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My 11yr-old daughter has signed up to join her brother and the Boy Scouts at their annual summer camp at the end of July. Part of this week-long fun is the not-as-much-fun hike into and out of camp, something like 6-8 miles with a backpack. Jackie has never carried more than a very light daypack and her last outing with Dad showed she was woefully lacking in preparedness. With this in mind, I set out on a two-week effort to get her ready so that the backpacking will merely suck and not be the excruciating sufferfest indelibly burned into her psyche that it might otherwise be. Of course this doesn't mean that Dad won't use the time and energy to find some peaks of interest, which is how we ended up driving two hours north to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. I'd been to nearby Mt. Hood a few years ago, but wanted to come back for a few CC-listed peaks in Sonoma County.
I bundled Jackie into the van at the wee hour of 4:30a for the long south-north drive across the Bay Area. She slept most of the way. Traffic along the East Bay freeways was thankfully light and we made good time against traffic once across the Richmond Bridge. Jackie ate breakfast when we rolled into the state park shortly before 6:30a. We paid $6 of the $8 fee requested at the self-pay booth because I didn't have any more singles and didn't want to pay in larger bills. Jackie found this highly worrisome and expressed her concern in no uncertain terms as Dad botched another good citizenship teaching moment. I pointed out that we could have parked 100yds outside the entrance for free which went some way in justifying my decision, but of course it was just a rationalization. Mostly she was worried that I'd be given a $68 ticket as described in one of the signs, but I doubted we'd have much reason for concern on a weekday.
We found the Bald Mtn TH just inside the entrance kiosk. Ours was the only car at this early hour. Breakfast of donuts and milk finished, we started off just before 7a. It had been completely overcast with typically tenacious Bay fog for the entire drive and the hike started out with the same. It would not burn off until sometime after we'd left in the afternoon. It was 50F when we started off, cool, but almost ideal hiking. The trail climbs some 1,500ft in almost three miles, fairly steep. The chaparral and oak-studded hills we found were pretty standard fare for the California coastal ranges. Poison oak was abundant along the trail and our first learning of the day was in positively identifying the plant wherever we found it. Jackie was intimidated by this initially, but came to accept it as part of the landscape. Our other flora identification was for the two types of smooth-barked plants we found, the red-barked manzanita and orange-barked madrone. These were even more impressive when wet as most of them were with the fog blowing over the hills. The tall, golden grasses were similarly laden with dew and much of it came off on our shoes and pants as we hiked along. It mattered little as we both enjoyed the hike.
The single track trail meets up with the narrow paved road after the first mile, and from this point on it was necessary to follow the road to the summit of Bald Mtn and nearby Red Mtn. We found several well-placed benches along the route and took advantage of these to rest when we found them. We stopped for a pee break about halfway up, for which another lesson ensued on why it can be advantageous to be a boy in the wilderness. With about 400 vertical feet to go, we finally broke through the fog layer and began to rise above the sea of billowing white. We both found it magical as the sun played with the mist, dancing light beams across the folds and making tiny prisms in the mist and dew.
We reached the summit of Bald Mtn at 8a, looking to be the highest point for miles around. The spot elevation shows the summit only a foot lower than Mt. Hood some 2.5 miles to the west, but there was no other competition for at least ten miles. We ooh'd and aah'd the sight of several dozen islands popping above the cloud layer in the surrounding areas. Cobb Mtn and Mt. St. Helena were the most prominent peaks visible to the north though Snow Mtn and other higher peaks could be seen much further behind them. Elsewhere we could see Mt. Vaca to the east, Mt. Diablo to the southeast, Mt. Tamalpais to the southwest. Nothing of the San Francisco Bay could be seen below the blanketing. We were happy to find another bench at the summit and we spent more than half an hour resting and snacking and chatting the time away.
After dropping back down the short distance to a saddle, we took the other road up to Red Mtn, lower and decidedly less interesting. The top had been leveled for a microwave relay tower and most of the views were blocked by trees (unlike Bald Mtn which lived up to its name). We spent more time on the way back down hunting lizards with long grass stems at the end of which we had fastened small nooses for collaring them. We managed to ensnare a handful of lizards in the nooses, but all but one were able to break free in a second or two. The unlucky one had to put up with our handling and petting him before finally being set free a few minutes later.
