Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mission Peak Trail, Ohlone College Trailhead

peak trail

Mission Peak is a classic Bay Area hike. This hike is a nice alternative to the more common route via Stanford Road which is perhaps the single most crowded trail in the Bay. By contrast though the Ohlone College entrance is quiet and the path to the summit is a more evenly paced ascent with great views of the rolling east bay hills. Like its crowded counterpart most of the hike is very exposed and summer can be blistering so winter and spring ascents are preferable.


Difficulty - Moderate
Length - 7.5 Miles
Crowds - Busy
Fees - $2 Parking Pass
Best Season(s) - Winter, Spring
Getting There:
- From Skyline Blvd. take CA-84 towards La Honda
- Turn Right on Anza Pine Rd (into Ohlone College)
- Turn Left into Lot M

From the M Parking lot the Peak Trail heads initially steeply uphill past a small horse pasture. My favorite time to hike this area is always winter because the temperatures are cool and the wide open green hills are welcoming. A thick haze mired the trailhead but we identified it as an inversion layer and once we broke through we had brisk weather and

Peak Trail

As the trail winds its way up hill for the first half mile it passes several junctions, all of which offer forgetable detours (visit these on the way back if at all). As the trail slips into a small pass the steep vivid green grassy hills draw in. Cows have taken a liking to this area, especially because of its proximity to a nearby lake.

We found a hiker watching one particularly large cow sitting on the ground on the far side of the lake. The hiker believed the cow to be giving birth. After we stood over it for awhile, the cow got up, revealing not only was it just really really fat (even for a cow) and not pregnant, but a bull. It trotted away, presumably feeling rather self-conscious.

Lake by the trail approaching Mission Peak

We rather awkwardly matched pace with the other hiker for awhile as we entered a nice forested part of the trail. The oak forest was damp and I’m sure would have been a welcome relief on a hot summer day. The forest cover is brief though as the trail quickly spits out to a small meadow. The trail began climbing quickly and becomes very open. Views to the east opened up for us exposing Mt. Diablo and the bald Diablo Range. This terrain is what I think of as east bay hiking, wide open green grasses on steep slopes with scattered lonley oaks and raptors circling overhead.

Oak Tree
Lone Oak on the Peak Trail.

Diablo Range Hikers
A Family of Hikers heading up the Peak Trail.

After a steady climb for about a mile the trail began to kick back a bit as we approached the crest of a ridge. Finally the summit of Mission Peak came into view, though it was still a good distance away and required much more climbing (roughly another 800ft). Around here the Peak Trail merges with the main trail from the other park entrance on Stanford Ave. We kept left at the first junction, then right at the second following more instinct than signage. Our decisions helped us avoid the crowds and though the route we took is a bit longer it does not climb quite as quickly.

Mission Peak
The summit of Mission Peak approaching the trail junction.

For the final quarter mile we rejoined the crowds again on a single path to the top that was rocky but opened up views on almost every direction. To the east we could see all the way to the Sierra Nevada, to the west the Santa Cruz mountains and the entire Bay Area most of which was under a thinning fog from the inversion layer. We could see the baylands reflecting back up through the clouds and the faint outline of close buildings. As we scrambled over the rocks, finally the summit marker came into view.

inversion layer
Looking down into the inversion layer from near the summit.

The distinctive marker points the direction of many land marks, some close, some distant and many have scratched their names into the post. The summit is nearly always crowded, and today was no exception. We scarfed down our lunch, took a few photos and got on our way after a short while.

Mission Peak Summit Marker
The Mission Peak Summit Marker.

We elected to follow the main path down where most groups go, it is rockier but more direct. At some point we veered out on a small use path which cut right across the rocky west face. The small use trail was quiet and offered the best views. The very rocky terrain and steep drop off meant we had to be very careful moving down the trail but the challenge of scrambling down combined with the better views made this choice a winner.

Mission Peak West Face
Descending the west face of Mission Peak.

We rejoined the main trail shortly below its junction and climbed back up a short stretch before rejoining the Peak Trail on its descent back down the mountain the way we came. As we made our way down the open trail and entered the forest we watched the moon rise over the mountains to the east and the shadows started getting longer. We passed the lake where we found the bull before and made our way and found a momma and baby cow who passed us on the trail.

Lake Cows
Cows by the lake on the return trip.

Several more baby cows passed us on the trail and to our horror we found a grown man with his family getting ready to throw a rock at one of them. When they saw us coming behind them they started walking away with rock in hand. As we passed them I shot the man a glance to let him know how repulsive his behavior was. Soon enough though we were back down at the parking lot, back below the fog getting ready to head home.

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