Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mount Diablo Base to Summit

I was looking for a long, strenuous hike to do on this last weekend that Tristyn and I were alone.

I certainly found it!
Doing a lot of hiking in the East Bay and the Santa Cruz mountains means Mount Diablo is, of course, a temptingly prominent feature on the horizon. After an (embarrassing) car trip (!) to the top with Allison last year and a short hike around the peak, it was always in the back of my mind as a potential destination.

But - there is surprisingly little information online about long hikes there. Alice Hikes had the best write up I could find, and I followed a somewhat similar route, so thanks to her for the inspiration!

Getting to the trail head takes longer than you would expect when coming from the Bay Area. You need to loop all the way up and around Walnut Creek into Clayton. Just outside of the downtown is Mitchel Canyon Road, which leads directly to the trail head.

Diablo in the distance
Parking is $6.00 and is self registration. I didn't have change for a $20, though the volunteer at the trail head did. Thanks! The trip back to the gate to deposit the registration fee added some distance that I would pay for dearly later. The small interpretive center at the trail head is worth a look too, and I would highly recommend picking up a one page overview that is similar to my route: It has elevation information, a nice map and other details.

Trail head interpretive center
My intended route was:

  • Mitchel Canyon Fire Road - 4 Miles
  • Deer Flat Road - 2 miles
  • Juniper Trail - 1 mile
  • Summit
  • Ice Cream
  • North Peak Trail - 1 mile
  • Bald Ridge Trail - 2 miles
  • Eagle Peak Trail - 2 miles
  • Mitchel Rock Trail - 2 miles
  • Coulter Pine Trail - 1 mile

For an approximate 13.5 mile hike. I ended up taking a slightly different route; read on for why.

Mitchel Canyon is a Fire Road, which if you are familiar with Easy Bay hiking, means dry, dusty, and steep inclines. While the inclines here aren't as bad as Henry Coe State Park (is anything?), they are tough. They are even tougher with a 50 pound backpack holding your 3 year old son in the 90 degree sun.
Tristyn in his ideal shaded carrier
You can see a large quarry to your right (west) as you follow the trail. It's a useful reference point when you get to the peak.

The fire road has a very gradual incline for the first mile, following a (for this time of the year) dry creek named, surprisingly, Mitchel Creek. Its a nice start to an otherwise demanding hike. There is some shade from pines, though be cautious of their cones. Imagine a hiking injury - not from rattler, heat or exhaustion, but taking a 5 pound pine cone to the head.

After a mile you start to gain elevation, and it quickly becomes steep. Eagle Peak is visible to your left (East), and you wind through a series of switchbacks. The trail is partially exposed, but does have some shade which helps. After the first set of switchbacks, we stopped for a break on a nice log.

Not to far ahead we passed Meridian Ridge Road on our left (East). It cuts across should you want to only do Eagle Peak and not the Diablo summit. I was already feeling tired at this point after just 3 miles and about 1000 feet elevation (which is nothing given the hikes Tristyn and I go on) - I seriously considered taking this trail and foregoing the Peak.

But we didn't.

Just past Meridian Ridge trail are a group of picnic tables, and a spring with a warning that the water is not drinkable. We had some blue Gatorade, water and snacks.

The trail loops back turning into Deer Flat Rd, through more switchbacks. As you rise, you can start to see Walnut Creek, Clayton and the rest of the towns to the north.

Eagle Peak on the right
Deer Flat Road is exposed with little shade. It was getting very hot - more so than I expected - meaning I was really struggling here. The views to the south are very nice though and kept us motivated.

Deer flat road ends rather abruptly at Juniper Campground. They have restrooms and water fountains. We refilled our bottles and took another break. I picked up the Juniper Trail about 200 feet east of the restrooms.  Its easy to miss - look for it behind the public picnic area.

Juniper trail is the final, but still difficult, push up to the peak. It's about a mile long and winds through underbrush, though the peak is visible periodically which helps. There are some minor places to scramble up rocks. You can see burned trees from the forest fire from a few years ago.

The downside to this trail is that it follows the summit road, so you have the constant drone of vehicles. For the last 1/4 mile we just took the road. Several cyclists passed us, then for the last steep incline they walked their bikes and we passed them. We traded taking pictures of each other at the summit sign.

