Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP – Irish Ridge Trail

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About a year ago I found a picture posted online showing a beautiful view of the Pacific coastline along San Mateo County, viewed from the Irish Ridge Trail. I immediately resolved to hike there on a day that would be clear of the typical coastal marine layer (aka fog) that often sits just off the coast along the Peninsula south of San Francisco.

After a bit of research I determined that the Irish Ridge Trail is located in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, one of 26 parks managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. I had previously hiked two sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in the Open Space Preserve without finding this particular trail. It turns out that it is in the southwestern part of the preserve, connected only by a couple of trails to the Purisima Creek Canyon in the heart of the preserve. The most immediate access is via a trailhead located on Tunitas Creek Rd about 2½ miles west of Skyline Blvd, CA-35.

Recently I selected a day that I thought would be fog-free and went for a Fall afternoon hike in the redwoods. Purisima Creek Redwoods is one of my favorite open spaces on the peninsula. It was a lovely hike, mostly through forest, with a teaser viewpoint and then a big, open viewpoint.

I explored all of the trails in the southwest section of the park in a 7½ mile out-and-back hike with 1600 vertical feet. The orange dot on the GPS track shows the trailhead on Tunitas Creek Rd. After hiking 0.3 mile on the Grabtown Gulch Trail you go left on the Borden Hatch Mill Trail for 0.2 mile and hike the length of hikers-only Bald Knob Trail to reach the Irish Ridge Trail. Near the far end of Irish Ridge Trail is Lobitos Creek Trail, which I explored all the way to an End of Trail sign.

GPS track

GPS track

Bald Knob Trail kind of skims along the side of Bald Knob, climbing to the highest point of the hike. Irish Ridge Trail then descends 600 feet to Lobitos Creek Trail, which descends another 300 feet. Since the outbound hike is predominantly downhill, the return is primarily uphill. The average grade on Irish Ridge and Lobitos Creek Trails is nearly 10% but it really felt like a pleasant slope.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

From the very beginning of the hike – in fact, from the drive down Tunitas Creek Rd – I knew I would be enjoying a redwood forest environment. I don’t think I ever get tired of hiking in redwood forests! Redwoods are one of the oldest trees in the world as well as the tallest, growing up to 360 feet tall. Most of the old-growth redwoods on the peninsula were logged over a century ago, so the present trees are mostly second growth, “only” 100 years old or so.

photo of Redwood forest in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Redwood forest in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Redwoods grow in the moist environment of California’s Coastal Range, encouraged by Pacific storms and by the never-far-away marine layer that often drapes the hills in fog. Ferns also thrive in this environment, and there were many lush ferns along the trail.

photo of ferns that were profuse along the trails

Ferns were profuse along the trails

Rock walls next to the trail, as well as down logs, were covered in feathery moss. Some of the moss looked like it could blow around in a breeze.

photo of down tree log with tendrils of moss

Down tree log with tendrils of moss

In addition to redwoods, the forest contains madrone, Douglas fir, and tanoak with varied and interesting shapes in the shady forest. I think this tree, with a growth pattern that emphasizes the slope of the hillside on Bald Knob Trail, is a madrone.

photo of madrone with an interesting growth pattern

Madrone with an interesting growth pattern

Near the junction between the Bald Knob and Irish Ridge Trails there was a small grove of skinnier trees, perhaps tanoaks.

photo of grove of skinny-trunk trees

Grove of skinny-trunk trees

Along Bald Knob Trail there were a couple of places with what I think of as teaser views: barely enough space between the trees to see that there should be a view. I think that the ridge I could see at the teaser views is Durham Ridge. In any case, the more open viewpoint I mentioned previously was on Irish Ridge Trail, and you certainly know when you get there! Suddenly the trail passes through a clearing in the trees, big enough to open up a fantastic view to the southwest. A bit more to the south you can see row upon row of the lower-elevation hills at the western edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

photo of western Santa Cruz Mountains viewed from Irish Ridge Trail

Western Santa Cruz Mountains viewed from Irish Ridge Trail

The sun reflected brightly from the surface of the Pacific Ocean. While the famed marine layer was somewhat off-shore, there was enough haze to blur the horizon.

photo of Pacific Ocean viewed from Irish Ridge Trail

Pacific Ocean viewed from Irish Ridge Trail

As the Irish Ridge Trail returned to forest, I started to see a few wildflowers. I was really surprised to be seeing wildflowers in bloom in November!   Looking casually, these looked like common dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) but I think they are actually false dandelions or mountain dandelions (Agoseris heterophylla or Agoseris hirsuta), members of the agoseris genus, even though the blooming periods for these two species are supposed to end during the summer.

photo of agoseris, often confused with dandelion

Agoseris, often confused with dandelion

After hiking to the end of the Irish Ridge Trail I returned a short distance and turned onto the Lobitos Creek Trail. According to the preserve trail map, this trail is not maintained. Indeed, there was more forest debris on the trail, and in one place it looked more like a rarely-used car track, with two tire paths and grass and other plants growing between. I came across what looks like a past-prime common self-heal (Prunella vulgaris).

photo of common self-heal on the Lobitos Creek Trail

Common self-heal on the Lobitos Creek Trail

Next to the trail I noticed some other plants with tall leaves resembling iris. A few of the dead leaves had formed into curls reminiscent of ribbon, making interesting patterns.

photo of curled-up leaves on a plant

Curled-up leaves on a plant

After I reached an End of Trail sign on Lobitos Creek Trail I returned to the trailhead. It had been a lovely walk through a mostly redwood forest with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, on a warm and pleasant Fall afternoon.

Posted in Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, San Mateo County | Leave a comment

Hole in the Ground Trail

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Hole in the Ground Trail (HIGT on some signs) is a popular mountain biking trail near Donner Summit. This was a group hike on the same trail. On a weekday in late October, we only encountered two solo mountain bikers; on a midsummer weekend the trail would be full of bikers. We did the hike as a point-to-point hike with a car shuttle. The trail is about 11.7 miles; the hike was 1 mile longer since we took two side trips to visit nearby lakes.

