Ridge Trail by Transit

For the last three and a half years I’ve been hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which encircles the bay area on the ridges high above the bay, except where it crosses at the Golden Gate, and the delta near Martinez. Of the completed trail (390 miles / 628 km), I have walked 92% of it, and have also walked some of the gaps in the trail which will eventually measure about 550 miles (990 km), so I have not even come close to the whole route, but with my hike two weeks ago on Almond Ranch have reached a point of completion that I’d like to write about.

And I did almost all of it by transit!

The Bay Area is relatively rich in transit, and many trail segments have transit access close to or even at the trailheads. Of course my tolerance for walking to the trailhead from the nearest transit stop is probably greater than most people’s, but a commitment to transit instead of driving makes for a wonderful accomplishment, and for me an enjoyable planning activity. I have been car-free for nine years, and car-lite for five before that. My life is one of walking, bicycling, transit and trains. The most important decision I’ve made in my entire life was to become car-free, and the word free is appropriate. One cannot truly be free if one is attached to a car. So I encourage everyone else to become car-lite, or car-free. The earth will thank you. The natural areas you love to visit, including the Bay Area Ridge Trail, will thank you. Your city or town will thank you.

Matt Davis Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail), Mt Tamalpais State Park

Trip Planning

I use both Google Maps and Transit app to plan my trips. Of course I take the Capitol Corridor train from my home in Sacramento, usually transferring to BART and/or the bus as I get closer. Google Maps is good for overall planning, as it shows multiple options if they exist. Google also allows you to save or send the planned route, for future reference on a different device. When I’m actually traveling, though, I use the Transit app (iOS and Android) as it contains real-time information for most of the transit agencies, rather than the scheduled times shown by Google Maps. It shows only up to three options, so sometimes misses an appropriate routing that Google would show.

Pandemic note: All of the transit agencies have cut back some of their services during the pandemic, ranging from minor cuts to cutting entire routes. Routes may have less frequent service, or longer gaps mid-day, or a shorter span of service (from start to end on each day), or run less frequently on weekends, or not at all. Do not rely on information that may be out of date, including mine, but check for the specific date you are planning on traveling. If the level of service seems unacceptable, try different times of day or different days of the week (weekdays/weekends). For some transit agencies, Google is updated to current schedules almost immediately, but for some agencies there may be a delay of several days or up to two weeks, so if a change has happened recently for the transit agency you are planning to use, it may be worth calling to check. Transit app, so far as I have experienced, is brought up to date within a day.

If you are traveling on any of the Bay Area transit providers (except Capitol Corridor), Clipper Card is the way to go. You can load value on the card, and can set it up to autoload more value when you get low. It is contactless and very convenient, and eliminates the need to figure out how to purchase tickets for each agency or trip.

For the trail itself, I use GaiaGPS iOS app on my iPhone. I have entered the trail segments, often by tracing on trail routes while looking at the Ridge Trail pdf maps. The web browser version is the place for planning trips and tracing routes, but the iOS version fits in my pocket. The council also has used OuterSpatial, a phone app, and recently developed a partnership with AllTrails.

I freely admit that your trip including transit will take longer than if you drove, sometimes a little longer, sometimes a lot longer. The further out you are, the less frequent the bus is likely to be, with up to 75 minute headways, gaps during the mid-day, and less or no weekend service. So part of the planning process is seeing if the transit schedule matches your schedule. How much time do you have? Do you have a choice about days of the week, or time of day?

If you bicycle the gap between the transit stop and the trailhead, of course that will be much quicker, but sometimes there are pretty steep hills, and unless you have an old beater bike, leaving your bike locked at the trailhead all day (or longer) may not be smart. But I have done that a few times, for some of the longer walks. Of course if you have a mountain bike and those skills, most segments of the trail are open to mountain bikes, and you can just continue right onto the trail. With the exception of Muni Metro, all trains and buses have some bicycle capacity.

I have also hitchhiked a few times. Saratoga Gap, where the Ridge Trail crosses Hwy 9 on the peninsula, is not accessible by transit, so I hitchhiked down to Saratoga at the south end of one hike, and then back up to the gap to continue my hike south. I also hitchhiked from the summit on Hwy 29 back to Calistoga, after completing the Oat Hill Mine, Palisades, and Mt. St. Helena spur trails. I realize that most people will not be comfortable hitchhiking (and you probably would not get a ride during the pandemic anyway), so making use of Meetup may be your solution for these segments.

The Meetup group Bay Area Ridge Trail (RT) & More, offers group hikes along various sections of the Ridge Trail and other nearby trails. You can often arrange to catch a ride with a participant, if you plan ahead of time, getting to the trailhead for hikes without transit access. The council itself offers guided hikes from time to time, day and overnight, including some segments that are not yet accessible to the public. Check https://ridgetrail.org/events/ for details. Of course there are many fewer group activities during the pandemic, but I imagine both sources will ramp back up as the pandemic fades.

