Sunday, April 21st Winehike: Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock

7 strenuous miles, 1900′ elevation gain, Spring wildflowers + Sonoma Valley wine tasting

Along the Goodspeed Trail in April, the ephemeral Golden Fairy Lantern may just leave the light on for us.

Along the Goodspeed Trail in April, the ephemeral Golden Fairy Lantern may just leave the light on for us.

Meet: 9:00 a.m.
Hike: 9:15 a.m.
Duration: approximately 4–5 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park & Hood Mountain Regional Park
2605 Adobe Canyon Road
Kenwood, CA
(707) 833-5712

THE HIKE
It’s been said by the locals that the trail to Gunsight Rock, high on the side of Hood Mountain, is one of Sonoma Valley’s premier hiking routes. Tough though the trail may be, if you’ve ever thought about hiking to the top of Mt. St. Helena in Napa County, the hike to Gunsight Rock outweighs the hike to Mt. St. Helena in almost any context, except one: the view from the summit of 2,730-foot Hood Mountain is a big disappointment. Manzanita and pine trees cover its wide, rounded top and, unless you feel like shinnying up a tall, sap-sticky pine after the impressive climb to the mountain’s summit, you just can’t see a danged thing from up there. (Though I tried, once.)

Fortunately Hood Mountain has Gunsight Rock located three hundred feet below its summit and a quarter mile away by trail. From this lofty vantage point, you can see just about everything in Sonoma Valley, plus the big mountains of Napa and Marin. Not only that, but Gunsight Rock’s bouldered outcrop is perched so dramatically on the slope of Hood Mountain that its steep drop-off makes the wide view even more impressive.

Peering down through the fog and the gunsight onto the wine country town of Kenwood.

Peering down through the fog and the Gunsight
onto the wine country town of Kenwood.

The real bonus, however, is simply in observing the trailside splendor on your way to Gunsight Rock; the floral diversity of the Goodspeed and Nattkemper trails is alone worth the hike. Redwoods, laurels, manzanitas, oaks, grasslands, wildflowers, serpentine rock, wildlife and vistas make this hike an absolute must-do adventure.

Of course, after surveying Sonoma Valley wine country from above, it’ll only be right to explore it from inside a wine glass! So, we’ll return downhill for a potluck picnic lunch and for tasty local wines (winery to be announced).

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From U.S. 101 in Santa Rosa, take the Fairgrounds/Highway 12 exit. Highway 12 becomes Farmers Lane as it heads through downtown Santa Rosa. Continue on Highway 12 south for 11 miles to Adobe Canyon Road and turn left. (Or, from Highway 12 in Sonoma, drive 11 miles north to Adobe Canyon Road, then turn right.) Drive 2.2 miles to the small parking area on the left at a bridge over Sonoma Creek (it’s 1.3 miles before the entrance kiosk for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park).

CARPOOL
If you’re in the South Bay or on the peninsula, my current plan is to leave my house in Sunnyvale at 6:15 a.m. If there’s sufficient interest in this hike, I may later advise that we concentrate the most bodies into the fewest cars by meeting in Kenwood before heading to the trailhead due to its potentially limited availability (this parking area is a postage stamp!). If you’re attending, please leave a comment below if you wish to carpool from either location along this route. For those of you arriving from the East Bay or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

NOTES
Parking at Sugarloaf Ridge is typically $5 per vehicle at the entrance kiosk, but we won’t be going that far up the road. The small parking area by the bridge at Sonoma Creek is known to be fee-free. Drive time from San Jose may take 2-1/2 hours; from SF, perhaps 45-60 minutes less. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:00; our hike will begin promptly at 9:15. (Our early meet time is primarily to obtain parking at this tiny trailhead. Believe me, it’ll be very much worth rising early!) Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

The Golden Fairy Lantern, Calochortus amabilis, is also called Diogenes' Lantern.

The Golden Fairy Lantern (Calochortus amabilis)
is also known as Diogenes’ Lantern.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we will hike over rough, technical terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

Meet 9:00 a.m., hike 9:15 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Trip report: Spring serenity at Briones Regional Park

From Briones Peak, a view to the north of cattle ponds and Carquinez Straits.

From Briones Peak, a view to the north
of cattle ponds and Carquinez Straits.