After climbing to a ridge near Andesite Peak with terrific views of Castle Peak, the trail drops down and makes a big loop mostly through pretty forest, with a few stream crossings. Most of the last 3 miles are on dirt and gravel roads. It was easy to see why the trail is so popular with mountain bikers, with twists and turns around rocks and trees and, in many places, rolling elevation changes.

The GPS track shows an overview of the route; the orange dot indicates the starting point, reached via a fire road from the Boreal Ridge exit from I-80 near Donner Summit. The trail is within the Tahoe National Forest. The trail’s name apparently refers to a tiny lake that the trail passes close to; however, the lake is not visible from the trail and it is not clear that any trail goes to the lake.

GPS track

GPS track

The afternoon before the hike there was fog and light rain over Donner Summit. At higher elevations there was a dusting of snow, I think the first of the season. The overnight temperatures were low enough that we encountered quite a few shallow, iced-over puddles on the trail, primarily above 7000 feet elevation. This is an example – I especially liked the oval symmetry of the cracks.

photo of ice puddle on Hole in the Ground Trail

Ice puddle on Hole in the Ground Trail

The most significant climb of the hike was right at the beginning, followed by a descent to the initial elevation. After about 6 miles there was a descent of around 1200 feet, followed by a 200-foot climb to the Soda Springs trailhead.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The initial climb was to the ridge where Andesite Peak is located; there is a spur trail (which we skipped) to the top. As we climbed, the views of the Castle Peak area across Castle Valley got better and better. Near the ridge there were a couple of clear areas where the entire ridge from Castle Peak to Basin Peak could be seen, with the upper areas showing off a dusting of snow.

picture of Castle Peak viewed from Andesite Ridge

Castle Peak viewed from Andesite Ridge

Looking more to the east, fog could be seen lifting from the Martis Valley and other low-elevation areas around Truckee and Donner Lake.

image of fog over the Truckee area

Fog over the Truckee area

As we walked along the top of Andesite Ridge, the wind was fairly strong. One member of the group estimated that the gusts were above 50 mph. It was actually a bit challenging to make headway and stay reasonably centered on the trail. A couple of times I almost thought I could blow off the trail, especially if I were silly enough to open my jacket to make a small sail!

The ridge-top descends as it falls away from Andesite Peak. By the time we were 1.5 miles from the start of the hike, the trail was in the forest and the wind subsided – or was high above our heads in the tree-tops. There were many areas in this section of trail where there were honeycombed trail pavers wherever the slope was a bit steeper and around the curves of switchbacks. The switchback shown in the picture was quite a bit more steeply banked than we hikers needed!

photo of honeycombed trail pavers line a steeply banked curve

Honeycombed trail pavers line a steeply banked curve

About 1.8 miles from the start the trail passes rather close to Castle Pass, where another trail leads to Castle Peak.

Most of Hole in the Ground Trail passes through pretty forest. In general the trees were so dense that the trail should be cool and shady, even on otherwise hot summer days.

picture of dense forest surrounding the trail

Dense forest surrounding the trail

About 3 miles from the start, at the dip in the elevation profile just above 7500 feet elevation, the trail crosses Castle Creek. Fortunately there were sufficient rocks, as well as a down tree trunk, to facilitate the crossing.

About 4.4 miles from the start and around 7750 feet elevation there is a side trail to Sand Lake. The lake is only about 0.3 miles from the main trail, so we hiked over to check it out. It is quite a pretty lake, with its calm surface reflecting the trees on the far side and blue sky overhead.

image of Sand Lake

Sand Lake

The long, downhill portion of the trail began 6.4 miles from the start of our hike. In this area there is a sign reminding mountain bikers about appropriate riding technique for the downhill sections: ride, don’t slide.

photo of riding technique for downhill sections

Riding technique for downhill sections

The trail passes by numerous large rocks: sometimes the trail just goes around the rock and other times the rock is a short distance from the trail. I thought this rock was especially interesting because it was practically a cube. It almost looked as though Mother Nature had sculpted it with a rock saw.

picture of nearly cubical rock near Hole in the Ground Trail

Nearly cubical rock near Hole in the Ground Trail

The first part of the descent drops about 700 feet in 2½ miles, so the grade is quite nice for hikers. In this section the trail passes by Sand Ridge. Later it goes next to a stream and crosses it. In this more humid area we passed a huge upside-down mushroom on the trail, and shortly thereafter a tree festooned with large fungus masses. My hiking poles give a sense of the scale.

image of large fungus on a tree trunk

Large fungus on a tree trunk

From 8.7 to 9.0 miles from the start the trail temporarily levels off. This is the area of closest approach to the tiny lake called Hole in Ground. My GPS mapping software places the lake about 0.15 miles away from the trail. We didn’t notice any side trails in the area.

The trail crests a small rise and the descent continues. At about 9.2 miles there is a signed side trail to Lower Lola Montez Lake, barely 0.1 mile from the main trail. It is a little bigger than Sand Lake and also very pretty. We had a long, relaxed lunch break on a rock promontory that extends slightly into the lake. This would be a great swim spot in warmer weather, and the dogs that accompanied us all had some play time in the water.

photo of Lower Lola Montez Lake

Lower Lola Montez Lake

There is an Upper Lola Montez Lake about a half mile northwest of the lower lake. There does not appear to be a trail connecting the lakes, though unimproved roads do access the upper lake.

Shortly after leaving Lower Lola Montez Lake the trail starts to follow an unimproved road, signed Lola Montez Trail, most of the remaining 3 miles to the trailhead. There are pockets of private property in the area, so it is important to pay attention to the signage to avoid trespassing. Along a section of trail that is farther from the area’s streams there were quite a few ferns that had dried up during the long dry summer season. Clearly, at some times of year there is adequate moisture to support the fern ecosystem.

The trail bottoms out just below 6500 feet elevation, crossing Lower Castle Creek before climbing about 200 feet to the trailhead.  Just at the creek crossing we happened to encounter a local resident in a pickup truck pulling a trailer that was holding a snowmobile. It appeared that he was getting ready for the upcoming snow season.

picture of snowmobile arriving for the snow season

Snowmobile arriving for the snow season

After the creek crossing the road climbs 200 feet in 1 mile or so. The last 0.2 mile was on a trail rather than on the dirt and gravel road. At the trailhead on Sherrit Lane we arrived at the cars that had been stashed prior to the hike.