The council’s trail maps, at https://ridgetrail.org/trail-maps/, and the book Bay Area Ridge Trail: The Official Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Equestrians, by Elizabeth Byers and Jean Rusmore (https://www.wildernesspress.com/product.php?productid=16685; also Amazon Kindle book https://www.amazon.com/Bay-Area-Ridge-Trail-Equestrians-ebook/dp/B07WXPPWMS/), are of course valuable planning tools.

sunset and smoke, Loma Alta Preserve, Marin County

Trip Examples

The council’s Backpacking Trip: Presidio to Mt. Tamalpais (https://ridgetrail.org/backpacking-trip-presidio-to-mt-tamalpais/), can be accessed by transit. Arguello Gate is accessible from Muni 1 on California, 0.3 mile walk, or Muni 38/38R on Geary, 0.6 mile walk. The south end of Golden Gate Bridge is accessible by Golden Gate Transit 30, 70, or 101 buses. The. North end of the bridge is NOT accessible by transit, except by walking the 1.8 miles across the bridge. Pantoll Ranger Station, the north end of this trip, is accessible by Marin Stage 61 bus. Some corrections to the book text: Haypress Campground is not free, it is $5/night, reservations at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/10067346. Site 3 at Pantoll Campground is $7/night for backpackers.

Access to both Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Santa Teresa County Park is also by transit, using VTA 83 bus stop on McKean Road near Almaden Road. Walking south 0.4 miles is the Mockingbird Trailhead entrance to Almaden Quicksilver County Park, and thence 16.3 miles (26.3 km) of Ridge Trail through the park and Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve to Lexington Reservoir. Walking north 0.3 miles to Alamitos Creek trailhead, that follows Alamitos Creek and Calero Creek, and into Santa Teresa County Park, 6.3 miles (10.2 km) to Coyote Peak. 

A short 0.2 mile walk from the AC Transit 99 bus stop on Mission Blvd in Hayward to the Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park leads onto the long Chabot to Garin segment of the Ridge Trail. This 10.6 mile segment to Five Canyons Parkway, is also the southern-most of a continuous 48.4 mile Ridge Trail to Kennedy Grove Regional Park in El Sobrante. Notes: You can also go through Garin Regional Park, but the walk to or from Mission Blvd bus stop is much longer. The Dry Creek section will become a side trail once the next segment to Niles Canyon is completed, perhaps in 2021.

And of course the council’s Berryessa BART Transit to Trails Adventures (https://ridgetrail.org/bart-transit-to-trails-adventures/), not only starts at the Berryessa BART station, but passes the VTA Penitencia Creek Light Rail Station as well. It provides access to Alum Rock Park, with a short but safe no-trail section of road, and Sierra Vista Open Space.

Bay Area Ridge Trail, Huckberry Preserve, Alameda County

Resources

GaiaGPS: my Bay Area Ridge Trail tracks and routes, including waypoints for the major transit access points, at https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/folder/ced071b9-a8d3-45b3-9c28-570b755ef065/. I do not claim that my tracks and routes are completely accurate, or that they are fully up-to-date, but I do update it as often as I can, and refine the routes I’ve traced as soon as new trails show up in Open Street Maps, which is the underlying geographic database for GaiaGPS. You do not need to have a GaiaGPS account to view this information in a web browser, but do for iOS/Android, but to change map layers or manipulate data for your own use, you do need an account.

My photo collection for the Ridge Trail is on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Previous blog posts on my Ridge Trail trips are accessible at https://allisondan.wordpress.com/tag/bay-area-ridge-trail/. Not all my trips, mind you, I missed posting on some, particularly the shorter day hikes.

Ridge Trail: Big Rock to Pantoll 2020-09

I finally got to the Lucas Valley and Loma Alta sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in September, and re-hiked from White Hill to San Francisco, on a five day backpack trip in September (yes, posting this late because I’d forgotten to earlier).

As usual, this was transit accessible section: Capitol Corridor to Richmond, AC Transit 72M to west Richmond, Golden Gate Transit 40 to San Rafael, and Marin Transit 245 to the intersection of Lucas Valley Road and Gallinas Road. The a longer walk than most trips along Lucas Valley Road, 3.4 miles (5.5 km), most with a wide shoulder or parallel residential streets, but some unpleasant along narrow shoulders. It would have been a longer walk, but some women playing tennis recommended that I head up Luiz Fire Road to the ridge, much better than continuing along Lucas Valley Road.

