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Ohlone Wilderness Trail

Day 2 of 3

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Saturday, April 3rd
Stewart's Camp to Eagle's Aerie
9.8 miles
1800 vertical feet (ascent)

At 3am, it was cold and Jean and I couldn't sleep. We started playing Tangoes for a half hour before we ran into a puzzle we couldn't solve, and tried to go back to sleep.

The wind started to pick up in the morning. By 6am, gusts were buffeting my tent. I looked outside and, as the wind picked the rain fly off the ground, saw Jennie's tarp (which she had placed over her sleeping bag) lying on the ground, about 20 feet from Jennie. I grudgingly put my clothes on and went outside to retrieve it.

Mist descends on Stewart's Camp in the morning

When I went outside the tent, I found that a heavy mist had descended onto our campsite. The sky was completely overcast. It added that mystical quality that I'd missed from last year. The forecast had called for mostly sunny all three days of our trip. While I was a bit concerned, I figured it was just your typical Bay Area fog and that it would lift.

Still, that didn't prevent me from shivering while starting up the stove for breakfast. According to Kane's thermometer, it was 36 degrees. But with the wind chill it was probably at or below freezing. I made oatmeal and hot chocolate for myself. I made Jennie's breakfast while she stayed in her sleeping bag, handing me her cup, too cold to venture out of her cocoon.

After breakfast, I suffered some sort of brain lock. I had gloves on because it was so cold. I turned my stove off, then started to separate the stove from the fuel. It took me several seconds before it registered that the stove was melting my glove. Luckily, it was easy to notice that my hand was getting warm while the rest of my body was freezing. I stopped after it'd melted the outer lining of a section of one glove finger.

While we were breaking camp, some runners wearing shorts and t-shirts came by and refilled their water bottles. I asked them how long it'd taken them to get here, and they replied about 1 hour 20 minutes from Del Valle. They said they were halfway to their destination (I assume it was Rose Peak). I was impressed, but not all that impressed with their attire.

Around 9am we were ready to hit the trail.

The fog did start to lift as we started up the trail. We could see patches of blue here and there. But it was still cold. We passed a lot of large pine cones along the way. The trail was, as usual, a fire trail, though it was very muddy in places and we had to pick our way carefully.

Is it a tree or a petrified monster?

Near the 3600 foot level we saw small patches of snow by the side of the trail. I knew that it'd snowed on top of Mt. Hamilton a few days before, so I wasn't too surprised. Still, it was interesting to see snow in the Bay Area in April.

Jean wearing her biohazard suit; Jennie (far left) and Kane head uphill

We passed some backpackers going in the opposite direction. We were continually running into runners on the trail who were ill-equipped for the cold weather. I had my gloves and balaclava on -- full snowshoeing gear. And I was still a bit chilly. I had meant to keep my long underwear clean for sleeping in, but it was so cold I'd decided to wear it while hiking anyway.

Near the bottom of our descent

After reaching over 3600 feet in elevation, walked alongside a fence for a mile before descending yet again -- back down to 3200 feet. Up and down -- it may not seem like much, but it adds up, and it's a psychological thing, as well.

Jean hiking along the horizon

Soon we were standing on top of Rose Peak, 3817 feet, the highest point in Alameda County (technically, it's not, but Discovery Peak, a mile away and 20-25 feet higher is on private property). From here we could see far in every direction. Mt. Diablo was enveloped in clouds. Altamont Pass and its windmills. Rain was hammering the land in the distant east. Sunlight bathed the San Francisco Bay region. I figured the clouds would pass and we'd have our sunny weather back within a couple hours.

We started down from Rose Peak. After hiking 4 miles, we still had another 6 to go. A day hiker coming up to the peak from the opposite direction told us of snow flurries he'd been through earlier in the day. Shortly after that, we ran into some backpackers. It turns out that they were headed to Stewart's Camp; they'd stayed at Eagle's Aerie the night before, so they were doing the exact opposite trip we were. In fact, when I'd called a month earlier to make reservations, I'd wanted to go the opposite direction. I had a feeling that on the trail I'd meet the people who'd prevented me from doing so.

Fancy designs in peanut butter

After descending a bit, we stopped for lunch. It was windy, but we found the protection of a tree. Jean squirted out peanut butter onto tortillas for a great lunch for the two of us. After a quick lunch, we decided it was too cold and we wanted to get moving again.

Packing up after lunch

So it was back to the fire trail. I looked to the right and saw the sun breaking through the clouds onto the hills below. The clouds were lifting from Mt. Diablo. Everything was falling into place.

Here comes the sun...we hope

As we made another descent down toward the South Fork of Indian Creek (2800 feet), we were passed in the opposite direction by a group of 3 galloping horses. Their riders smiled at us as they passed. A few minutes later, they were galloping past us again from behind.

Jean heading up toward signpost 25

Then it was up again, to signpost 25. At this point, Kane was a bit ahead of us. Jean followed him as Jennie and I tended to our packs. I made some more adjustments and then found Jennie waiting for me. There were a couple dozen cows near the trail in front of us, and she wanted to wait for me before continuing. Jean was already going through the gate.

I led Jennie through the cows, and we closed the gate behind us. Then we continued on the trail toward Jean. Little did we know, but Kane was waiting for us...near signpost 24. But we never got there. We were distracted by the cows and never saw the sign for the turn to the left. Instead, we went on the Valpe Ridge Road trail. This eventually ends up at the same place, but this caused some confusion.

