Twin Sisters North P900
Peak 2,137ft P300
Peak 1,972ft P900
Buzzard Rock
Peak 1,965ft P900
Mt. Hannah P1K

Tue, May 9, 2017
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2 3 4

While out on a Bike & Hike™ to Henry Coe on Monday, I was struck by how green the hills still were and the number of wildflowers in bloom in the Diablo Range, this being May and the usual time for things to turn brown. It seemed like a good time to go back up to Napa & Lake County areas to do some prominence peaks I had neglected. In fairly short order when I got back from the ride before noon, I had cleared it with the family, provisioned the van and gathered intel on a handful of private property peaks up that way. I was happy to find that David Sanger had been to almost all of these summits and provided GPS tracks I could use to reach them. This was the first time I had not done any route-finding on my own ahead of time, choosing simply to follow in the footsteps of David (and in a few cases, Jeff Moffat). I had planned to be out for three days total, but did so well on the first day that I ended up coming back a day early.

Twin Sisters North

On my way back from Cedar Roughs a few days earlier I had stopped by to check this one out from the east via Twin Sisters Rd. I found the road gated while still a mile from the summit and no obvious way to stealth this one. Back home I contacted David who showed an ascent on PB and he pointed me to a west side approach via Wild Horse Valley Rd. The road ends at a series of three locked gates just before reaching Lake Madigan. The middle gate provides access to a paved road going to Lake Madigan and Lake Frey, both managed by the Vallejo Water Dept. With few other places to park on my way in from Napa the night before, I slept off the shoulder by these gates and started from there in the morning. A little antsy about this first half mile along the road, I was up early and starting the hike shortly after 5:30a. I followed the road as it goes up and down a few gentle grades before leaving it when it turns south for Lake Frey. I wasn't two minutes off the road and into the forest understory starting the climb up the hill when a white city truck went rumbling by on the way out from Lake Frey. I checked my watch - 6:00am - is there a caretaker that lives back here, I wondered? Two more trucks would go by within the next 15min - lucky timing on that one, but I had to hope my luck would hold out a second time on the return.

My initial climb was up the southwest slopes of Peak 2,137ft, a bonus more or less on the way to Twin Sisters from this side. It was a little tricky finding a way to start where poison oak can be found in abundance nearer the road, but higher up the terrain opens more and is relatively easy. Peak 2,137ft features a small solar-powered communications tower and a utility shed. The dirt road leading to it is overgrown and looks to have been unused for a few years. Its partially open summit area provides a good view to the southeast of Twin Sisters North & South, the latter featuring a home that has been described as controversial. I dropped down about 400ft into aptly named Green Valley between Peak 2,137ft and Twin Sisters. The grass was tall and lush and there were no signs of recent visitors. An old stone wall runs along the length of the valley, about 3ft high and in various stages of decay. There are trees, brush, poison oak in abundance along the way, but there's enough open grassy slopes so that no real impediments need be encountered. Once on the North Ridge, a faint use trail soon becomes evident that will avoid the worst of the brush the ridge has to offer. And just when you think you're home free, the use trail (really a road cut, decades old) deteriorates amid fallen trees from an old fire and an overgrowth of brush. The last 30-40yds to the summit are the toughest of all with poison oak strategically placed to force odd contortions of the body that should not be inflicted on the aged and infirmed hiker. Ugh! Ugh! I eventually persevered because the GPS track I had from David showed he'd gone a bit further. The summit isn't really distinct so it's easy to convince yourself you've done enough. To avoid such arbitrariness for future visitors, I placed a register in a small cairn where the summit appears to be among the poison oak at its thickest. Heh. Views are almost non-existent due to the trees and tall brush - this is not the sort of summit one visits for views, to be sure.

I retraced my steps back through the brush, along the use trail and across Green Valley, making only minor modifications on the route. David was not one to wander about aimlessly and his tracks seem to be very close to optimal in most cases. I was nervous once again once I reached the paved road, not able to relax until I had traveled those last 15min back to the gate. A neighbor was working on the adjacent property with a loader, backhoe and other man-toys when I exited. I didn't think he'd noticed me, but as I sat in the van afterwards, I saw him walking up the road towards me. Afraid of an unpleasant lecture, I simply started up the van and drove away when he got within about 50ft.

Peak 1,972ft

A half hour of driving got me to Steele Canyon at the south end of Lake Berryessa. Peak 1,972ft is a P900 on BLM land with surrounding portions part of the Napa Land Trust and the Berryessa Vista Wilderness Park. Where one management boundary ends and the next begins isn't obvious and hardly important - there were no signs or fences encountered other than the one along the road where I parked. David had started from further north along the road, but the lake now covers the section of creek he'd crossed and I had to start further south. A rock-hopping exercise got me across Steele Canyon Creek and onto the old road that follows around the edge of the lake before turning up Negro Canyon. Soon after, the road runs up against a dilapidated gate/fence at an old ranching site and peters out among the tall grass in the meadow here. David's GPS track saved my some time in finding another old road running up a ridgeline to the north of the meadow. This track nicely cuts through the heavy chaparral that characterizes the hillsides once above the riparian woodlands found at the lake level. It was simply a matter of following this up to the summit, taking a little under an hour. The open summit provides good views, an "A+ vista" as David had described it on PB. I wouldn't give it the same glowing review, but it was pretty good, especially looking north to Lake Berryessa. David had returned via the same route, but with some additional research I figured I could tag Buzzard Rock to the south as a bonus with only slightly more mileage and make a nice loop of it. I turned southeast and followed the open road along the ridge for more than a mile, dropping to a saddle before climbing a short distance up to Buzzard Rock. A spur road takes one almost to the summit outcrop, found about 20ft from the road's end. As if on cue, a buzzard came soaring overhead at close range. I returned back towards the saddle and took another road heading northeast down a ridgeline separating Negro and Burrell Canyons. Though not depicted on the topo map, this decent dirt road can be seen in the satellite views running down to a clearing atop a small knoll. Below this point the road forks several times. I stayed left at each fork, eventually leading me back down to the old ranch site on a very faded road that hasn't seen traffic in a long time. I picked up the original road at lake level that I had started on and followed this back out to Steele Canyon. The six-mile loop had taken just about 2hrs, getting me back to the van by 11:15a.