The day after a snowstorm, folks who ski tend to reference sunny, clear-blue skies as evidence of a bluebird day. If I can extend that term to include my hiking adventures, then I’ve recently enjoyed two bluebird days – one at Big Basin Redwoods back on February 24th, and the other this past Sunday at Briones Regional Park.

Quite fortuitously, each of these hikes had occasion to occur two days after moderate seasonal rainfall late in the week, each rain quickly giving way to clear weather and allowing adequate drainage and drying of the trail surface. By the time I’d arrived at their trailheads, the soils at each park had yielded a near-perfect tack, comfortable underfoot and presenting only minor incidence of loose footing in the shadowed low spots.

Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata) were a common sight on the sunny saddle between Briones and Mott peaks.

Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliata, were a common sight on the sunny saddle between Briones and Mott peaks.

It had been another in a series of long weeks at work, and I first had to get past the frustrations of deciphering dense Engineerese and an all-too-tall pile of workload. A good night’s sleep and a few miles of road between my Sunnyvale home and the hills of Orinda seemed to carve away the vestiges of these vexations, but once I stepped out of my truck at Briones Park’s Bear Creek Trailhead, breathed the cool green hills, laced my boots and embraced a friend, all care quickly melted into a serene pace and welcome chatter.

Within a few steps, my week had suddenly and gratefully distilled into a decoction of carpe the damn bluebird diem.

We strode out on a counterclockwise loop, Angela and I, first walking a trail east along Bear Creek before angling right along Homestead Valley Trail. We encountered the softest earth along these lower flats which, though pocked with cow sign, were easily navigable, yet too laden with moisture to support wildflower displays. After perhaps a mile, our route took us left onto Briones Crest Trail and into hills rampant with coast live oak, yet studded here and there with madrone, bay laurel and, as we climbed higher to a junction with Table Top Trail, a scattering of surprisingly tall, quickly-growing buttercups.

Mt. Diablo glows in the morning haze.

Mt. Diablo glows in the morning haze.

Eventually we emerged from the trees onto an open ridge below Briones Peak and enjoyed our first glimpse of the surrounding countryside. Mt. Diablo shimmered beyond us to the east above the town of Walnut Creek, its twin peaks prominent on the morning skyline; to the west, we could easily recognize the unmistakable contours of Mt. Tamalpais.

We sauntered on, gaining Briones Peak, then continued northwest, following the crest of the ridge toward Mott Peak. The land undulated away to the north below us, offering a dazzling view of the Carquinez Straits, the Mayacamas Ridge in Sonoma County beyond and, just below us, the twin Sindicich lagoons.

Up until now we had generally followed the main trails, which had in large part been wide ranch road. But having seen that the trail we were on skirted the high point of the park, Mott Peak, I eschewed pretense and instead decided to follow a fenceline cow trail directly upslope to its summit. Mild protestations from Angela elicited a brief discussion of rhythmic breathing technique and, before we were scarcely aware of it, we were communing with the meadowlarks and ravens atop the peak, and hungrily unwrapping our sandwiches.

The Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery: well-structured, fruit-forward, and absolutely delicious.

The Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery: well-structured, fruit-forward, and absolutely delicious.

At 1,424 feet, the view from Mott Peak is nothing if not commanding, and so we sat and gazed awhile at the splendor surrounding us, gratefully chowing down and occasionally commanding sips from a bottle of Herrick Red from Conn Creek Winery, a classic yet affordable Bordeaux-style wine sourced and blended from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes grown in Napa Valley’s Rutherford district.

On such a comfortable, sun-warm day, it was easy to accept the notion that we should simply linger in the grass among the Red Maids, allow the gentle Bay breeze to caress us, and let our thoughts wander in unbroken reverie, but our feet eventually ruled the moment, given to notions of wandering themselves. And so we ambled downhill, back along Mott Peak Trail to Black Oak Trail which, though it descends sharply enough to wisely warrant a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the Briones Crest, quickly returned us to Old Briones Road and our cars.

If you’re going to Briones Regional Park

The wildflowers are just beginning to bloom, so now through mid-May is a great time to explore the magic of Briones Regional Park. The majority of the park’s over 6,000 acres of open space is unshaded and open to the elements, so be sure to wear sunscreen, even a wide-brimmed hat. The Briones Regional Park website a includes a downloadable trail map; parking at the Briones Park office and the Alhambra, Bear Creek, Lafayette Ridge and Reliez Valley staging areas is $3 and is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

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Have you hiked Briones Regional Park?
If so, did you see any wildflowers or enjoy the view from Mott Peak?

