This hike turned out to be a multi-day return trip to the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment that runs from the main entrance of Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve through the length of Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve to Rapley Ranch Rd. I had hiked this segment previously, but for various reasons it had been in several smaller sections (see here and here and here), and I wanted to revisit this pretty area and hike the entire segment at once. As it turned out, my return hike was a group hike on a misty and moist morning, and the famous views were simply not to be enjoyed. So I returned once again two days later on a gloriously beautiful day for a round-trip hike. This post is a combination of these two hikes.
For a spring with intermittent rain that followed a bone-dry winter, it wasn’t clear how the wildflower display would be. Well, it was so nice that I’m going to do a separate post devoted to wildflower pictures. This post is more about the hike and non-wildflower scenery.
I started at the Skyline Ridge OSP main entrance on Skyline Blvd and hiked north to and through Russian Ridge OSP to Rapley Ranch Rd, where I turned around. On my return trip I made detours: to Borel Hill, around Alpine Lake, and then past the initial trailhead to nearby Horseshoe Lake.
Because the entire hike is basically along Skyline Blvd, there are no major climbs, and the grade is quite reasonable.
The group hike was, as I mentioned, on a misty and moist morning. The first part of the hike in Skyline Ridge OSP passes through a lovely shady forested area. This area clearly gets a lot of moisture, judging from the prevalence of moss-covered trees. I also noticed that, on misty days, the moss is full of water and stands out from the tree trunks and branches even more than in dry weather.
There had been light rain the night before the hike, and water droplets had collected in interesting patterns on some plants. How clever of the plants to collect water this way!
About 0.8 mile from the trailhead along the Ipiwa Trail, which is for hikers only, there is an overlook with a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean. On the day of the first hike, the view was literally into a cloud. Two days later the view was spectacular, across green hills and forested ridges to the ocean and horizon in the distance.
About 1 mile from the trailhead, still along Ipiwa Trail, a commemorative bench has been placed facing the Santa Cruz Mountains roughly to the southwest. The view is very peaceful, and it is easy to forget that the trail is barely a 15-mile drive from the heart of the bustling Silicon Valley.
Just past the bench, the trail curves around a couple of hills, descending gently. My fellow hikers were not-really-eerie figures as they made their way along the trail, heading into the mist.
Shortly before arriving at Alpine Pond the trail crosses a service road. My hiking group startled, then aroused the curiosity of, a deer having a snack just down the road.
At Alpine Pond there is a nature center and a small viewing platform. The pond was beautiful and peaceful in the mist.
Just past Alpine Pond the trail passes under Alpine Rd in a culvert and enters Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve at the 2200 foot elevation dip in the elevation profile. The Ridge Trail climbs about 300 feet to a high point near Borel Hill, passing mostly open hillsides with a wide variety of spring wildflowers. In clear weather the hills are lovely, with several other trails beckoning for hiking attention on a future visit.
About 3.8 miles from the trailhead is a junction with Hawk Ridge Trail. Shortly after this junction the trail passes through a grove of trees. In this area there is a viewing platform just off the trail. Behind the platform along the trail, there is a surprise view of the Bay between the trees. I particularly like the view from here, because Mt Diablo is directly behind the Stanford University campus, with Hoover Tower visible, as well as the radio telescope that gives “The Dish” recreational trail its name. The Dumbarton Bridge angles across the Bay.
The Bay views, and the occasional airplane beginning approach to San Francisco Airport, are reminders of the simultaneous remoteness from and proximity to the Silicon Valley.
After the Hawk Ridge Trail junction, the trail gradually descends about 500 feet to Rapley Ranch Rd. About 0.5 mile before the end there is a little gully where, two years ago, I came across a down tree – since cleared – and got a nasty case of poison oak trying to bushwhack around it. I now refer to this little gully as “the scene of the crime”! There is indeed plenty of poison oak next to the trail, not just here but in many places in the area’s open space preserves.
Just past the gully I noticed a snake partway across the trail. I was pretty sure it was a gopher snake but wanted to encourage it to move off the trail before I tried to walk past. I lightly tossed a few small sticks and stones at the snake, with no response. Then I very carefully reached out with one of my hiking poles, lifted the snake near the middle of its length, and gently set it down at the side of the trial. When the snake didn’t seem perturbed, I walked past and continued to the end of the trail. When I returned 20 minutes later, it was gone.
On my return hike I took the very short detour to the top of Borel Hill, the highest named point in San Mateo County. The climb from the Ridge Trail to the top is less than 0.1 mile and 40 vertical feet, so this little detour is highly recommended. From the top the 360-degree views are outstanding. This is one of several places I’ve identified from which it is possible to see all of the major peaks of the southern half of the Bay Area: Mt Tamalpais, Mt Diablo, Mission Peak, Mt Hamilton, Mt Umunhum, and Loma Prieta. In addition to the peaks, skyline features such as Round Top are easily seen. Black Mountain is almost literally in your face, barely 3 miles away to the east. There is kind of a gap in the East Bay hills skyline with another ridge visible behind. I think it might be Wauhab Ridge, which goes across the Ohlone Regional Wilderness in eastern Alameda County.
I thought it was striking that the profile of the skyline from Mt Umunum to Loma Prieta was almost the same as the hill- and tree-line in the foreground.
After enjoying the view from Borel Hill I continued back to the Russian Ridge parking area and into Skyline Ridge. At Alpine Pond I made another detour, around the Pond Loop. At the far side, just off the trail, there is a mortar rock that was used by native peoples to grind grain. This is quite interesting, and the detour around the pond is only about 0.4 mile. As I completed my loop I happened to see a bunny just off the trail snacking on the green vegetation.
As I arrived at the trailhead I decided to continue to nearby Horseshoe Lake. This detour is about 1 mile round trip, and the lake is quite pretty in the afternoon sun.
The (one-way) hike in the mist was an unusual experience, punctuated by the glorious weather just 2 days later. One of my philosophies about hiking is to enjoy the terrain, scenery, and flora and fauna as they are, i.e., as I find them, on any given occasion. I’ve found that there almost always is something special to remember.