This is a pleasant hike, particularly for a day when there are few mountain bikers and no one is in anyone else’s way. It was interesting to me to finally experience a trail previously known only by reputation.

Posted in Nevada County, North Tahoe, Tahoe National Forest | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Los Vaqueros Watershed: Tarantula Run half marathon route

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In the San Francisco Bay Area, one of October’s characteristics is that it is considered to be tarantula season, when male tarantulas are on the prowl for mating opportunities. During a recent long hike on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail in the Ohlone Regional Wilderness I encountered two tarantulas. And just a few days later, during a hilly training walk at Stanford’s The Dish, I saw a third tarantula. As a result of these encounters I decided to traverse the route of a recent race hosted locally, called the Tarantula Run. It was also an opportunity to experience the route of a half marathon trail run, without any pressure or expectations about my finishing time.

Los Vaqueros Watershed, owned and operated by the Contra Costa Water District, was the site of the Tarantula Run. When I arrived at the entry kiosk I mentioned that I was planning to try the race route, and the ranger had copies of the route maps that he offered me, though I had brought my own annotated copy downloaded from the event web site. He also mentioned that there would be fantastic views. I knew that there would be about 2200 feet of climbing – a lot for a street half marathon, but perhaps not for a trail route – and that the event cut-off time was 4½ hours on-course, corresponding to an average pace of 20-minute miles – faster than I usually hike, especially if I take pictures, which I did plan to do. So this was an experiment in several aspects.

The route was a balloon or semi-loop configuration, with the first 2.2 miles repeated at the end and a main loop of nearly 9 miles. The orange dot on the GPS track shows the start at the Kellogg Creek Picnic Area. As it happened I had a little trouble with route-finding that would not have happened during the event. This added about 0.9 mile to my distance.

GPS track

GPS track

It turned out that the first route-finding challenge was finding my way to the Kellogg Creek Trail. Just east of the picnic area there was a gated trail entrance, but at the end of a short stretch the signage indicated that the Kellogg Creek Trail turned left, when it actually turned right. I initially followed the signage and had a detour over to the Administration building before I got back on the intended route. This pretty view is across the Kellogg Creek Picnic Area toward the hilly area where I would be going.

photo of view from near the Kellogg Creek Picnic Area

View from near the Kellogg Creek Picnic Area

Alongside the trail, both near the beginning and in several other places, there were quite a few of these late-blooming yellow flowers with leaves reminiscent of rosemary and distinctive 3-lobed petals, or more likely ray flowers.

photo of yellow flower found in several places along the route

Yellow flower found in several places along the route

Because of a couple of detours near the beginning of the route, at 3.1 miles – instead of at 2.2 miles – I crossed the park road and reached the junction with Crest Trail, where the main climb begins. This was a sustained climb of nearly 1000 feet in just 1.5 mile, with an average grade of 12%.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I don’t typically try to power-walk up such steep sustained climbs, so I was actually glad to have several scenic reasons to pause for photos. There were nearly continuous views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir, changing and, I thought, getting better as I gained elevation. This picture was taken from an elevation of about 840 feet. The dam is at the left, and it is clear looking at the shoreline that the water level is lower than usual.

photo of View of Los Vaqueros Reservoir

View of Los Vaqueros Reservoir

There were also nice views generally to the northeast, with Kellogg Creek at the bottom of the canyon and – I think – Frank’s Tract, a lake that is part of the San Joaquin River delta, in the right background.

photo of view to the northeast from Crest Trail

View to the northeast from Crest Trail

Looking closer to the trail, I found numerous spider burrows with webs covering the openings. I don’t know if this was a tarantula burrow, or the precise significance of the web covering (e.g. catching food, or protection from predators).

photo of spider burrow along Crest Trail

Spider burrow along Crest Trail

About 1.3 miles up Crest Trail the route makes a right turn on Vista Grande Trail and continues to climb. Shortly after the turn two benches are located near the trail’s crest. Surely the views from the benches were part of the fantastic views the ranger had referred to. I really had the sense that I was king – or queen – of the hill! I think Brentwood is in the background of this picture, and the trail for a later part of my loop is on the ridge in the center of the view. Note the bare branches of buckeye trees in the immediate foreground.

photo of view from a bench along Vista Grande Trail

View from a bench along Vista Grande Trail

Looking ahead along the trail instead of off to the right, there were intermittent views of Mt Diablo about 7 miles away, peeking over the nearby hills.

photo of Mt Diablo

Mt Diablo

Particularly along the high part of the trail there were western bluebirds alternately catching insects and perching on a nearby fence. Farther along Vista Grande Trail I noticed a distinctive-looking rock. There don’t seem to be names for any local features on my maps, but I thought it looked a bit like a turtle.

photo of turtle-shaped rock along Vista Grande Trail

Turtle-shaped rock along Vista Grande Trail

After about 1.2 miles on Vista Grande Trail, with a few small hills, the route turns right at Eagle Ridge Trail and makes one more 100-foot climb before starting the major descent. There were several plants with light purple blossoms: a bit of a surprise for so late in the season.

photo of light purple flowers along Eagle Ridge Trail

Light purple flowers along Eagle Ridge Trail

Near the beginning of the descent there was a nice view of some hills with contrasting flora: bare, grassy hillsides facing open-forested hillsides.

photo of contrasting facing hillsides

Contrasting facing hillsides

The initial part of the descent down Eagle Ridge Trail was pretty steep for runners, with a grade of over 12.5%. The footing wasn’t bad for walking, but I generally do slow down on unpaved hills with such steep slopes. The final 1/3 mile of Eagle Ridge Trail has an even steeper grade of 15%! Just past this steep section the route turns left at Grassland Trail, where there are a couple of small rollers as the trail continues to descend. Along Grassland Trail I happened to notice a single stark white animal bone in the grass. I estimate that it was almost 1 foot long.

