23 February 2017

Mount Diablo

Mount Diablo State Park

Knowing I would pass through the very general area twice and figuring I should stop and do something along the way, getting to the top of Mount Diablo was at the top of the list of possibilities. I go out of my way to try to find random corner markers, so the initial point for most of the surveys of California is a must visit. There are also all the reasons this was made the initial point, namely that it can be seen from all directions for miles around. This translates into views in all directions on a clear day. Putting it on the southbound leg of my trip means there might be more wildflowers and there are definitely fewer tolls. The mountain can be a drive up. I am sure it is a very pleasant, winding road up, but I want to climb it. As hinted by the myriad of markers on the map above, there are a lot of choices on exactly how to climb this mountain on foot. I decided to build my route on a popular loop visiting area waterfalls. This has the advantage of getting to pass by those waterfalls if there is time and free parking. One probably should not live by the free, but when there are other advantages to avoiding tolls and using the free parking, live it up.

muddy road through green grass
On a muddy fire road heading for a mountain. The hills sure are green and the valley oaks are just starting to leaf.

Two city streets come steeply down hills to stop just short of the bottom leaving room for creek and trail to pass between, although the creek actually takes a culvert. It is an odd visual. Access trails drop down from both sides. A thin city park follows the creek to the north and the state park starts at a sign to the south. In the time it takes me to pull on my shoes, a pair have gone out to have a look at the trails and decided against a run. I pack in my puffy jacket for greater enjoyment at the top of the mountain, then, on a whim, pull on my rain jacket because something about the morning air just is not warming up. The sign has a map, which is good to review the turns I want to make to get to the top of the mountain. A map in hand is always better, but I have not got one for today. My plan for the route up is Back Creek until it ends at Meridian Ridge, then Bald Ridge and the North Peak Trail to the top. I set off. At first, all routes are muddy roads past the lush grass. One peak to the west is cut with the distinctive giant steps of a quarry.

grassy hills with oaks
Oaks among the grassy hills. Oh, and there are some houses visible.

The trail quickly splits. The signs point out the next destination in either direction placing the trail name in small type above. That certainly is complete. I just follow along the ones saying Back Creek ignoring the destination. This crosses a hill over to a new creek, then follows along upstream at a small distance. There are trickles crossing the road on their way to the creek below in a few places. Getting through the mud can be challenging in spots.

Back Creek
Following Back Creek at a respectable distance as it flows through a soft and green land.

The road ends and trail begins as the canyon changes from soft, grassy hills to a narrower, rocky canyon. The trail drops down closer to the water and sometimes flirts just a little too much with the creek. It would not be a good idea to take this trail in a rain storm. The air is much colder in the bottom of the canyon.

rocky canyon
A changing trail for a changing canyon.

creek twines with trail
The lesser of two sections where creek collides with trail.

minute white flowers very close
Getting close to some minute flowers. There are a few flowers, but they are very tiny or shooting stars bedraggled from a frost or two.

A couple trails climb out the canyon to the east allowing for shorter loops. The usual one for the waterfall loop is the second, Meridian Point Trail. There is supposed to be one in this canyon, hence the inclusion on the waterfall loop, but I seem to have missed it. One would think that with all the water being loud as it tumbles over things, a waterfall would be heard even if not seen at first. So I climb to the top of the canyon without having seen a waterfall yet. It is too warm to keep my thin coat on once I hit some sun. As I gain elevation, the view opens up to the north and the trail becomes icy in spots.

Back Creek canyon
Looking back down Back Creek and the trail to Meridian Point Trail and further.

purple flowers
Tucked under some brush should give a bit of protection from the overnight freezing.

San Francisco Bay
The slow reveal of distance includes a bit of the Suisun Bay.

Meridian Ridge Road
Meridian Ridge is easily recognized by the road along its edge.

The Back Creek Trail ends at Murchio Gap along Meridian Ridge Road. A few feet further on is the trail up Bald Ridge and Eagle Peak. It looks like a fun smaller peak to grab when the mountain seems too much or you just do not want to finish a climb where people can drive. Some different choices and it could have been part of the route up. I take the left onto Bald Ridge to continue with the initial planned route. The trail here is a bit rocky and rougher than the one up along the creek. The ridge is not entirely bald, but it does have a bald section. As the trail ducks onto the north facing slope, the cold hits again and I pull on my thin coat again.