Finally on trail (fire road) again, the steep climb opened up great views to the south and east. At the top of the ridge, I turned west to meet with the end of the Ridge Trail as it comes up from Big Rock. I had always assumed that Big Rock was on top of Big Rock Ridge, but in fact it is in the low gap where Lucas Valley Road goes from Lucas Valley to Nicasio Valley. Of course as always, there are great views from the ridge. The end/start of the ridge trail is further west along the ridge, and the Big Rock Trail (as called the Lucas Valley Trail) heads downhill towards Big Rock, sometimes on fire roads and sometimes on single track.

bay laurel and rock, Loma Alta Trail

Crossing Lucas Valley Road in a tunnel, the trail ascends Loma Alta Fire Road through private ranch lands, and then into the Loma Alta Preserve, where is descends to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. I had forgotten, after a summer of backpacking in the Sierra, how damp and foggy the coast ranges can be, a different world.

From this point to San Francisco, I’ve hiked the Ridge Trail in the past, Ridge Trail: White Hill to Pantoll 2017-10 and ADT9: San Francisco to Point Reyes 2013-11, but it is a favorite section, so I did it again. People are outside much more than usual as a result of the pandemic, and the trails were crowded through Samuel Taylor State Park, the Matt Davis Trail north of Pantoll Station, and around Tennessee Valley. I camped at the Pantoll campground, which has a lower cost backpacker site, and again at Haypress campground near Tennessee Valley. On the other hand, I saw almost no one on the Bolinas Ridge section.

After some time in San Francisco, I took San Francisco Bay Ferry to Oakland, and Capitol Corridor train back home to Sacramento.

This hike was approximately 46.4 miles (74.7 km) from the start to the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is the official zero point of the trail, though of course I also walked the bridge and into San Francisco.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716600491713; Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Ridge Trail: Almond Ranch 2020-12

On December 5 I completed the Almond Ranch section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This section, which is on a newly acquired property managed by John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) fills a gap between the Mount Wanda trail within John Muir National Historic Site and Sky Ranch which were previously protect by the trust, and which now forms a large protected area along Franklin Ridge.

My access was by Capitol Corridor train from Sacramento to Martinez, then walking along streets of Martinez to the trailhead in John Muir NHS. There is a bus stop very close to the trailhead, but on weekends the bus only runs every 785 minutes, so it was much easier to walk the 2.1 miles (3.4 km) than wait for the bus. The trailhead for Mount Wanda can be accessed from Alhambra Ave just south of Hwy 4, or through the NHS when it is open. There is also a back-gate access to the trail, but as an exit only, you can’t re-enter the NHS, which takes you under Hwy 4 and connects to the trailhead.

The Mount Wanda trail is a fire road that climbs to the ridge top, opening up good views in all directions, then dips a bit and climbs to the Mount Wanda/Almond Ranch fence and gate. Almond Ranch was opened in October. Rather than following the fire road, a new trail diverges off the ridge top and contours around hillsides to regain the fire road/trail in Sky Ranch. Most of Almond Ranch is open grasslands, but the off the ridge and down in the draws there are oaks, California Bay Laurel, and other species that like more moisture and less wind. Where the new trail meets Sky Ranch, there is a row of huge concrete pipe segments, the purpose of which mystifies me. These are the sort of pipes usually used for sewer lines in cities, so what are they doing here?

Almond Ranch trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail) and oak

With this gap closure, the Bay Area Ridge Trail is now continuous from Benecia, across the Martinez-Benicia bridge, through Martinez, to Nejedly Staging Area, and up through the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, to John Muir NHS, along Franklin Ridge and then down to Ferndale Road, a distance of 10.2 miles (16.4 km). There follows a gap of 1.7 miles (2.8 km), which can be walked by following Ferndale and Alhambra Valley roads for 2.5 miles (4 km). The trail then climbs out of Alhambra Valley over East Bay Municipal Utility District lands, through Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve, and down to Conestoga Way. There is then a 1.8 mile (2.9 km) gap along surface streets to the next segment of the Ridge Trail in Kennedy Grove.

Almond Ranch will also be part of the yet incomplete Carquinez Strait Loop Trail. With this Almond Ranch gap closure, the Dutra Ranch Trail (also called Contra Costa Feeder Trail #1) becomes a side trail of the Ridge Trail.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157717423100027; and Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/.

Ridge Trail: East Bay 2020-10 (+ SF + ADT)

This month I re-hiked the continuous section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail from Kennedy Grove recreation area in the north (El Sobrante) to Garin park in the south (Hayward), about 73 km (45 miles). Kennedy Grove is less than a mile from the AC Transit 74 bus stop on Castro Ranch Rd (though be warned, only every other bus goes to this destination), then along Hillside Dr (though be warned, the back gate from Hillside is signed as being open all park hours but was locked when I was there, so I had to crawl under the gate). The Ridge Trail leaves the area, parallels and then crosses San Pablo Dam Rd, and then climbs on trail and fire road to Nimitz Way on the crest. Nimitz Way is an old road now only open to hikers and bicyclists, and it can be quite busy when the weather is nice, as it is moderately flat and has great views. The trail then heads south to Inspiration Point on Wildcat Canyon Road in Tilden Park.

