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.
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.
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.
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.
This week, which is spring break from schools, I went on a four day backpack up the American River, walking from home since backpacking is not an essential activity, at least not in the view of the health department.
I walked through town on Capitol Ave and M St, through the Hornet tunnel and over the bridge at Sac State, and onto the parkway trail. This paved trail is called Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, officially, but predating the paved trail and still present in the many places, is the Pioneer Express Trail, which goes from Auburn to Sacramento. The mileage is measured from the same point, Discovery Park, but goes beyond the paved trail end at Beals Point on the shore of Folsom Reservoir, along the north shore of the reservoir, which is the North Fork of the American River, to the head of the reservoir and then climbs up to the Auburn staging area on the southwest side of Auburn, where the Western States Trail ends. Actually, the Western States Trail goes from Virginia City in Nevada to Sacramento, one of the original cross-Sierra mining and supply trails, but it is not called that the entire distance any more. This is also the American Discovery Trail (ADT) segment 5 in California, which goes from Delaware to Point Reyes.
On the dirt trail part, it was uncrowded, but on the paved ‘bike trail’ part, necessary where the dirt trail disappears or I missed the not always well signed parts, it was crowded. Tuesday, the first sunny warm day after several days of rain, and everyone was out on the parkway. I don’t know how I had convinced myself that I would not see many people, and it would be easy to maintain physical distancing, but apparently everyone else had the same idea. The trail is often closer to the river than the paved trail, but other times further away. Flowers are out to some degree, but not abundant. I think the grasses may have such a head start that flowers just won’t be abundant this year.
The first part of the trail is within the American River Parkway Regional Park, and then from Hazel Ave upriver is within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, including Natoma Reservoir. From the truss bridge over the river at Folsom, the trail climbs steeply past Folsom Prison to the dam, and then to Beals Point picnic and camping area, which of course is closed. I noticed particularly in the Folsom area, but other locations where the trail crosses under major roads, that the suburbs are not like downtown/midtown, where there is little traffic and things are very quiet. In the suburbs, life goes on as before, everyone driving everywhere all the time. But finally the trail pulls away from Auburn-Folsom Road and there is some peace and quiet.
The Granite Bay area was packed with mountain bikers, many of them on the Pioneer Express trail, almost all of which is closed to bikes. Two things are apparent: 1) the regulations don’t apply to mountain bikers, and 2) mountain bikers are immune to the virus and can ride in groups. /s (that is the Twitter mark for snark).
Finally, late in the day, I got past the mountain bikers and selected a campsite on a granite outcrop with a great view south over the reservoir, and watched the end of the day. It rained lightly during the night, and I got a little wet, but the next day dawned dark and cloudy, which is perfect weather for keeping mountain bikers at home, so I had the trail upriver to myself except for a few hikers. I shared the trail with one coyote, but otherwise did not see much wildlife in this section (though I did see a lot of deer and turkeys in the lower section).
The snowdrop bush was in flower, which is great because it is a favorite of mine, and also because it gradually replaces much of the poison oak, with increasing altitude (yes, I’m very allergic to poison oak, and have some spots of it on my legs). I walked as far as milepost 42 (from Discovery Park), which is short of the head of the reservoir and the steep climb to Auburn. My feet were worn out, and going further would not have been wise. My muscles are in decent shape from my daily walks, but feet not yet ready for backpacking.
I headed back towards home, camping once along the way. The fourth day I overdid it, walking 48 km, which is the longest walk with backpack on that I’ve done in about 30 years. Today, two days after the trip, which is when muscle soreness really shows up, I’m feeling it! But I’ll heal and be ready to go out again.
Though I enjoyed the long walk, my next trip will involve bicycling to Folsom, putting my bike into the BikeLink lockers there, and walking from that point. I don’t need to do the long walk again this season. And then, maybe, bicycling to Beals Point or Granite Bay (on trails that are open to bicycles), stashing my bike, and hiking.
On the less interesting parts of this walk I was listening to a novel Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, which is an apocalyptic novel set in the Bay Area, written in 1949, and amazingly prescient.
Up the American River is about the only practical direction I can go from home without driving, which I don’t do, or using transit, which I won’t do. I could go west towards the coast ranges or southwest towards the bay area, but both of those directions involve a long way before getting to where I want to be. So the American River, for now!
This week I backpacked/hiked several section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail between Martinez and Richmond, south of the Carquinez Strait. This is part of a long-term project to walk as much of the Ridge Trail as possible with access from transit, with occasional long walks or hitchhiking. I had done the easily transit accessible sections over the last two years, and now it is getting increasingly challenging, but I’m also re-energized for getting as much of it as I can. As of this trip, I’ve done 226 miles, though that can’t be compared directly to the 375 miles which is complete because it includes several gaps I’ve walked, along roads and fire trails that are not officially part of the Ridge Trail but provide connections.
