Copernicus Peak • Highpoint: Santa Clara County
• Diablo Mountains

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Date: December 19, 2000 • Elevation: 4,360 feet • Prominence: 3,080 feet • Distance: 0.75 mile • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: 200 feet • Conditions: Lovely

I was in the Bay Area visiting the easy county highpoints in and around San Jose. I had driven north yesterday, with one hike along the way on Mount San Benito. I then got the last room at a Motel-6 in San Jose. Today, I had four highpoints on the agenda, starting with the nearest, Copernicus Peak.

I followed city roads to Mount Hamilton Road (CA-130), which winds into the foothills of the Diablo Range. I had unintentionally timed my drive for sun-up, so that I had to battle the sun almost the whole way up. Parts of this road were narrow, with no abutments or railings on the outside to guard against drivers going over the edge. The whole drive to the summit area is 20 miles, much of it curvy and I was lucky to go 30 miles per hour. It took an hour to drive to the top. I saw a feral pig cross the road at one point.

The Mount Hamilton Road ends at the James Lick Observatory, run by the University of California. The summit is topped by about four observatory domes and a smattering of buildings including a one-room school for the local kids. It's all owned by the University of California. No signs specifically prohibited hiking or exploring the area.

The actual highpoint is called Copernicus Peak, a small hill on the north side of the road east of the main complex of observatories. I parked and started hiking up this little hill. The initial segment is along a paved road, gated shut at the bottom. No signs prohibit trespassing, but they do prohibit soliciting, which I thought was odd.

The road is steep and degenerates into gravel, then ends about 30 feet below the summit, which is marked by an old lookout tower. A little trail makes the final portion to the very top. It is a short hike, just three-eighths of a mile one-way with 200 feet of gain, but the views were nice.

Looking west I could see most of San Jose. Fog and haze limited my views farther west, otherwise I might have been able to see San Francisco. Looking east I could see more hills. Looking north I could see Mount Diablo. After a few minutes I descended to my truck and drove out. My only regret was that I timed my visit when the visitor's center at the Lick Observatories was closed, otherwise I would have stayed a while and looked at the displays. It was now 10 a.m., so I drove across San Jose to Mount Bielewski.

(c) 2000, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.