Two Peaks in One!

Two New Peaks

It was with some trepidation that we set out for Black Mountain (2,812′) and Windy Hill (1,905′) two Midpeninsula Regional Parks south of San Francisco. It was not the elevation of the two Nifty Ninety Peakthat concerned me, it was the unsettled weather we had been having. Nevertheless, we were looking forward to hiking to our peaks #72 and #73, so we grabbed our packs and set out for an hour+ drive from our home in Oakland.

Since it was outside of commute hours, the traffic wasn’t bad, but the narrow Page Mill Road up the hill from Hwy 280 was windy enough that I had begun to wonder if I might be prone to car sickness. However, we arrived at the parking area of the Monte Bello trailhead of Monte Bello Open Space Preserve without incident. Being a weekday, there were only two cars in the lot. If this had been a weekend, I expect we would have seen many bicyclists on the trails — as it was, we saw only two hikers and one bicyclist.

Black Mountain
We picked up a map of the South Skyline Region and studied the maps on the signboard. Even so, we were a bit confused about where to find the trailhead. We took a narrow dirt trail up a hill to the left, but found we should have proceeded straight ahead and slightly downhill on the wide dirt trail just beyond the trail signs. Shortly after, there was a split — Stevens Creek Nature Trail turned to the right, but our route along Canyon Trail, was to the left. At 0.5 miles from the start, we reached another split — we left Canyon Trail and turned left onto Bella Vista (Beautiful View). The next intersection was another 0.8 miles, we turned right onto Old Ranch Trail. It was along this section of trail that we saw a coyote and two groups of deer.

After 0.5 miles, we hit another intersection. Here there were three choices — a gravel road (Montebello) and two dirt trails. All would have worked — the left one leads directly to Montebello Road, a middle dirt trail goes into the backpacking camp, and the dirt trail to the right curves around and all will converge again on Montebello Road at 0.4 miles. Once at that intersection, it is just over 0.2 miles to Black Mountain. 

A Grand Vista
As we neared our destination, we could see that there were multiple transmission towers ahead. I thought that once again we would reach a peak that was covered with ugly steel structures and surrounded by chain link fencing. But as we neared the towers we looked at other hills nearby and realized that just another few  hundred yards ahead was what seemed to be an even higher point. We continued on up the road and saw off to the right a slightly higher rise — the mountaintop was covered with dozens of gorgeous rock formations. We found comfortable places to perch while we enjoyed our lunches and the grand vista. 

On our hike back out, we started with a slight variation so that we would go through the backpacking camp. After that we retraced our steps back to our car.

This was a moderate hike of approximately 5 miles roundtrip with a gradual ascent and descent almost the entire way. Trails were very well maintained. It was still early for wildflowers and our views were limited because of cloud cover, but it still well worth doing. There are outer routes to the peak that are more on the order or 12-miles round trip and would be rated strenuous. 

Details: Outhouses at the parking lot and at the backpack camp (camping by permit only). 

Windy Hill
Reaching Windy Hill was easy from Black Mountain — requiring only a drive of 4.9 miles north of Page Mill Road along Skyline Blvd going north (or 2.3 miles south of La Honda Road, Hwy 84).  This is another preserve held by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District — and another opportunity to be grateful that so many have worked so hard to set aside and maintain these  beautiful lands for the public’s enjoyment. 

Parking was easy. We pulled off Skyline at the Anniversary Trail dirt turnout alongside a small fenced in grassy area complete with welcoming picnic table (and outhouse). We picked up the trail brochure and brochure, grabbed our umbrellas because it was now raining, and started down the single track, dirt trail to the left (north).

The Anniversary Trail was easy to follow, and a gradual ascent. At 0.7 miles, we saw signs indicating the short trail on the left to the Herb Grench (first leader of Midpen) Overlook, but we stayed on the main trail as it wound up to the summit of Windy Hill. After admiring the views, limited though they were by the precipitation, we retraced our steps all the way back to our starting point-making this a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike. 

If it had been clear, we could have seen not only the Pacific Ocean, but also Mount Hamilton, Mount Diablo, and Mount Tamalpais— all of which we had previously climbed on the Nifty Ninety! However, all was not lost —we didn’t encounter any ticks (which others have reported on other trails) and we didn’t experience the windy days for which the trail is named. 


There are many additional trails and miles within the preserve. The northern half allows dogs if on leash. Info on trail conditions: 650-691-1200 or 

Tom Stienstra, on SF Gate, writes up some of the other hikes here.