Dropping down to cross the road, it climbs again to the ridge crest and continues south to nearly Vollmer Peak, then down to the trailhead near the redwood railway. There is water here. On this hike, I found about half the water sources to be turned off. There is no justifiable reason for this, just lazy park personnel using the pandemic as an excuse to not clean drinking fountains.

Ridge Trail in Huckleberry Preserve

The trail continues south into East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) lands, then Sibley Volcanic and Huckleberry Botanic preserves. The ridgeline is not flat, so the trail repeatedly loses and re-gains elevation. It passes Skyline Gate, which is one of the most popular access points in the east bay, so expect to see crowds of people for several miles though Redwood park. The water here was turned off. The trail loses considerable elevation to cross Redwood Creek, then climbs again into Anthony Chabot park. Passing close to Bort Campground (but not to, the maps are incorrect for the current alignment), the trail follows the creek and then gradually climbs to the ridge north of Chabot before descending to Chabot Staging Area, which is the EBMUD trailhead.

The Ridge Trail then ascends the ridge and then descends again to Cull Canyon recreation area, where there is usually water, but it was off. Following some streets and trail segments, the trail crosses Castro Valley Blvd and goes under I-580 (or you can follow Five Canyons Parkway, which is not a pleasant walk but saves distance and elevation loss).

From the Five Canyons trailhead, the trail climbs steeply to the ridgeline and wander along with good views and a lot of cows. PG&E is doing vegetation clearing in the area and has made a dust bowl of the fire road. They probably won’t fix it when they are done. The trail descends into Palomares Creek, dry this time of year, and then climbs the ridge again to Stonebrae Country Club. A ways south on the ridge, the trail starts its long descent. You can either go out to Dry Creek trailhead at May Rd, or out through Garin Park, which is nice but longer. Regular transit runs along Mission Blvd, a short walk from Dry Creek or longer walk from Garin. This entire section of the trail is dry, which is strange, since it passes five huge water tanks and goes through Stonebrae, which is an island of emerald green fairways on the otherwise dry ridge.

The trail will eventually stay on the ridge to the south and descend into Niles Canyon, instead of going out at Dry Creek, but that segment is not completed yet.

This section of the trail is the second longest of the entire trail, so makes some wonderful hiking. There is one backcountry camp, in Sibley Volcanic, but it is not at a location that makes sense for walking the trail. There are other backcountry camps on the planning horizon, but none under construction.

I took transit to San Francisco, and spent a day there, for the enjoyment and to give my feet a rest. I visited one of my San Francisco favorites, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, swam a bit at Baker Beach, walked Lands End, and of course went to Acme Bread in the Ferry Building.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

Then I headed back out on the American Discovery Trail section CA-08, from San Francisco to Pleasant Hill. The route includes the ferry ride from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to Oakland Jack London, and then streets from there to UC Berkeley. I skipped the street walking this time to be nice to my feet, took transit, and picked up again at College Ave and Bancroft Way, where the route goes up Strawberry Canyon and the Jackson fire road to the crest. From here is follows the same route as the Bay Area Ridge Trail though Tilden Park, but descends from Inspiration Point to San Pablo Creek. On EBMUD lands, it parallels and then crosses the creek and goes around the east side of Briones Reservoir to Bear Creek Staging Area. Where the water was again turned off. From Bear Creek, the trial climbs to Lafayette Ridge and follows it down to Pleasant Hill Blvd, then up through Acalanes and down through the north end of Walnut Creek to where it meets the Contra Costa Canal trail. The trail along Lafayette Ridge is a roller coaster, up and down over enumerable hills, not a fun hike, but the views and vegetation are great.

ADT Trail on Lafayette Ridge

The ADT heads east southeast from here and up over the shoulder of Mt. Diablo, but my feet had had enough so I walked out the the Pleasant Hill BART station, took the bus to Martinez, had a beer at Del Cielo, and caught the Capitol Corridor home to Sacramento.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716598013768; Bay Area Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/

Ridge Trail Big Rock & Alta Loma 2020-09

In mid September I headed out to complete the last segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail that I will be doing as my “Ridge Trail by Transit” circumnavigation. The details of that are for a later post, but this trip was to do the Lucas Valley and Loma Alta sections.

I took transit from Sacramento to Lucas Valley Road and Las Gallinas Ave in San Rafael, and headed west up Lucas Valley. There is a trail alongside the road, or separate, for some of the distance, but it is not really a pleasant walk. On the suggestion of some women playing tennis, I headed up the Luiz fire road to Big Rock Ridge. I walked along the ridge, which has good views of the bay side of Marin County. Don’t be fooled by the Ridge Trail signs along the ridge, which are misplaced. From the point at which the future Ridge Trail will head north to Indian Tree, the trail descends to Big Rock, which is not, as I presumed, on the ridge, but along Lucas Valley Rd where the trail crosses.

