Rocky Ridge P1K

Sun, May 6, 2012

With: Jackie Burd

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It had been six months since Jackie had gone on any hikes with me. Not that she wasn't interested, but her schedule with extracurricular activities is so busy that it leaves her little free time. So I hit her up on a Sunday morning when we had about five hours before she had to be at volleyball practice and talked her into joining me for a relatively easy hike.

Rocky Ridge is located in the Las Trampas Regional Park in the East Bay hills just west of Danville along Interstate 680. The summit has more than 1,000ft of prominence and had caught my attention a few days earlier when I was poking around for interesting peaks. Unlike most of the peaks I had been hiking in the Diablo Range which fall completely or partly on private property, this one could be done in broad daylight and looked fairly easy. I hoped to be able to climb nearby Las Trampas Peak as well, but we had only enough time for the Rocky Ridge which turned out to be a bit trickier than I expected.

It took about an hour to reach the park from San Jose, the first time either of us had been out this way. The hills are primarily grassy slopes, oak-studded with some dense chaparral. The grassy slopes were a vibrant green, the peak of the spring growing season. They were well on their way to going to seed and the hills would probably start turning brown shortly. Luckily, very few thorns and thistles to attack our socks even on the overgrown bits through tall grass. We found the parking lot about half full when we arrived at the end of Bollinger Rd just after 10:30a. The park appears to be very popular as there were others out on the hiking trails in large numbers.

A guided group, possibly from the Sierra Club, was just starting out ahead of us on the Rocky Ridge Trail marked by a gate. A narrow paved road leads to the communication tower at the summit and the entire area appears to be dual-use with grazing cattle. We saw several deer in the park as well and they all seem to get along just fine. Jackie and I easily got ahead of the larger group that needed a much slower pace to allow the older folks to keep up. Jackie and I stopped often to photograph poppies and other flowers that caught our attention and there were a lot of them. I spied a small snake on the pavement so we paused to take its picture and pick it up. Jackie asked me afterwards if she was smiling when I took her picture with the snake. Evidently she was nervous holding it, but her instinct to smile for the camera won out.

A side trail bypasses the pavement about halfway up, leading around the east side of the peak to a junction on the southeast side. One branch continues southeast along Rocky Ridge for some distance it would appear, a nice hike itself from the look of it. We took the fork through a gate to lands owned by the EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Utility District). A permit which we did not have is apparently needed to hike on EBMUD property, but we chose to ignore this detail (later I learned permits can be obtained online and cost $10 for a year). We hiked up towards the communications tower, noting there are three summits to Rocky Ridge, all having the same number of contours on the 7.5' topo map, all about a quarter mile apart. The largest contour where a benchmark is indicated is the east summit with the tower to which we headed. But it was quickly evident that it is in fact the lowest of the three. The north and south summits lie to the west and appear to be about of equal height. They are not all that far apart and Jackie was the first to suggest we should visit them all.

Luckily there are old dirt roads and use trails that reach to the two higher summits. We walked past the tower (not finding the benchmark though we didn't look all that hard for it), down to a shallow saddle and then up to the north summit where we found a good use trail reaching it from the north side. There was some poison oak found here, and though Jackie was understandably nervous in her shorts, it wasn't so prevalent to be more than a minor nuisance. We found our way to the rocky outcrop on the north summit just after 11:30a. There is a fine view from here, looking over the lower East Bay hills to the west, along with much of SF Bay and the city of SF itself. Mt. Diablo towers high to the east. Spying a lizard sunning itself on a large boulder, Jackie decided to go hunting. We built a noose from one of the tall grasses, and she used it successfully to catch a couple of lizards. One was too large and fiesty for the noose and soon broke free, but a second one was kind enough to be subjected to the bother of being captured and held before we set it free once more. An alligator lizard that we came across on our way back was a bit too scary-looking for either of us to pick up. I bent down to pet it a few times before it suddenly darted out of the trail and disappeared into the tall grass.

We retraced our route back to the east summit and then the trail junction near the gate we had passed through earlier. Here a use trail heads west across a saddle to the south summit, whose large summit rock gives it the strongest claim to the name, "Rocky Ridge". The summit block was a fun little challenge. Jackie easily scrambled up for 30 feet until stopped at the last 9-foot section. It looked like a few key shallow holds had been carved out of the rock, and with me spotting her from below and some helpful hints on where to place her hands and feet, she managed to get herself atop the block without needing a boost. The summit had the most unobstructed view of the three summits, but the strong wind that was blowing had us a little nervous on our precarious perch and we descended after a few minutes.

On our way back to the gated junction we passed by the large group for the third time - they were headed to "Lunch Counter" which is near the south summit and is a nice overlook to have lunch or a snack at. The leader of the group asked me if the lunch counter was still open. I assured him with a chuckle that it was. Jackie didn't get the joke at all and even after I explained it to her she didn't think it was very funny. Young people sometimes have a problem with old guy humor, mild as it is. Jackie recently told me her version of a funny joke:

"What's green and has wheels?"

"I don't know, what?"

"Grass. I was just lying about the wheels."

I had to admit, that was a pretty good one. Back at the parking lot we found it full with a few cars circling, waiting for someone to leave. Ours was a prime location in the shade and the lucky winner was happy to have it. We were by 12:45p, about fifteen minutes to spare with our plans to get back in time for volleyball practice. This gave us enough time to stop at the local Safeway on the way out - Jackie had a hankering for sushi and enjoyed her California rolls on the drive back with the top down under sunny skies. If that doesn't have California written all over it, I don't know what does.


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