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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Hmm, where is Vasquez Peak?

Where’s our peak? 

Woo hoo! For us, Vasquez Peak in Henry Coe State Park was our 84th peak of the Nifty Ninety Peak Challenge.

It was supposed to be 10.2 miles rt., but my friend Patricia and I were ahead of the guys and we didn’t have any navigational devices. We thought Ralph was keeping track on the GPS. Every time I looked back to see if he was signaling me we were close, he was engrossed with walking and talking with our friend Tom.

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It turned out Vasquez Peak was not marked — and there were several high points nearby so you wouldn’t just know by looking around. About a mile past Vasquez, we all stopped to assess exactly where we were. We had reached Rock Springs.

Our route out and back

We walked out on the Hunting Hollow (dirt) road from the parking area at the Hunting Hollow entrance (fee or State Park pass required). There were five creek crossings, but none even ankle deep and rocks had been placed that made it easy.

We turned left and up the hill on the Lyman Willson Ridge Trail. This was the steepest park of the hike, but we stopped tons of times to photograph wildflowers so we didn’t care. We turned right onto Bowl Trail, which took us past Willson Camp.

Willson Camp, as the name implies, allows camping, but there was no one there. The wooden buildings were in disrepair. The large shed was in the worst condition, but it provided some shelter from the strong wind as we ate our snacks. We appreciated the fact that there was a porta-potty available that was being maintained. The water faucet had been turned off. So this is a reminder to either carry all the water you need or be certain there is a source within the park when you hike or camp here!

Past the camp we made our way onto Vasquez Road, which took us past several high points — one, as I noted, was Vasquez itself and Rock Springs!

It was a great hike and I had the feeling that the display of wildflowers was just beginning. Among others, we saw California Poppies, Buttercups, Vetch, Lupine, Hounds Tongue, Baby Blue Eyes, and Fiddlenecks in profusion! Gorgeous!

Continue reading “Hmm, where is Vasquez Peak?”

Consider the ‘Nifty Ninety”

Consider the Nifty Ninety

We have now completed more than 75 of the #Nifty Ninety peaks. I know that there are some summits ahead that are even more difficult than those we have encountered so far, but we have gradually become more confident and strong as we have met the hikes’ challenges. We continue to consider the terrain, the mileage, the time required, and the weather conditions when selecting our next hike—and are growing more and more captivated by the parks, trails, and  high points we are discovering.

As a long-distance hiker, I’ve spent a lot of time at high elevation (John Muir Trail being a prime example) so it is exciting to have some of the same joy exploring the peaks of the Bay Area—the far-reaching views and the sense of accomplishment that getting to high points in this area brings.

If, like me, you don’t like to always do the same trails, check out the Nifty Ninety Peak challenge. Link here! You will also find a great deal of information about the peaks on and you can also record your achievements at this easy to use website.

Happy trails and travels!
Susan “backpack45” Alcorn

Chalk Mountain on the Nifty Ninety

Chalk Mountain on the Nifty Ninety Peak Challenge!

Chalk Mountain was the last stop of an exciting and rewarding weekend on the San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties’ coastlines. Saturday was an 8-hour cruise out and around the Farallones Islands beyond the Golden Gate on the ‘Salty Lady’ for whale watching.
Sunday was the climb to number 74 — Montara Mountain’s North Peak — and Monday took us to Chalk Mountain. For Ralph and me, this was peak #75 on the Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel

So that we didn’t have to make the long drive down the coast twice, we had stayed overnight Sunday night at Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel near Pescadero. Our friend Tom had made the reservations, which is highly advisable. (Click here to reach them). Although there is a functioning lighthouse, the building has long been in need of restoration and is not open to the public.

The hostel is composed of several small buildings with various kinds of accommodations — dorms, family, and private rooms. There’s a hot tub (which you should reserve as early as possible) and, because this is a dark sky preserve, it’s a perfect place to stargaze. After preparing breakfast the next morning in the hostels’ adequately equipped kitchen, we continued our journey south along the coast and into Santa Cruz County.

Choosing a trail head

I was quite happy to learn that my ‘always prepared’ husband Ralph and our friend Patricia had conferred and found that we could reach a trail head closer than those along Hwy. 1 (the Coast Highway) that are usually suggested. We drove 3 miles in on Whitehorse Canyon Road off of highway 1. This was an unmarked, but wide, not too awful, dirt road. We parked in a pullout just before the public road became marked with signs indicating it was turning into a private one.

The hike

We started with a steep ascent, about 1,300 feet in a mile with 25-35% grades, on dirt trail through redwood forest. No problem with the climb, we could adjust our pace accordingly, but I did wonder how difficult our descent would go. There were two short turnoffs to reach viewpoint with outstanding views of Año Nuevo State Park and other beaches along the coastline.
As we progressed, the trail became somewhat less steep; vegetation became scrubbier. I enjoyed the thick mosses hanging from the host pine trees. When we neared the top, we came to Chalk Truck Trail, a dirt/gravel road that made for much easier going. We turned left and continued on to the summit.
Looking for the survey marker

The summit itself wasn’t terribly exciting — but the views were wonderful and the old abandoned fire lookout had some graffiti that had been scratched with the chunks of chalk rock liberally surrounding us — no ‘Kilroy was here!’ but some artsy ones.

Coming back down the hill was not nearly as difficult as I had feared. We didn’t find much in the way of loose rock or slippery vegetation, so footing was good. I was glad I had hiking poles because of the incline.

Although the high point was only 1,609′ and the out-and-back hike totaled only about 5 miles, I’d say, as Ralph claimed, that this was “a real butt-kicker.” However, his comment skipped over the fact that he was carrying a 20-25 lb. backpack as part of his always trail-ready conditioning plan. Various reports rate the hike as difficult, others as moderate — subjective as usual!

Although the high point was only 1,609′ and the hike an out-and-back totaling only about 5 miles, I’d say, as Ralph claimed, that this was “a real butt-kicker.” However, his comment doesn’t include the fact that he was carrying a 20-25 lb. backpack as part of his continual trail-ready conditioning plan. Various reports rate the hike as difficult, others as moderate — subjective of course!

On the way back home, we stopped at the San Gregorio General Store and Post Office, which is just off Hwy. 84 (and a few miles off Highway 1.) This funky old store has been around since 1889 with all kinds of practical and quirky things for sale. They have a bar, bookstore, and variety store — as well as live music on weekends. A great way to end a fun-filled weekend!

More info? Click here for an account from Summit Post that gives alternate routes.

hike: July 29, 2019.