Big Rock, Lucas Valley Rd, Ridge Trail tunnel

Alta Loma fire road climbs the ridge and then descends back down to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. With this section, I’ve completed 93% of the completed Ridge Trail, and this was my main objective. But since the trail from here to San Francisco is a favorite, I continued. From the summit at White Hill, the trail ascends onto San Geronimo Ridge and wanders through Sargent cypress and chaparral vegetation that forms on serpentinitic rocks. After several miles, the trail descents to Samuel P. Taylor state park where I had lunch. The park is served by Marin Stage 68 bus, with a stop at the park entrance. The White Hill summit can also be accessed by the same bus, by request.

Sargent cypress cones in the serpentinitic soils

From the park the trail ascends Bolinas Ridge and heads south-southeast along the crest of the coast range. Open grasslands, mixed forests, and redwood forest alternate along the ridge. My assumption that the fires in Point Reyes National Seashore were out was a misunderstanding; they are contained and being allowed to burn as they would naturally, so there is some smoke being produced that filled the valley with smoke at times. The fires will burn, at a low level, until there are real rains to put them out. The Matt Davis Trail, which goes from Pantoll down to Stinson Beach, was crowded with hikers, being Sunday, and very few of them were wearing masks. Very uncomfortable for me, and though this is one of my favorite sections of the trail, I hurried through it.

I stayed the night in the Pantoll hike/bike camp site for $7. This is also another transit access point, with Marin Stage 61 bus several times a day. I rarely stay in campgrounds, so I was a little taken aback by the noise and bright lights of this campground. Though walk-in, it is a short enough distance that people can and do lug all the accoutrements of civilization with them from the parking lot. Continuing from Pantoll, I left the Ridge Trail route and took the Coast View and Heather Cutoff down to Muir Beach, had lunch at Pelican Inn. With outside seating only if isn’t the same experience at the inside pub, but still nice. Then up Dias Ridge and back to the main Ridge Trail route down to Tennessee Valley, where I camped at Haypress campground, one of the few official backcountry campsites along the trail. Morning, I walked down to Tennessee Valley beach, and then continued to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

Tennessee Valley beach

Then SF Bay Ferry to Oakland and Capitol Corridor home from Oakland Jack London to Sacramento.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716600491713; Ridge Trail collection on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/collections/72157708271186714/

Sinkyone Wilderness with Schmidts

Way back in August (time flies) I took a backpack trip with my friends the Schmidts to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park on the lost coast of northern California. This was their first backpack trip, and my first backpack with other people in quite some while.

We ended up at Sinkyone, which is north of Fort Bragg, after a long stressful drive seeking out places to backpack or at least camp, and running away from the smoke. After eliminating many places that were closed, or which we could not find out were closed or not, and seeking a place away from the regional smoke, we selected Snow Mountain Wilderness in the coast range, but a wrong turn on remote roads, followed by a fire kicking up and dumping smoke our direction, we ran for the coast. We never intended to go as far as the lost coast, but we had to go that far to find a place and escape the smoke. So late afternoon found us at Usal campground at the south end of the state park.

We camped that night on the beach, me outside with stars and condensation, and they in borrowed tents that turned out to be hard to set up and not very comfortable. But waking up in the morning on a wild beach was worth it. Of course there were a lot of other people in the campground, seeking the same relief from smoke that we were, but we went to the far end and had it mostly to ourselves, and in the morning very few people were up and on the beach.

Danielle & Autumn

We packed our packs and headed north on the Lost Coast Trail. This is not the trail that I’ve backpacked on before, north of Shelter Cove to the Mattole River, on BLM lands, but the next section south, in the state park. This is not really a maintained trail, some sections quite nice but others pushing through brush and poison oak, and we lost the trail a few times, following the tracks of other who had lost the trail. The trail climbs to a high point at Timber Point, drops to Dark Gulch, climbs again to the ridge, and the descends to Anderson Gulch where we camped at the backcountry camp above the creek. This is only five miles, but with heavy borrowed equipment and the first time out, the Schmidts did great.

Autumn and I walked down Anderson creek to the narrow steep beach while others relaxed and set up camp.

Anderson Gulch beach, Autumn

The next morning we hike back to the car at Usal campground, settling better into the routine of pace and enjoyment, and of course not getting off track this time. We had the late afternoon to enjoy the beach, which was a lot of reason we came, and being Sunday afternoon a lot of the people had cleared out.

the Schmidts on Usal beach

We then drove all the way back to Sacramento and Fair Oaks, getting home very, very late, but strongly feeling that it was a worthwhile trip.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157716600620383

Mokelumne Wilderness 2020-08

In August, my backpack trip in the Mokelumne Wilderness started with a trip to Camp Winthers. My friend Steffani picked me up in Auburn, and we spent three days visiting the environmental education summer camp we used to work at, and friend John, who now manages the camp. Of course there were no kids there, but it was a nice visit anyway. After the visit Steffani dropped me off at Carson Pass for my backpack trip. Though I can get many places to backpack on transit, the Mokelumne is not one of them, so the drop-off saves me a day of walking from South Lake Tahoe.