The day hiker we'd seen passed us. He said he was doing the hike from Sunol HQ to Rose Peak and back, but that he'd be taking a different route back. He continued on past us as we struggled under the weight of our packs. The weather got a little strange around this time. Suddenly, there were snow flurries. The light fluffy stuff went by us horizontally as the wind picked it up. It was kind of fun to watch.

At the end of the Valpe Ridge Road trail, we came upon a fork. There was a trail leading to the left, and a locked gate in front of us. We saw the day hiker beyond the locked gate, so figured we had to jump the gate. Since we'd missed signpost 24, we were confused about where we were, and went down to the next trail intersection before deciding what to do. At this point, however, the snow had turned to hail, and was pelting us mercilessly. We were somewhat lost, cold, and it could have gotten dangerous if we'd made a wrong turn here.

I thought that the gate was at signpost 22, and we had to turn left. After some discussion, I convinced the others to head back up over the locked gate, and down that trail. Shortly thereafter, we reached a familiar red Ohlone Wilderness Trail signpost. But it was signpost 22. It wasn't until much later, after talking with Kane, that I figured out what had happened. In any case, we continued along the trail, finally safe in the knowledge that we were on the right track.

Kane, meanwhile, had waited and waited. When we didn't show up, he correctly guessed that we'd gone straight past signpost 24, which is a shortcut in terms of distance. So he sprinted over to signpost 22 to try to get there before we did. But when he got there, that's when the hailstorm started. So he continued along the trail. Eventually, we met up with him again shortly after signpost 20.

The calm after the storm

Now the skies had cleared a little. The sun was starting to come out, finally. The trail was no longer a fire trail -- singletrack through rolling hills. Grasslands and canyons. At some point my mind wandered and I twisted my left ankle. I think my hiking boots saved me.

Panoramic view of our gorgeous canyon
(Click image to view full size)

Then the valley opened up before us and it was absolutely gorgeous. And then, just as suddenly, we were at our amazing campsite, with that glorious view ours to be had for hours.

Jennie was still concerned about the weather. There were clouds on the horizon, and she wasn't sure if she wanted to be outside if it rained. But we convinced her to stay; she could always slip into our tent if it did start to rain. As luck would have it, the skies would clear up and it would be crystal-clear all the way to the finish.

View toward Sky Camp from Eagles Aerie Camp

For once, we arrived at camp with plenty of sunlight left. I looked forward to a great sunset. I was glad I'd brought my tripod. Our camp was situated above the other 3 camps. There was Sky Camp -- a long walk up and along a ridge, then down to our left to a perch sitting precariously over the valley. A great looking camp, but far away from the water and outhouse. The water was below us, just above the Hawk's Nest camp. Below that was the outhouse, and Star's Rest camp near that.

Ours was the camp with arguably the best view, and fairly close proximity to water and outhouse (though it did involve a reasonably tough climb back up afterwards). It was a bit exposed, but there were some rocks on the edge of our camp to help shelter us from the wind a little.

Behind us were rolling green hills. We sat at the bottom of a half-bowl, with one large tree sitting halfway up the bowl. At our camp, a beautiful tree spread its branches over our camp, rooted just behind the rocks. On the horizon to the west, the sun shone over Mission Peak. Only a transmission tower on a peak in the distance tainted our view.

On the picnic table we prepared our dinner well before the sun set. I had another backpacker's meal -- honey mustard chicken (but it tasted just like the teriyaki chicken I'd had the night before). Kane raved about his Thai noodles dinner, however, so I think I'll have to try that next time. Jean again had her rice, and Jennie her noodle soup.

As we were having our dinner, the people from Hawk's Nest came through our camp to visit Sky Camp, since it was unoccupied. They stayed for a bit before returning before sunset. I was thinking about checking out Sky Camp, but the return climb discouraged me. Instead, we all enjoyed a beautiful sunset from our camp.

Sunset from Eagle's Aerie Camp

We adjusted our watches for Daylight Savings Time and all went into our sleeping bags at around 8pm. Jean, who'd gone in a few minutes before me, was already asleep by the time I entered the tent.

Around midnight Jean and I awoke. We could hear Jennie adjusting herself to try to get warm. Jean and I had to answer nature's call, so we forced ourselves, shivering, to put on some clothes and go outside. Jean helped Jennie with her sleeping bag and tarp. I went outside and saw that the moon was brightly illuminating our campsite. The sky was completely clear, and I started to put my camera in the tripod to take some pictures. While I was doing so, Jennie saw several shooting stars. Unfortunately, I never saw any. I did take several pictures of the horizon, the moon, the stars, and our camp. Later I would find out, much to my chagrin, none of the pictures turned out.

While I was out there, I somehow managed to lose one of the feet on my tripod. I also made the mistake of pushing that leg in so that it was now impossible to extend it back out. But then I remembered my Leatherman tool had a pliers, so I could fix it in the morning. I hoped to find the foot in the morning, as well. So I went back into the tent to try to sleep.

During the night, gusts of wind buffeted our tent for a few minutes, then would relent for a few minutes. In the distance we could hear cows mooing in the night. Jennie's fear of cows had entered my head, and every other gust of wind flapping our tent had me hearing an imaginary cow stamping its hooves next to our tent. But of course there was nothing.

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