Eagle Peak
Eagle Peak and the bay area beyond.

Bald Ridge
The bald bit of Bald Ridge with a couple bald turkey vultures on the middle outcrop.

North Peak
North Peak to the east. Another peak that could be a slightly shorter loop to where most cannot drive or with other trail choices could be part of a this loop.

Bald Ridge Trail ends at Prospectors Gap where there is fire road again. A huge puddle in the middle is half iced over, securing a number of coulter pine cones to the ground. A sign to the north gives the barest history of area mining. Trail climbs to the summit on the south side and I go that way. It wraps around the east and south sides of the mountain for a new series of views.

green hills to the east
The view east and southeast. There sure is a lot of green out there, at least for now.

navigational beacon
The top comes into view with its old aviation beacon. It is a basically a light house for land.

southweast view
The view south and southwest. A bit more bay can be seen.

grassy slopes
The vegetation is a lot different on the south side of the mountain.

The trail comes to a turnout on the paved road. There is another sign with a map, but it is so full of moisture that it cannot be read. More trail heads up to the parking above and then splits the difference between the looping roadway to the very top. There is a state parks benchmark along the way, but it is not the main marker up here. Once at the top, I head first for the observation deck beside the beacon and pull on that coat. It is cold up here as expected.

Golden Gate and Bridge
The distance is a bit misty, but bring up the contrast a little and there is definitely a Golden Gate Bridge out there crossing the gate.

back along the same line
Looking back to the trail from the beacon along the same line as when I first saw it.

San Francisco Bay
The area I have been hiking.

Stepping inside the warm visitor center and climbing the steps brings me to the very top of the mountain. That is unexpected. I step off the floor and onto the rock to make it official. Around the rock are exhibits explaining how it came to be that there is this one large mountain in the middle of very little else and other geological information.

housed mountain top
Going inside to find the mountain top.

After exiting back through the gift shop and walking down nearly to the lower lot, I turn onto the Mary Bowerman Trail which makes a loop around the top. This is an interpretive trail, but I do not have the brochure in hand. I am really out to climb the Devils Pulpit, which is a quick scramble with big hand holds. Once I finish that, I continue around for good measure. The north side has a sign with similar geological information to what is written up inside the visitor center, but that display has multimedia things that expand on this information. There are also some built in binoculars which I am pleased to find are not coin operated. The rest of the trail is ADA compliant. As it gets into sheltered northern areas, there is some remaining snow from the last storm and the trees above are iced over.

Devils Pulpit
The Devils Pulpit was a quick climb for me, but too cold and windy at the top to stick around.

boardwalk and frosted brush
ADA compliant trail and some frosted trees and brush.

Having come back around on the trail, I head back down the mountain to Prospectors Gap the same way I came up. The afternoon sun has cleared up the moisture in the sign so that I can see the map and review the turns I want to make. Unfortunately, I probably will not have enough time to see the waterfalls. They are always best in the sun, and the sun will be getting low.

windmills across the bay
A mass of windmills beyond the hills and bay are set off in the late afternoon light.

At the junction to head down into the canyon to see the waterfalls, my plans change. Sunset is near, and keeping to the ridge for the best color show seems more reasonable.

three watefalls in the canyon
It turns out there really are some waterfalls down there. Three can be seen from this point on the ridge.

pastel sky
With a higher ridge to the west and the mountain to the south, the show is just the pastel sky to the north.

The road winds down to Donner Creek Road below and I follow that all the way back. The creek is a little bigger than Back Creek and the road stays well above it. Trails take off on both sides, one heading to an old cabin site. That sounds interesting, but less so in the dark. As I get into the gentle grassy hills and the road flattens out, it gets quite muddy again. Usually I can find a path that is not so muddy, but sometimes I just have to take a sloppy route across it. Less than a mile to go, it gets particularly sloppy and I find myself in mud an inch over the top of my low shoes. I almost made it. The other manages to get completely covered, but not over the top, as I extricate the first and take a few more steps back to some more solid ground. They are much heavier the rest of the way back to the car.

©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 4 March 2017

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