(hiked both 4/1/2019)  

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). 

Nifty Ninety Peaks — off to Big Basin, Part 2

Mount McAbee in Big Basin Redwoods State Park

After our overnight in Blooms Creek campground, we packed up (checkout time from the campsite was noon) and drove the short distance to the park’s headquarters. We were headed for Mount McAbee, which according to the Sierra Club’s #NiftyNinety Peaks list, was at 1,730 feet in elevation. It would be peak #60 for us.

Interestingly it was labeled as ‘McAbee Lookout’ on the park’s map. When we reached the prescribed 1,730 foot elevation, we found a bench — we were at the McAbee Lookout. Only days later, did research show that the peak itself, as reported by David Sanger, is at 1,840 feet and would have involved a 10+-minute bushwhack uphill.

Nevertheless, because we reached the elevation given for the challenge, we consider we were successful. Maybe next time I’ll scramble through the thick vegetation to the peak.The hike

The hike, about six miles round trip, was moderate — and fun. We started out from the parking area by the visitors’ center, passed the amphitheater, and found the Skyline to the Sea Trail. We took that to an intersection and proceeded on the  Howard King Trail (instead of Berry Creek Falls). The Howard King took us on a mostly uphill route all the way to McAbee Overlook. Since the trail had been in a forest of Redwood, Madrone, Bay, Fir (and more) most of the way, it was a treat to reach the overlook and look out to see the Pacific Ocean and Waddell Beach just a few miles away as the crow flies. 

We were happy to be there on a reasonably clear day because we knew that we could have found ourselves with views blocked by fog. We snagged the log bench at the overlook. Moments later other hikers came along who would have also have enjoyed a restful place for lunch — some were going to continue on down the mountain Berry Creek Falls.  

We ate our snacks, took a few photos and then returned to our car following the gently descending Hihn Hammond fire road and then went back onto the Howard King and Skyline trails the rest of the way.   

To celebrate, we dropped into Boulder Creek Pizza and Pub for lunch. I enjoyed the ‘Light & Loaded’ pizza; the personal size was only six inches in diameter, but it was piled high with chicken, artichokes, mushrooms and more. A great weekend for sure!  
Trail hiked: Sep. 29, 2018

Nifty Ninety Peaks — off to Big Basin, Part 1

Ancient Redwoods

We missed a couple of weeks of ‘peak’ climbing the #Nifty Ninety because of other travels, so we were itching to make up for lost (not exactly lost, but focused elsewhere) time. Our hiking partner Patricia did the research and then planned an overnight trip to California’s first state park — Big Basin Redwood State Park, established in 1902. We knew that getting to and from the park was going to involve a longer drive than usual, so an overnight stay would allow us to do two peaks — Pine Mountain and Mount McAbee (1,730′).

Though Patricia and Tom had been there before, neither Ralph nor I had. Somehow, though I’d always known of its existence, I’d never followed through and visited there — too bad, it’s a great place for day or overnight visits by any age.

It’s a bit remote
It was about a ninety minute drive for us. There are options, but we traveled by freeway to just west of Los Gatos, took Bear Creek Road near the Lexington Reservoir, followed the curving road through Boulder Creek and then into the park.

After checking in at park headquarters, we found our site, and set out a bit of gear. We were very impressed with how clean and quiet the Bloom’s Creek campground was — especially considering it was at the end of summer. And because Patricia had managed to get the last reservation, we hadn’t known what we would find. Water faucets, trash containers, and food storage lockers were nearby as were the toilets (that flushed!).

We headed for the trailhead adjacent to our campground. We walked along the Bloom’s Creek Trail and turned onto Pine Mountain Trail. The trail was very well maintained, somewhat uneven, and a pleasure to follow — and pretty much up the entire way. A bit of scrambling up exposed rock along the way kept things interesting. That, and the fact that the canopy of trees offered beautiful specimens of redwood, madrone, fir, and pine.

