Just about every Bay Area trail romper knows the name. But ask 'em where Mission Peak is located -- let alone if they've ever hiked her -- and wait for the blank stares. No matter that millions drive through its shadow every week, or that Mission Peak is the most protuberant natural landmark between San Leandro and San Jose. So allow me to make the introductions: Semi-Circlers, meet the butt-kicking, 2,000-vertical foot, 3-mile ascent to the summit of Fremont's Mission Peak.
About the Semi-Circle (Longer, Harder, Faster)
The Semi-Circle of Trust & Beer was formed in February 2013 in response to the elevated appetites of those Trustees who wanted their hikes longer, harder and faster than our regular Circle of Trust & Beer outings. Steeper inclines, lengthier trails and a less leisurely pace is what we're all about. Who wants to sweat?
... the Semi-Circle has but one prerequisite: No Rookies.
In other words, your first hike with our group can’t be a Semi-Circle hike -– you must have attended at least one of our regular Circle of Trust & Beer outings (even if you’ve conquered Mt. Everest). It’s only partially Darwinian –- while we want to be confident that we won’t be dragging any anchors, the Semi-Circle is really about furthering established bonds with fellow Trustees in a more intimate and challenging setting.
The Ohlone College Campus is located on Mission Blvd., just 2 miles east of the Mission Blvd. exit from I-680 and less than 3 miles east of the Mission Blvd./Warm Springs Rd. exit from I-880. Bring $2 for the parking machine (even on the weekend) and park in the lot above the baseball field. When exiting the lot, you'll see a kiosk marking the trailhead beneath a massive broadcast antennae (look for the horse pasture). That's where we'll meet.
Although Mission Peak flies under the radar among Bay Area hikers in general, it's hardly a secret to the locals. Fact is, hundreds of trekkers stream through the gate marking Mission Peak's main lower trailhead on Stanford Avenue every hour on the weekends.
But that's not where we'll be launching our assault. As you head east on Mission Blvd. from either freeway, wave at the line of cars turning onto Stanford Avenue, hoping against hope that they'll snag one of the dozen parking spots near the main entrance. Then just keep driving east on Mission, another 1.5 miles past Stanford Avenue -- and you'll see the electronic sign welcoming you to Ohlone College on the right side of the road. Pull on in, purchase your $2 parking permit ... no lack of parking here ... and let's get this party started.
From either trailhead, it's 3 miles and 2,000 vertical feet to the summit. But that's about all the two trails have in common. I hiked the Stanford Avenue trail for years before my curiosity got the best of me and I followed a group of hikers down the road less traveled and wound up at Ohlone. Never again have I hiked the main trail.
Here's why: From the Stanford Avenue, the entire trail, composed entirely of switchbacks, is exposed (to the sun and elements). Which means you can see the entire trail, from the entrance gate until the trail meets up with the Ohlone Trail below the summit surge, from everywhere else on the trail. That's not only boring, it undermines motivation, since every foot of the steep ascent is visible, turn-by-turn, as you glance uptrail.
Ah, but from our trailhead -- the route chosen by a mere 5% of Mission Peakers -- we'll experience the kind of diversified hike for which the Circle has come to be known.
From Ohlone College, we'll climb a dramatic diagonal slash of a trail etched into the rocky foothills that frame the campus, rising quickly above a swimming pool, baseball field and tennis courts. After hooking around to the backside of the mountain, we'll ascend through fields crowded with cows, pass a lake that vacillates between bone-dry and knee-deep, then slip into a wooded patch.
We'll emerge in a tilted meadow where I once encountered dozens of displaying peacocks --- oddly, I haven't spotted a single one in more than a dozen subsequent trips.
From there, we'll hit the fire road that corkscrews upward toward the top plain of the mountain, where hang gliders buzz around like bees. An hour into the hike, we'll get a glimpse of the peak-on-the-peak -- think of a muffin with a giant chocolate chip plopped on the top.
The grueling final ascent is one you won't soon forget. But it's as quick as it is (literally) breathtaking, and in no time, you'll be touching the iconic peephole pole that marks the apex of Mission Peak (pictured below ... I snapped this shot an hour before sunset at the summit in November).
The gnarly hike to the peak is what separates this hike from a Circle of Trust & Beer venture. At Semi-Circle Pace, we'll cover the gamut -- from parking lot to summit -- in 90 to 100 minutes. Then we'll enjoy the fruits our labor before a rapid 75-minute descent.
On our way down from the peak during a Semi-Circle scouting hike of 7 Trustees in late December, we were encountered with the freakiest wind I've ever experienced in the Bay Area. Although elevated winds are common near the top of Mission Peak (and lots of other summits), this Arctic blast dropped the temperature by 30 degrees in 5 minutes. Dozens of hikers poured off the summit at once, as if they had been turned upside down from a salt shaker. Below, Brian and Debbie lean into the gale-force winds.
In Decmeber, we had a nice enough time at Mission Pizza. But at this time of year, it would be sweet if anyone knows of a cool Fremont watering hole with an outdoor deck or patio, So, Trustees --- any help? Let's hear those suggestions!