photo of animal bone near Grassland Trail

Animal bone near Grassland Trail

The half marathon route continues about ¾ mile on Grassland Trail, then turns right on Kit Fox Trail for about ½ mile (and a 100-foot hill) before a right turn on Salamander Trail at the top of a second 100-foot climb. Salamander Trail continues for another mile, with a third 100-foot hill, before reaching Walnut Trail, which follows the park road. As I was climbing the third hill, on Salamander Trail, I noticed some movement on another hillside ahead of me. It turned out to be a coyote, presumably on the prowl for a meal. In the picture the coyote seems to be looking at me, but I was too far away for that to be the case, unless – like me – it noticed the movement.

photo of coyote


After I reached Walnut Trail I turned right to follow next to the park road. Forgetting to consult the route map, I missed a turn onto Greasewood Trail. At the next trail junction I realized that I’d made the error and simply went up the side trail to its next junction, then back to Walnut, to roughly compensate for distance. As I went up the side trail I could see what I believe to be Greasewood Trail snaking up the low ridgeline.

photo of trail on a low ridgeline in Los Vaqueros Watershed

Trail on a low ridgeline in Los Vaqueros Watershed

After about 2 miles on and near Walnut Trail I closed the loop at the Crest Trail junction. From here I simply followed my outbound path – omitting detours – back to the start at the Kellogg Creek Picnic Area.   Along Kellogg Creek Trail I noticed a few more blooming wildflowers, such as this pretty pink-tinged white flower growing close to the ground. Unless it is a morning glory well past its prime, I’m not sure what it is.

photo of pink-tinged white flower along Kellogg Creek Trail

Pink-tinged white flower along Kellogg Creek Trail

I also noticed a buckeye butterfly that I seemed to be chasing down the crushed gravel trail: it would land on the trail, pause, and then fly off down the trail as I approached. Open-field birds (e.g. sparrows, meadowlarks) on the fences next to trails seem to exhibit this same behavior. It is as though they do not quite realize that if they flew past me – at a safe distance, of course – they would be past the danger they perceived.

photo of buckeye butterfly

Buckeye butterfly

When I arrived back at the race staging area I had covered 14.3 miles in about 4 hours 50 minutes. Even with all of my stops for pictures, I had maintained essentially the pace needed to complete the intended route barely within the time limit. In that sense it was a successful experiment in a trail-based half marathon. This kind of trail run is quite a bit more challenging terrain than the other half marathons I have walked, which have mostly been on regular paved roads. By the way, I didn’t see a single tarantula.

Posted in Contra Costa County, East Bay, walking for fitness | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Dawn photoshoot at Uvas Creek Open Space Preserve

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a dawn photoshoot in a future open space preserve owned by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA). The property, currently not open to the public, will be called Uvas Creek Open Space Preserve. In southern Santa Clara County, it is near Uvas Reservoir County Park. Uvas Canyon and Chesbro Reservoir County Parks are not far away.

Participants gathered about 30 minutes before sunrise and were escorted by OSA docents to an area where there are 3 spring-fed ponds. The significance of the ponds being spring-fed is that they have water year-round, even 4 years into a drought. The primary area where photographers set up was looking east across one of the ponds toward some hills over which the sun would rise.

As luck would have it, there was sufficiently thick cloud cover that dawn only consisted of the sky and general area gradually becoming lighter: the sun itself was not visible. However, the ponds were quite photogenic and provided many interesting reflections. This was the main viewing direction about 15 minutes before sunrise, during the time period called civil twilight.

picture of pre-sunrise reflection

Pre-sunrise reflection

There was a group of 4 horses grazing in the area between two of the ponds. The horses were magnificent and did not seem to mind a few dozen people walking around and taking pictures.

image of horses near one of the ponds

Horses near one of the ponds

There were several of these pretty white wildflowers. I was pleasantly surprised to find any wildflowers still in bloom in mid-October!

photo of white wildflower

White wildflower

The photo shoot was an opportunity to experiment with photographing reflections. Because of the low light levels, I took virtually all of my pictures using a tripod. In this shot I experimented with the ISO setting and selected one that forced the exposure to be relatively long. Most of the field of view is what I call impressionist-like, but the water surface at the lower right is in focus and confirms that I didn’t simply move the camera!

picture of impressionist-like reflection

Impressionist-like reflection

Nearby low hills were nicely reflected in this pond. This was a few minutes after sunrise.

image of hills reflected in a pond

Hills reflected in a pond

After staying in a rather small area for awhile I started to explore the other nearby ponds. On the way I came across the partial remains of a vehicle that had been left behind.

photo of abandoned tire near one of the ponds

Abandoned tire near one of the ponds

There were coots swimming around and feeding in all of the ponds. The docents told us that they are not always there. The swimming activity created interesting patterns of ripples on the water surface. Every few minutes one, or a few, of the coots would apparently get agitated and run across the water surface, sometimes halfway across the pond.

picture of coots swimming around and running across the surface of one of the ponds

Coots swimming around and running across the surface of one of the ponds

For about a half hour I just walked around slowly and explored the area around the 3 ponds. Gradually the morning became brighter, and the sun started to intermittently break through the clouds. This pond was more in the direct light and had some pretty foliage, as well as an interesting-looking dead tree, on the far side. The surface of this pond was especially calm.

image of reflection of pretty foliage

Reflection of pretty foliage

Apparently there is a green heron living in the tree that overhangs the pond. However, it was wary of the human visitors and did not make an appearance while I was watching.

As the morning continued to get brighter I found another nice reflection in one of the ponds.

photo of reflection


After nearly 2 hours on-site, taking my time to enjoy each of the ponds, I returned to my car.

Although the actual sunrise was absent as a photo opportunity, in other respects this photoshoot was quite interesting and pretty. It was a treat to be able to participate in an outing in a future open space – it will be well worth a return visit after it opens!

Posted in Santa Clara County, South Bay | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ohlone Wilderness Trail part 3: Del Valle Regional Park to Sunol Regional Park

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This hike was the third, final, and longest stage in my adventure of hiking the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, a regional trail connecting Mission Peak Regional Preserve, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Ohlone Regional Wilderness, and Del Valle Regional Park. All of these parks are in the East Bay Regional Park District system and in southern Alameda County. The idea of the EBRPD regional trails is that they are longer trails that connect important regional parks, sometimes crossing non-park areas. In this case the non-park areas are on San Francisco Water Department land.