We came to the turnoff to Pine Mountain’s peak. Only problem was, the narrow side trail to the peak was marked closed and tree branches had been piled up to  discourage hikers. We considered our options, but decided not to proceed because of our concern the closure might be to protect wildlife. Instead we continued on the main trail, went over the crest looking for another approach to Pine’s summit, and finding none, came back uphill and spent time climbing around nearby Buzzard’s Roost. This handsome large outcropping was a fine place for lunch before turning around and retracing our steps downhill for a total round trip of about four miles.
We were feeling rather discouraged about not getting to the top of Pine Mountain, but afterwards we discovered that the 2,150-ft. elevation given on the #NiftyNinety Peaks challenge for Pine Mountain is the elevation of Buzzard’s. According to the park’s map, Pine Mountain is 2,208 feet, and there is no longer a stub trail to the peak. We are, therefore, taking credit for this summit.

Father of the Forest
After we came back down to camp, we hopped in the car and took the very popular Redwood Trail through the main old growth forest near the Park Headquarters Center. This half-mile, self-guided walk took us to such wondrous specimens as the Father of the Forest, Mother of the Forest, and the Animal Tree. Don’t miss this collection!

Dinner was both easy and tasty because we had split up the tasks and kept things simple. We set the stage with our usual beer toasting and then Patricia put together Pad Thai while I made a salad of greens and fresh fruit. Chocolate bars provided just the right end to our al fresco meal.

In the next blog, I’ll cover our next morning’s hike to Mount McAbee in Big Basin. Click here. 

Note: The wildfires of 2020 swept through Big Basin SP. The trees will survive, but the campgrounds and historic buildings were destroyed. As of this date, the park is not yet open. 

More: PDF of the Bay Chapter’s ‘Nifty Ninety Peaks’ challenge, click here.

Trail hiked: Sep. 28, 2018

Loma Alta — More of a rise than a peak

Loma Alta, plus hints on fall prevention

We checked off another summit on the #NiftyNinety Peak Challenge list this week; this makes 57 for us. We made reaching the summit part of a 7-mile hike — once again in Marin County. Our destination, Loma Alta, was more of a rise than a peak, but we enjoyed discovering a new trail and having views from a different perspective. 

Marin County Parks’ website says “Rising to a height of 1,592, this ‘tall hill’ is actually one of the highest points in Marin.” There are four major watersheds divided by the ridgelines–the Corte Madera Creek, Miller Creek, Lagunitas Creek, and Nicasio Creek.

The route we took was mostly on wide fire roads and the climb was moderate. The descent was also moderate, but as I do most of the time when going downhill, I did a little self-talk to calm my fear of falling, Falling at my age, 77, carries some risk.

However, I use several strategies to prevent falls — and with the exception of my short fall on Mt. Diablo’s very steep Burma Trail a couple of weeks back, they have worked for me and for many other hikers. 

Preventing Falls when Hiking
1. Keep your knees soft. Locking your knees or stiffening your body prevents the very agility that you want to maintain in case you slip on loose ground.
2. Keep your center of gravity low. Related to #1, bend your knees and flow downhill.
3. Take shorter steps. Don’t pound down the slope out of control!
4. Watch where you step. This is no time to trip yourself with a root that is jutting out of the ground.
5. Walk alongside the worn trail. Sometimes it is less slippery alongside a trail on short grass instead on a trail where loose rock has created a ball-bearing like surface. 
6. Zigzag across the trail. This will lessen the downhill force and help you stay in control of your speed. 
7. Use hiking poles. We have all observed that most four-footed animals can make it safely down most inclines. 
8. Adjust your shoelaces. Tighten your shoelaces if necessary so that your toes are not being painfully pushed into the front of your shoes. 
9. Tighten your pack’s hipbelt. Any weight that you are carrying may change your center of balance. You don’t want your pack’s weight flopping around.
10. Likewise, eliminate distractions before you start downhill. Tend to such things as a loose shoelace, or a hat ready to fly off with a gust of wind, that might startle you.  

Hiking at any ages has risk, but according to Public Health England,At an individual level, falls are the number one precipitating factor for a person losing independence and going into long term care.” 

Our route

From the parking area alongside Sir Francis Drake Blvd. (Brown Bridge, Fairfax), we walked a short distance uphill alongside the west side of the highway to where we could cross under the graffiti-ed overpass/bridge to the east side on the White Hill Trail. Then, onto Old Railroad Grade, to Sunrise Fire Road, until the intersection where we turned right onto the 680 Trail (where the rescue box was), worked counter-clockwise onto the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which looped around and turned back on the Loma Alta Fire Road again where we headed downhill to retrace our steps back to our vehicle.  

The #NiftyNinety Peak Challenge was developed by the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter. Click here for the PDF. Another good resource is where you can record your own climbs and get more information on the peaks.