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.
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!
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.
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.
Trails 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).
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.
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! Note 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.