I took the train into Martinez, walked to El Cielo Brewery for a beer (beer is usually a trip-completion item, but I knew I was probably not going to be near a brewery at the end), then out of town to the Nejedly Staging Area and up onto the ridge via the Hult Hornbeck trail. I slept up top, slightly sheltered from the strong wind by a sitting bench while cows milled about all night. Morning, I walked down to the John Muir National Historic Site, which surprisingly I’d never been to before. After waiting for it to open, I toured the house and property. Then out the back gate, though the tunnel, and up onto Mt Wanda. The Ridge Trail ends here at private property, the Almond Ranch, which the John Muir Land Trust is making an effort to purchase and close a gap in the trail. I ran into staff/volunteers from the JMLT and talked to them a while about the challenge and hiking. I returned to the bottom and walked along Franklin Canyon Rd to…
Feeder Trail #1, which climbs up a fire road to the grassy highlands. This won’t be the trail when the gap is closed, but it is for now. The trail goes through two other JMLT purchases and onto what I’m guessing is an easement through another private ranch, down to Ferndale Rd. This section of trail beyond the top is almost unused. No footprints, no bending of the grass. From Ferndale Rd to Pereira Rd, I think there once was but no longer is an easement. I wiggled through on an adjacent ranch and the owner was nice enough to let me pass. He grumbled about EBRPD (East Bay Regional Park District) which he thought was responsible for the trail route and the lack of access.
From the bottom of Pereira Rd, the East Pinole Watershed Trail climbs back up the the ridgeline through heavily grazed lands belonging to EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Utilities District) which supplies most of the water to east bay cities. A permit is required, though again the trail is practically unused and I’d not expect to see anyone there.
The Pinole Watershed trail leads from the junction of the Fernandez Ranch trail coming up from the north westward to the edge of the watershed and into Sobrante Ridge Preserve. Again, very little use, the trail was hard to follow especially in wet areas, and signing is sparse. The entire part of the Pinole Watershed is hard walking, at least at this time of year, and the heavy cattle grazing makes a mine-field of the trail, with deep cow hoof prints interspersed with ridges of dried mud pushed up out of the prints. My ankles were very sore after this section. In Sobrante Ridge, the cows were gone and the walking easier. The bottom section of the trail down to Conestoga Dr is ‘closed’ due to a slip-out at a creek crossing. The closure was probably appropriate, but it is very irritating that EBRPD places the closed sign at the beginning of the last section. There is no indication of the closure ahead at the earlier point where I could have exited down to Coach Dr. This is at least the fifth time I’ve run into this unprofessional too-late signing on EBRPD lands. I guess it must be their standard practice.
From the end of the trail, I walked along Castro Ranch Rd to Hillside Dr, another gap in the Ridge Trail, and into Kennedy Grove recreation area, the end of my hike. Two years ago, I’d walked from Kennedy Grove south to Castro Valley. After lunch, I walked back to the bus stop and waited for well over an hour for a 30-minute frequency bus, as apparently AC Transit saw fit to not run two buses in a row. To Richmond station, and then home on the Capitol Corridor.
The pieces of trail in this area that I did not do are the ones in Crockett Hills park and the Fernandez Ranch trail on JMLT, so I’ll go back to pick those up on another trip. Last year I rode the road and trail between Crockett and Martinez, but it was mostly dark and so I didn’t really see what it looked like. Not part of the ridge trail, but worth doing again, in daylight. When the gaps are filled, there will be a Ridge Trail loop using the two bridges (Martinez-Benecia, and Carquinez) and trails north and south of the strait.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, often just called the Ridge Trail, is planned and promoted by the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council (https://ridgetrail.org). The trails, however, are administered by the land agencies over which they pass. Some do a good job, others not so much.
Two previous posts on the Bay Area Ridge Trail: Bay Ridge Trail: White Hill to Pantoll and Bay Area Ridge trail sections. Of course what really introduced me to the Bay Area Ridge Trail is hiking the American Discovery Trail section CA-09, San Francisco to Point Reyes, for which there are two posts: Point Reyes to SF backpack 2016-05, and ADT: San Francisco to Point Reyes 2013-11. When labeling and uploading the photos from this trip, I realized I’d not labeled or uploaded anything from my 2018 trips, and that I had not blogged about them either. Ah well, water under the bridge, so to speak. I probably have sufficient information in my journal (I carry a small Moleskine on my backpack trips) to post, but I probably do not have sufficient time.
