Howell Mountain

Fri, Oct 20, 2017
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More than a month earlier, my wife had signed up to take a reffing gig in Napa County with the idea that we drive up together, do a little hiking and maybe spend the night. Then the effects of 7yrs drought, oak sudden death syndrome, hot and windy weather, and apparently some poorly-maintained PG&E powerlines conspired to set the county ablaze, burning in 4 large areas for almost three weeks. Up until a few days before, it was expected that the match would be cancelled, but calm wind and a little rain helped the firefighters get the fires contained. Our visit would be an abbreviated version of what we had envisioned, but it was still nice.

We had gotten lunch at Gott's Station in St. Helena, thinking we'd picnic in nearby Bothe-Napa Valley State Park before doing a short hike to Coyote Peak inside the park. That got squashed when we found the park closed. There was no fire within miles of the park, so not exactly sure why, but the employee we talked to there said they expected to re-open in a few days. The backup plan was a visit to Las Posadas State Forest just above Angwin where my wife was to ref volleyball at Pacific Union College. I still haven't figured out what they do at experimental forests, but one can imagine military/industrial scientists creating genetically modified trees to be used as biological weapons in some future conflict. An online search turned up various stories about the forest, from 'absolutely no trespassing', to 'hidden gem.' The truth seems to lie in-between. At the northeast corner of the forest where Las Posadas Road makes a 90 degree turn, there is parking for about 10 cars and the place appears popular. To the left is property owned by the college which welcomes visitors on foot, bike or equestrian. To the right is the Las Posadas forest with a sign that indeeds states, No Trespassing. This seems to be completely ignored and perhaps no longer valid. Trails go off in both directions through college and state forest property alike.

With only about 30min before my wife had to be at the college, she stayed in the car for a short nap while I headed off onto the college property in search of Howell Mountain, about a mile to the north. The trails and trail junctions are all completely unmarked (in the state forest, too), but they are wide and easy to follow if you know where you're going. All the land around here is either vineyard, ranchland or forest and the college property seems a collection of all three. There are various gates to restrict cattle movements but allow visitors access to many acres of land around the college. At the top of Howell Mtn I found an old observatory, locked and looking to see little use. The views from the top are marginal, but to the north is an adjacent ranch with cattle grazing peacefully under cloudy skies. I jogged back at a casual pace to make sure we'd get my wife to her match on time.

After dropping her off at the gym on the college campus, I drove back up Las Posadas Road to the trailhead to explore the highpoint of the state forest. There are three closely-spaced points about a mile to the south near the edge of the forest boundary. There are miles of other trails that loop downhill to the east through the middle of the forest, but I had only time for a short hike. I wandered along trails to reach the Cal Fire station on the forest property, wandering through ongoing construction to reach the points to the south. There are no views or much of anything interesting at the various points, but I found it a very easy and relaxing cross-country stroll through the cool forest whose floor was damp from the light overnight rain, sunlight occasionally breaking through on the pines, firs, oaks and madrone that populate the forest. If there was any experimentation going on, I didn't notice it. I returned via the same route, the whole outing coming in at 4mi with barely 300ft of gain. Time go watch some volleyball...

When I got home I found that I had misidentified the forest HP. Oh well, gives me a reason to back there someday...

David Sanger comments on 10/21/17:
Bob, on my way up Moore Creek from Lake Hennessey in Moore Creek Park, on my way to Peak 1920 this February ( see ) I met three mountain bikers who had come down the trail following the creek all the way from Las Posadas and they said it was a fine route. There was high water on Moore Creek though and they had had some hairy stream crossings.
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