The Ohlone Wilderness Trail is 28 miles long. The eastern 19½-mile section featured in this hike is typically accessed via a backpacking through-hike of 2 or 3 days, though I hiked it in a single day with help from friends to achieve the needed car shuttle. A permit is required and is available at two of the trailheads as well as through the EBRPD office. It includes a detailed map, elevation information, and a description of the trail and highlighted landmarks. It’s good for one year and only costs $2.

Earlier this year I covered the western 8½ miles via two out-and-back day hikes. The first was between the Stanford Ave trailhead for Mission Peak Regional Preserve and a mid-way point within a parcel of San Francisco Water Department watershed land. The second was from the visitor center at Sunol Regional Wilderness to the turn-around point for the first hike. In the 19-mile section for this hike there is no intermediate trailhead access, so I set out with a fallback plan: if I had trouble reaching Rose Peak, at about the midway point, I would return to my car and cancel the pickup by my friends. I’m glad I was able to complete the planned point-to-point hike!

There were a couple of important factors that I needed to take into consideration: 1) At nearly a month after the autumn equinox, the time between sunrise and sunset was only about 11 hours and 11 minutes, so I would want to start hiking fairly promptly in the morning. 2) Both Sunol Regional Wilderness and Del Valle Regional Park have specific operating hours, when you can drive past the front gate to the staging areas. As it turns out, Del Valle opens earlier in the morning in October, while both parks close at the same time, so I decided to start my hike in Del Valle and hike west to Sunol, in order to maximize the available daylight hours for the hike. 3) A third consideration was that I wanted to select a date for my hike that would not have typical summer temperatures: often 85-plus degrees for several hours in the afternoon.

On the GPS track, the orange dot at the upper right indicates the parking area at Del Valle, where I started hiking.   The Ohlone Wilderness Trail goes generally south for about 8 miles before curving to a westward trajectory.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation profile shows that the trail is somewhat steeper at the Del Valle end. Also, there is a 7-mile section in the middle above 3000 feet elevation with rolling ascents and descents. The total elevation gain for the east-to-west hiking direction is about 5200 feet, with about 300 additional feet of elevation loss due to the lower elevation of the Sunol trailhead compared to the Del Valle trailhead.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Per my plan I arrived at Del Valle and was ready to start hiking within 10 minutes of the nominal sunrise time. The forecast for the day predicted a comfortable afternoon high temperature of about 75 degrees and partly cloudy conditions. As sometimes happens, there was a moderate overnight low cloud layer, with a fair amount of morning mist around the trail as it climbed from the Lake Del Valle reservoir toward Rocky Ridge, the first of several ridges that the Ohlone Wilderness Trail visits.

image of morning mist climbing out of Del Valle Regional Park

Morning mist climbing out of Del Valle Regional Park

Along with the many (expected) oak trees on the hillsides surrounding the trail, there were a few unexpected finds. One such find was gray pines (Pinus sabiniana), in at least two sections of the trail. These trees are adapted to long, hot, dry summers, so they are perfect inhabitants of these wilderness areas. The first gray pines I noticed were shortly after cresting Rocky Ridge, about 2.5 miles from the trail head. The long, slender needles and large, nearly geometrical pine cones were quite pretty, and in areas there was a carpet of needles and scattered cones on the ground.

photo of gray pine

Gray pine

After Rocky Ridge the trail descends 500 feet in 0.8 mile to Williams Gulch. Along the way it passes Sycamore Flat – not actually flat, but where the slope of the trail suddenly becomes steeper. Around Sycamore Flat I noticed several California sycamore (Platanus racemose) trees, also called western sycamore.

picture of California sycamore, near Sycamore Flat

California sycamore, near Sycamore Flat

There were also some spectacular bay trees, with many slender trunks radiating from a central base.

image of bay tree

Bay tree

After Williams Gulch the trail climbs, again steeply, up Big Burn. I think this designation refers to the roughly 1.7-mile, 1400-foot climb up to nearly 3200 feet elevation (average grade about 15.5%). When hiking a long uphill stretch I tend to spend a lot of time looking at the ground right in front of me, and sometimes I have to remind myself to look out to the sides at the scenery. In any case, along this section I noticed quite a few leaves on the ground covered with small red seed-like objects that I didn’t – and still don’t – recognize. Here is an example.

photo of leaf covered with small red seed-like objects

Leaf covered with small red seed-like objects

Big Burn also passes by Schlieper Rock, named for a local silversmith whose ashes are scattered nearby. I noticed several “candidate” rocks but missed the plaque denoting the correct rock. There is supposed to be a good view of Mt Diablo and the Livermore Valley to the north from the trail near Schlieper Rock. However, I was treated instead to pretty views of mist rising from close-by valleys and canyons.

picture of mist rising from a nearby canyon

Mist rising from a nearby canyon

About 5 miles from the trailhead the trail reaches a long section of high country with more moderate elevation changes. For the next couple of hours the mist was more localized and there were some more distant views. This was my first such view, near the junction with Springboard Trail at marker ot36, looking north toward Livermore Valley. From this particular location the Ohlone Wilderness Trail seems to be on top of the world, looking out over foothills of the Diablo Range.

image of view toward the Livermore Valley

View toward the Livermore Valley

I was a bit surprised to find a few wildflowers that were still in bloom, including this yellow flower. Most wildflower resources seem to focus on spring wildflowers, and I haven’t yet identified this one.

photo of yellow wildflower

Yellow wildflower

There are a few small ponds, some named and some not, along the trail. About 7½ miles from the trailhead there was one such pond, which was unusual because it had some lily pads at one end.

picture of lily pads on a small pond

Lily pads on a small pond

Another unusual wildflower find was a light purple flower with a long slender structure (stamen?) extending upward from the blossom. For this specimen the rest of the plant still had green leaves, but for others the rest of the plant seemed ready to go into fall/winter dormancy.

image of light purple flower

Light purple flower

I have noted previously that fall colors in the Bay Area are muted compared to other parts of the country. Here is an example, with an entire hillside covered by typical local forest.

