the preserve and the private property we were just on. At least now the hicks couldn't do anything. A few feet after the Open Space gate, we see a small sign that says "Area Closed" with the little Mid-Peninsula Open Space logo. By now, we are masters at the art of hopping gates with bikes. Riding on, soon the fire road dumps out onto an old, cracked paved road. We look left and see the road leading up to Mt. Thayer's summit. I whip out the map and we confirm our position. But, something was weird: we saw that we were east of Thayer. The map didn't show a road that lead to the east side of Thayer. So, we had just followed a "ghost road" basically. Well, we saw that it went up to Mt. Thayer, so that's all that mattered. I looked to see where this paved road went to the right. I saw that it lead right into the Almaden Air Force Station. Ha, screw Mt. Thayer, we were going there!
We mount our bikes and ride the slightly downhill paved road to the east. This was weird. Bushes were so overgrown on this road that it made it one lane. Soon, I see some old, abandoned buildings. As we hopped our fourth gate of the day, it felt like we were entering another world. There was an eerie, ghost towny feel in the air. Everything was still. I could only hear myself breathing. I think I went into spritual arrest. It all seemed like a dream. I look around and see old, sad reminants of past decades. There is a pool overgrown with cattails. "Hazardous Area: Keep Out" signs are posted everywhere. Bullet shells litter the ground. I keep expecting a crazy red neck to jump out and at us, Deliverance
style. Heart rate is spiking. We come to a fork in the road. The left looks like it leads up to the box. We ride up that way. Soon, we go over gate number five. Ride up the road a little bit more. We come to a large gate and it's open, so we ride through. The buildings around us have broken windows, decaying roofs, and graffiti over them. I see the box. It's getting closer and closer. Suddenly the road becomes a lot, and it is flat. There is no more uphill. The box is a mere 20 feet from my body. I ride up and kind of slump off my bike and I let it fall to the ground. I walk up to this mother-of-a building and pause. Reaching out, I touch it. I touched the box. I was in dream mode. I couldn't believe it. After 15 years of staring at this thing from afar, I touch it, just like that. Then just like that, I snap out of my dream like state and enter a hysterical state. I start laughing really loud and jumping around yelling, "I'm at the f---ing box!" Ben is taking pictures like a madman. Daniel is just standing there, worrying that someone will catch us. The box is peeling off its lead paint. I rip off a piece to take home. The doors of this thing are open. We step inside and look around. Now, I've been in my share of old, musty buildings that all had a similar smell, but this smell was something else. It was the strongest old building smell I had ever encountered. I snap out of my hysterical mode and finally come into reality when Daniel says, "Let's get the hell out of here." I forgot about the whole thing that we were on an abandoned Air Force Sation with crazy people with guns around us. One more picture, and we're off.
The Box at the summit.
Back down the road, going the direction we were going in the beginning at that fork. We come to our sixth gate for the day. This one is big. 8 feet high with barbed wire. Luckly, there is enough space on the side of the gate to push our bikes through the bushes and around to the other side of the gate. Down Mt. Umunhum Road we go. We come to our seventh gate. This is painted bright yellow, and is a short one. We easily hop it. Now, down the steep, twisty section of Mt. Umunhum Road. We fly down this, and soon cross the painted strip on the road that marks the private propety from the public open space land. My heart rate slows. My adrenaline stops flowing. We cross onto public land and give each other high five's. We ride all the way to Hicks Road, where Ben's mom picks us up. And that's the end of the adventure that was my first ascent of the Mountain of the Hummingbird.