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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El Sombroso or Bust!

I am getting stronger, but can I do this?

Sometimes I feel like I am my own worst enemy — at least when it comes to having the confidence to complete a hike. In this case, we wanted to tackle El Sombroso — near Los Gatos — in Santa Clara County. The problem facing me was that the hike, though rated moderate, was given as 11.6 miles round trip and it’s about a 2,000 ft. elevation gain. Because I have been dealing with leg pain for many months, I was feeling stuck at about 7 miles. 

A Nifty Ninety Peak

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Bills Hill at Henry Coe State Park

Bills Hill at Henry Coe State Park

FINALLY we were able to tackle a new Nifty Ninety Peak. And it was great fun! The peaks in Henry Coe have posed, and continue to pose, a challenge to us for several reasons. They are all rated as difficult. Most of the trails are steep and long.

Timing can be tricky. Spring can be beautiful with wildflowers galore, but the trails can be slippery and water crossings difficult. Summer days can easily hit 100 or more and water sources can be limited. Fall is usually great, but wildfires become a concern. Winter temperatures often drop below freezing. Read More

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Our Strategy for Nifty Ninety

Mural in Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, S.F.

It wasn’t very long after Ralph and I started doing some of the high points on the ‘Nifty Ninety’ Peaks challenge that our friend Patricia became interested. Like us, she wanted to do some new local hikes on a regular basis, found the selection of peaks on the list interesting and within our hiking abilities, and wanted to spend time with friends.

Choosing which peaks to do first…

Patricia suggested a strategy—that we do all of the peaks within a category on the list and then go on to another category. For example, we could do do all of the National Parks peaks, then all of the California State Parks, and then those of the North Bay, etc. 

We toyed with her idea for a bit, but then decided that other factors should be prioritized—such things as the difficulty of a hike, the weather, and the time needed to commute back and forth. We also considered such things as when the wildflowers would be out or the waterfalls flowing. After all, the peak hikes were supposed to be fun as well as good exercise, so we wanted to optimize the conditions whenever possible.

Mount Tamalpais, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County.

We get on the way

With those considerations in mind, we started out by doing the shorter or less strenuous hikes first. We figured we would get stronger and more confident over time. Sometimes we were able to do two, even three peaks, in a day—such as when we did San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill. 

The hardest ones may be ahead!

Now that we have reached more than 75 peaks, we have done most of the easy and moderate ones—which means, of course, that the peaks remaining on our list are more difficult to reach. Namely they will require hiking more miles or driving a longer distance, will be more technically difficult because of the trail’s steepness or slippery nature, or the elevation gain to the peak.

However, we are now stronger and feel more confident. We think that all are now within our capabilities. So, it is we hope, just a matter of waiting for the weather we prefer and the time needed to get to the destinations.

Time will tell!
Happy trails,
Susan Alcorn, aka backpack45

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.