Vollmer Peak P1K CC / NN
Chaparral Peak
Wildcat Peak CC / NN

Sun, Jun 20, 2010
Story Photos / Slideshow Map

It's Fathers Day and the only thing on the agenda is a BBQ at four in the afternoon with some friends. The wife says "Why don't you go for a hike?" as a way to get me out of the house, knowing I won't turn it down. I thought I might talk one of the kids in for some easy hikes (Fathers Day, right?), but they are reluctant and I'm not really interested in mopey companions. So I jumped in the car by myself and drove up Interstate 880 towards the Oakland area and Tilden Regional Park.

Located in the hills east of Oakland and Berkeley, Tilden Park is one of three original regional parks opened in 1936. Most of the East Bay hills have been preserved in a series of regional parks since then, but Tilden is the most famous and certainly the most developed. In addition to a steam train, merry-go-round, children's farm, golf course, botanical garden, and a host of other family-friendly features, it has miles of hiking trails over a varied landscape that is lush and green much of the year. Unlike the drier Diablo Range to the south, the East Bay Hills are blanketed in fog off the Bay on a regular basis, making for a thriving flora ecosystem. The trails are not well-marked in many places and it would not be hard to get oneself lost without some navigation aids (maps are plentiful at all the entrances), but one could spend many a day exploring the many hills and small canyons enclosed by the parks.

I had visited the area the previous week and ran out of time to hit up all the easy summits I had planned, so it was fresh in my mind to pay it a return visit. An hour's driving from San Jose brought me to the southern entrance to Tilden. The steam train nearby was highly popular with the many families visiting the park today. Most of the cars in the large lot must have been visiting the train because there weren't too many folks out on the nearby trails. At the far end of the lot I found a TH sign marked for Vollmer Peak, my first destination.

The trail to Vollmer Peak was less than a mile, maybe 300ft of gain. As with many of the trails in the area, poison oak is found in abundance, usually (but not always) trimmed away from the trail, though I would have been very nervous hiking the area in shorts. Nearby Grizzly Peak blocks much of the initial views west towards the Bay, but one can see north to San Pablo Bay and the San Pablo and Briones reservoirs to the northeast and east. A large communications installation lies in the center of the flattened summit, the highest point in the park. By walking around the tower, one can get views to Mt. Diablo to the southeast, San Francisco to the west, and other sights as well (though not as easily obtained thanks to the surrounding trees).

After returning to my car, I drove a short distance south from the park to find a suitable place to hike up Chaparral Peak. The peak is located on property owned by the University of California, an area marked off as an "Ecological Study Area." There aren't any marked trailheads or trails about the area, but hiking on the overgrown roads and use trails is not prohibited. It took less than ten minutes to find my way to the summit. The top was flattish, along a ridgeline, much of it strewn with wood chips and log segments. It appears that the summit was once used for axe competition practice. Who knew that Cal once hosted a lumberjack team? There was a mediocre view of nearby Vollmer Peak, but not much else due to abundant tree growth.

After getting back down, I drove north again, through the park to the Nature Area at the north end of Tilden Park. Another popular area, the grass areas were filled with picnickers, with many more at the nearby farm and Visitor Center. Wildcat Peak is located at the north end of the Nature Area, adjacent to the Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. They had a stuffed wildcat in the Nature Center, but I somehow suspect there aren't too many live ones left in the area.

I hiked north to Jewel Lake, partly along the Endless Bridge which follows a seasonal creek through incredibly dense folliage. There were frogs and turtles to be found in the lake to the great excitement and joy of the small boys that were there with their Dads. From Jewel Lake I found an unmarked connector trail to the Wildcat Peak Trail and followed this up for a mile and half to the summit. Dense and viewless in the lower reaches, the trail eventually emerges onto grassy slopes where views can be had looking south, west, and north. The summit is crowned with a rockwork viewing platform that took some seven years to complete according to the small plaque found at the site. The views are unobstructed and the best of the summits I visited, despite being considerably lower by some 500ft than either of the other peaks. On a clear day it would be quite impressive, indeed.

I found a use trail leading off the east side of the summit, down through the brush and into the Peace Grove located on that side of the peak. Since 1955, the Berkeley Rotary Club has dedicated one of the numerous trees in the grove each year to a person or persons or entity which has been instrumental in promoting world peace. I wandered through the grove, absent any sort of maintained trails, photographing the many plaques I found under the various trees. It was only when I had emerged out from under the forest canopy at the east end of the grove that I found a large plaque listing all the recipients through the years.

From the Peace Grove I dropped down to the Laurel Canyon Trail to make a loop route for the return. The trail signs in the Nature Area are marked with symbols instead of words, which appear cryptic to those without the magic decoder map that lists the deciphered names for the various symbols. I emerged from the trail back to the Visitor Center, a short walk from the parking lot.

In all I spent about two and half hours in the area, a short visit by just about any standard. Fortunately there are additional peaks in the area that will likely bring me back again in the future. A very nice area, to be sure.

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