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El Sombroso

El Sombroso is the name of the peak next to Mt. Umunhum. The peak can be reached from the east using the route described here or from the northwest from the Kennedy or Limekiln trails. See the Sierra Azul page for a description of these routes. This route is technically part of the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, but I usually do the ascent from one side or the other, so it seems like different rides.  From the El Sombroso side, the first part of the ride is pretty nice, but it ends with a pretty tough climb to get to the top.

Park: Sierra Azul OSP - El Sombroso
Date: Multiple
Distance: 12.3 miles
Ride Time: 2:00
Total Ascent: 2353 feet
Map: Detailed trail map
Overall Rating: 4

 

The direct route from the east starts at the Jacques Ridge trail head at the intersection of Hicks Road with Mt. Umunhum Road. There is a small parking lot here with a pit toilet. If this lot is full, there is a larger lot just across the road, but you can't see it from the road.

The main trail is called Woods Trail. This is pretty much a fire road all the way to the top. Most of it is pretty smooth, but there a two sections will loose rock to make things interesting. The trail starts out calmly as it traverses across the hillside. At one point you will pass under the power lines. Look across the valley to the peak on the opposite side...that's where you are going. There are not a lot of alternatives for this trail. There is one side trail and perhaps a couple of seldom used power tower access roads, so you shouldn't have too tough of a time finding the proper trail. This part of the trail travels through an oak forest, making it pretty and cool(er) in the summer. In the winter, there are several streams carrying rainwater down the hill. These streams can get to pretty sizable flows, but there is only one that needs to be crossed (very easy). In the fall, there are several spots with colorful leaves carpeting the ground that is pretty nice (by California standards).

After you clear the oak forest, the climb begins in earnest. The average grade to the top is 9.4%, but the grades exceeds 20% in several sections in the middle of the climb. The foliage changes to chaparral, reflecting a change in the soil. The ground becomes much drier and more rocky. There are a couple of spots that are both steep and rocky, making it difficult to keep going, but these spots are pretty short. This section of the trail gets pretty hot in the summer since you have full exposure and you are climbing.

You will know you are at the summit when the road starts heading down. There is a short stub to the right that is a power line tower service road that goes up a few more feet, but there is nothing spectacular there (but you have already climbed so far that you may as well go there). This is a good spot to take a break and enjoy a snack.

If you are like most people, you have probably had enough at this point and it is time to head back down. Keep your eyes open for the loose rock and keep your speed under control. You can pick up speed pretty quickly on some of the downhill sections. The downhill is an enjoyable ride! If you need more saddle-time, continue straight ahead on Woods down to the junction with Limekiln and Kennedy. The details for these trails are in the Sierra Azul page.

An alternative route up the mountain is to ride up Mt. Umunhum Road from the trailhead. This will take you to the SA08 gate that marks the end of the car-accessible public road. At this point, you can take the Bald Mountain Trail to the left. This is an out and back that provides a nice view to Quicksilver. This is also a pretty spot for a short break.

After returning to the road, go around the SA09 gate and continue up the road and toward Mt. Umunhum. You will be disappointed that the road runs into private property with several signs forbidding anyone to continue further up the road. There was no obvious difference in paving or maintenance, so it was not at all clear that the road really is private. We have heard stories about local property owner getting very upset with anyone riding on the road. Rather that ruin the day, we halt our ascent of Mt. Umunhum here, just a few hundred vertical feet from the top. The former Almaden Air Force Base (now abandoned, but previously an air defense radar site) is at the summit, but this is closed and a restricted area due to asbestos contamination, so you would not be able to get to the very top anyway.

Rather than returning to the parking area, take the SA09 gate (on the left side as you head downhill) onto Barlow Road. Barlow Road is a fire road that sometimes narrows down a bit. There is a bit of climbing, but the end is a pretty good downhill hill run that can get tricky between lots of loose rock and dust in the summer. This can get exciting in a hurry in you let things get away from you. The bottom of Barlow "T"s into Woods Trail, where you can start your El Sombroso summit assault or bail out.

Rather than starting a the Jacques Ridge trailhead, this route is easily connected into Quicksilver. Woods Trail crosses into Quicksilver and connects to Castillero trail at the rotary furnace (the large abandoned mining structures). This means that you could park at Quicksilver, ride up the hill, cross over and ride up to the El Sombroso summit, and then finish the rest of Quicksilver.

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