photo of hillside with fall color

Hillside with fall color

About 8 miles from the trailhead the trail descends about 300 feet from Wauhab Ridge to cross the north fork of Indian Creek, which was completely dry. After climbing back up 400 feet or so to Valpe Ridge it was possible to catch views of Rose Peak. Here is a view from near the east junction with Maggie’s Half Acre Rd, at marker ot29, showing the Ohlone Wilderness Trail traversing a small rise on its way to Rose Peak. As is evident from this picture, Rose Peak is the highest point along Valpe Ridge rather than a truly prominent peak. In this respect it is similar to Mt Sizer in Henry Coe State Park.

picture of approach to Rose Peak

Approach to Rose Peak

A short ¼ mile, marked side trail summits Rose Peak. I was happy to note that I arrived pretty much on schedule, and I knew that the rest of my hike would be mainly downhill. After successfully leaving a phone message for my ride – I hadn’t been sure I would have cell phone service – I paused for 20 minutes or so for a lunch break. During my break some more clouds came in, rather quickly in fact, and I really didn’t have the distant views I was hoping for from the highest elevation of this hike. I took the time I needed for a break, though, since I was just at the halfway point distance-wise.

West of Rose Peak the trail continues to follow Valpe Ridge, beginning a steady descent. I passed a few cattle grazing and resting under a thick-trunked tree that looked like it had been topped, perhaps by a storm, sometime in the past. There were occasional views to the north toward clusters of windmills. The cloud cover seemed to be hovering around 3500 feet, based on Rose Peak getting clouded in and views of Mt Diablo with its top hidden in clouds. As the trail descended past the 3000-foot elevation I had a nice view to the west toward the Mission Peak – Mt Allison – Monument Peak area near the far end of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. I would have off-and-on views of Mission Peak for the remainder of the hike.

image of view of Mission Peak (right), Mt Allison (center), and Monument Peak (left)

View of Mission Peak (right), Mt Allison (center), and Monument Peak (left)

The view along the trail previewed a quick descent to, and just as quick ascent from, a crossing of the south fork of Indian Creek.

photo of preview of upcoming crossing of Indian Creek

Preview of upcoming crossing of Indian Creek

During the descent I suddenly noticed a male tarantula strolling across the trail, no doubt on the prowl for a female. A couple of miles further I saw a second one.

picture of tarantula on the trail

Tarantula on the trail

Nearby hills and valleys competed with more distant views for my attention. Here is an interesting row of hilly wrinkles on the south side of Valpe Ridge.

image of hilly wrinkles on Valpe Ridge

Hilly wrinkles on Valpe Ridge

Here and there I enjoyed views of the sloughs in the Sacramento River Delta, some 30 miles away, or Mt Diablo, with its top still in the clouds. About 13.7 miles from the trailhead the trail passes from Ohlone Wilderness into San Francisco Water Department land. I had pretty views of a canyon to my left, which I believe to be associated with Welch Creek.

photo of canyon, perhaps related to Welch Creek, in San Francisco Water Department land

Canyon, perhaps related to Welch Creek, in San Francisco Water Department land

The terrain was mostly open, grassy hills, which I imagine could have profuse wildflowers in the spring. In a few places the cloud conditions were right to see sunbeams radiating down from the cloud layer to the lower hills below. I passed remnants of wildflowers, as well as a few more actual flowers, like this pretty pink one.

picture of pink wildflower in the San Francisco Water Department watershed

Pink wildflower in the San Francisco Water Department watershed

Almost immediately past the gate from the San Francisco Water Department into Sunol Regional Wilderness is the Sunol Backpack Camp, where there are several camping sites not far off the trail. From the junction with Backpack Rd, at the west end of the series of camping sites, to the Sunol Visitor Center it is about 3.3 miles. The Ohlone Wilderness Trail mainly follows McCorkle Trail, though the trail changes back and forth between fire road and single-track a couple of times. And, after over 2500 feet of nearly continuous descent, there was one final ascent of about 300 feet. Between 16 and 17 miles from the beginning of the hike, this relatively small climb may have been the most difficult of the day!

Near the top of that climb I could see the Calaveras Reservoir, not far away. In this part of Sunol the hills are rather open, dotted with oak trees. The grass appeared almost yellow in hue, due to some combination of seasonal dryness and afternoon lighting.

image of hills along McCorkle Trail in Sunol Regional Wilderness

Hills along McCorkle Trail in Sunol Regional Wilderness

Perhaps 2 miles from the visitor center I met up with the friends who would provide my ride back to Del Valle. We had been in communication via walkie talkie for about a mile, so we could ensure that we were taking the same trail – there are several alternatives – and would, in fact, meet up.   It was nice to walk the last part of this long hike with friends – and to know that I would, indeed, be able to get back to my car before dusk and before Del Valle closed for the day.

The hike from Del Valle Regional Park to Sunol Regional Wilderness is long as well as challenging. While I was very glad to complete the hike in cool weather, I am inspired to try to return in the spring to enjoy the scenery on a clear day when the wildflowers are in season.

Posted in Alameda County, East Bay, East Bay Regional Park District, Ohlone Wilderness Trail | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

PCT from Ward Peak to Tevis Trail

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Prior to the 2015 hiking season there was a gap in the immediate Lake Tahoe area of my hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail. During the 2015 hiking season I was able to fill in most of the gap, which was from Ward Peak to Tinker Knob. In 2014 I’d hiked north from the junction near Twin Peaks to where the trail passes just west of Ward Peak. And in 2011 I’d hiked south from the Donner Summit area to Tinker Knob. Since the publication of Wild by Cheryl Strayed I have had increased interest in tracking my PCT mileage and filling in gaps where I can. Earlier in 2015 I had hiked between the Granite Chief Trail, near Squaw Valley, and Tinker Knob.

Along the route of this hike there are many places where the area around the trail is quite open, and as a result the views of the Pacific Crest and surrounding Granite Chief Wilderness are, in a word, iconic. In addition, the weather on the day of my hike was beautifully clear: a perfect day for what turned into an 18-mile hike!