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~winehiker

Sunday, March 24th: Vista Grande Loop, Sunol Regional Wilderness

From Eagle Valley Trail looking east.

From Eagle Valley Trail looking east.

6.1 moderate miles, 1700′ elevation gain, early Spring wildflowers

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Duration: approximately 3–4 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Sunol Regional Wilderness
The end of Geary Road
Sunol, CA
(510) 635-0135

THE HIKE
A trip to Sunol is a trip to the country. Unlike many other East Bay parks, Sunol isn’t bordered by neighborhoods or major thoroughfares. You can’t reach it any other way than to drive slowly on a narrow country road. When you hike the grassy, oak-studded hills of Sunol, all you see are more grassy, oak-studded hills! Those, and an occasional glimpse at shimmering Calaveras Reservoir.

Our hike is a six-mile loop tour of Sunol that reveals many of the park’s best features. It is steep in places, so come prepared for a hike that feels like a bit more than six miles. We’ll warm up gently, though; the route for our hike will navigate the relatively easy Canyon View and Ohlone Road trails adjacent to Alameda Creek before we turn uphill at Cerro Este Road. We’ll climb for at least a mile to Cerro Este Overlook at 1,720 feet, where we’ll catch our breath before we bear left on Cave Rocks Road toward a right turn on Eagle View Trail. A gentle ascent over the next mile will bring us to a magnificent view at Vista Grande Overlook at 1,680 feet. We’ll then turn west on Vista Grande Road and descend to High Valley Road, where we’ll turn left and head toward the barn and picnic area at High Valley Camp. From there, we head toward Indian Joe Creek Trail, which we’ll descend back toward where we started.

The view from Vista Grande Trail above High Valley Camp.

The view from Vista Grande Trail above High Valley Camp.

After the hike, expect to be hungry! So let’s adjourn to downtown Sunol and enjoy lunch together at Bosco’s Bones & Brew.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From Interstate 680 south of Pleasanton, take the Highway 84/Calaveras Road exit. Turn left on Calaveras Road and drive south 4.2 miles. Turn left on Geary Road and drive 1.7 miles to the park entrance. Continue about ¼ mile to the entrance kiosk, pay your fee, then drive 100 yards past the visitor center to the parking lot across from the horse rental area. The trail begins on the left side of the rest rooms at the footbridge.

CARPOOL
From the South Bay: meet at 8:30 a.m. at the 680/Mission Park n’ Ride Lot located at the intersection of Highway 680 and Mission Blvd. in Fremont. We’ll leave at 8:45 sharp. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

NOTES
Parking at Sunol Regional Wilderness is $5 per vehicle; here’s an online trail map. Drive time from San Jose may take 25-30 minutes; from SF, perhaps 20-30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate at our trailhead near the horse stables. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are allowed on this hike for a $2 fee per dog.

Maguire Peaks under cloud shadow at Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Maguire Peaks under cloud shadow at Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for East Bay Parks.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Saturday, March 9th: Loop of the Briones Crest, Briones Regional Park

 6.8 moderate rolling miles, with scenic ridgetop views

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 4-5 hours
How to attend: Reply in the Comments section of this post.

Late winter rains add vivid color to the hillsides at Briones Regional Park.

Briones Regional Park
Bear Creek Valley Entrance
Orinda, CA
(888) 327-2757

THE HIKE
This rambling loop hike includes parts of the Homestead Valley, Briones Crest, Table Top, Mott Peak, and Black Oak trails, and is a great introduction to the southwest half of this expansive, 6,117-acre park. It’s an area of rolling hills, high ridges, and forested canyons, but the real reward for hiking the Briones Crest will be late Winter/early Spring wildflowers and those stunning 360-degree views.

Much of our route will be out in the open, climbing high atop the rolling hills that characterize this regional park, but we’ll also appreciate the wide variety of trees that grow along Bear Creek. Birds appreciate this landscape too, and we may hear the sharp cry of a northern flicker or the call of a California quail as we amble along.

