Mon, Apr 9, 2012
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I reached the entrance kiosk off Sommerset Rd around 10:45a, happy to find that the unmanned kiosk meant free entrance today - finally, a reasonable method of running a park - I hate those self-pay stations. There were several dozen cars in the parking lot at the end of the road when I arrived. It would be fairly full when I returned - a very popular park with the local residents of Pittsburg, Antioch and the surrounding communities. The hike to the Rose Hill Cemetery takes less than 15 minutes, and that was at a leisurely pace with stops to read and photographs the nice information plaques that are peppered along the way (and throughout the park).
After wandering through the cemetery and reading a number of the grave markers, I left via the west gate and started up the grassy slope to Rose Hill. There is no sign or maintained trail leading to the summit, but the entire area is grazed by cattle, making it a relatively easy (albeit steep) cross-country effort. The Spring rains have painted the hills a brilliant green - much greener than the hills in the southern part of the range I had been hiking in the past few weeks. From the summit one can see north to the delta and the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. To the south rises the massive of Mt. Diablo, less than five miles distance, and rolling green hills in all directions. The summit of Rose Hill is large and rounded and covered in tall grass, making it impossible to locate the benchmark indicated on the topo map. To the south, little more than a mile away, rises an unnamed ridge crowned with communication towers just outside the southern boundary of the park. This ridge has more than 900 feet of prominence, several hundred feet higher than any point within the park, and it was to this that I headed next.
I dropped down the West Ridge of Rose Hill to the old Nortonville site. There were specimens of coal rock found on the ground, in tailings, and in the conglomerate rock along one side of the Black Diamond Trail. This trail follows in a curve around the west and south sides of the park, climbing close to the higher ridge I was heading for. Portions of the trail are paved - the access road for the communication installations - but there is no regular vehicle traffic. The trail is also part of a longer trail system through Contra Costa County that runs across the park and into Mt. Diablo State Park. In fact it is also part of the American Discovery Trail that runs across the entire country.
A gate marks the park boundary where the pavement runs to the summit ridge and the Black Diamond Trail continues east on a dirt road. I went through the gate, hiking to Pt. 1,894ft in another 15 minutes. From the topo, one gets the impression that this point elevation is the highpoint of the ridge, but looking east I could see what appears to be a higher point about a quarter mile distance. My GPS read a relative elevation difference of about 16ft, making me conclude that the eastern point was indeed the highest. It was a better point anyway, without a bulldozed summit and a tower marring it. There was a small cairn, but nothing else to mark the summit. I took a few pictures and then dropped northeast down the grassy slopes under oak trees, back into the park and eventually onto the Black Diamond Trail once again.
At this point I was probably 15 minutes from finishing the hike and returning via the downhill trails to the parking lot. But as I passed over a saddle just south of Pt. 1,535ft, I got it into my head to head up to the point via what looked to be a use trail leading up from the saddle. This point is just south of Rose Hill, across from the cemetery, and the one hill in the entire area that is covered not by tall trees or grass, but very thick brush. In fact it looks impassible from the north side, but the use trail proved very helpful in reaching the non-descript summit. A path had been cut through the brush by unknown persons, probably not park personnel. There is graffiti cut into the sandstone rocks at the summit and beer cans can be found littering the site - it appears to be, or once was, a hangout for the local youth. Had I returned the way I'd come up, it would have been an easy 10 minute diversion, but once again I decided to go bold and find another way down. I followed the use trail northwest across the summit and down that side, and this proved to be the biggest mistake. I either lost the cut trail or it disappeared as I found myself having to choose various branches of a deteriorating trail. It was soon obvious I was on a game trail, first stooping under the brush, then crawling. I was lost in a sea of thick, dusty brush, laughing at myself for finding myself in such a predicament in a regional park, of all places. I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt which meant my forearms got all scratched and bloody, but luckily I had a pair of leather gloves with me to keep my baby hands soft and supple. To add to the fun, I found a profusion of poison oak as my thrashing got me nearer to a ravine. Joy, o joy. I had to be careful in crossing the ravine, then picking my way through the underbrush until I eventually found my way to the edge of the grassy terrain - saved by cows once again. My right arm was bleeding in several places as I hiked down the trail past the cemetery and several parties that gave me odd looks but were afraid to ask questions lest I should prove to be some sort of pschopath that had just finished dispatching his latest victim in the bush.
I was back to the car by 1:45p, making for a three hour outing as planned, though perhaps not as gentle as I had expected. This got me home by 3p and avoided the afternoon rush hour traffic. This is the main reason I tend to head south rather than north for my local peakbagging - it takes a lot more planning to get sanely through the Bay Area when heading north. Whether I like it or not, I'm going to have to do it a great deal more in the future if I'm going to continue to make headway on the CC list as most of the remaining ones I have to do are all north of San Francisco Bay...
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