My plan was to hike to the PCT from Alpine Meadows Rd on Five Lakes Trail, go south to my 2014 turnaround point near Ward Peak, then go north as far as was reasonable (about 6 miles), and finally return down Five Lakes Trail. The route is shown on the GPS track, with the orange dot denoting the Alpine Meadows Rd trailhead. On the return trip I made a short detour to explore the Five Lakes area.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail passes through Tahoe National Forest, mostly in the Granite Chief Wilderness and completely within Placer County. From Alpine Meadows Road the Five Lakes Trail climbs 1000 feet to the PCT. The rest of the elevation profile is a little complicated to sort out because of the T shape to the route, but hopefully will be clear as I describe the hike. The total climb was slightly over 3600 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Five Lakes Trail climbs steadily from the trailhead on Alpine Meadows Rd, topping out 2 miles later, at just over 7500 feet elevation, before a gentle descent into the Five Lakes Basin. Along the way, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail enters the Granite Chief Wilderness. Near the top of the climb there is a nice view of a rocky ridge that overlooks the Alpine Meadows ski area.

image of view of Alpine Meadows

View of Alpine Meadows

On the hillside above the trail, actually on the flank of Squaw Valley’s famed KT-22, there are interesting rock formations.

image of rock formation on the flank of KT-22

Rock formation on the flank of KT-22

After traversing the Five Lakes Basin and side trails to the lakes, the trail reaches a T junction with the PCT. Near this junction and elsewhere along the trail I noted several checkermallow (Sidalcea glaucescens) wildflowers still in bloom. I had not realized before that there are some flowers in this genus that bloom into the early fall.

image of checkermallow


At the PCT junction I turned left to hike south. After crossing Five Lakes Creek, with remnants of corn lily (Veratrum californicum) plants nearby, the trail climbs 1000 feet via switchbacks to 8400 feet elevation. Some of the trees on the hillside displayed interesting patterns: trunks with a bend near the base, and a moss line, denoting typical winter snow depth, several feet up the trunk from the base.

image of trees on a hillside next to the PCT

Trees on a hillside next to the PCT

While climbing the switchbacks I encountered a group of 6 or 7 young (twenty-something) mountain bikers, which startled me since they were not supposed to be there. I mentioned to the lead biker that I thought mountain bikes weren’t allowed on the trail, and he glibly replied that they are allowed every Sunday (obviously, it was a Sunday). I knew that was false but decided not to escalate the encounter into a confrontation. What a shame that some trail users choose to flaunt regulations that are intended to ensure that the trail remains available to users over the long term. Specifically, in federally designated Wilderness areas, as well as on the entire PCT, all motorized and wheeled vehicles are forbidden.

There were also nice views to the northeast across the valley in which Five Lakes Creek runs toward Squaw Peak.

After reaching 8400 feet elevation the trail has only gentle elevation changes over the next 1.3 miles or so until I reached the turnaround point for my previous hike from the south.   Shortly after reaching this section of trail there is a brief but spectacular view of Lake Tahoe some 2000 feet below.

image of Lake Tahoe view

Lake Tahoe view

The trail follows the ridge line and, half a mile later, is just below and west of the top of one of Alpine Meadows’ ski lifts. This is the view looking north along the ridge. The fence at the left defines the ski area boundary.

image of ridge near the top of an Alpine Meadows ski lift

Ridge near the top of an Alpine Meadows ski lift

Although there is relatively little vegetation on this ridge I did find a bright red plant, presumably in fall coloration.

image of red plant on the ridge

Red plant on the ridge

For the next mile there are frequent northward views toward the ridge line that extends west from Granite Chief. Distinctive Needle Peak is in the center of the picture, between Granite Chief on the right and Lyon Peak just left of Needle Peak.

image of Granite Chief ridge line

Granite Chief ridge line

About 3.2 miles past Five Lakes Trail is the location of the turnaround point of my 2014 hike from Twin Peaks. I stopped for a short break before returning toward the junction. With my back to Ward Peak, I had a wonderful view westward into the Granite Chief Wilderness.

image of view into the Granite Chief Wilderness

View into the Granite Chief Wilderness

After returning to the T junction I took another short break and continued hiking north. I was planning to go past the Whiskey Creek Trail junction at about 1 mile, to the next junction 2 miles farther. In this section of the PCT the terrain is a bit different from the previous section: always changing, and always beautiful.

The first mile is a 300-foot descent along Five Lakes Creek toward Whiskey Creek. About halfway along I noticed an interesting rock formation: a smaller rock balanced on a larger rock. It seemed amazing that the smaller rock had not tumbled to the ground!

image of balancing rock

Balancing rock

After reaching the junction with the Whiskey Creek Trail I continued north on the PCT. While still in the low-elevation section of the trail there was a pretty view to the south or southwest into the Granite Chief Wilderness.   Mount Mildred is not far away, but I can’t specifically identify it in the picture.

image of view south into the Granite Chief Wilderness

View south into the Granite Chief Wilderness

The trail follows Whiskey Creek for about 0.4 mile. In this wetter area there was pretty bracken (Pteridium) along with other moisture-loving plants. Some of the plants, like the bracken, were still green but others (e.g. thistles and bistort, I believe) had entered the fall-winter dormant season.

image of bracken near Whiskey Creek

Bracken near Whiskey Creek

In this area the PCT is also passing to the southwest of Squaw Peak, some 1500 feet above the trail.

image of Squaw Peak’s back side from the PCT

Squaw Peak’s back side from the PCT

There were a few exceptionally large trees, such as this one. My hiking poles serve as a rough ruler: the trunk’s diameter was at least 2 meters. The base of the tree reminded me of a giant elephant’s foot, probably because of the pattern of the “toes” and the texture of the bark.

image of base of an exceptionally large tree

Base of an exceptionally large tree

Occasionally I encountered a bit of fall color, contrasting nicely with the evergreens.

image of fall color

Fall color

Not far away there was a pretty, open meadow, which most likely is colorful with wildflowers in the spring. There is a nice stretch of trail that traverses the edge of the meadow, where I found a few blossoms of mariposa lilies (Calochortus) that had become translucent as they dried.

image of translucent mariposa lily blossom

Translucent mariposa lily blossom

About 3.1 miles past the Five Lakes Trail I reached a junction signed Tevis Trail, and I turned around there after yet another short break. When I plan to approach the same location later from the other direction, as I do in this case, I prefer to turn around at a marked trail junction or other distinctive location. After returning to Five Lakes Trail I turned left to return to the trailhead.