Peak 1,965ft

More driving through picturesque Chiles and Pope Valleys brought me to the pass on Butts Canyon Rd, in search of the highpoint of the ridge separating Pope and Snell Valleys. The outing had less elevation and mileage than the previous one but it took considerably longer than it needed to thanks to my optimization effort. Much of the area had burned in several fires over the past decade though the summit area appears to have been spared, much to my detriment. Once again following a GPS track laid down by David, I followed a series of little-used ranch roads (all unsigned for No Trespassing) to get within 1/5mi of the summit. The cross-country portion at the end wasn't bad at all and I easily made it to the top in under an hour. Noting that the last section of road had descended some distance before starting the cross-country up to the summit, the GPSr showed that the road before this downhill was only 1000ft from the summit towards the north. Looking off in that direction, I thought I could make a faster return and decided to give it a try. The going was easy enough to start, but soon grew very brushy in a draw I was descending into. Worse, poison oak popped up in the direction towards the road, forcing me to change course multiple times. I stumbled and thrashed my way to get within 150ft but the poison oak only grew worse. Way over head level, the dry brush choked me with dust and the poison oak vines taunted me at face level. By now the day had warmed to over 90F and sweat was dripping down my face, the salt stinging my eyes. I dared not wipe eyes with my likely-infected gloves and more than once I swore loudly to vent my frustration. I even tried a cry of "Help me!!" knowing there was no one to heed my call, and even if there were they could do little but laugh at me. My thrashing had taken me down a few steep drops making a retreat improbably difficult and try as I might I could not connect with the road I knew to be so very close. After some 45min of this nonsense I finally made an abrupt turn to the right away from the road and back up towards the cross-country slope I had ascended. The brush lessened after getting out of the dry creekbed and I eventually extracted myself back to the original track. Note to self - think twice before trying to optimize a David Sanger route...

Boggs Mountain

This would have been the easiest hike of the day, a short jaunt to the highpoint of the Boggs Mountain State Forest. The large fire from the previous summer that burned homes in Whipering Pines and other areas around Cobb Mtn also burned over much of the state forest. Signs posted on SR175 indicate the entire forest is currently closed to the public. Bummer.

Mt. Hannah

I still had hours of daylight and headed off to hike Mt. Hannah, a P1K south of Clear Lake. The shortest approach is from the southwest off Harrington Flat Rd. Others, including David, had found that parking at the St. Gregory of Sinai Monastary made for an easy hike. I attempted to use this route but was foiled by a large white dog that took up a loud barking as I started out. A few of the monks came out to see what the barking was due to, surprised to find a hiker on their property. Very politely, as I was making friends with the dog, I was informed that I couldn't hike to Mt. Hannah from their property since the Mt. Hannah landowner has complained of trespassers originating from their property. Only sightly deterred, I began investigating other possible routes, eventually settling on starting south of the Monastary, directly from Harrington Flat Rd. The route skirted one homestead just down the road, going through an adjacent, unoccupied property before joining up with the powerline and old logging roads that permiate the area. As reported by others, there were no views at all from the forested summit, just a small cairn to mark the highpoint. A little over an hour was spent on the 3mi roundtrip effort, climbing about 1,000ft in the process.

It was after 5:30p when I returned, still with several hours of daylight but I was tired and not really motivated for more. I took a shower along the dusty road where I'd parked, then drove to Lakeport on the west side of Clear Lake for dinner and to wind down the evening. Later, I ended up parked off Scotts Valley Rd to the north near where I planned to hike the next morning. It was only 8:30p when I bedded down for the night, too tired for a movie or even a little reading. It had been a long day and I could use the extra rest...


Skip in Carson City comments on 05/18/17:
It seems like the poison oak is a real pain sometimes, especially when you want to wipe your face.... like on this trip, when you finish one, and then drive half an hour to the next, how the heck do you keep from contaminating yourself and the car?? Rampant poison oak has kept me from hiking a lot of places over there.
If I think I've contaminated things, I'll take those items off and store them for cleaning when I get home. Helps to have spare pants, etc. In the past I've gotten in the car with contaminated pants and found I would get rashes on the back of my legs later after driving with shorts. The best defense I've found is to be able to identify the stuff quickly in all its various flavors (and avoid it, of course). When all else fails, apply Technu Extreme liberally.
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