In the Circle of Trust & Beer, we've been accused of being a lot of things. A cult of personality. Elitists. Exclusionists. Rock (and dirt) stars.
To that list we now proudly add: Pagans.
On a weekend in which a significant portion of the population settles in to celebrate a tale about another dude who was good with rocks -- specifically, removing a big one from his grave and then soaring into the heavens -- we'll be doing the devil's work: Climbing Mount Diablo. All of it.
Happy Easter from the dark side!
This hike is primarily geared as a training excursion for those attending our Hike of the Year in South Tahoe next month. But they've already been notified and signed up. So the remaining spots are for the fleet of fingers. But before you hit that RSVP button, be sure that this is your cup of tea: this is not only a Semi-Circle hike -- you know, for those who like it higher, harder and faster -- but the most aggressive one we've ever tackled in the Bay Area.
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ROOKIES are never eligible for Semi-Circle hikes. Here's why.
On the Wait List? Check out our Waiting Room literature!
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LENGTH: 12.8 miles (round trip)
VERTICAL GAIN: 3,263 feet (from 586 feet above sea level to 3,849 feet above sea level).
TYPE OF HIKE: Loop.
PLANNED STOPS: 10 minutes at Prospector's Gap; 15 minutes at the tourist-infested summit; then 30 minutes at Juniper Campground, 1.25 miles below the summit.
TIME ESTIMATE (WITH STOPS): 6.75 hours.
RESTROOMS: At start and end of hike (Mitchell Canyon); at summit (about 3:15 hours into hike); and at Juniper Campground (about 4 hours into hike).
* 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. The standard $10 state park fee applies.
In Mid-May in Tahoe, we'll be ascending 3,250 feet in five miles, topping off at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.
We can't replicate the altitude in the Bay Area, but we can replicate the attitude. With a virtually identical elevation gain over a few more miles of trail than Mount Tallac, Diablo will serve as the acid test that separates the Tahoe-ready from the pretenders.
After a mile of coasting, we'll switch to leg-burning mode with a steady climb through a narrow, rocky, V-shaped via Back Creek Trail. We'll emerge at Murchio Gap, the super-intersection halfway up the face of Diablo where we started our downhill trek at last month's Eagle Peak trek. But we're not going down this time.
From here, we hit Prospector's Gap Road, which starts as a deceptively easy stroll and contorts itself into the single nastiest fire road in the Bay Area. I've hiked Prospectors Gap with dozens of people over the years, and their comments have been remarkably consistent, with some variation of "Fuck you, Brian!"
When we reach Prospector's Gap itself, you'll be standing in one of the most prominent landmarks in the Bay Area -- the V-shaped saddle between Diablo's North Peak and its summit. For months, you'll see Diablo everywhere you go, point to the passage between the peaks and say, "I was right there!"
A very short but cruel (especially after conquering The Gap) begins the circuitous, side-hill kick to the summit; as the trail nears Devil's Elbow, we'll emerge on the windward side of the mountain -- on most days, it's a dramatic shift of meteorology.
From Devil's Elbow, it's a quarter-mile rise to the summit through a juniper-lined passage (Confession: the smell of juniper makes me wee bit nauseous. Weird, huh?)
The mythology of two Native American tribes, the Miwoks and Ohlones, honored Diablo as the point of creation. So sacred was her peak that tribesman, serving as guides to Spanish explorers when they weren’t fighting them, refused to accompany white men to Diablo’s upper reaches.
They would be disheartened to learn that the peak is now a parking lot, accessible – in much the same manner as Yosemite’s breathlessly beautiful Glacier Point – by combustible engine. Transforming sacred places into tourist destinations isn’t strictly an American venture, of course; ask anyone who has hiked to Machu Picchu and then had to Photoshop their pictures to mask the garbage deposited by those who took the train.
The highest point on Diablo’s summit is a beacon tower built by Standard Oil at the outset of World War II for the purposes of aerial navigation. Its piercing light once was visible across thousands of square miles. Today, it is illuminated but once a year, on December 7, to mark each anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
But you'll be beaming when you reach the top on April 19.
With a summit that rises 3,849 feet above sea level, Mount Diablo isn’t even the highest peak in the Bay Area. That honor goes to Mount Hamilton, which reaches 4,367 feet and lays claim to the first permanent mountainside observatory in the nation, Lick Observatory.
In fact, there are hundreds of mountains in California which peak at higher altitudes than Mount Diablo. But none offer more expansive views. From the top of Diablo, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, you can see more of the Earth’s surface than from all but one other location on the planet: the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, which rises 19,341 feet above the flat Serengeti.
There is some debate about the validity of Diablo’s claim on such remarkable sight-lines. But the mountain unquestionably occupies a unique niche, geologically and geographically.
While the Bay Area is a superhighway of modern and ancient earthquake fault lines, they are generally of the strike-slip variety, in which adjacent plates give in to pressure and one slides upward along the other.
Diablo, however, appears to have been formed by a much more violent tectonic episode; her southwestern face is scarred by a thrust fault that essentially flipped the fossilized sediments from several geological eras; while logic dictates that geologic rock should be stacked with the newer atop the older, the peak of Mount Diablo consists of ancient oceanic rocks from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, eras that covered the arc of dinosaur life on this planet.
Geographically, Mount Diablo is unquestionably the Bay Area’s most iconic promontory, recognizable for up to hundreds of miles away for its double-pyramid peak (whereas the higher Mount Hamilton blends into the Santa Cruz range).
Mount Diablo was perhaps the single most important focal point for surveyors during the mapping of California. Diablo is certainly positioned for distant gazing: to the west the land slopes downward toward the San Francisco Bay; to the east lies the flat farmland of the Central San Joaquin Valley, all the way to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range.
If downtown Walnut Creek is the vapid prom queen with a boob job, downtown Clayton is the pretty -- but vapid -- country girl (with the boob job). It is what is along the 24/680 corridor.
But Ed's Mudville Grill (above) has always treated The CIrcle like one its own ... at least one its own retarded step-children. Which is good enough for me!