After the hike, we’ll be hungry! So let’s all chow down on wood-fired Mexican comfort food in downtown Orinda at Barbacoa.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From Highway 24 in Orinda, take the Orinda exit and drive northwest 2.2 miles on Camino Pablo to Bear Creek Road. Turn right and, after 0.3 mile, reach the entrance kiosk; continue 0.1 mile to the last parking area. Our trailhead is just beyond this last parking area.

CARPOOL
From the South Bay: Let’s meet at 8:15 a.m. at the 680/Mission Park n’ Ride Lot located at the intersection of Highway 680 and Mission Blvd. in Fremont. We’ll leave at 8:30 sharp. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
Parking at Briones Regional Park is free; here’s an online trail map. Drive time from San Jose may take 55-70 minutes; from SF, perhaps 10-20 minutes less. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate near our trailhead at the end of Bear Creek Road. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are allowed on this hike for a $2 fee.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for East Bay Parks.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Saturday, February 9th: Bob Walker Ridge Loop Hike

The view east toward the Sierra Nevada from Bob Walker Ridge.

Saturday, February 9th: a “ridge run”, approximately 5.9 moderate, rolling miles

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 3-4 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Volvon Staging Area, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve
Morgan Territory Road
Livermore, CA
(510) 544-2750 

THE HIKE
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve is one of the most remote and scenic parks in the East Bay, perched at 2,000 feet on the southeastern ridge of Mt. Diablo State Park. It’s within sight of Mt. Livermore, Altamont Pass, and the Central Valley.

The trail names here are based on Native American history and tradition: Coyote is a mythic personality of Indian legends, and the Volvon were one of the East Bay groups that resisted the Spanish mission system. The preserve itself is named for Jeremiah Morgan, an early settler, gold miner and rancher. Bob Walker Ridge honors a photographer and environmentalist whose efforts on behalf of EBPRD from 1984 until his death in 1993 led to additional land acquisitions in Morgan Territory and Pleasanton Ridge. (Someday it might be worthwhile to walk the length of the Bob Walker Regional Trail, which connects Morgan Territory with Mt. Diablo State Park.)

Seclusion and wilderness make hiking here a special experience. It’s really a beautiful hike. Our loop will traverse the Coyote, Volvon Loop and Volvon trails and includes a deep canyon and a climb to expansive views atop lofty Bob Walker Ridge. If the weather’s clear, we may experience a pretty fine view of the snowy Sierra. So bring your binoculars! And a camera.

After the hike, let’s return down the mountain to have lunch at First Street Ale House in downtown Livermore, where the grub is tasty and they always have 24 beers on tap.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From I-580 in Livermore, exit onto N. Livermore Ave. and turn north. Shortly after N. Livermore curves left (west), turn right onto Morgan Territory Road and follow it for about 5.5 miles to the staging area. From Walnut Creek/Concord, take Clayton Road to Marsh Creek Road, then turn right onto Morgan Territory Road. The staging area is 9.4 miles from Marsh Creek Road.

CARPOOL
From Sunnyvale: Let’s meet at 8:00 a.m. at Tasman Square, located at the corner of Tasman Drive and Lawrence Expressway between highways 101 and 237. Park near the fence fronting Lawrence Expressway and look for me nearest the Taco Bell; I’ll most likely be sitting on the tailgate of my black Dodge Dakota pickup with black camper shell. We’ll leave at 8:15 sharp. If you plan to meet at this carpool, please share a comment with your RSVP.

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

NOTES
Wear sturdy boots for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail will likely present themselves.

Though parking is usually adequate at the Volvon Staging area, it may not be by mid-morning if there are other large hiking or equestrian groups also meeting there. Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. Leashed dogs are allowed. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive. Phone number above is for the East Bay Regional Park District Office.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at http://www.facebook.com/winehiker.)

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.

See you at the trailhead!

~winehiker

P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

RESCHEDULED for January 19th: Russian Ridge Loop Hike

The first few yards up the Bay Area Ridge Trail from the Russian Ridge trailhead are a nice, easy amble.

[Editor’s note:  it was apparently my turn to wear a big mitt and catch the flu on the 11th, and boy, did I catch it!  So, I rescheduled this hiking event for next Saturday, January 19th. I hope you’ll join me!]
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Easy 4.4-mile loop with 550 feet of elevation gain.