I headed south on the Pacific Crest Trail, and camped on the ridge south of Forestdale canyon. The night was clear but incredibly windy, and with no protection up there on the ridge, I got little sleep. Morning, I headed down Summit City Creek. The upper part of this trail has been maintained sometime since my last visit, when it was almost impassable with brush in several sections. Then comes a section long unmaintained, and then part of the lower trail has been maintained again, but not all the way to the lowest crossing of the creek where it meets the Mokelumne River route. It is a wonderful place, however, well worth walking.

Summit City Creek

The Mokelumne River routes heads downstream, up on benches and through forested flats where it is difficult though not impossible to follow, eventually climbing to a junction with the Munson Meadow trail. I camped there, with the night spitting rain but never raining hard. Next morning, down to the river at Camp Irene. The river is low enough that crossing was just a boulder hop.

Mokelumne River at Camp Irene

I then climbed out of the canyon up the Lake Valley trail (not sure of the name, it may still be called the Munson Meadow trail). This trail has not been maintained in a long while. Some parts are obvious, some parts not, and some parts are definitely a push through thick brush. I lost the trail in the meadow, but eventually picked it up again. It actually leaves the meadow to the east almost immediately after entering it. The trail tops out on the Mt Reba ridge, and follows an old road east.

I then followed the Underwood Valley trail north, back into the wilderness. The top part is a road, which I’m not sure whether is an incursion into the wilderness, or is outside the wilderness, but in any case is unnecessary. It should stop at the crest. I lost the trail in the many cow-trampled meadows, and then picked up a trail which I thought was the right one, but turns out was a cowboy trail up over the ridge and into the Jackson Creek canyon. Being on the wrong trail, I headed in the wrong direction when I got to the correct trail, and spend quite a while wandering around trying to make the reality on the ground match the map. It was not until the next morning that I figured out where I really was when I got to the junction of the Underwood Valley trail with the Frog Lake trail. Frog Lake, as one might suspect from the name, it a shallow lily-pad pond, but is pretty nonetheless. Now that I knew where I was, I was able to follow the Underwood Valley trail back out to the trailhead. The trail is mostly in good condition, with a few brushy spots, and is generally not hard to follow, except for the cow meadow where I first lost it going in.

Frog Lake

From the top of the Underwood Valley trail, I followed the Bee Gulch trail down to Lake Alpine. What a mess that place is. The ‘backpacker’ campsites have been converted by the private campground manager into regular high priced sites, same as the drive-in sites. The roads were full of people driving, driving, driving, in and out of the campground. I suspect they were going to Bear Valley for coffee, but who knows. The campground roads felt like urban arterials. Leaving this travesty, I headed up along the Emigrant Trail eastward. The trail edges Stanislaus Meadow, which is beautiful, in part because it is the one place along the trail that is fenced off from cows which were ubiquitous in every other meadow. I camped near Mosquito Lakes, and enjoyed the quiet.

Next day I walked down Hwy 4 to the river, and then headed north on the Deer Valley jeep road. I had walking this once years ago, north to south, and had seen no one, but this time there were a number of vehicles on the road. It apparently attracts the same jeep people that the Rubicon Trail does. The road leads to the Blue Lakes area, where I picked up the PCT northbound, and camped in the Forestdale Creek canyon.

I then walked north back through Carson Pass, continued on the PCT to Meiss Meadow and Round Lake, where I rinsed off some dust, and then down to the Upper Truckee River where I camped. In the morning I walked through Washoe Meadows state park, which is a beautiful area I’d never paid that much attention to, and to South Lake Tahoe. Morning tea and snack at Alpine Coffee, then beer at South Lake Brewing, and caught the Amtrak bus home.

This was my first trip into the Mokelumne in two years (Mokelumne Wilderness 2018-07). It is an area I really like, and would like to get to more often, but it is an entire day’s walk to get there from South Lake Tahoe, and another day’s walk to get back. The trails there are deteriorating with time, and I suspect many of them shown on the map will eventually cease to exist in the future. I have been using the US Forest Service Mokelumne Wilderness map (2002) but may start using the Trails Illustrated Carson-Iceberg, Emigrant & Mokelumne Wilderness Areas (807, 2008) map because it has trail mileages and trail names for the major trails, which the FS map does not. The scale of both maps is 1:63,360.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157715837267621

Auburn upriver

This was my most ambitious bike and hike trip to date. I rode up to Auburn on mostly on Roseville Rd and old Highway 40. Pretty easy until the last stretch from Newcastle up to Auburn, which was steep, at least for me. My bike trip back was via Folsom, mostly downhill, and longer.

