Bald Hill
Browns Hill
Potato Hill CC
Three Peaks P500
Old Baldy
Flat Top
The Beehive
High Point
Grassy Hill

Wed, Feb 4, 2015
Etymology
Bald Hill
Potato Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Bald Hill previously climbed Sat, Oct 19, 2013
High Point previously climbed Sat, Oct 19, 2013
Grassy Hill previously climbed Sat, Oct 19, 2013

I had recently received an email from Jerry Kohn with some information regarding the "missing" peaks from the CC list. He also pointed out a few changes I had made to the list and forgotten about, including the swapping of Potato Hill for High Point in the Napa County area above Calistoga. I could not remember why I had made the change (other than perhaps Potato Hill appeared to have so little prominence that it seemed a mistake) but given the mental prodding I remembered that I wanted to go back and visit this area in the daylight. I had thought it was mostly private property when I had paid it a nighttime visit, but came to find most all of the route is on public lands or those managed by the Napa Land Trust. The latter doesn't allow unfettered public access, preferring one get permission to visit beforehand. I had tried to get such permission in the past to Mt. George, but found that access was not granted lightly. They prefer that you join a scheduled, docent-led trip, and then after volunteering for work days. Luckily they don't put big fences around the properties and patrol them. The outing would be a long one, primarily because I wanted to include a host of additional, minor named summits found in the area.

Having spent the night tucked away on a side road just south of Calistoga in a typical fog, it was 7a by the time I got to the Oat Hill Mine TH at the junction of Silverado Trail and SR29 on the northeast side of town. This trail makes its way for 8-9mi from Calistoga, up and over the mountains to Aetna Springs in the adjacent Pope Valley. Side trails lead north to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and south through Napa Land Trust properties. It is very popular with cyclists and hikers. The main trail, an old mining road, has various single-track threads connecting at various points to the main trail. I had not noticed these in the dark but found them much more enjoyable trails to travel as opposed to the old road. It took only about ten minutes to climb above the thin fog layer covering the valley floor. Sunrise came before 7:30a but the sun was quickly obscured behind higher clouds that hung around all day. In fact a Pacific storm system was on its way into the state and this road trip was just a single day to get some hiking in before the rain started.

Bald Hill

Upon discovering the single-track options, I began to explore these as I made my way higher, climbing about 1,300ft to the first summit, Bald Hill. The trails have had some work put into them, clearing of brush and even some rock-lined sections. Short spur trails lead to random overlooks along the ridge. Bald Hill is really just a rock and grass outcrop on the SW->NE rising ridgeline that I followed. The highest rocks are easy class 3, taking about an hour to reach from the TH. Clouds and haze marred the views, but one can see northwest to Mt. St. Helens, north to The Palisades and southwest to Napa Valley. About half a mile further up from Bald Hill, the main trail traverses left around the northwest side of the ridge to reach a saddle at the base of The Palisades. This saddle is where the main trail junctions are located. The Palisades are a cliff-strewn area of volcanic rock that extends over a longer portion of the crest than is indicated by the map label. The terrain south of this saddle is interesting, made picturesque by the fresh green grass brought on by the December rains. The rock and grass combine to make for a landscape that resembles (in my mind) the Scottish highlands (which I've never been to). Rather than take the main trail to the saddle, I followed various thin use trails through this section, sometimes just cross-country, scrambling over rocks and generally enjoying the place to myself. At one location I found a series of concentric rings carefully constructed of rocks. It looked like an ancient druid religious site perched on the hilltop overlooking the valley. On the shadier northern aspects of the rocky terrain grew an abundance of moss which added to the ancient feel of the place.

Browns Hill

Just east of the more interesting terrain around the Palisades is Browns Hill. I had bypassed this on my previous visit because there is no trail leading to the summit and it seemed it might be too brushy to do by moonlight. Turns out I was right. Even in daytime this is one brushy mess. The summit is loaded with manzanita and other thick brush that took a good deal of looking around to find a reasonable way up. The last part I got up via the northwest side but one has to watch out for poison oak hidden amongst the brush. Yuck. The views turned out to be decent, the summit featured a small rocky perch and not buried in over-the-head brush. You have to enjoy a good brush fight to visit this one.