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Meet: 10:00 a.m.
Hike: 10:15 a.m. sharp
Approximate hike duration: 2-3 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
Alpine Road at Skyline Blvd. above Palo Alto, California
(650) 691-1200

THE HIKE: DO IT FOR THE VIEW!
Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is more than 1500 acres of windswept ridgetop paradise. The weather may be foggy along the coast, but the sun is usually shining brightly on Russian Ridge. From the Preserve’s 2300’ elevation atop Borel Hill, you’ll admire the view west above the layer of fog blanketing the ocean. And, when you turn to face east, a commanding view of San Francisco Bay stretches out before you.

GETTING THERE
From Interstate 280 in Palo Alto, take the Page Mill Road exit west. Drive 8.9 winding miles into the hills to Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), taking care to share the road with cyclists. Cross Skyline Boulevard, where Page Mill Road becomes Alpine Road. Drive 200 feet on Alpine Road and turn right into the Russian Ridge entrance.

IF YOU WANT TO CARPOOL
Let’s meet at 9:00 a.m. at the Page Mill Park n’ Ride, located at the intersection of Highway 280 and Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. We’ll leave at 9:15 sharp!

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

*NOTES
If you are interested in attending this event, please be courteous! Simply click the Join button to let myself and other attendees know you’re coming.  This event is limited to the first 15 people who RSVP in this manner; crashers, regretfully, will be turned away.

Parking and trail maps are free at Russian Ridge OSP; maps can also be downloaded at http://www.openspace.org/preserves/maps/pr_coal_creek_rr.pdf. Drive time from San Jose may take 45-60 minutes; from SF, perhaps 30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate drive time so that you arrive at the trailhead by 10:00; our hike will begin promptly at 10:15.

Though parking is often adequate at Russian Ridge, it may not be by mid-morning, so I always urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see below). Dogs are not allowed on this hike. A pit toilet is available at the trailhead. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks and/or lunch for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. I also recommend leaving a small cooler in your car containing Gatorade or other life-affirming cool post-hike beverage.

The phone number listed above is for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. You can indicate attendance in the Comments section of this post, but I will only share my cell phone number with all people who properly RSVP by clicking the Join button on this Facebook event.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at http://www.facebook.com/winehiker.)

Thank you! See you on the trail.

~winehiker

P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

A group of happy hikers on the summit of 2,572-ft. Borel Hill.

Trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards

It just wasn’t our Fault today.
‘Twas a bit early and a bit chilly Sunday morning when I related my intentions to y’all about the day’s planned excursion through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It was 45 degrees at 9:30 a.m.; not typical for early November in the San Francisco Bay Area. But even so I thought an uphill walk would warm me sufficiently. Golly, I might have been wrong about that. Already, it was going to be my fault not to don the silk longies.

Brrrr!

It was good to see the park again; I hadn’t spent much time at Nisene Marks since my mountain biking days. I’ve always enjoyed the heavy canopy of the park’s redwoods, regardless of the weather. Combined with the low sun of the Fall season, the forest shade was to keep our group cool for a large part of the day. Though ours was a friendly group, ready to brave the forest chill for a long romp through glorious redwood enchantment, we were a shivering group. But we planned to soon be warm: we faced 10 miles of steady hills.

A good day to be in the woods.

A good day to be in the woods.

We started out at the Porter parking area and walked steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, covering nearly six miles before turning off on Big Slide Trail. That’s when the fun began: the trail wound down along a narrow redwood- and fern-lined canyon, alternating between moments of deep, mossy, forested darkness and fleeting glimpses of sunlight. Curving, twisting, and rolling downstream, the trail showed hardly a sign of human passage. The challenge of keeping to the dim path while reveling in the glow of this elfin paradise bore the seven of us, seemingly, to a sidereal separation from earthbound worry.

The group always wins
Alas, the reverie broke too abruptly. Another hiker, one who’d passed ahead earlier, was now returning, informing us that the trail ahead was signed as being impassable. Darn.

Double darn!

I can be ambivalent about such matters. Because if I’d been alone, I would have attempted to pass through the impassable, defying the faceless functionary who placed the sign, to determine the trail’s supposed impassability for myself. A guy’s gotta try, right? You’ve heard the standard phrase: Always Question Authority, Absolutely.

