Black Mountain via Rhus Ridge

February 23, 2020, Rhus Ridge trailhead

A big change of scenery

Deep snow and wintry landscapes have dominated most of my early 2020 adventures. But this hike would prove quite the opposite. Just hours earlier I had arrived at SFO for a job interview in Silicon Valley. It was a Sunday afternoon and I had time to kill before the next day’s interrogations. My original plan was to wander around San Francisco, but I missed the CalTrain, and the next departure was a shocking 90 minutes later. After wandering around the Mountain View farmer’s market and grabbing a couple of tacos, I decided to load up All Trails and find myself a good hike.

A short Uber ride later, I was at the Rhus Ridge trailhead, in shorts and sneakers, ready to ascend to the summit of Black Mountain. I passed through the small (and busy) parking lot, and soon found myself in a sunny, warm, lush environment of grass, flowers and leafy trees—in mid-February!

Leaving the Rhus Ridge trailhead en route to Black Mountain, the lush trail begins under light tree cover.
Leaving the Rhus Ridge trailhead en route to Black Mountain, the lush trail begins under light tree cover.

The first moments of the hike begin under a light canopy of trees, within a lush, grassy canyon. I walked past a small property where a horse was tethered outside, eager to greet passers by. The trail began as packed, red dirt and remained that way pretty much throughout the hike.

Rhus Ridge

The trail begins with a steep ascent of Rhus Ridge, with some switchbacks en route to some grassy fields roughly 800 vertical feet above the trailhead. This section is wide enough to carry vehicles and features increasingly awesome views of the surrounding hillsides and broader Silicon Valley. Initially the views are just of rich people’s houses. But then the Stanford bell tower and radio dishes come into view.

A view from halfway up Rhus Ridge en route to Black Mountain.  The Stanford Bell Tower is visible a bit to the left near the horizon line.
A view from halfway up Rhus Ridge en route to Black Mountain. The Stanford Bell Tower is visible a bit to the left near the horizon line.

Perhaps 100 vertical feet below the meadows, an overlook affords views towards San Jose and (on a clear day) San Francisco. Cupertino is in the foreground, with the Apple campus clearly visible. I could spot perhaps three bridges crossing the southern portion of San Francisco Bay, along with Moffett Airfield and the new google campus under construction. In the distance were mountains to the East.

Views from near the top of Rhus Ridge, in the Rancho San Antonio preserve.  Visible in the valley below are downtown San Jose (right) Moffett Airfield (left) and the Apple Campus (below San Jose).
Views from near the top of Rhus Ridge, in the Rancho San Antonio preserve. Visible in the valley below are downtown San Jose (right) Moffett Airfield (left) and the Apple Campus (below San Jose).

Rancho San Antonio Preserve

Eventually, the climb let up, and the trail passed beneath a bit more tree cover en route to the beautiful meadows of the Rancho San Antonio Preserve. Here there were several options for where to walk next.

The meadows of the Rancho San Antonio preserve, as seen from the the trail up Rhus Ridge, with Black Mountain in the background.
The meadows of the Rancho San Antonio Preserve, as seen from the trail up Rhus Ridge, with Black Mountain in the background.
Trails to various points of interest cross the meadows of the Rancho San Antonio Preserve.

The trail to Black Mountain stuck to the right of these meadows, along a ridge line and beneath light tree cover. The February flowers and green grass lining the trail continued to amaze this snowbound New Yorker.

Beautiful wild flowers in February!  A typical stretch of trail en route to Black Mountain.
Beautiful wild flowers in February! A typical stretch of trail en route to Black Mountain.

Onward to Black Mountain

The meadows above Rhus Ridge turned out to be a nice pause in the relentless vertical of this hike. Make no mistake: despite being just moments away from one of the country’s largest urban areas, this ascent packs a punch. You ascend 2,500 vertical feet from trailhead to summit. That’s the kind of vertical drop a lot of ski resorts brag about. That said, the trail remains soft-packed dirt throughout, without a single rock scramble, mud patch, or washed out section. For a hiker trained on Adirondack wilderness, this proved quite a pleasant surprise.

The trail also winds along switchbacks, packing in a fair bit more mileage than the map suggests. The switchbacks featured increasingly expansive views over the meadows of the preserve.

A typical switchback en route to Black Mountain via Rhus Ridge.
A typical switchback en route to Black Mountain via Rhus Ridge.
Afternoon light pokes though the trees en route to Black Mountain.
Afternoon light pokes though the trees en route to Black Mountain.

Finally, after passing under some power wires and up yet another steep climb, the summit came into view. The trail left the preserve and I found some unsettling signage related to local mega fauna.

Some warning signs near the summit of Black Mountain.
Some warning signs near the summit of Black Mountain.

The summit sported wide-open meadows and a strong, consistent breeze. It wasn’t the most amazing view (the Pacific was hidden behind seemingly endless mountains of similar stature). But it measured up just fine to the effort involved. An overall decent ascent!

Views to the west from the summit of Black Mountain.
Views to the west from the summit of Black Mountain.

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