This April I went into Grand Gulch for the first time, many years after hearing it was a place I had to visit. I’ve day hiked in the edges, and spent a fair amount of time on Cedar Mesa, especially Natural Bridges, but never backpacked there. Of course I have to wonder why I waited so long, it was great.
Since I’ve been car-free, I’ve spent much less time in southern Utah, but still managed to get there some years on spring break trips with Joe and Jeff. So this trip was also an experiment with public transportation that worked well. I took the Amtrak California Zephyr from Sacramento to Green River, then caught the Elevated Transit bus to Blanding, the hitchhiked to Kane Gulch. I was concerned about the hitching, and in fact all the cars in the afternoon were headed into Blanding and not out towards Kane Gulch. It took a while, though in vehicles passing before people gave me rides, it was only a few, and both were good rides.
I picked up my permit at Kane Gulch Ranger Station, and headed down Kane Gulch, the most used entrance to the canyon system. I explored Junction Ruin, and up Grand Gulch and up Todie Canyon a short ways, and camped in an alcove at a ruin I called pack rat because of the huge pack rat middens filling two caves. Though I’d brought the Trails Illustrated map, I trimmed it down to just the canyon, without noticing I’d trimmed off the key to the numbered pins on the map, which give the names of ruins and other points of interest. Some of the larger ruins have registers with the name of the ruin and background information, but many do not. This ruin is actually named Badger, for unknown reasons. An archeological stabilization crew was working in the ruin, stabilizing walls that were starting to fail and replacing some mortar fixes from the 1970s that hadn’t worked well. After a night of scattered rain, I headed down canyon.
Grand Gulch, at this time of year and this year, has intermitant water, areas flowing, areas of stagnant pools, and long stretches of dry wash. I didn’t realize it would be necessary to plan campsites and water pickups around availability, but it is. I explored Coyote Canyon, which has a use trail for a short ways. I camped early where two amphitheaters are opposite each other, marked by a beehive shaped rock formation (Utah, after all). The amphitheater on the west side looked like a cut-off meander, with a slot Canyon up against the towering wall. But it ends in a slickrock chute well above the canyon level and I’m at a loss to explain it. The bench in the middle of the amphitheater has some of the best developed cryptobiotic crust I’ve ever seen, and it was hard to traverse using little sandy rivulets and patches of bare rock. The night was very cold and bright with the moon, leaving my water bottles almost completely frozen.
As I headed down canyon, box elders were leafed out, and eventually the cottonwoods as well, but in many ways the trees and flowers say it is early spring.
In the morning, walking a bit while finishing breakfast lentil soup, I walked up over a saddle and down Sheik’s Canyon. Not sure why this well worn use trail is there, if there were ruins I missed them. Almost every use trail in the canyons leads to a significant ruin. Places without ruins or only traces, no trails, no use. For me this is good, because I can make my own way to places that are beautiful but ruin-free. Of course there are not that many places without ruins. I walked down to Bullett Canyon, which has a well-worn trail probably the second most popular entry point, and a loop trip. Explored Green Spring Canyon below Bullett, as far down canyon as I went, only 18 of the 52 miles to the river. There is plenty of Grand Gulch yet to explore, and I’m happy with my slow progress, seeing a lot of details rather than covering distance and heading towards popular destinations.
I camped in Sheik’s Canyon, with a crowd of people, the first time I’d seen more than a few scattered people. The reason for the crowd is the Green Mask Panel, the most impressive pictograph panel I’ve ever seen. Ledges have fallen away, so the panel is far above the ruin and canyon bottom, preserved by inaccessibility. The green mask, though notable for the unusual green color, is not the most impressive part.
Heading back up canyon I explored some side canyons, and then the trail shown on the map in Todie Canyon. Though the trail is obvious at the bottom, it becomes obscure in willow thickets and across rock falls. Eventually it heads straight up the south wall of the canyon, well marked but nothing I’d call a trail. At the rim it heads east over the slickrock to an old road. This would not be a pleasant route with a backpack, though I guess makes an interesting day hike entry point, only two hours from road to bottom. There are some ruins in Todie so high up on the canyon walls that I wonder how useful they were, with no alluvial soil in the canyon and a long complicated climb up. In general, the ruins in Frand Gulch seem much less accessible than most places in southern Utah, perhaps more defensive, but these ruins are an outlier even from that. I wonder sometimes if during the ascendancy of Chaco Canyon, the population was subjugated for food and crafts rather than the beneficiaries or free trade.