But the group always wins, of course, and for an obvious good reason: doing the right thing usually means nobody gets hurt.

So, after a moment of wistful wishes to continue mixed with negotiations for good citizenship, safety, and compliance, we turned back uphill instead of continuing into areas grey with unforeseen shadows.

Because we were good citizens, however, we never got to see our intended target for the day: the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. We did, however, get to hike about 4 more miles. But that was probably a good thing, since it kept us a little warmer a little longer.

We didn’t make it, but anyone else can
I figure we hiked about 14 miles Sunday. But the good news is: anyone who wants to can get themselves easily to the epicenter without hiking even one-fourth that long. That’s because there’s a much shorter trail that leads to it from a trail junction we had passed early on. But if you should take the long way and try to find the epicenter from the uphill side like we did, and if you find the trail impassable, not getting there won’t be your Fault, either. Unless you read this first and go anyway.

State park budgets being what they are these days, I don’t expect this trail to be repaired very soon. Like “in the next five years” soon.

The group always wines, too
Nevertheless, undaunted and not to be outdone, the seven of us actually did arrive at Burrell School Vineyards about 4:00 in the afternoon for a well-deserved wine tasting in their enchanting little ridgetop schoolhouse. And while only two of us, my buddy Vindu and myself, were keen to tongue-wag about the wines’ characteristics, all of us were keen to their beneficial effects.

Ah, liquid anesthesia!

Vindu and I even found three out of the five bottles poured to be quite worth taking home. I sprung for a 2002 Zinfandel from Ryan Oaks Vineyard, Amador County ($30), which I found quite jammy and well-finished. Vindu, flush with endorphins and polyphenols, let his MasterCard speak for Burrell’s 2002 Estate Chardonnay from their schoolhouse estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a fine combination of butter and spice, on sale for $16. Plus, though they weren’t pouring it,* Vindu also picked up 3 bottles of 2003 Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains, a young (but highly drinkable now) estate-grown pure varietal that is very much worth cellaring; it’s priced at $40 a bottle.

Wait! There’s more.
I’d mentioned in my last post that fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan would be along for this hike. You might enjoy Tom’s account of this day, a darn-fine photoessay.

*A side note on the Cab Franc: we had thought we would taste this wine at the winery. However, Burrell School is currently down to less than 20 cases and is therefore no longer pouring it at their tasting bar. You can still buy it, though, if you hurry. Vindu and I enjoyed one of these solid Cab Francs for dinner that evening, the upshot being that we both purred like satisfied cats and finished the bottle. And that was nobody’s fault.

See a related story, Why I love redwood trees.

~winehiker

Perambulating the Perfect Perimeter

One of the big reasons that the San Francisco Peninsula and the East Bay Hills are such fine destinations for hiking is due to the efforts of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council. Since 1989, their volunteer efforts have fueled grant programs to spur the development of much of the planned 300-mile trail system that is someday destined to circumnavigate the San Francisco Bay and connect all counties that are contiguous to it. These grant programs are intended to encourage government agencies and qualifying nonprofit organizations to plan, acquire, and construct new segments of the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART).

It’s nice to know that their good work is continuing. The Council, in coordination with the Coastal Conservancy’s San Francisco Bay Area Program, has just this week announced the availability of up to $450,000 in funds that will accelerate the development of The Trail. The funding will come from Proposition 40, which is the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002. It appears that in 2007, the BART Council will be developing trail systems in the counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano – areas that this winehiker feels desperately have needed additional trails, if only to respond to the demands of local Nature lovers (like me) if not to also complement the recreational activities of the wine-touring public.

In fact, a future Ridge Trail corridor is expected to be built from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District-owned Jacobs Ranch on the northern flank of Sonoma Mountain (located close by to many Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley wineries) to the top of the former Skiles Ranch property (now part of Annadel State Park); one proposed trail in that new network will offer 6 miles of moderate to steep hiking and, if I’m correct, connect to Jack London State Historic Park.

Now if only they’ll connect all the wineries along the ridges! Why, this winehiker would be a happy man. Heck, I’d even be willing to gather some talent, grab a shovel, and help to build THOSE trails.

