WELCOME TO THE SEMI-CIRCLE!
A growing number of Trustees have suggested expanding the Circle of Trust & Beer to accommodate their elevated appetites: Higher. Harder. Faster. More.
And so it shall be: Welcome to the Semi-Circle of Trust and Beer, where loftier hills, steeper ascents or longer routes cater to the needs of those Trustees who like their hikes a bit ... sweatier. Semi-Circle hikes will be scheduled occasionally between our regular Circle of Trust & Beer hikes.
Prerequisite: No Rookies (including +1s). You have to attend at least one regular Circle of Trust & Beer hike to get through the velvet rope of the Semi-Circle.
-- From I-680 in Walnut Creek -- just north (toward Sacramento) of Highway 24 -- exit at Ygnacio Valley Road.
-- Drive 7.5 miles on Ygnacio Valley - through Walnut Creek and Concord, past the Cal State East Bay-Concord campus and into Clayton (DO NOT turn right at Oak Grove Rd. - those signs are for another entrance to Mt. Diablo)
-- Turn RIGHT on Clayton Road. Drive 1.0 (one) mile.
-- Turn RIGHT on Mitchell Canyon Road. Drive 1.5 miles into Mount Diabo State Park.
-- At the entrance gate, retrieve an envelope, write down your license plate, stuff $6 into the envelope and deposit it into the slot in the post. Make sure you tear off the top half and put it in your windshield on the driver's side -- it's your parking pass. Park anywhere in the upper or lower lots.
-- We'll meet in front of the double-wide trailer that serves as the Mitchell Canyon Ranger's Station.
-- Let's put a heavy emphasis on car-pooling to this hike!
As you'll see on the approach from Mitchell Canyon Road, the north side of Mount Diablo is awe-inspiring -- and intimidating. If you want to hike that aptly named Diablo from the bottom, Mitchell Canyon is the place to start. At 586 feet above sea level, our trailhead is 3,200 feet below Diablo's summit -- the most prominent (but not quite the highest) mountain top in the Bay Area.
But we're not going for the whole enchilada on this hike. In fact, Eagle Peak is 1,400 feet below the summit. But don't be fooled by the mere 1,800 feet of vertical between Mitchell Canyon and Eagle Peak -- it is some of the most grueling 1,800 feet in the Bay Area. I've hiked 3,000-foot hills that didn't sap as much energy. All told, we'll climb more than 2,000 feet (see below).
Rising dramatically from Mitchell Canyon, the trail to Eagle Peak will put us on Mitchell Rock -- 500 feet above the parking lot -- in just 20 minutes. From there, a dramatic series of switchbacks transports us across a ridge bridging a picturesque canyon, pushing relentlessly upward. The footing on this side of Diablo is often soft at this time of year; the deep imprints and backsliding adds to the illusion that you're climbing higher and traveling further than you are. All in all, this trail is a leg-torcher. It could be worse -- these trails are meticulous maintained by an army of hard-core volunteers.
An hour into the hike, the summit ascent comes into view -- a spiny, diagonal, wind-whipped ridge supporting a trail that slides in and out of foliage cover, facilitating false hope, turn after turn, that the peak is at hand.
But it's a beautiful ascent with stunning views -- Mount Diablo claims to have one of the planet's longest sight lines. Those are the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the far background in the picture of me above.
When the sign post for Eagle Peak is finally in sight -- just 90 minutes into the hike -- another challenge lies ahead: Scaling down a bony ridge and then (cruelly) re-climbing a mirror image of Eagle Peak's summit to reach Murchurio Gap, where Diablo's high trails intersect like a freeway maze. The pic directly above, taken in December, shows Trustee Paul Schutzman negotiating the trail between the two peaks.
Murchurio Gap is a great place to regroup and transfer the nutrients from your backpack into your mouth. It's also a great place to try to converse with other hikers from around the planet -- many of them hopelessly lost and pleading for directions in languages you can't hope to decipher. We call those hikers "screwed."
From there, we pick up the Mitchell Canyon fire road (a godsend to your legs after the single-track abuse). Mitchell Canyon is a cork-screwed, 4.75-mile descent in the looming shadow of the cave-pocked wall that supports Eagle Peak. With each twist downward, Eagle Peak's heights appear more foreboding, so you'll be increasingly impressed with the hill that you just conquered.
The final 2 miles of our 9-mile trek are a flat stroll along a canopied creek. Dig this: I've seen more coyotes in the final mile of this hike than on all the California trails I've trekked -- combined.
The sweet brutality of the whole thing will be over in less than 5 hours, leaving us some daylight to find ...
When driving through Clayton, I'm always struck by this weird synergy of hippies in cool houses, strip-mining tycoons in conformist subdivisions and rednecks trickling in from nearby Concord, Antioch and points north on Route 4.
Those divergent groups seems to coalesce peacefully in downtown Clayton, which always seems to be lit for a holiday. And while I'm usually too trail-wasted to find local beer comfort after hiking Mount Diablo, my research indicates that Ed's Mudville Grill has a lot of the things the Trustees seek in a post-hike elbow-bending: A decent array of beers, a few sports screens and a vast menu of affordable food.
But we've also hit gold by allowing local Trustees to suggest unique watering holes. So, by all means, suggest away!
Who's in the Semi-Circle?