After a five day backpack, my friend Joe met me at Kane Gulch station and we did two days of car camping and day hiking. First day was North Mule Canyon just north of Hwy 95. Though similar to and almost as easy as South Mule Canyon, it gets a fraction of the use. As does every canyon on Cedar Mesa, there were some interesting ruins and petroglyphs, but the main attraction is just the beauty of the canyon, the pools and slickrock, the flowers and trees, and the sky.
We camped out again, far up a road that faded out, cooking meals on Joe’s variety of little wood stoves, and telling stories far into the night. The second day we went to Natural Bridges National Monument, hiking the loop from Sipapu natural bridge to Kachina natural bridge and back across the mesa. Joe had not been here before and was amazed at how beautiful the canyons are, and though I’ve spent many days here, it is always good to see it with new eyes. We visited ruins in White Canyon that I had somehow missed seeing before.
After one last night out, with Bears Ears on the horizon and the sky full of stars, we drove back to Las Vegas so I could spend Easter Day with my family, and then back to Sacramento on Amtrak.
I am gradually digitizing my slides, and I just completed all my Escalante trips and uploaded to Flickr. Here they are, if you like old photos. The first two trips were taken with an Instamatic square frame camera, the next three with an Olympus OM-1, and then an Olympus Stylus. I’ve also included my three more recent trips, all digital. I took several trips during my no-photos time, as well, but of course have no record of those.
Continuing my repeat trips on the American Discovery Trail, this time I backpacked from Berkeley to Clayton, along American Discovery Trail segments 8 and 7. I skipped the walk from Jack London Square to Berkeley, as I knew my feet did not need all that walking on pavement. So I started from the Berkeley BART station, heading up Bancroft to the Jordan Fire Trail up through Strawberry Canyon on the UC Berkeley campus. I deviated from the route to follow what I’m calling Panoramic Ridge, along Panoramic Drive and then the ridge top trail, sometimes quite steep, up to Grizzly Peak Rd and over into Tilden Park near the steam train. I walked along Skyline Trail north to Inspiration Point and then down to cross San Pablo Creek and up to Briones Reservoir, to Bear Creek staging area for for a late lunch, and then up onto the ridge. All along the trail today there was coyote scat with plum pits in it. Plums are abundant this year, and there are quite a number of either historical or feral plums along the trail. I camped near Russell Peak, where there happens to be a flat spot to sleep and picnic table. There are no legal spots to camp along this route, so I just pick less obvious spots. The night was cold and windy.
The next day I went down along the ADT to Walnut Creek and stopped by a Starbucks to recharge my phone and iPod (which I’d left playing during the night and depleted) and have a cup of iced tea. Then along the canal, through Heather Glen Park, and up onto Shell Ridge which heads southeast into the foothills of Mt. Diablo. Though the grass is all dried and the flowers few, this is a still a beautiful ridge. I camped again at Wall Point, where I’d camped in January 2014. That being a warm winter and this being a stretch of cool weather during the summer, the temps and wind were about the same.
In the morning clouds were hanging about the top of Mt. Diablo. I thought the climb to the top would be hard, about 2300 feet from campsite to peak, but it turned out to be easy in the morning when I was fresh. It was too cold to hang around on the peak, but the views in nearly all directions are worth going on any day. Heading down the north side, I took the Bald Ridge trail instead of the road, avoiding the steep loose surface, though the trail itself was pretty steep and I had to dance around poison oak. Mt. Diablo is simply steep, and if there are non-steep trails there, I haven’t been on them yet. I walked down Mitchell Canyon, and into the town of Clayton. Took the bus to Concord BART, BART to Richmond, and the Amtrak Capitol Corridor home to Sacramento.
This is my third time on the ADT-CA-8 segment, and second on the ADT-CA-7 segment. I did not do the part from Clayton to Antioch, though it would have been a good day to do so with the much cooler temperatures on this very sunny route. I am making an effort to take my feet to the point where they are uncomfortable and sore, but not to the point of damage, and Clayton seemed like a good balance.
This trip is a strange mix of urban and wild lands. It is not just that it starts in Berkeley, crosses through Walnut Creek, and ends in Clayton, but that from any vantage point there are views to the suburbs and often even to San Francisco. But closer to hand, or to foot, the country can be quite wild, and seem like it is miles away from anything. At night, looking out, the lights of some city or another are very visible, but looking up, there are the stars and in this case the first quarter moon. This is also a trail with a number of entry and exit points, if desired, including Orinda, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Clayton. It could be done as day hikes as well, and in fact I will likely to back and explore some of the side trails that look interesting but are not the main route.