As I approached Five Lakes I decided that I had enough energy and daylight to do a brief exploration of some of the lakes. On previous hikes I had only found two of the five lakes, though I know the others are not far away. This time I followed a social trail to the smaller of the lakes I’d previously found, about 0.1 mile off the main trail. I think the peak in the background is KT-22.

image of Five Lakes: first from the main trail

Five Lakes: first from the main trail

The same social trail led quickly to another lake, which I’m sure I had not found on any previous exploration in the basin. The surface of this lake was even calmer than the first lake.

image of Five Lakes: second from the main trail

Five Lakes: second from the main trail

I decided that I needed to respect the time of day and return to the trailhead, still a 45-minute hike away. I’m sure I will return other times and continue to see if I can find all 5 lakes!  I will also return later to fill in the 2½ mile PCT gap to Granite Chief Trail.

Posted in North Tahoe, Pacific Crest Trail, Placer County, Tahoe National Forest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charity Valley and Burnside Lake Trails to Burnside Lake

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Outside Markleeville there is a beautiful area of Alpine County south of the immediate Lake Tahoe region, including Grover Hot Springs State Park surrounded by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The park has a hot spring-fed pool, campground, and hiking trails. One of the trails goes along Charity Valley Creek, in the same-named valley, and another climbs over 2000 feet to Burnside Lake. This was an out-and-back group hike to Burnside Lake on what turned out to be a warm early-fall day.

Near the hot spring pool there was a small garden area with late-blooming flowers, including these pretty Indian blankets (Gaillardia pulchella). Although they are not native to California, the bright colors certainly seemed indicative of the fall season.

photo of Indian blankets near the Grover Hot Springs pool

Indian blankets near the Grover Hot Springs pool

The GPS track shows the layout of the hike, with the orange dot showing the trailhead we used near the pool area. The hike up to Burnside Lake is about 4.4 miles each way, and on the way back we did a short exploration to explore a waterfall, which we did not actually find.

GPS track

GPS track

From the pool area a trail goes north across a meadow, with beautiful views of the surrounding high country. In this view the direction we would be hiking was generally toward the left and up the valley.

photo of view across Charity Valley Creek’s valley

View across Charity Valley Creek’s valley

For the first mile the trail gains no elevation. There are a couple of intersecting trails, which facilitate easy loop jaunts of 2-3 miles. Just before the trail begins to climb there is a junction with the trail that follows the creek to a waterfall. Past this junction the trail begins to climb, with a grade of 9% for 2/3 of a mile. Then the grade steepens to 19% for the main 1.75-mile climb, before leveling out 1 mile before reaching Burnside Lake.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The lower part of the trail is the Charity Valley Trail and passes through a pretty pine forest, with a carpet of pine duff covering the ground and trail. The shade was quite pleasant for hiking.

photo of forest along the Charity Valley Trail

Forest along the Charity Valley Trail

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead, after 1300 feet of climbing, the Charity Valley Trail continues to the left along Charity Valley toward Blue Lakes Rd, while the Burnside Lake Trail goes to the right and continues steeply uphill to the lake. Near this junction there is an impressive, if somewhat intimidating-looking, rock wall. It’s hard to look at such a rock wall and not wonder how on earth there is a trail to the top! Of course, the trail doesn’t go up that part of the wall, but the view helped with the mental preparation for the remainder of the climb.

photo of rock wall viewed near the junction of Charity Valley and Burnside Lake Trails

Rock wall viewed near the junction of Charity Valley and Burnside Lake Trails

Perhaps 0.3 mile past the junction there is a quite large down tree on the trail. Not only is the tree a pretty good size, approaching 5 feet in diameter, it fell along, rather than across, the trail. The surrounding area is thick with brush. Though not visible in this picture, there were intact branches at the far end that impeded the original plan to climb onto the tree and walk up the trunk to get to the other end. In the end, some hikers in my group went up the trunk and others bushwhacked along one side. Either way, it was a challenge to get past the tree – and we all knew that we would need to pass it again on the descent!

photo of large down tree on Burnside Lake Trail

Large down tree on Burnside Lake Trail

In several areas the trail passed through brush that was so dense that it was hard to be sure there was even a trail. But we pressed on, and did find the continuation of the trail. Evidently there is not enough foot traffic to keep the path of the trail open. Note that this picture was taken directly along the path of the trail!

photo of dense brush along Burnside Lake Trail

Dense brush along Burnside Lake Trail

In several places there were beautiful views back down the valley, with numerous rows of Sierra Nevada ridges as far as we could see. I think the small light area to the left of center is the meadow in Grover Hot Spring State Park where we had started the hike.

photo of view of Sierra Nevada ridges east of the trail

View of Sierra Nevada ridges east of the trail

About 3.4 miles from the trailhead the trail rather abruptly levels out. From here to the lake it passes through more forest with gentle rolls. In this area there were some impressive, large individual rocks in the forest.

photo of large rock near the top end of Burnside Lake Trail

Large rock near the top end of Burnside Lake Trail

After a mile of hiking through the forest we reached Burnside Lake. As is typical, the lake is in a small depression, reached after cresting a rise and descending 50 feet or so. The lake is pretty, with nice reflections of the surrounding trees and even of a rock just off the near shoreline.

photo of Burnside Lake

Burnside Lake

This was a great place to take a lunch break before hiking back down to the valley. For the most part, hiking down was a little easier than hiking up. However, I note that pushing through the dense brush and negotiating the large down tree were of similar difficulty going uphill and downhill.

Overall, the group agreed that the views were excellent and the lake very pretty. But the hike was more difficult than it needed to be, due to the lower level of trail maintenance compared to most other trails we have hiked. For other potential hikers who may not be concerned about trail maintenance, this situation virtually guarantees solitude hiking this trail.

At the end of the hike we had been planning to take a dip in the hot springs pool. However, the afternoon was so warm – in the mid-80’s – that we decided ice cream was a better choice. So we stopped in Markleeville for ice cream on the way back to the Truckee area.

Posted in Alpine County, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, South Tahoe | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment