Copernicus Peak

January 9, 2022


San Jose, CA

Copernicus Peak is the highest of the bunch of summits right next to Lick Observatory and Mt. Hamilton Road that traverses over Diablo Range. All of the adjacent summits have very low prominence despite that they all have official names. Copernicus Peak, though only marginally taller, boasts over 900 m prominence and is also a county highpoint and subsequently attracts peak-baggers from all over the country. The ascent is rather dumpster that takes no more than 15 minutes from the nearest parking spot. The access can be an issue so make sure you do some research.

I happened to be in San Jose area after a quick grab of Loma Prieta in the morning. I planned to have lunch with my best friend in high school at 1 pm which meant I had a few more hours to kill. I have to be honest that I wasn’t super keen on Copernicus Peak especially after reading some of the issues in the trip reports, but it did not make sense to not try, considering I was minutes away from the start of Mt. Hamilton Road. The drive-up was extremely winding but scenic. The road was honestly not much wider than a typical forestry road in BC so care must be taken to avoid a head-on collision with on-coming traffics. The drive-up took me almost an hour. The Lick Observatory was closed because of COVID so there’s no bagging of Mt. Hamilton, so I directly went for Copernicus Peak which was minutes beyond the observatory. There was already one vehicle parked at the only spot.

Copernicus Peak via W. and NW slopes. GPX DL

I had read quite a few trip reports but in the end just did my own route. Instead of going straight to the fences I dived into the forest on the north side of the road right from the truck and found no gate nor fence whatsoever on the west side forested slopes. I did cross one or two open slopes but mostly stayed inside the forest completely out of sight. I popped onto the summit directly from the woods and was very happy about my route selection. A few steps on a concrete staircase brought me to the highest ground I could get to.

I even found game trails in this piece of forest
I generally traversed in the woods under the opening areas
Looking back towards the city of San Jose
Attacking the true summit from the north side almost entirely in the forest
The view from the true summit was highly obscured by the structures
Looking back towards Mt. Hamilton and some other bumps near Lick Observatory

Just about the time I got to the summit I could hear voices approaching. I thought about to just run down the same route I came up from, but decided to just embrace those guys and see what’s all about their private properties. I then walked down the “normal route” and they didn’t even want to talk to me let alone giving me a lecture about why I shouldn’t be here. The “normal route” actually had more views but lower down I did merge back to my sneaky line in the forest so that I didn’t have to step across any fence nor gate.

I met quite a few workers on their way up. They all seemed friendly..
Me posing for a shot while descending from Copernicus Peak
A closer look towards Loma Prieta that I ascended a couple hours earlier
The descent route was considerably more open with more views
More about the Diablo Range views

While driving down the windy roads I did a couple stops for photos as the views were simply stunning. I took a short nap at the bottom of Mt. Hamilton Road as I still had some extra time, and then leisurely drove to the northern part of San Jose to meet up with my friend, Jenny Chien. I then continued driving north for an ascent of Mt. Diablo at sunset.

The city of San Jose from the bottom of Mt. Hamilton Road