The peak is congested with cars and has a small gift shop. They sell drinks and ice cream, which is reasonably priced given the remoteness. Water is $1.00, Gatorade is $3.00 as is ice cream. Knowing we had a long, hot trip ahead of us we spent $15.00 on drinks and ice cream. It was worth every penny, even if the tourists looked at us like we were crazy :)

The views from the top are, of course, amazing.

Looking East
Looking North - The Quarry in the distance is near the trail head.
We made it!

To get to the North Peak Trail, head back down the summit road. The first trail on your left is the Summit Loop. You do not want this. Several 100 feet further is another trail - the Devils Pulpit/North Peak Trail. It winds around the east side of the mountain. It is exposed and quite hot in the afternoon sun. There are some nice stops though with rock out-croppings offering amazing views. I was too tired to stop.

There was some unexpected elevation gain on this trails as well. Not a lot, but after 10+ miles anything is a lot. Eventually the trail hits Prospectors Gap Road. Veer left (North West) and then take a quick left onto Bald Ridge Trail. 

Bald Ridge Trail is anything but Bald (to begin with). It winds for 2 miles through dense shrubs. Tristyn was asleep in his carrier, though I was still constantly worried about him getting branches in the face. The single track trail is precarious. Loose gravel and steep slopes made for some dangerous steps. I could only imagine a misstep with 50 pound child carrier. :(

Eventually Bald Ridge Trail lived up to its name though. It opens up to a short climb up the, aptly named, Bald Ridge at 2600 feet. It was completely exposed to the sun, and that mid day sun put the temperature in the 90's. I've done some long (15+ miles from Big Basin to the Pacific) and steep (Mission Peak every weekend) hikes with Tristyn, and while I was usually tired, I was never worried. 

On Bald Ridge I was worried. 

I pushed myself a little too hard - I had to stop at one point on the trail with no shade since I was feeling dizzy and overheating. A 10 minute rest and some cold Gatorade helped a lot, but it made me realize, and appreciate, how careful you need to be. Without the weight of the child carrier this hike would be been (relatively) simple, but the added weight made it quite tough. It was at this point I knew that taking the Eagle Peak route was too risky. It was "only" a few hundred feet in elevation gain, but I couldn't risk it.

That said, there was cell phone coverage for pretty much the entire hike - which did add some confidence.

Looking back to the Peak (center) from Bald Ridge.
Hard to tell form the picture, but I was done for here. 
Bald Ridge Trail meets up with the Eagle Peak Trail to the left (North West) and the Black Creek Trail (straight ahead/North). We took the Black Creek trail since it was shaded, although it was very steep. You'll pass the Meridian Point Trail then the Tick Woods Trail (not a pleasantly named trail), and finally meet up with the Bruce Lee Trail (a much more pleasantly named trail). Veer left and follow Coulter Pine trail - a nice trip across grasslands and oaks that ends at Mitchel Canyon Road. 

Coulter Pine Trail with the Quarry in the distance.
We arrived back, hot sweaty and tired, at the trail head at 4:30 PM. 

32 C = 90 F = Hot!
Our stats for the day ended up being.

Backpack Weight
Base Pack: 9 Pounds
Tristyn: 36 pounds
Drinks, Snacks, Lunch, Diapers and Misc Supplies: 6 pounds
Total Backpack Weight: 51 Pounds 

Fluids Consumed:
2 Liters Coconut Water
2 Liters Water
1 Liter Gatorade

Start: 9:58 AM
Finish: 4:31 PM
Total Time: 6 Hours 33 Minutes
Total Distance: 15.1 Miles (We had to make trips back to the gate and wandered at the peak, but I feel the total distance wasn't this high, more likely in the 14 mile range)
Pace: 25:55 min / mile
Calories Burned: 6000 (!)
Elevation Gain: +/-3345 feet

Route and elevation

Additional Misc Pictures

Post Hike Snacks - well deserved calories
Ouch! I never get blisters, but did today!

The End!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for your post. My friends and I will do this on the weekend and are anxious and excited. Glad you and your son had a great time! Great pics!