I stashed my bike at Auburn Staging Area, the end of the Western States Trail and end of the Tevis Cup equestrian ride and Western States 100 trail run, and the end of American Discovery Trail segment CA-4, which I mostly follows. From Auburn, the trail drops into the North Fork American River canyon and crosses the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge (“no hands bridge”) to the confluence of the Middle Fork and North Fork. From the confluence, the ADT gradually climbs out of the canyon, using various trails including part of the Foresthill Loop Trail. I deviated somewhat and used the highest trail in the OHV sacrifice area, which being closed to vehicles on Fridays, was actually a much better route. From Drivers Flat, the road descends to Ruck-a-Chucky campground on the Middle Fork. This is also where the Western States Trail rejoins, having diverged at the railroad bridge.

A very wide old road follows the river upstream past several rapids and then Ruck-a-Chucky Falls, a Class IV+ rapid. I assume this must have been a mining road of some sort, who else spends so much money for such a ridiculously wide road? Past there, where a road comes down from above at Ford Bar, the trail continues upstream, with a steep up and then down, and then more close to riverside hiking. About two miles past Ford Bar the trail becomes very little used. With both the trail ride and run cancelled for this year, I expect that low use will continue until next year, the blackberry bushes and grasses taking over. Eventually the trail starts the long climb out of the canyon towards Foresthill. I ran out of energy, and time, in the hot afternoon, and decided not to attempt the whole distance, so headed back down and camped near Ruck-a-Chucky.

Middle Fork American River, late afternoon reflection

Walking back out at Drivers Flat road, I decided to go to the north side of the ridge on the Foresthill Loop Trail. It was quite busy with mountain bikers and some hikers early on, but use faded away with the distance or the heat. I took a side trail which connects to the road down to Clementine Dam. The dam is interesting, the water sheds directly over the face of the dam, by design. Not sure I’ve seen one of those before. Along the road, and the trail which branches off of it and follows the North Fork to the confluence, there were an increasing number of people, in the hundreds, and when I reached the confluence, people in the thousands, all packed together on the edges of the rivers. Ack! I hadn’t intended to hike further, but the felt pressure of people not distancing and not wearing face masks pushed me onward toward Auburn. It was not until late in the day, coming up to Robie Point, that the crowds thinned out.

I camped a bit down into the SRA, under a madrone tree, watched the spectacular sunset, and had a night full of stars.

I think I’ve about reached the limit of these bike and hike trips. The further I have to bike to get close to the backcountry, the less is seems worthwhile to be in the backcountry. With traffic back to nearly normal in the outlying areas of Placer and El Dorado counties, it is not pleasant riding. And I can’t practically carry more than four days worth of food in my daypack (which I’m using instead of regular backpack because it is hard to ride with backpack), even with good weather not requiring any more than the basics. I so wish that transit and trains were available for non-essential travel so I could again get to deeper backcountry spots.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714467310986

Browns Ravine Trail 2020-05

This backpack trip I chose the south shore of Folsom Reservoir instead of the north, which had been my last three trips.

I rode my bike through Folsom to Browns Ravine marina area, which is also one of the trailheads for the Browns Ravine Trail (it starts further west, but I didn’t do that section). Friday was the first day the marina had been open, and there were literally thousands of people entering to boat and just get to the water. Apparently El Dorado County has not heard of coronavirus – I saw no one wearing a mask, either in the Folsom Lake SRA or in the commercial areas that the roads pass through on my way there. Folsom is a little more sensitive, but Sacramento much more so. In El Dorado County, everyone is back to their pre-pandemic normal of driving everywhere all the time, to get coffee, to the grocery store, to get coffee, to the gas station, to get coffee, to buy something, to get coffee, to meet friends, to get coffee, to get to a mountain bike riding area, to get coffee… You get the idea.

Anyway, out on the trail, there were relatively few people. A downside about hiking these trails in the SRA is that often they are close enough to either the reservoir with it’s loud speedboats, or to the roads with their racing crotch rocket motorcycles. But in a few places both are far enough away, and the peace of nature comes through. One of my favorite environments in California is oak woodland, and when I got to open hillsides dotted with oaks, I was happy, and felt it had been worth it to come through El Dorado County to get there.

spreading blue oak tree

I hiked all the Browns Ravine Trail to its end at the Old Salmon Falls staging area, 17.5 miles on the mileposts, continued on a unnamed connector trail to the Sweetwater Trail, and along it to the Salmon Falls takeout. They walked the short distance on Salmon Fall Road to the bridge and the Skunk Hollow takeout, where the South Fork American River Trail starts.

