Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, June 2021

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, #264. June 2021
View from Berryessa Peak Trail, CA
View from Berryessa Peak Trail, CA #NiftyNinety (Ralph Alcorn)

For all its material advantage, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled.  Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten.  The open road still softly calls. Carl Sagan 
(Thanks, Marcia Powers, for reminding us of this great quotation.)


1. Redwood SkyWalk, Eureka, CA
2. Jenner Headland Preserve
3. REI opening up more classes and events
4. Strength training and you
5. Food for thought — healthy hiking
6. No ferry across Edison Lake to Vermilion resort
7. Colour the trails
8. Update on our Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge
9. Dirty Girl Gaiters 
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Mount Sizer makes it 88 peaks on the Nifty Ninety

Mount Sizer, Henry Coe SP

There are several reasons why we waited until near the end of the list of 90 peaks on the Ninety Nifty Peak challenge to do Sizer. The first was that we figured we’d need to backpack in instead of doing the peak as a day hike. Second, everyone says it is hard — no matter their age. Third, we wanted to be stronger than when we started this whole  challenge (to work our way up). I wasn’t confident I could do it. 

Upper Camp

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Eagle Peak on the Nifty Ninety

Fly like an Eagle!

I almost felt like soaring after reaching Eagle Peak (2,369′) in Mount Diablo State Park. It marked the completion of the four Diablo peaks included in the #Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge — Diablo, Norte, Olympia, and Eagle–and 71 of the total. Before we did any of them, I read many trail reports and found most of them intimating — steep, rocky, slippery, narrow, poison oak, hot (in summer). So, we waited until the rains had made the trails damp, but not too muddy — and this worked well for us.

Muddy trail and wild boar damage under oaks
Expansive views and dramatic skies

I also was elated to reach Eagle Peak because the weather report had been for rain. In fact, when we started from the Mitchell Canyon entrance, it was raining. The first part of the trail was very muddy and Ralph put up his umbrella. (I haven’t gotten around to figuring out how to rig mine yet so that I can use my hiking poles at the same time.)

We walked on the grassy sides of the muddy sections when possible and that made our footing more secure. Having recently had surgery, I did not want to fall!

After leaving the broad, muddy Oak Road, we started to climb on dirt, single track. The trail was still muddy in places, but felt quite safe. And, when we began the long ascent on Eagle Peak Trail, mud was no longer an issue because the incline allowed good drainage.

Because I hadn’t been on the trail before, I didn’t have a good sense of where we were headed. Though there were several hills and peaks around and ahead, I had no idea which one was our destination — it turned out that it was hidden until near the end.

I would have liked to have had a better sense of how far we had come, but my Fitbit wasn’t too helpful about the mileage or the number of steps I had taken because the steep terrain had forced me to take baby steps. When we finished, it told me I had done 23,000 steps and gone almost 8 miles. While I loved seeing those numbers, they weren’t really earned. The total distance in and out was about 5.5 – 6 miles.

On the ascent, I worried about what the descent 
— until I told myself to stop worrying about the future and just wait until I had to deal with it when coming down. Sometimes “live in the moment” is a very good thing. As it turned out, the descent wasn’t difficult at all!

We loved the brilliant green grass with the trees either still dormant or just beginning to leaf out. The views across to other peaks, out over the Delta, and west to Mt. Tamalpais, were lovely and the heavy clouds in some directions and wispy in others was dramatic. The wildflower season had not hit yet — April will probably be prime time, but we welcomed the early Indian Warriors, Indian Paintbrush, and lilies. This hike for me was the perfect level of challenge after suffering cabin fever for much of the last several rainy weeks. 

Since we had heard that there was a cache at the top, and some photos showed a trail marker, we looked for them, but both were missing. We double checked our GPS because the flat top to the peak was not particular inspiring — no matter, the views were!

We loved this trail and would definitely do it again (but not in the summer when it is often in the 90s or above). Many folks, sturdier than me, do the Eagle Trail in conjunction with the other three peaks, or the 14-mile round-trip to the higher Mt. Diablo, which takes you from 590 ft. to 3,849 ft. and back again on one of the Bay Area’s toughest day hikes. 

Parking in the park is $10, but free with the California State Park permit. Park is open 8 AM to 45 minutes before sunset. Fill water bottles at the entrance. Flush toilets, water, equestrian facilities, and picnic tables at the entrance.  No dogs on trails. Horses have the right-of-way.

Reach Mitchell Canyon Entrance station at the end of Mitchell Canyon Road in Clayton, CA.

Starting from Mitchell Canyon Staging area, start out hike south on Mitchell Canyon Fire Road and then shortly after that, take Oak Road to the left. After a quarter mile on Oak Road, turn right onto the Mitchell Rock Trail — passing Mitchell Rock and then Twin Rocks (both on your right when ascending). right on to Eagle Peak Trail to the peak. We did an out-and-back, but many people make a loop either deeper into the park, or back down to the parking lot from Eagle Peak (but it starts with a good scramble downhill). 

The Peak of Barnabe

 Hiking in Samuel P Taylor Park

When planning to hike with friends to do one of the Nifty Ninety Peaks, we take turns deciding which peak to climb. This week it was my turn, and I was worried. I felt responsible — maybe more responsible than necessary. I had chosen Barnabe Peak in Samuel P Taylor State Park. This was to be the 54th peak for Ralph and me.

