(A first ascent, as it might have appeared in an adventure rag of your choosing).
One day a year, they open the path to El Toro. Straight up the spine of the signature peak that glowers at the edge of Morgan Hill, California, a bedroom community where Silicon Valley techies rest from their hard-coding duties.
I’m at the Morgan Hill Library with one Russ Beebe, a trekker, a wine taster, an adventurer, a man who once pulled his head from the jaws of a Yosemite black bear. He laughs about the bear but he’s not laughing about the Bull. He’s hiked every trail in Northern California a half-dozen times, but one has escaped him till today — the harrowing mile and a half to the 1,420.3-foot peak of El Toro. It’s Summit Day and he’s all business.
We find our climbing companions from the crowd milling about at the library lot — David, who cuts his firewood with a knife because it’s lighter than an ax, and his wife, Rebecca, who haunts canyons across the Southwest and proudly Twitters her conquests via Blackberry to her deskbound pals back in the Valley.
From the crowd emerges Ann, one of my hiking blog’s 1.2 million readers, whose tanned face tells the story of the miles she’s logged in these hills. She smiles, introduces me to her friends, disappears into the crowd to register for the rigors to come.
Russ, never far from his Camelback Hydration System, assesses the crowd. Most of them have no business on a mountain of this magnitude, he suspects.
David and Rebecca sign the register, leaving word of who gets their closetful of backpacking gear if things go badly.
The mountain awaits.
Our cheerful hostess reminds us to watch out for poison oak. “If you get lost, just follow somebody.” I scribble her advice in my notepad. You never know when it might come in handy.
The crowd psyches itself up for the adventure ahead.
Rocks of 150 million years’ vintage are not to be trifled with, a local geologist tells us.
Finally, we’re on our way. Through a neighborhood barely rising from its slumbers, and onto the peak’s base.
The first dirt appears about 15 minutes into the trek.
Climbers have waited a year to take in a panoramic view unavailable anywhere else, save here.
A rare shade tree … the fates have smiled upon us and provided an overcast morning, shielding us from the sun’s blistering rays.
And now, straight up the face of El Toro.
Scouts have been here ahead of us to dig these steps in the hillside.
I pause and rest along the trail, shielding my fellow trekkers from the tendrils of a poison oak bush. Russ, Rebecca and Dave have long since hiked ahead and are already celebrating at the peak. I’m fighting to keep my breath, my heart’s racing. I have to make it to the top, though, because I bought one of those “I Hiked the Peak” T-shirts before the peak had actually been hiked. I could never my show my face on trails in these parts if I failed. The shame would be too great.
Scrambling, clinging to ropes installed by the Boy Scouts (man, those kids know their knots!), they make their way upward.
Oh, to have four paws about now.
At last, the summit. All of Northern California is sprawled out before us. Nine hundred and ninety-eight feet of vertical ascent in a mile and a half. Our shared sensation of victory is palpable.
Rebecca, triumphant, trained for this moment for months.
The couple share a tender moment, as Russ digs deep into his pack in search of a bottle of Pinot he usually stashes for such moments. Left it on Denali. Damn.
Rare, exotic species of wildflowers found only in this corner of the world dot the hillsides.
Beyond, the peaks of the beguiling Santa Cruz Range beckon.
Dave, left, another blog reader, compares notes with the other Dave. Both agree the climb reminds them of the time they made a hammock from the hides of rattlesnakes they’d killed with their bare hands because weapons were not sporting. Russ recommended a red that pairs well with pan-seared rattlesnake flesh.
Dave and Ann recall the time they barely got out of Borneo with the clothes on their backs and 10 cents to hail a pedi-cab back to civilization.
Poison Oak, scourge of the El Toro ascent.
A Scout calmly mans his post.
And now, back the way we came. Ahead, a young child will have the experience of a lifetime, perfect preparation for a lifetime in therapy.
One last look at the climbers making their way skyward.
Rebecca accepts her certificate confirming the ascent. Another fourteener for her life list.
El Toro taunts us a second time.
(Calipidder’s pictures here).
(David’s pictures here.)
(Ann’s pictures here.)
(Wine Hiker Russ’s write-up here)
I don’t know which was more entertaining – this post or the hike itself! I’m going to have to start referring to you as Tall Tale Tom. Or maybe Tall Toro Tom! 🙂 Thanks for motoring my arse to the trailhead, my friend. I made sure to tip a beer back just for you.
Great post, Tom! Despite my sour and confused expressions in the photos above, the climb to the top and slide back down was good fun. It was also a pleasure to meet the you. Hope to see you on the trail again.
David: same back atcha … sorry we didn’t get to chat more.
Russ: thanks; good thing nothing interesting ever happens to me, otherwise I’d have to write in Outsidespeak, a fate no human deserves.
Wow! That line of hikers looks like Half Dome on the 4th of July!
Rebecca described it as “The Cables without the people crying.”
Tom, it was Great to finally meet you and the other bloggers. Cool that you think my face is tan..I just don’t notice it! I hope to hike with you all one day.
Are u gonna do it next yr? I’m a maybe. Getting up that early is hard on a Sat!
I wanted to ask you what you mean by “props”..forgot to ask you yesterday.
Ann: “Props” is slang for “giving proper respect to,” an all-around compliment (extra emphasis is “giving mad props.”)
Well I hiked up the Ausome El Toro a few years agoe. You might say I was fallowing a dream that never came true when I reached the top of the peak. So I was a sucker. I asked the locals ware I could find poppy jasper. Well it turns out the county joke is to tell poppy jasper hunters to climb to the top of El Toro and look down the other side for the jasper. All I got was a fantastic vew of the hole valley on a clear sunny day! I did not cary my camra with me-o well. So yes this sucker of a rockhound has concured the mighty peak all for nothing. Bot there are some nice pink jasper bolders near the oak at the top, I might go back one day and wack at one with my slege hammer that I did not have the day of the clime. I think they would make some nice pink cabitions. Some of those ropes need repare and do not foget to ware gloves for holding onto rope when pulling your self up the peak or when desending.
I would like to walk the mount some time soon…..
I’m sorry, but this posting is so highly embellished it is humerous! You kept making references to how your friends prepared for the hike, and how many of them were professionals with tons of experience under their belts. How can you compare their past treks to the El Toro hike? I was raised in Morgan Hill, and I first climbed the trail at six years old. I have been up at least twenty times since. Growing up in such a small town requires some creativity for activities, and everyone loved climbing the hill. Friends and I would make a quick trip up after school to take pictures, or just to be outside. Once, I packed a sleeping bag and a few items and hiked the hill in the dead of the night for a sleepover. It is funny looking at all the pictures of the scores of people following guides up a hill I consider to be my backyard.
Alisha: the embellishments were intentional — I was spoofing how adventure magazines like Outside gin up the drama in their articles.