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Ohlone Wilderness Trail

Day 3 of 3

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Sunday, April 4th
Eagle's Aerie to Mission Peak
12.0 miles
2770 vertical feet (ascent)

Before 7am I got up and went outside. When I first started looking for my tripod foot in the grass, I thought it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But less than a minute later, I found my tripod foot. I used the pliers to pull out the leg and reattach the foot (don't use that sentence out of context). The sun was still behind the hills, but our camp was getting brighter.

As the sun rose, it started to illuminate Mission Peak and the other peaks in that range, off to the west. Kane and I snapped some pictures. It shed its light on a hill to the northwest, with a house/ranch perched on top. It was a picture-perfect spring morning. It was cold, but the wind had died down.

I started my stove up to boil water for breakfast. Unfortunately, I was low on fuel. I'd cooked dinner and breakfast before, and the half-pound fuel canister was being pushed to the limit. It took nearly half an hour to boil one pot of water, and Kane had to help out with his stove.

Early morning at Eagle's Aerie camp

Birds circled overhead as we ate our oatmeal and hot chocolate. We broke camp and packed everything away as quickly as we could.

Tree protecting our campsite

It was 9 in the morning by the time we finally left. The people at Hawk's Nest were still in their tents. We had the whole beautiful valley to ourselves. We crossed creeks and babbling brooks, beautiful green hills with large trees here and there. It was a beautiful peaceful hike.

There were some patches of mud, and cows greeted us along the trail again. Poison oak threatened us from both sides of the trail. The trail went gently up and down. Nothing like the climbing of the previous two days. But we still had the climb up Mission Peak ahead of us.

After turning left onto Cerro Este Road, we caught our final glimpse of our campsite, perched high above, silhouetted by the morning sun. We then turned right, down into the brush.

Soon we could see the Sunol headquarters parking lot below us. After navigating by some cows, we were soon serenaded by loud car radios and we walked along a stream to the headquarters.

Lan greeted us at the headquarters. She would be joining us for the hike up to Mission Peak. We arrived at the headquarters at about 10:45am, and would leave at 11:20. During that time we ate some, threw away some trash, and changed into clothes more appropriate for a sunny Easter Sunday than a cold mountain climb.

We registered at the sign-in panel near the headquarters. Then we entered a gate and started back onto the trail. After less than a mile, we crossed the only road of the trip -- Calaveras Road. There weren't any cars. In fact, there were hardly any people to speak of. We passed perhaps one or two sets of hikers the entire hike up to Mission Peak.

Lan and Kane went ahead of us. They would end up getting to the top about a half hour before the rest of us did. The scenery along this section of the trail was beautiful. But every time I took off my sunglasses I realized the harsh noontime sun would wash out all the colors in a photograph. So I don't have any pictures of the beautiful trees and colorful leaves in this section of the trail.

When we approached the base of Mission Peak, the scenery changed dramatically. Instead of a shaded trail we saw before us an endless wave of rolling green pastures. Shortly we passed a bunch of cows and even a bison. We looked up to the Mission Peak ridge and saw the forms of Kane and Lan high above us. Later, we reached another sign-in panel and saw that they were a half hour ahead of us. After a brief respite back into the shade, we emerged and started the relentless climb.

Mt. Diablo (far center) as seen from the trail east of Mission Peak

We took the Eagle Trail and went up via the south ridge. We crossed the largest mud field yet, and I ended up half-submersing my left boot into it. But soon we were over the top, standing on the south ridge. Wow. This was our first good look at the Bay Area since Friday. We could see the salt ponds and the rest of the bay. Paragliders soared through the air. It was a beautiful sight. But there were still a few more feet to climb.

And then we were there. Kane and Lan greeted us as we climbed to the top of Mission Peak, elevation 2517 feet. We congratulated one another and took our victory pictures. All that lay between us and the finish were 3 miles of steep downhill. But before we descended, we soaked up the beautiful view. The one time I'd been to the top before, it'd been overcast. But not this time. We could see everything. The Santa Cruz Mountains. Diablo. Mt. Hamilton. Rose Peak, where we'd been just yesterday, stood proudly above the rest of the range to the east.

Panoramic view from Mission Peak looking east
(Click image to view full size)

Panoramic view from Mission Peak looking west
(Click image to view full size)

Lan decided to head back to her car the same way she came. The rest of us finished up our lunch and, encouraged by the growing chill from the wind, started our descent.

On top of Mission Peak

The first part of the descent is especially tricky, littered as it is with rocks upon rocks. But even after that, the trail just keeps descending. There's no let-up. Along the way, we saw tons of people. The west side of Mission Peak is in stark contrast to the east side -- while the east side is completely devoid of people, the west side is a veritable zoo. Mountain bikers, road bikers, paragliders, trucks, couples, friends, kids, dogs. Many of them saw our packs and asked us about our travels. A few commented on our trekking poles. One asked me if I'd been skiing. Wise guy.

At about 4pm, we were done. We took our final pictures. We started to load Jennie's car only to find that it had been vandalized. As I was saying, some people are just so disrespectful. I think next time we'll have to be dropped off and picked up.

We're done!

We drove back to Del Valle to retrieve Kane's and Jean's car. The ranger recognized us and waved us through without having to pay.

When I got back, I weighed my pack. 35.0 pounds. This was minus most food, water, and fuel.

I slept for 11 hours that night. The next morning (and the day after that as well) my calves were still tight. But other than that I felt fine. The skies opened up and it poured on Monday. I was glad that we weren't out there in that weather. Light snow and hail is much more preferable to rain -- at least we didn't get wet. As I drove home from work, east on Highway 237, I saw Rose Peak covered with snow. It was a beautiful sight. But it also means a lot more to me now. I'd seen that range of mountains covered with snow before. But having been there, I know what's behind all those mountains now. I know what it's like to be up there. And every time I drive on that highway, I'll remember this trip.

Notes: For those of you who'd like a less challenging trip with much of the scenery, try this: start at Sunol headquarters and hike to the Sunol backpacker's area (Eagle's Aerie camp recommended). It's just 4 miles. You can do a day hike to Rose Peak the next day (12 miles round trip) or simply return to headquarters.

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