Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mt. Diablo SP: North Entrance to Summit

Mt. Diablo from the north entrance.

Mt. Diablo is the most prominent peak in the Bay Area, and second in the state only to 14,000+ Mt. Shasta. It is also one of the tallest peaks in the Bay Area at 3,849ft meaning when conditions are right the peak will receive heavy snowfall. Thanks to an unusually cold air mass and some rain on Sunday night the peak, as well several others in the area were blanketed in snow down to about 1,400ft.

At 9am after waking up a bit late I set out on the hour drive to Mt. Diablo from my house with summit aspirations. To my surprise, the rangers had closed the south gate in Danville and without parking I had to drive around for another hour before I found the north gate. At 11am I finally hit the trail more than 9 miles from the summit. I blew through the crowds quickly along the 3 miles of road it takes to reach a trailhead. The last hiker I met on the entire climb would be just a couple miles into it. She had followed the road to the Angel Kieley Rd. trailhead and turned around. She had been laid off a few months ago and was out hiking with her adorable little dog.

The first leg of trail hiking was in the lowlands below Diablo, I had to have hiked at least 2 miles on the road before I reached Little Pine Creek Rd. which would I would advise any hiker to avoid. The views of Diablo were very nice but it added time to my hike and was muddy. I had at least 2 inches of mud caked to the bottom my my boot by the time I got off the muddy sections.

View of Mt. Diablo from Little Pine Creek Road.

By the time I reached the Angel Kieley Rd. I was already pretty tired and there was still only patches of frost on the ground, I had broken away from the masses of jean-clad day hikers though and from this point on I wouldn't run in to another human being until I reached the Ranger station near the summit. The bad news?

Angel Kieley Rd. soars right up a pair of thigh-burning hills. Besides the summit push this was the toughest part of my hike. Already almost 1pm, and realizing my hopes to reach the summit were dim, my resolve was tested.

Looking down on a California Live Oak from the first hill on Angel Kieley Rd.

Near the junction with the Burma Road the trail flattens out considerably. I figured this was as good a time as any to rest my thighs and take a lunch break so I pulled out a soggy little Greek Wrap from Whole Foods packed with plenty of beans and feta cheese for protein. After I packed the trash in my backpack I set out on the trail again, stopping only for 5 minutes to eat. Right before the trail veers off to the south and into some trees I encountered a pair of very large Coyote's on the prowl.

A Coyote trots up through a gully below the trail.

I managed to get a picture of the first Coyote but the second only darted across the trail ahead of me and was gone before I realized what I had seen. The hike really started to get interesting at this point. I was finally reaching real snow.

Finally snow! only 5-6mi from the start of the hike.

All over the trail were animal tracks, lots of coyote, deer, even mountain lion prints. However there were no boot prints, I was getting the feeling I was the only person hiking up to the summit that day (I would later be proven wrong). As I kept going up, the snow got thicker and thicker. Eventually though my trail dumped out back on to the road (boring!). Rather than backtrack to follow trails I decided to follow the road for what turned out to be a little less than a mile. I ran into a very friendly cyclist along the way that told me the rangers station was just 2 miles below the summit. It was almost 2pm, could I actually do this?

Trees covered in snow approaching the ranger station.

I got directions from a very friendly ranger who pointed me up a trail for 2.1 miles for the final summit push. Snow was everywhere and covered the trail but it was still not very deep.

Juniper trees covered in a blanket of snow.

Icy trees closer to the summit.

The thin layer of snow would eventually turn into ankle deep snow which you had to trudge through rather than walk through. That snow eventually turned into calf deep snow. Around this point I ran into a rather curly cyclist who told me I was in for a "long ass hike" with "snow up to my ass". I think he was just trying to protect his summit.

The snow got thicker closer to the summit.

A small bird pecking around in the snow for food.

Not long into the thick snow I started moving slower and slower, and sure enough my 2:30 turn around time came around. I gave myself an extra half-hour to try and reach the top because I was close.
Looking down on the valley, in the upper right corner is Mt. Hamilton.

The trail opened up a bit and treated me to some magnificent views. Still, it was getting very late and I was getting more and more concerned. I knew at this point I would not make it back to my car before dark, but I figured if I could be at least on that last leg on road I would be okay. At 3:07, right as it started to snow I turned around and headed back.

My turn around point just 15 minutes from the summit.

Why yes! It was cold there.

On my way back I ran into a very nice fellow named Martin ...get this...unclipping from his ski's! Yup, he had skied down of the top of the mountain. I can't even imagine the endurance it would take to lug ski's all the way up the mountain. We chatted for a couple minutes and he was even nice enough to take my picture for me.

I could not be more impressed by this...

I started legging it downhill, passing the rangers station and the TV crews who drove up to the top, and plenty of cyclists who must have left work early to get to the top. I stopped to give reports of the top to a couple cyclists. I ran into another Coyote on the way down the trail, this one much larger than the others, unfortunately this one also followed me for a little bit, I started yelling and waving my backpack over my head. He started darting back and forth across the trail and then kind of backed away. Disaster averted.

The sun setting over the last hill on the Angel Kieley Rd.

The sun went down (though it was still light out) right as I reached the main road. Just a few steps off the trail, one of the cyclists I gave directions too screamed past me, we acknowledged each other for half a second and he was gone. I had bigger problems though, a huge blister on my pinkie toe had popped while I ran down the last hill on the trail. It hurt to walk at this point. It was getting dark and I was getting nervous, especially with my toe. I heard a car behind me, it was a ranger in a tan mini-van getting off his shift. I stuck my thumb out and hitched a lift back to the gate. I hobbled back to my car, made the required calls to the real world to let people know I was alive and set out through traffic. I left at 11am, and returned at 5:20 just as it got dark. I stopped for In-n-out burger on the way home, and drove a sloth-like 60-65 all the way back home.

All this on my very last day of unemployment! That's right. As of today, Tuesday Dec, 8th, 2009 I have a part-time job. Along with my unpaid internship I now work full time. I still don't feel like my funemployment is over. Not until I have one full time job anyway.


  1. your photography is incredible! ever think about doing prints and/or greeting cards to sell to supplement your funemployment income?

  2. Great blog! My daughter got a kick out of the photo of me looking like a wild man on skis. She wanted to know if I had a pair of dead squirrels wrapped around my neck (my hiking boots)! Glad to hear you made it back OK.

  3. Shonelle - Yeah, I have thought about it but honestly I feel like the work needed to monetize the hobby would take the fun out of it. I choose not to pursue a career in photojournalism for this reason.

    Martin - It's good to know you survived that hike as well (I'm a bit worse for wear mainly on account of the mega-blister my snow boots gave me). I have no idea how you did it. If you could like you can email me at christopher.g.marks@gmail.com and I'll send you the full size image instead of the little web quality one I have up.