Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge takes us to San Francisco

Loving this Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge! 

The Sierra Club’s Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge doesn’t just get us to the hills and mountains in our nearby regional, State, and Federal parks, the challenge also takes us to San Francisco. Earlier this month, we had planned to climb Monument Peak near Fremont in the East Bay, but the recent/threatened rain had made the trails muddier and slipperier than we wanted to try. 

We decided to take an urban walk. The Challenge lists 10 peaks in San Francisco:
Twin Peaks (counts as one), Tank Hill, Mount Sutro, and Mount Davidson (which we had already done);
Hayes Hill, Corona Heights Crag, and Bernal Heights (which we have scheduled for early April); and Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill. This beautiful March day we did the last three.   

Our “team,” which mainly consists of my husband Ralph, our friend Patricia Schraffarczyk, and me, was joined by another friend, Tom Coroneos, for this outing. Boo, Patricia’s lively dog, who loves our hikes in the wide open spaces, stayed home because he wouldn’t have been happy staying on a short leash on this city hike. 

Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower
After a short stop at Peet’s Coffee near the BART Embarcadero station, we set out for Coit Tower,
also known as the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower, atop the highest point of Telegraph Hill. The elevation of the hill itself is given as 275-285 depending on where you search for info. The tower itself adds an impressive 210-feet, but since we took the elevator to the top, I don’t think we’ll take credit for that additional height. 

The tower was was built in 1933 using “Lillie Hitchcock Coit‘s bequest to beautify the city of San Francisco. At her death in 1929 Coit left one-third of her estate to the city for civic beautification. The tower was proposed in 1931 as an appropriate use of Coit’s gift. 

The art deco tower is popular with visitors in part because of its terrific 360 degree views. One can see downtown San Francisco, twisty Lombard Street, busy Pier 39, the trendy Ferry Building, as well as Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. We were thrilled that we had come on a day with blue skies and puffy white clouds, but it would have been just as much fun if we’d been there to watch fog creeping in over the bay.

We also were captivated by the murals on the first floor. Most are frescoes that were created at the time of the tower’s construction and reflect the artists’ beliefs in (to varying degrees) racial equality and to leftist and Marxist political thoughts. 

It’s free to enter the tower and view the murals at ground level; $8 (adult) admission is charged to take the elevator to the top for the views or to go on the tours held periodically  to see the murals in the spiral stairway. Because none of us had visited the tower in several years, we were very happy to see that the recent restoration work had returned many murals to their former glory. 

This is San Francisco at its best! It’s often considered a tourist site, and it is, but there’s no reason for residents to miss out! 

Hike was March 8, 2018. Our Nifty Ninety Peaks #24, 25, 26.

Olompali’s Lovely Mount Burdell

Rainbow from top of Mt. Burdell, Marin County


Doing the Nifty Ninety is even more fun now that we are “enlisting” some family and friends to go with us! Instead of having to choose between going out for a meal with people or going for a hike, we can have our cake and eat it too. 

This time we went across the bay to Novato to climb Mount  Burdell in Olompali State Park. Our friend, Patricia, who has become as serious about this challenge as we are, went with us. That meant that her lively dog, Boo, went with us too. It wasn’t just the view from the peak that was great — this hike was lovely the entire way — with green rolling hills and wildflowers starting to  open.

Bay Area hiker gives these directions to the trailhead we used. “From US 101 in Novato (Marin County) exit #463 (San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue). Head west on San Marin Drive for about 2.5 miles. Turn north (right) unto San Andreas Drive, and continue about 0.5 mile.”  

Rainbow from atop Mt. Burdell, Marin County

We were quite pleased when we reached the peak because our timing allowed us to see rain in the distance, and a gorgeous rainbow, but we weren’t getting wet. Of course it was just luck that we didn’t get caught in a deluge, but we liked taking credit for staying warm and dry.

Walking back to our car, I loved watching Boo run full tilt through the open fields. Dogs are allowed in the park (with leash required on some trails), but on this weekday there weren’t many around. We decided that finding a brew pub  after our hikes should be part of the outings, so we stopped at Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant in Novato for some liquid refreshment.

Hiked: Feb. 22, 2018 (peak #20 for us)  

Black Diamond Mines and Rose Hill

A lot of history at Black Diamond

 Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, which is near Antioch, can be a lovely place to hike. This early February day was just about perfect for another Nifty Ninety Peak hike — sunny, perhaps a bit on the cool and breezy side. Be forewarned it you consider doing it  mid-day in mid-July — it can easily reach into the triple-digits. 

Our goal was to climb Rose Hill (not to be confused with a much more strenuous hike on the list to attain Rose Peak near Livermore). Rose Hill is only 1,506 feet in elevation, but we found that not all of the informal trails (vs. signed, official trails) to the top were created equal. We started out on a lesser trail and I had to turn back because of a couple of steep spots. I should have known better anyway, because “social trails” cause erosion.

This was the climb.

We found a better trail a bit farther on; it had only a couple of slippery spots. I had my hiking poles, and was glad to have them because of the loose grit and occasional pebbles on the trail, but younger hikers probably wouldn’t need them. 

The views were far-reaching
We could see over to Mt. Diablo and north toward the delta. The refinery at Martinez was quite visible. And the housing developments continue to fill in any available spot.  The refinery at Martinez was quite visible. We saw that the housing developments continue to fill in any available spot —which reminded me that I like supporting Save Mount Diablo because they really work hard to “protect, preserve, and restore” land that surrounds Mt. Diablo. That often means that further development is reduced, slowed, or stopped.