We saw other wildlife on our hike as well, including deer, rabbits, a quail, wild turkeys, and a large gopher snake. It was one of our better hauls. It was after 10a before we returned to the car. Jackie was happy to call it a day at this point, but I had other plans and worked to convince her to become part of them. There is another Bald Mtn just outside the southeast corner of the park that I was interested in visiting, and I thought it would take about half the effort to reach as what we'd done so far. Without too much cajoling, I was able to get her to consent. We drove the car further east into the park, to the equestrian parking near the small Ferguson Observatory. After a short rest for her tired legs, we set off on the Hillside Trail heading southeast.
The second leg of our day started off on a strong note - we had a small creek to cross with Jackie managing to dance across the five or six stones in fine style. She really enjoyed this. We then came upon acres of blackberries lining the trail, though mostly out of season. We did find a few ripe ones that we sampled with relish. This too, was a superb find - imagine foraging like real wild animals!
We traveled about a mile up to a water tank and then found the road losing elevation as it dropped back to the main canyon, and not up to a saddle southwest of Bald Mtn as I had expected from the topo map. We came upon a junction labeled Brushy Peaks, but Jackie wasn't so interested in continuing. She offered to take a seat and wait for me which I naturally took her up on (not in the Good Parenting Handbook, but alas I had left my copy at home). I left her with the backpack containing our jackets and Gatorade and told her I'd be back in an hour. Before I took off I was sure to point out all the poison oak patches in the area with warnings to stay out.
The Brushy Peaks trail heads up the correct drainage, leading towards a saddle north of Bald Mtn. A mile up from the junction and about half a mile from the saddle the trail makes an abrupt left turn out of the drainage, heading towards Brushy Peaks, not to the saddle as depicted on the topo. Brush has been placed over the old road where the trail now turns left. I skirted around this brush and followed the deteriorating road upwards. I came to a fence indicating the park boundary, hopped it, and made my way up to the saddle. As expected, there was a fresh road there that could be followed to the summit. What wasn't expected was the sight of a man working just up the road. Apparently this is an active vineyard area and I quickly ducked back out of sight. I wasn't prepared to meet up with people and figured I wouldn't be exactly welcomed, so I ditched the idea of reaching the second Bald Mtn.
I'd burned through twenty minutes of my allotted hour. Perhaps I could still visit Brushy Peaks. I didn't know where they were on the map, but I knew where a trail was with their name on it. So back down I went along the overgrown road, back over the fence, and down to the trail junction. I jogged up this trail for about a mile as it switchbacked up to the main crest, then another mile north along the trail/firebreak to Brushy Peaks. The fog was still clinging firmly to the hills and I was just starting to bust through it when I ran out of elevation, leaving me with views of the two peaks, but little else. There are two main summits, one to the west, the other to the east. The trail jogs between them before continuing along the crest towards the higher Bald Mtn. Both peaks appear to have had fire breaks running over them at some time in the past, but these have been left to disuse and discouraged by piles of brush or ribbons to block them. The lower west summit is the easiest to ascend after bypassing the blocked brush at one of two unmarked junctions. The higher east summit is a tougher bushwhack through the old firebreak for about 100 yards to its apex. Even without the clouds the views would be minimal because lo and behold - Brushy peaks are rather brushy. Oh well.
I had about eigtheen minutes left of my hour when I was done with Brushy Peaks, and knowing I had more than two miles to descend I took off on a run. I was quite happy for the fog cover to keep this effort cool. I covered the ground with two minutes to spare as I spotted Jackie looking up the trail for me. She seemed content and happy, not much concerned by my absence, unlike her brother the first time I'd left him on the trail. She told me how she had gone through all the lines and scenes from her school's summer play while she was waiting, and had just finished up. Leave it to my daughter to occupy her time in unusual and creative ways.
We took the Meadow Trail back to the observatory, part of the Planet Walk that starts from there. They have scaled the planets' distances to the sun and set up markers along the way going more than two miles from the start. I told her how I had already passed by the outer three planets (Pluto was still a planet when they created the display), so we eagerly looked for Jupiter coming up next. In this fashion we read all the signs for the inner planets as well, right back to the sun which is a big yellow disk painted at the starting point. It was a slick idea and we enjoyed it very much.
From the sun it was a minute's walk back to the parking lot where we'd left the van. It was 1p by this time and time to call it a day. Jackie had covered about 8 miles and did quite well. Later in the week I'd work on having her carry a small pack to get used to the weight she'll need to heft for summer camp. She slept most of the two hours plus that we had to get home, traffic in the East Bay not as light as when we'd passed through in the morning. Overall we both gave the park an A for adventure - well worth the visit!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Bald Mountain
This page last updated: Tue Jul 13 15:14:24 2010
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