Barnabe had several things going for it. The weather forecast looked promising. I didn’t expect it would be too hot because we wouldn’t be far from the coast and the fog would probably keep the heat down. There were a couple of trail options — ranging between 5 and 8 miles. The summit was only 1,466 ft. And finally, we could reach the trailhead within an 1-1/2 hour drive time.

However, there were some things I found worrisome. Most online reviewers called the route we wanted to follow, primarily on the Barnabe Fire Road, “difficult” and the ascent as “steep.”

California Redwood

Having recently slipped and fallen on the Burma Trail on Mount Diablo (requiring a visit to the Emergency Room), I felt some concern about just how steep, “steep,” was. (In case you are wondering, Triple-Crown hiker Scott Williams says of the Burma, “This is a very strenuous hike….” By summer, every little pebble begins to act like a ball bearing….”)

Another in our small group, Patricia, had also fallen recently. Her ribs still hurt and I knew she didn’t want to repeat that kind of mishap. And our friend Tom had just undergone a procedure on his knee — a cortisone injection to alleviate pain, and I was certain he didn’t want to slow the healing process.

But, I told myself, we have all completed dozens of steep climbs. I tried to put aside my concerns for the time being. “Difficult” and “steep” can be very subjective terms. One person’s perception of what is difficult can be very different from another’s. It depends on the level of fitness of the hiker, their hiking experiences, the weather, and the trail’s condition. I decided that we should just go to the park and then assess for ourselves how challenging this particular hike would be. 

Barnabee Peak

After paying the $8 day-use fee at the park’s kiosk, we drove further in and parked near the picnic tables and restrooms. The initial stage of our route took us through Redwoods and alongside Lagunitas Creek. In the winter, we might have seen salmon in the river because Lagunitas Creek, which joins the ocean at Tomales Bay, and its tributaries are considered important spawning and rearing grounds for the endangered coho.

We crossed Sir Francis Drake Road, passed the Madrone Group Camp, and started up the Riding and Hiking Trail until we reached the start of the Barnabe Fire Road. As we ascended, we found that it was somewhat steep — but we thought more accurately rated as “moderately difficult,” not “difficult.”  It was reassuring that it was not nearly as hard as many of the Nifty Ninety trails we had already done. 

We made good progress on the climb and I was relieved and excited to spot Barnabe Peak, a grassy summit partially covered with transmission towers and the Marin County Fire Department’s Dickson Lookout. As we approached, we could hear a couple of firemen chatting while they ate their lunches. After talking with them, we found a quiet spot to sit and enjoy our own trail snacks. 

The views went in all directions, but what I enjoyed most was following the “peep peeping” of a covey of California Quail. The adult female adult perched atop a small outcropping of rock, but herded the dozen chicks into the brush whenever we got too close. 
 The descent took us along the ridgeline as we continued on the Barnabe Fire Road. The trail conditions were fair. In most places, the road wasn’t very rocky, but when it was both rocky and steep, we were able to walk on the short, dry grass on the side — a safer way to descend. 

Though the uphill part of the hike had been mostly out in the open, we had enjoyed coming upon a few trees offering shade. On the descent, we found even more shaded stretches. By early afternoon, the temperature was in high 70s to low 80s. Because of the rising temperature and our exertion, we welcomed places to cool off under the shelter of oak, bay, fir, and buckeye. At the bottom of the hill, we turned onto the Cross Marin Trail, which paralleled Sir Francis Drake highway — this time on the other side of the road.  

I had worried for naught—no one fell, we had a beautiful hike (5.8 miles)—and the stop at the Iron Springs Pub in Fairfax was a perfect end to our outing. 

Hiked: Aug. 16, 2018 (our #54)

Angel Island with Teenagers

Quality time with our granddaughters

We are on a bit of a roll with the Nifty Ninety, so we decided to take our granddaughters, Madison and Lucie, to Angel Island State Park. Once there, Ralph and I hoped we could convince the girls to climb to the peak of the island’s Mount Livermore, but we weren’t too sure how that plan would go over with a couple of teenagers!

Angel Island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay, is sometimes called the Ellis Island of the West because it served as an immigration station at one time. The island is a very short ferry ride from the small, upscale community of Tiburon. The island offers hiking and biking trails (as well as a tram for non-hikers) and has a small restaurant and other visitor amenities. The views from the ferry and the island are top-notch — the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Marin County, and the East Bay among them.

Once we arrived and mentioned climbing the mountain as a possibility, the girls took off uphill requiring us to do the fastest pace we’ve ever done on that particular hike. It was obvious they were not just humoring us — they were chatting and taking photos the entire way. As climbs go, the trail is not terribly difficult — but its elevation of 790 feet is equivalent to climbing 79 flights of stairs and by day’s end we had covered more than seven miles.

Coming down from the peak was much faster. Rather than winding its way around the hills, it is pretty much a straight route down to the Perimeter Trail (the five-mile trail that circles the island).

A bit of a problem!
We did have a bit of problem on this return, however. We missed a turnoff that would have taken us on a much shorter route back to the ferry dock. We were further back from the ferry dock than we wanted to be and had to pick up our speed so that we would get back to before the ferry made its final return to Tiburon.

Camping is allowed on Angel Island, but not only did we not have reservations, we also didn’t have our sleeping bags! Luckily, the girls still had plenty of energy and enthusiasm, so we made the 2.4 miles in record time with no complaints and no lagging behind.

What a gorgeous way to spend time with teenagers!

Date hiked: Feb. 24, 2018 (peak #21 for us)