Potato Hill

I found my way off Browns summit, down an interesting class 3 gully and onto the Land Trust trail that winds its way south and east along the crest of the mountains. The old road serving as a trail is cleared and easy enough to follow with trail signs located at the few potentially confusing places. I bypassed both Grassy Hill and High Point as I followed the trail for about an hour. Potato Hill marks the boundary between the Duff Ranch and Dunn-Wildlake Ranch boundaries, though both are now managed by the Napa Land Trust. Potato Hill is a small rocky bump with about 80ft of prominence found just off the trail. It takes only a few minutes to climb to the summit from the west side. The east side appears a bit more difficult, but mostly due to steeper terrain rather than brush. Thankfully, the brush is light on this one. Is it deserving of being on a peak list? Probably not.

Three Peaks

This was the highest summit visited on the day, found to the east off the main crest. The road continues east and south from Potato Hill along Rattlesnake Ridge. On the north side of Old Baldy is found a convenient trail map posted at the edge of the road. The map shows a Three Peaks Trail along which is found the Three Peaks Vista Pt. I followed this trail but never noted the vista point. The three summits that make up the Three Peaks are not clearly discernable. The westermost one is the highpoint and has a small rocky outcrop to afford decent views. There is no trail reaching to the highpoint, but I found a fairly brush-free route approaching it from the east. Another summit to the east is 30ft lower and devoid of views. I didn't bother to visit the third summit located to the north across the trail and lower than the other two. Three Peaks was the only summit of the day with more than 500ft of prominence.

Old Baldy

Back on the main trail, the old road runs almost to the summit of this point along Rattlesnake Ridge. A signed spur trail leads to the top where one can find a small cairn and a memorial plaque for Mr. and Mrs. Roy Waynick. The summit is only partially bald, with trees found blocking views to the east, but decent enough views looking off the crest to the west.

Flat Top

This poorly named summit is half a mile south of Old Baldy, just off the road. There is a nice picnic site found here with a gas BBQ grill kept under a tattered cover. The picnic tables are nicely situated with a fine view to the southeast. The highpoint is found just east of the tables atop a mound of rocky earth. Three Peaks can be seen to the northeast with The Beehive about 1/3mi to the south.

The Beehive

This conical-shaped summit seems aptly named. The road continuing south bypasses the summit around the north and east sides, requiring some cross-country through forest understory and some brush to reach the rocky summit. Views are marginal due to the surrounding trees. One needs to be careful to avoid poison oak here as well.

High Point

Returning back the way I'd come, I had intended to bypass these last two summits since I'd already visited them. But as I was passing by High Point on the trail around its north side, I noted what looked like a thin use trail heading up. I couldn't resist following it to see if it offered a better way to the summit. It was a decent enough route and mostly brush-free, but not really any better than the route from the west I'd used previously. A few others had signed into the register since I had been here a year and a half earlier, including Jerry Kohn who had inspired this outing. I returned to the trail via the western route which follows along the ridge before dropping down through a gap in the brush to the south followed by a traverse west to the road.

Grassy Hill

Having climbed High Point, I felt I couldn't leave Grassy Hill untouched. I climbed the small hill from the east, descending to the trail off the south side. The register had nearly the same sequence of names as the High Point register, to no great surprise. Unlike High Point, Grassy Hill has poor views.

It was 2p as I was passing by the base of Browns Hill on my way back. I decided to stop and pay a second visit to the abandoned treehouse I had discovered in the dark on that first visit. The structure is built into the side of a cliff around an oak tree, not much to look at and not all that safe, either. On the cliff side is a small cave where fires have blackened the ceiling and names have been scratched into the soot. More interesting was the small pool of water found just beyond the treehouse. In it were several dozen newts plying the waters. Most of these were males with about three females among them. Two or three males would be intertwined with each female as they manuevered for mating opportunities. From an anthropomorphic view it looked like gang rape, with the smaller females struggling to keep off the oversexed advances of their counterparts. It was a fascinating little microcosm in this otherwise dry landscape and I must have spent thirty minutes watching the action before returning to the trail.

I still had an hour and a half of hiking to return, and with the peakbagging part dispensed with I took to exploring more of the alternate trails found on ridge below Bald Hill. Along the way I came across two separate long-term camp sites. One of these was rather tidy with few possessions lying around. A tarp over a flat spot on the hillside provided shelter from the rain with a nice view looking north. A second site found lower on the ridge was more disheveled looking. It had prayer flags, buddhist books and a brass bell to suggest the occupant's religious leanings, but tidiness was not in evidence. It was 3:30p by the time I returned to the TH, having taken some 7.5hrs to cover nearly 20mi. A very good day, by my measure. The only detraction was the drive home - I thought the East Bay drive would be bad enough, but southbound traffic through 15mi of Napa Valley was simply awful on a Wednesday afternoon. Ugh.

Continued...


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