I walked the South Fork trail up through the Pine Hill Preserve, with its rare plants though most were not blooming right now, and into the oak woodlands that run along above the river canyon. I went as far at Satan’s Cesspool trail, down to the river for some time sitting beside the rapids and watching some rafters and kayakers go though, then returned to the trail and headed back. The South Fork Trail goes through to Highway 49 between Pilot Hill and Coloma, which I did not realize. Either it didn’t before, or I just had failed to notice. So that will be a future trip.

I camped on broad hillside near the ‘potable water’ along the Browns Ravine Trail. This water source is for some sort of development that either never happened, or is no longer there, but there is a drinking fountain and horse trough. It is far off the main route, and probably not worth it for the water, but the view from the hill is better than any other along the trail. I had camped here before, 2016, though I didn’t remember that until I got there.

As predicted, it started raining during the night. I had my tarp and was dry and comfortable, but it was still raining lightly in the morning so I headed out and got very wet because I did not have rain gear. This is the result of my backpacking with only my day pack. I have lightweight and compact gear, but there is just a limit to how much I can take, and though I knew there would be rain, I decided that dry at night was more important than dry in the daytime.

And picked up my bike I’d stashed in the long grass, and rode back through Folsom and back home. By the time I got home, the sky was mostly clear and it was quite a bit warmer, though it had been a warm storm as storms go.

Mules Ears (Wyethia)

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714370805517

and to Auburn

North Fork American River

This trip, May 2-4, I continued on up the Pioneer Express Trail to Auburn.

North Fork American River, morning, above the rapids

I rode by bike further, all the way to Granite Bay staging area (the staging areas are horse trailheads) and stashed it in the long grass. On the way, I stopped off in Folsom for the farmers market and mac & cheese from Samuel Horne’s, then ate at the staging area picnic table. The day was cool and cloudy, at least compared to recent days, so there were far fewer people out on the trail.

I was able to get all the way beyond the head of the reservoir, to the last rapids on the North Fork American River. The lake is coming up rapidly, which depresses me, but a little bit a living river, and everything seems OK again. I slept on the sand above the rapids (too loud below the rapids) and had a great night’s sleep.

Sunday, I hiked up the Pioneer Express Trail / ADT-CA-5 to Auburn staging area, but took several detours to explore other trails and routes. The day was clear and warmer, and there were a ton of people out walking; many, many families; and a fair number of mountain bikers. I returned by what seems to be the official Pioneer Express Trail, which heads west along near but not on the Shirland Canal. This is not the same route that I’d taken previous years for the ADT-CA-5 segment, so I’m not sure if it has changed, or I was off-route, or the routes are simply different. There are variations between the Western States/Pioneer Express Trail, and the American Discover Trail, and maybe this is one of them. Anyway, the trail maintains elevation quite a ways, and then drops precipitously down the Cardiac Hill Trail nearly to the river. This trail does not even come close to National Recreation Trail standards, and it is disappointing the California State Parks would make this the route when other options are available. I’m not sure they get the whole concept of National Recreation Trail.

Returning to the river, I spent the afternoon exploring upstream, following the route of the North Fork Ditch. Most of the ditch is gone, washed away in repeated floods, but there are remnants here and there (see photos). The going along the river is not easy, as it seems like the bedrock as all contrary to the route, but it is doable. I went up for a ways above Knickerbocker Canyon, which comes in from the south. I could see upriver that it is possible to continue at least to the Auburn dam site, so I’ll do that in the future. Knickerbocker has several waterfalls in it, and you can see the lowest from the river level.

I then walked back along the Pioneer Express Trail towards Granite Bay, and camped in a little grove of blue oak on what would be a little island at high water. Though the moon was just past full, the sky was finally clear (first time in my three recent backpack trips) so I did get a good view of stars towards morning. Once I left the Oregon bar area, which was chock full of people, I saw almost no one except a group of horse riders, pretty much of control thundering up the trail, and then back down later in the day. I’ve never seen such a group of inexperienced and unskilled riders going so fast on the trail. Scary! I’ll note that almost all of the riders I see out there on the trail and respectful and skilled, so this was a surprise.

Pioneer Express trail and lupine
Pioneer Express Trail and lupine

Monday morning I walked some of the North Fork Ditch that is only exposed when the reservoir is low. It is kind of a toss up between the ditch trail, which winds in and out but is nearly level, and the constructed trail which is much shorter but climbs and descends and climbs and descends… Back at Granite Bay staging for lunch, and then the pedal on home to Sacramento.

I had been thinking that this might be my last trip along this route, having finally gotten to Auburn, but I so much enjoyed the living river above the reservoir, that I’m probably heading back on my four day weekend over Memorial Day, and going further upriver to the confluence at least.

Searching for information about the North Fork Ditch on the Internet, I came across Kevin Knauss’ blog. Though his outdoor posts are mixed in with his insurance business posts, you can zero in on the hiking and historical posts by pulling down the ‘Kevin’ menu and selected the subtopics. He is, so far as I’ve found, the best source of information about the Folsom reservoir area.

Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157714239730863