I went on this Bay Area Ridge Trail hike on an early winter day about 10 days after some heavy rains. Some of the area remains moist even through the dry summer season, so it was especially wet and muddy on the day of my hike. I started at the Skyline Gate staging area, on Skyline Blvd near the top of Shepherd Canyon Rd in the Oakland Hills, and hiked northwest. The Ridge Trail route follows the East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail through Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve and Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve and crosses CA-24 over the Caldecott Tunnel. I turned around at the Fish Ranch Road crossing, which I had hiked to from the opposite direction on a previous hike. As usual (for me), this was an out-and-back hike.
Although the elevation range spans only 600 feet, the route gains and loses about 1000 feet in each direction.
From the Skyline Gate staging area the trail goes around a small hill and crosses Pinehurst Rd, then enters Huckleberry Preserve. The trail was muddy right at the preserve boundary: a preview of coming attractions, so to speak. The forest is relatively dense, and the trees grow in eerie shapes as they try to get more sunlight. Note that I was careful to hold my camera level!
The trail descends about 400 feet over about 1.5 miles and crosses San Leandro Creek.
Along the way there are several numbered signposts denoting features on a self-guided tour, as well as scattered glimpses of the hills to the east. Shortly after crossing the creek I noticed a particularly interesting multi-trunk tree, I believe a bay.
The trail climbs steadily, gaining 600 feet and crossing into Sibley Presesrve. Along this section there is an area with exposed rock.
The Sibley staging area is at the 1500-foot high point of this section of trail. Here there was a sign advising the descent, which would be 500 feet, and the trail shortly became intermittently muddy. I decided to press on and see how things went. On the way down, the trail crosses Round Top Creek twice. There were more trees with fantastic shapes.
Near the low point in the trail there were additional signs advising storm-damaged trail, and I could see that the trail ahead was quite muddy. I continued to proceed cautiously, aware that I needed to be able to return via the same trail. Here is how the trail looked. Some of the footprints with standing water contained chunks of ice!
Shortly after the muddy section I passed the Old Tunnel Rd staging area and noticed a sign indicating only 1.1 mile to the Fish Ranch Rd crossing, where I intended to turn around. About halfway there I would cross the Caldecott Tunnel and CA-24. Soon the forest opened up into more like chaparral and the next ridge of hills came into view. It was actually a little tricky to determine exactly where the CA-24 crossing is: the highway is on my GPS but the map is rather coarse, so the route isn’t represented faithfully. In any case, there was a nice view of the hills around the location of the crossing.
After reaching the Fish Ranch Rd crossing I turned around and headed back to my car, keenly aware of the time. It was nearly 3:30pm and, since I’d been on the trail for almost 2 hours, I wanted to try to make up some time on the return trip. Sunset was going to be around 5:05, and I knew that much of the return trip would be in dense forest with a ridge of hills to my west, with a corresponding reduction in ambient light. Fortunately I made efficient time on the return trip. I didn’t stop for sightseeing. However, on the final climb, about 0.2mile before reaching Pinehurst Rd, there was a nice view of Mt Diablo in the fading light. I think it was about 7 minutes before sunset, and I still had 0.7 mile to go to reach my car!
Because of the shady and relatively moist conditions for this trail, it would probably make a nice summer hike. Also, I would like to return and take time to explore the self-guided tours in both Sibley and Huckleberry Preserves.