Oursan Ridge
Sobrante Ridge

Fri, Apr 18, 2014

With: Jackie Burd

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With a day of volleyball scheduled in Sacramento, my daughter and I headed out a day early to get a hike in and allow her to get some video for a school project. Originally we were going to be joined by a teammate and her mom, but the five miles and 1,000ft of gain were considered too strenuous. So it was just Jackie and I enjoying ourselves for about two and half hours on a Friday afternoon. I picked a few easy summits on EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Utility District) property for which one needs to pay a use fee. The property is located in the East Bay hills above Briones Reservoir. I purchased a yearly pass online the day before and then absentmindedly forgot to bring it with us. So a hike for which I had fully prepared to do legally would become something of a stealth effort.

We parked at the TH at the end of Hampton Rd where Jackie was immediately taken by the chickens roaming freely from an adjacent property. They had goats as well, though not free-ranging, and she took some time to get to know them and see if she could make a few friends. Following this we started south up the easy grade of Hampton Rd, dutifully signing into the trail register (I had to make up a permit # since I had no idea what mine actually was) as we got on our way. Fifteen minutes brought us to a saddle and the junction with the Oursan Trail. To the east lay Lawson Hill, to the west Oursan and Sobrantes Ridges. Since two peaks is almost always better than one, we turned west and headed up the Oursan Trail in that direction. The hills were very green and inviting, though there wasn't the abundance of flowers I was hoping to encounter. This didn't stop Jackie from taking all sorts of video shorts which she would later craft into a more artistic video for her project. The Oursan Trail traverses south below the highpoint of Oursan Ridge so we had a short section of cross-country up to the summit. There was a benchmark and a few wooden posts found at the top along with a nice view to the reservoir below.

We returned to the trail and continued west towards Sobrantes Ridge. Though all of the land around us was EBMUD property, not all is open for public consumption. Near where the Oursan trail turns south, we crossed through a locked gate to reach another, little-used road continuing west towards Sobrante Ridge's highpoint. After a few minutes along this road, Jackie noted a white pickup truck some distance behind us. Hmmmm, I thought, this might be the end of our adventure. But luck was with us. The truck paused to turn off through the gate we had recently passed through, possibly not even noticing us hiking up the road to the west. We continued until a few hundred yards south of the highpoint where the road starts to descend. Again, there is no road or trail reaching the summit. In this case it was not the open grassy knoll we found on Oursan Ridge, but an oak and brush-covered affair. Jackie decided to wait by the road while I went in search of the highpoint on my own, a wise choice on her part. There was plenty of poison oak to dance around, an old barbed-wire fence to cross and absolutely nothing in the way of views to be had from the summit. Upon my return, I commended here her decision to wait this one out.

Returning via the same route, we spotted the white truck parked along part of the Oursan Trail that we would have to pass by on our way back. I wondered if he was waiting there to discipline us and thought it wasn't going to help that we didn't have our pass. Undeterred, we continued along, Jackie continuing to take video. We found some wild turkeys on one side, a few red-winged blackbirds on another, a pond and even a dead snake we picked up to examine. Not having seen it on our way out, it seems likely the snake was run over by the same truck a short time earlier. Approaching the truck, we noted it was an official EBMUD vehicle, increasing my tension slightly. We found the driver down the slope collecting samples of the grasses. Realizing he wasn't there to confront us, my concerns lessened. We waved as we passed by without speaking a word to each other.

Back at the trailhead Jackie spent more time filming the chickens. While she was doing her thing, a second EBMUD truck drove up, this one a ranger of some sort. He got out, went up to the trailhead sign-in, examined it, and returned to his vehicle. He smiled as we exchanged brief waves. Apparently he was there to check on who was on, or perhaps still on the trail. I guessed my entry must have seemed plausible enough because he didn't bother to ask us for our permit. Crisis averted for a second time, we got back in our car and continued on to Sacramento...


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