From the 1850s to early 1900s, the chief activity in “Black Diamond” was coal mining  and there were several towns here — of which Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville may be the best known. The miners, their families, and others lived here. When production costs and competition became too great and Americans found other sources of energy, the mining towns because deserted.

I’ve heard that some of the houses were moved downhill into what is now the city of Antioch and elsewhere; the wooden slats of the houses were numbered so that the houses could be more easily reconstructed in the new sites. Sand mining began in the 1920s and continued into the 1940s. Underground mine tours of the sand mines at Black Diamond are available with reservations. 

Today’s visitor/hiker is likely to see grazing sheep or cows that are used by the EBParks to help reduce fire hazard and increase plant diversity and help native plants.

On our hike, we saw sheep as well as ground squirrels and raptors. On other visits, we have seen coyotes, and mountain lions are known to frequent the area. 

The old Rose Hill Cemetery still exists. It’s only a short walk uphill from the parking area and is well worth a visit. Especially poignant are the grave markers of “children who died in epidemics, women who died in childbirth, and men who died in mining disasters.” (info from the park’s brochure).

The park is 8,349 acres. Our hike was approximately 9,500 steps and 3.5 milesincluding the false start up the hill. Most of the park’s trails are rated moderate to strenuous, but worth hiking to see not only views, wildflowers, seasonal streams, but also various mining features such as Jim’s Place and tunnels.

There is also a visitor center, a group and backpack camping area, picnic tables, and exotic vegetation to enjoy.

We hiked this on Feb. 12, 2018 and it was our 17th Nifty Ninety peak. 

John Muir’s legacy in Martinez

Hike to Mt. Wanda in Muir’s historic site

Miners Lettuce is edible

Our  hike led to not only a peak, but also some confusion — which I’ll go into in a bit. 

As hikes go, the one to Mt. Wanda, part of the John Muir Historic Site off Highway 4 in Martinez, CA, was short and moderate. It was less than three miles round trip, and involved a steady climb to the highest peak.

While enjoying our current trend of sunny skies and 75-degree weather, we ascended through oak, buckeye, and bay trees on a wide, fire trail. Because we had some rain a couple of weeks back in late January, the hillsides are still a luscious emerald green.

Buckeye Tree
How the grasses will look in a couple of months

It’s wildflower season

Miner’s Lettuce (indeed helpful for California miners back in Gold Rush days) was abundant trailside. Wildflowers — lupine, poppies, fiddleneck — should be out in a month of so.

About a half mile along, we reached open land where views of the surrounding area opened up. The parcel is only 325 acres, so the industrial areas and housing developments aren’t far away, but looking farther to the east or north one can enjoy seeing Mt. Diablo, the Benicia–Martinez Bridge, the Carquinez  Strait, the wind turbines along the ridges near Rio Vista, and, faintly, 125 miles away, some remaining snow on the Sierras.  

Most of the signboards were stripped clean of information (probably as a result of vandalism, but maybe a lack of funding to keep them updated), but there were  a few picnic tables and benches along the way. We stopped to check our GPS in order to locate Wanda Peak, which is on the Nifty Ninety Peak challenge.

 The GPS indicated the peak was nearby and so we climbed a small rise and reached the indicated point. There wasn’t any kind of marker or post at the top, but the GPS was happy and Mt. Wanda’s elevation was listed as 640 feet, so we assumed we were in the right place.

Coming back down to the main trail, we stopped at a crossroads, found a bench and sat to eat lunch. Then we turned right for a short distance and found a sign board with a torn page with some information about the Nature Trail. We continued on the dirt path indicated for a very pleasant loop around the hilltop. It descended gradually, eventually dropping down to a couple of wooden foot bridges that would be useful when the creek was full. We rejoined the fire road to continue back to the trailhead and our car. 

Yet, we were still a bit perplexed by the lack of identification or information on Mt. Wanda. Wanda was one of John Muir’s two beloved daughters — how could the NPS not have some sort of monument at the summit? 

Which peak is Mt. Wanda?
We had read a story that John Muir had written about taking “my babies” on a walk one day. He told Wanda, his the elder daughter, that he had named a peak on the property after her. And when the Helen, his younger daughter  protested, he named another peak (very nearby) after her.

Our confusion grew because we had seen a higher peak while on the hike we did. We did some searching and found that it was 660 feet. To compound our confusion, the USGS (United States Geological Survey) showed the peak we had reached was 640 feet and marked it ‘Mount Wanda’. However, the National Park Service sign at the start of the trail showed the nearby peak, which we hadn’t climbed, was 660 feet and had labeled that peak ‘Mount Wanda’. 

Clearly there was some problem with the signage, but with the help of David Sanger, who has climbed this peak and hundreds more, we sorted it all out and now know that we can check Mount Wanda off our list of peaks on the challenge! 

Don’t worry about the confusion. All Trails shows it all very clearly here, so get ready to enjoy a nice hike and views in the park.  Wanda is 643 ft., Helen is 659 ft. Enjoy!

If you decide on a hike in the Mount Wanda site, be aware that there are no restrooms. You can find them across Hwy. 4 at the John Muir House. The John Muir House is a delightful place to visit, so I recommend you take the tour. You can wander around the grounds on your own, but reservations may be necessary to tour the house itself because the site is popular with school groups. 

Bring water and sunscreen; this area can be very hot during the summer. Dogs are allowed, on leash.

Hiked: Feb. 6, 2018. Our 15th Nifty Ninety hike.