Once Upon a Ride…Mt. Umunhum in the snow

Rick Humphreys, Ray Hosler, John Porcella enjoy a snow ride on Mt. Umunhum in 1982. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Jan. 3, 1982

Riders: Jobst Brandt, Ray Hosler, Paul Mittelstadt, Rick Humphreys, John Porcella

Route: From Palo Alto through Santa Clara Valley, Novitiate property, Alma Bridge Road, up Soda Springs Road, through Almaden Air Force base, down Mt. Umunhum, Hicks Road, Los Gatos-Saratoga Road, home. Jobst and Rick – Loma Prieta Road, Summit Road, home.

Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray – flat

This winter in Northern California is one of the coldest in recent memory. Fall came early and so did the rain. Snow has fallen along the Coast Range. The ski resorts are enjoying a banner year.

We met at Jobst’s house dressed in heavy woolens. It wasn’t enough. You could see your breath and in Northern California that means COLD (high 30’s). The humidity at 79 percent didn’t help matters.

Despite the cold, Jobst didn’t wear a hat, as is his custom. John had only a junk pair of gloves. I wore three wool jerseys, wool mittens, three layers of socks, and plastic bags over my feet. Still, my feet froze.

Novitiate visit
We got through the Valley without incident. However, Jobst (who attended Bellarmine High School) wanted to get closer to God, so we made our way into the Novitiate over a bridge that had once been used to hold a drainage pipe. We passed a high gate with a gap and got through that.

A derelict sat on a bench overlooking Hwy 17, apparently also there to meet God. At another gate, we dismounted and walked through a narrow gap that put us onto a hiking trail. After a short distance we passed an old man (Lucifer?) who started yelling nonsensical stuff at us as we passed. With this weirdness behind us, we descended the steep Jones Trail to Alma Bridge Road.

The ride continued around Lexington Reservoir on dry roads, but after turning left on the Soda Springs Road that changed. The road is long and winding with a grade of about 8 percent, and some steeper sections. The terrain is mostly brush and manzanita.

We got colder as we climbed, and the road got wetter. About two-thirds of the way up we saw patches of snow; pretty soon we were riding through a blanket of crunchy white stuff with ice beneath. We stopped so Jobst could drink from an icy stream. Paul, not feeling well, headed back down the hill.

A motorist was trying to jump-start his snow-covered car. A handful of residents live off the road, but they were no doubt staying inside.

At a gate where the pavement ended, we put our bikes over and continued right on a dirt road, which wasn’t so steep. We broke out into the open and saw Almaden Air Force base, a collection of low buildings that had been empty for years, but not officially abandoned until 1980.

[Fortunately, we did not see Loren McQueen, whose family owns the land on which communication towers stand. The pistol-packing owner died in 2007, but his children still maintain the property. They’re amenable to allowing public access to the summit.]

At this point we were riding through several inches of snow. We inched along trying to avoid falling. Finally, we reached the paved road through the base.

Military police
Our luck was about to run out. As we rolled uphill to a final gate and Mt. Umunhum Road, a groundskeeper driving a military truck (probably a Federal agent) yelled at us. “You’re trespassing on government property. Why don’t you get off this land right now!” [Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) did not buy the land until 1986]

“All right, you don’t have to get upset about it!” Jobst retorted. “You’re trespassing and it’s my job to tell you to leave,” the man repeated. “OK, OK,” Jobst said. “You’re just doing your job. I don’t yell at people at my job.”

After another exchange of vitriol, we got through the gate. But our problems weren’t over. Several hundred yards farther, John and I came to the descent of Mt. Umunhum Road, while Jobst and Rick went right on dirt Loma Prieta Road.

About a dozen people, who had driven up Mt. Umunhum Road [it was still open, but closed later], started pelting John and me with snowballs. We zoomed by and began the descent. At this point, our hands and toes were frozen. It was an unpleasant descent — to say the least — on the steep, winding road.

If this wasn’t enough, I flatted, and had to fix my tire with frozen fingers. Fortunately, I had switched to clinchers from sewups in January 1981. John sped down the mountain, but came back five minutes later after realizing I might have crashed.

We continued down Hicks Road into Los Gatos and stopped at the first 7-11 to buy a warm drink and thaw out. On a final note of excitement, in Sunnyvale we nearly got broadsided by a man driving a station wagon. John and I would enjoy a few more fun rides before he joined the military to fly P3s. He went on to be a pilot with Delta airlines. Rick, a geologist, moved to the Sierra foothills.

[Last I heard, progress continues toward cleaning up toxic chemicals (PCBs) and removing all the buildings, except maybe the Cube. MROSD has signed sections of Loma Prieta Road, bikes allowed. Jobst and friends have been riding on that road since the 1960s. Use extreme caution riding down Mt. Umunhum and Hicks Road.]

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