The inland East Bay Area in June? Are you cra-cra, Brian? Well, that goes without saying.
Although I try to spread CIrcle of Trust & Beer hikes around the Bay Area counties as we cycle through the year, I'm guilty of avoiding Alameda and Conta Costa counties in the late-spring, summer and early fall. Who wants to hike in hell-ish temperatures?
But there's a Catch-22 to avoiding the heat -- scheduling coastal trails during the summer-ish period often mean traipsing through the most intense fog banks of the year. Which I dig. But some don't.
So the trick, when scheduling East Bay hikes during this wilting window, is to identify a day when the forecast is for clouds to roll in and dominate the day. And the only way to do it, with any degree of accuracy, is to schedule the hike within a week of when it goes down.
So here we are. Our rule is to hit no hike more than twice a year. Our last foray through Sunol was 7 months ago, in November.
As I post this hike on Sunday, May 8, the current temperature in Sunol is 106 degrees. But a cooling front invades tomorrow, and by Saturday, May 14 -- our hike -- the high is forecast as a mere 73 degrees under cloudy skies. How cool (literally!) is that?
If you find yourself on our Waiting List, read this to pass the time (http://www.meetup.com/BeerHike/messages/boards/thread/37110312).
LENGTH: 8.4 miles (round trip)
VERTICAL GAIN: 1,845 feet -- but only 1,200 to the peak (if you could call it that -- Sunol is all round hills). This is a rolling hike -- the rapidly compiling feet on the altimeter definitely sneak up on you. But it's a solid workout: hikes with 1,800+ feet of vertical are normally classified as Semi-Circle hikes.
TYPE OF HIKE: Loop, entirely exposed and predominately on fire roads until the final 1.5 miles, when we descend into woods on a single-track trail. Sunol is a grassland hike, but with rock features uncommon in Bay Area grasslands. Be prepared for lots of wind in the upper reaches of the park.
PLANNED STOPS: The summit is too windy for prolonged exposure, so we'll break just 10 minutes there for a snack, about 90 minutes into the hike; and stop for a 20-minute lunch, backpack-style, at the barn in the valley, 3 hours into the hike.
TIME ESTIMATE (WITH STOPS): 4.25 hours.
-- From I-680 south of Pleasanton, exit Highway 84/Calaveras Road and head south on Calaveras Road for 4.3 miles
-- Turn LEFT at Geary Road. Follow Geary for 1.9 miles into Sunol Regional Wilderness.
-- There's a $5 fee at park entrance. Drive another 0.25 miles to the visitor's center, and then an additional 100 yards to the parking lot across from the horse rental area.
-- We'll meet up by the bathrooms near the footbridge.
From Mission Peak (one of the Semi-Circle's favorite hikes), Sunol appears as the vast, rolling grassland extending into the distance to the east.
Getting up close and personal doesn't change the perspective, in one sense -- Sunol is indeed vast and rolling. Like many grassland hikes, the wind can howl. And, like many grassland hikes, the wildlife is hiding in plain sight.
Elk. Deer. Wild turkeys. Hawks galore. And the park's most famed winged resident, the yellow-billed magpie. And so many cows.
But Sunol is also studded with unusual rock formations. Scarcely a mile into a hike, Little Yosemite pulls just about every hiker off the main trail for a glimpse into a valley that has no earthly business on verdant ranch land.
This hike is book-ended by the strange. Just over a mile from the finish line -- after the trail plunges into the Valley of the Barn and then instantly changes complexion by slipping into riparian woodland -- a wholly misplaced volcanic formation arises from the stream. If you've ever seen the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," you might feel a chill run up your spine. But you're not done with the weird element: a massive tree that has been wholly uprooted from the ground (below, with Debbie for perspective) dominates the landscape in the valley.
In between, your legs are being worked. From Little Yosemite, Cerro Esto Road climbs aggressively -- 1,200 feet in 2.25 miles to a peak 2,038 feet above sea level -- then swirls back down through a valley studded with Buckeye trees and climbs back to virtually the same level. Before you know it, you've put 1,800 feet of vertical gain under your belt.
Now, it's time to put something else under your belt ...
It's been 33 years since the uninspired constituents of the town of Sunol elected a write-in candidate for mayor -- a black Labrador named "Boss" Bosco Ramos.
Sunol instantly gained fame in tabloids worldwide. Bosco, as the locals called him, held office until his death in 1994.
Now a likeness of his taxi-dermed corpse is the centerpiece of Sunol's only bar: Bosco's Bones & Brew (http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_23923692/bosco-sunols-dog-mayor-lives-spirit), an old-west saloon that serves three-course meals (but has agreed, for the Circle of Trust & Beer, to offer us its considerably less caloric-intensive lunch menu for a $1 surcharge per meal). In fact, Bosco is now a tap -- bartenders pull up on his rear leg to dispense Bosco Brew, a tasty blonde ale.
Now that is Circle-worthy!