Location: North 37:20.810, West 121:37.799 (GPS at the summit)
Difficulty: YDS class 2 (my route)
Climbed on February 28, 2008.
How to get there:
From Stanford University (or anywhere on the San Francisco Penisula), drive south
on freeway 101 towards San Jose, continue until the 680/280 interchange and get onto
freeway 680 heading north (sign for Sacramento). Take the exit that reads Alum Rock Avenue.
Turn right on Alum Rock Avenue, go through several traffic lights as you head towards
the hill. After approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) on Alum Rock Avenue, make a right onto
Mount Hamilton Road. Measure from here. After 2.4 miles (3.9km), keep left as the road forks.
After 13.2 miles (21.2km) stay right at a road fork. Continue to about mile 19 (30.6 km). You are
now on top of Mount Hamilton, there are several telescopes up here. Drive carefully along the
ridge, after leaving the buildings behind, you will see a small tower on top of a higher
point in front of you. A small road closed by a gate forks left. There is a sign saying that
the small turnout at this point is a no parking area. Continue downhill, while looking for
parking at a turnout on your right side. First, you see a small turnout, then a (slightly) bigger one.
Park here, this is a reasonable trailhead. The location is N37:20.752, W121:37.560, elevation
1234 meter. Route description:
Hike a short way, back up the road. You have two alternatives. Either go all the way
up to the gate and cross the fence there,
then follow the small road that turns into a trail
to the top. The gate has signs saying "no trespassing", so obviously, this is not a route
that is officially welcomed.
Alternatively, shortly after you pass the small turnout, find a suitable place to climb the
somewhat steep right hand side (as you are walking uphill) of the road. The slope gets better
higher up. Ascend this ridge, then follow the ridge left until you reach the small tower
on the top of Copernicus Peak. There are a few places with dense brush, however, the going is
never really difficult. There are no signs or fences blocking access along this route.
My original plan was to visit Google this day, however, my contact there called me and told me
that he was sick and had to stay home. Unfortunate, but there will be another opportunity. I decided
to visit Copernicus Peak, the high point in Santa Clara county. I had a quick review of the information
at summitpost before starting out from Palo Alto around noon.
I arrived at the top of Mount Hamilton around 1300, parked and entered the telescope building that is
open to the public. I asked a friendly staff there if she could secure me a permit to climb Copernicus
Peak. My approach followed the advise on Summitpost, where this procedure was suggested. The girl called
the local police guard, but he replied that they would not grant any such permission. Bad news, the advice
given on Summitpost should be changed. It is certainly better not to ask if the likely reply is no.
The girl also told me that the top of Copernicus really belonged to the Forest Service and thus they could
not grant anybody access. (This "excuse" may possibly be false??)
I proceeded to the gate and noticed that the very natural parking area there had signs saying
no parking any time, obviously another measure to keep people out. The gate had signs saying that this
was the property of The University of California (who operates the Lick Observatory), thus contradicting
the claim that this area was controlled by the Forest Service. The entire situation is yet another example
of pretty stupid US laws trying to keep people from hiking perfectly reasonable areas. That some private
people attempts this may perhaps be understood, but that the University of California or the Forest Service
should have any interest in preventing hikers to visit the Santa Clara County highpoint is not easy to
Anyway, I continued driving slowly downhill and spotted a small turnout on my right hand side where
parking was possible. From here, I started back up the hill, then found a place to scramble up the
somewhat steep slope next to the road. The terrain was better higher up and I could soon follow the
ridge uphill and directly to the small tower on top of Copernicus Peak. This route of access is pretty
discret as it is out of view from the telescope area. Moreover, it crosses land without any sort of
fence, there is not a single sign about trespassing either. Thus, one should not ask permission when
climbing this peak. One may cross the fence next to the gate (through a hole), or follow my route
which is a bit more difficult, but perhaps more fun.
I reached the summit at 1340, perhaps 15 minutes after leaving my car. After looking around and taking the
standard GPS reading as well as some pictures, I returned to my car around 1400, it is a very short hike indeed.
Returning to the Bay Area, I first made a short stop at a trailhead that served a small hill giving a good view
of Mount Hamilton, then proceeded to have a late Mexican lunch at a small place on Alum Rock Avenue. The restaurant
had a nice painting on one wall.
I asked the owner about it and he said this place was a few hours drive
north of Mexico City. The mountain surely looked interesting.
Mount Hamilton. The white telescope domes are clearly visible. Copernicus Peak
is the highest point on Mount Hamilton, it is a bit left and behind, out of view on this picture.