Last week I walked the American Discovery Trail from the Truckee River most of the way to Auburn, which is segments 2, 3, and part of 4 of the ADT.
My trip started in Reno where I picked up a new rain jacket from Patagonia, but did not find the lightweight hiking shirt I was hoping for, and then camped a ways up Hunter Creek, a nice walk from Patagonia. In the morning I went into Reno, ate breakfast, hung at the coffee shop, and enjoyed the river, then caught the Amtrak Zephyr to Truckee. The TART bus to Squaw Valley, and then on the trail.
Segment 1 of the ADT, which I’ve walked many times but not this trip, starts at the state line and follows the Tahoe Rim Trail down to Tahoe City and then north along the bike path. Segment 2 starts at the Hwy 89 bridge over the river just south of Squaw Valley. I’ve previously tried to find the ADT and Western States Trail (WS) through Squaw Valley, and been frustrated. I still am. The ADT waypoints follow an old pre-1999 route with confusing directions, and in fact partly follow something that I am sure has never been the WS. Since 1999, the WS now stays high on the south side of the valley. Passing Watson Monument, the route diverges from the current WS/Tevis Trail, heading south through Whiskey Creek Camp and then up over the saddle and into Picayune Valley. Picayune was the WS route some time in the past, but I have no idea how long it has been. Picayune is one of my favorite spots, and I’m always happy to hike here again. The route leaves the wilderness at Talbot Campground, followed by a boring walk along a gravel road to Lewis Campground at the head of French Meadows Reservoir, ending segment 2, 27 miles.
I repeated the American Discovery Trail section 8 from Walnut Creek to San Francisco, this time successfully creating a GPS track, though the track was just an excuse to get out on the trail again. I love this ADT section for its combination of fairly remote backcountry with an urban experience. This is my third time. After my first trip in January 2014, I re-walked it in March 2014 in an attempt to create a track, but messed it up. And forgot my journal, which is largely why I never did a post on that trip. But the photos are good!
I started after a Sunday evening circle dance in El Cerrito, then BART to Pleasant Hill, and then walked for about two hours to Lafayette Ridge, arriving about 2:00AM. I camped under a spreading oak, and sunrise came soon. Monday I continued the route through Briones Regional Park, the EBMUD Briones watershed, and Tilden Regional Park. It is hard to say whether this year is drier or wetter than last year. There are wet areas, mostly in the canyon bottoms, and a little furze of green growth coming up, but the hillsides are largely still brown and waiting for rain. Fall is well along, with some fall color still present and some leaves gone entirely. Since I was hiking on a weekday, I saw very few people on the trail, three before Tilden and only about 15 within Tilden, very much different from my prior weekend trips where I passed many people and Tilden was crowded with hikers.
I backpacked the American Discovery Trail segment from Auburn to Sacramento this week. This is my second time on this segment (ADT: Auburn to Sacramento 2012-05), and the reasons I went again were to see the American River North Fork while the draw-down of Folsom Reservoir exposed more of it, and to create a GPS track of the trip.
I took the Amtrak train to Auburn, then walked to the trailhead at Auburn Staging Area, and then down into the canyon to sleep. I took a few wrong turns in the dark, but quickly realized and corrected (and I have corrected the GPS track). Not far into the canyon, I noticed the sound of the river much stronger than I remembered it. The night was cloudy, then cleared to brilliant stars, and at dawn there was a light drizzle. I headed down the Cardiac Bypass Trail, which is better signed that it was two years ago. These signs are unusually clear for a state parks-managed area, so I presume they were designed, paid for and installed by a volunteer organization.
This weekend I completed the Antioch to Walnut Creek segment of the American Discovery Trail, up and over Mount Diablo. This is the last of the California segments for me, so I’ve now walked across California. Though the ADT materials and I use the word “trail,” much of this route is actually fire and farm roads. These are still pleasant to walk, and there are some stretches of real trail interspersed.
I started out in Antioch, getting there on Amtrak and BART and TriDelta bus. The official start of the segment is up in Contra Loma Regional Park, but I’d finished segment 6 in Antioch Community Park, closer to public transit, so that is where I started again. The trail soon enters Black Diamond Mines Regional Park (East Bay Regional Park District) and heads up into the dry brown hills and eventually to the old town of Somersville. Scattered oaks and cows mark the hills, but gradually thicken to oak woodlands and chaparral. Some buckeyes are leafing out, and there is a bit of green grass in a few wetter areas, but mostly it looks like the end of summer, no new growth of winter or spring.