~winehiker

Reaching the Pinnacles of early Spring

This past weekend, I led a group of hikers over the singularly unique trails of Pinnacles National Monument. There’s something about this place that attracted me – really gripped me – right from the start. Could it be the Spring wildflowers? Could it be the bat caves? Or, possibly, the chance to see California Condors on the wing? Maybe the wildlife, the chiseled trails, the far-off vistas? The tunnels, coves, grottoes and groves? Perhaps the rock itself?

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle's High Peaks.

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle’s High Peaks.

It is difficult to pick out any one thing about Pinnacles that makes it so attractive, but in combination, a weekend camping and hiking experience at Pinnacles is so magnetic to me that I can’t ever resist wanting to bring other people there to share the experience with me. And you really do need at least two days to experience the full magic of Pinnacles. So, for the 5th straight year, I reserved two contiguous campsites at Pinnacles Campground for a weekend of outdoor fun and frolic in this uncanny, holy place among the hoodoo rock.

The end of March is a fine time to be at Pinnacles, too, when the wildflower blooms are beginning to peak and before the heat of Summer arrives, which it always does at Pinnacles well before it hits the San Francisco Bay Area. Having chosen the last weekend of March each of these past five years, it has been interesting to note the differences in wildflower blooms from year to year. This year, the weather has been much wetter than normal, and as a result, the wildflowers at Pinnacles haven’t quite cranked up to their full showy potential.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t see them! In fact, many species of wildflowers were popping out there on the trails, beckoning to us to take a look as we passed by them. From buttercups to blue dicks, bush poppies to golden poppies, indian paintbrush to indian warrior, and purple lupines to purple witch nightshade, there were quite a variety of wildflowers to see – just not as many of them as I’m used to seeing.

But it’s only going to get better as the rains taper away and Spring gets more than just a foot in the door. I hope to return to Pinnacles in the next few weeks just to note the difference. If you can, dear reader, snag yourself a campsite and go there for a weekend, before the 90-degree days of late April begin to fade Pinnacles’ many blossoms.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

~winehiker

Wave off the rescue ’copter

When it comes to search and rescue flybys, I don't expect to ever offer a frantic wave hello.

When it comes to search and rescue flybys, I don’t expect to ever offer a frantic wave hello.

This Sunday I plan to take a small group of intrepid hikers into the hills south of the Livermore Valley in search of an ephemeral gem: Murietta Falls, billed as the tallest waterfall in the San Francisco Bay Area. With roughly 100 feet of fall, Murietta Falls is much taller than the popular Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin State Park. Often by the end of March, the Falls dries up for the season, so right now is the time to discover this diabolical diamond in the rough.

Diabolical? Yup. Because if you’re not into the mild masochism (psychosis?) that results in anaerobic arrhythmia, leg of noodle, and collapsed lung, stay far, far away – this hike is brutal. It is both tortuous and torturous. Of all the hikes I’ve done in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d have to say this one is the most convoluted up-and-down can’t-ever-catch-your-breath rip-snorters; less than 10 percent of the hike occurs on level ground. The rest of the time, it’s either quad-killer climbs or knee-killer descents. The climbing starts immediately – you’ll climb almost 1500 feet in the first hour. And it’s going to take you all day. To climb, climb, climb, descend, descend, descend….

But when you finally do get to Murietta Falls, wave off the rescue ’copter, for you will behold not only the tallest, but the most remote waterfall in the Bay Area.

The Ohlone Wilderness always seems to beckon to the ardent Bay Area hiker.

The Ohlone Wilderness always seems to beckon to the ardent Bay Area hiker.

If you like to see waterfalls but feel that 12.2 miles and 4300 feet of elevation gain are too much for you, there are dozens of other waterfalls scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area, just beckoning you to feel their cool mists in Spring. If you like a good hike that’ll get you to your waterfall discoveries, no doubt you could visit three or four different Bay Area trails each weekend in the Spring and still not discover them all.

However, if you’re like me and appreciate waterfalls but are also a glutton for punishment, perhaps you’ll perversely enjoy Ohlone Trail to Murietta Falls. And when you’re done hiking, assuming you’re not starving for half a side of beef on a sesame seed bun, you’ve got plenty of great choices in the Livermore Valley for excellent wine tasting. Three of my favorite area wineries are Bent Creek, Murrietta’s Well, and Steven Kent.

See the exciting follow-up trip report titled A fully monstered two-carrot hike, complete with falls photos!

~winehiker