I staggered in the wind gust. It had to have been at least 45 mph. The views along the undulating ridge to the Bay were spectacular, but the wind was ferocious.
Brett and I were running on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail. We’d started at the summit parking lot and weren’t exactly sure where we were going to turn around. We’d know when we got to it.
The NWS forecast for San Francisco had called for “breezy” conditions:
.TODAY…Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly
cloudy. Breezy. Patchy drizzle in the morning. Highs in the mid
50s to lower 60s. West winds 20 to 30 mph.
That forecast was for the city — and of course up on the peak the wind was even “breezier.” The SF Giants beanie I borrowed was the right call. So were the gloves, extra shirt and wind shell.
We continued along the ridge past the second set of loudly singing power lines and continued downhill. It became one of those, “let’s just go down to that next overlook,” and then the next one, and the next one. Not only were we losing a lot of elevation, but we’d be running into the wind on the way back.
We eventually turned around a little above Bayshore Blvd., at the “Sierra Point Reset” benchmark marked “487” on the topo map. As is often the case, the return wasn’t nearly as torturous as envisioned, but I was glad to get back to the car!
San Bruno Mountain is an invaluable island of open space, about 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco. For more information see the San Bruno Mountain Watch website.
Just 48 hours before the start of the Diablo Trails Challenge the temperature on Mt. Diablo’s summit was a chilly 31°F. Gray, wind-driven clouds shrouded the summit, propelled by 20-30 mph winds. Over the 10 days preceding the race, it had rained on four, and Concord had received about two inches of rain.
That’s the thing about Spring weather – a couple of days can make a huge difference. Today – race day – the sun is out, the hills are green and skies blue. Very little mud remains – the trails are in great shape and hills sprinkled with wildflowers. It’s the perfect day for a run on Mt. Diablo!
With around 7000′ of elevation gain/loss, the Diablo Trails Challenge 50K is characterized by its many ups and downs. The core of the 50K course is the 7 mile, 3000′ climb from the Curry Canyon Ranch aid station to Diablo’s main summit. But before you can enjoy this fine ascent, you have to get to Curry Canyon Ranch. And it’s on the other side of the mountain – about 12.5 miles away. Here’s a 3D interactive view of my GPS track of the 50K course.
Along the way there are several get-your-feet-wet creek crossings and many hills. Following along on the map, the course works its way past Wall Point, Artist Point, Knob Point and finally Windy Point. Did I mention the course is hilly?
Somewhere around Mile 10 you get the first good view of Mt. Diablo and North Peak. The runner in front of me exclaimed, “Holy guacamole, is that what we are going to climb?” My choice of words were similar, but not quite as polite. Yes indeed, those were the peaks, and they loomed LARGE across the valley.
Elevation gained is so easily lost. After gaining about 2500′ on the way to Windy Point, a 1000′ descent leads to the Curry Canyon Ranch Aid Station. The climb of Diablo starts here, but you really don’t feel like you’re on the mountain until you reach South Gate Road and the Curry Point Aid Station, about three miles up the canyon. The grade in Curry Canyon is moderate and I tried to take advantage of that, knowing steeper terrain was ahead.
The Half-Marathoners joined the course at Curry Point — adding their enthusiasm and company – but they were soon headed back down, leaving us to cope with the Summit Trail all on our own.
“Jalapeño chip?,” I asked the runner hiking up the hill next to me. He smiled and said something like, “Maybe next time.” I did what I could to keep from constantly looking up at the summit. I munched on chips, talked to runners and hikers, read the “Trail Through Time” interpretive signs, looked at wildflowers and enjoyed the great views. As long as you keep putting one foot ahead of the other — and maybe smile from time to time – summits will eventually arrive.
Yahoo! The Summit Aid Station! There is almost no wind. In the sun it’s comfortably warm and in the shade comfortably cool. As at the other aid stations, the volunteers are great, helping me to get my hydration pack sorted and get me on my way. After seven miles of uphill, a little downhill is going to feel really good.
The next few miles I’d done before and they are among the most interesting on the course. It helped to be familiar it – especially the notoriously steep section of North Peak Road, just before the summit. Everyone picks a different route. This time I stayed on the left going up and the right going down, and didn’t fall on my butt!
Once past the “slide” it didn’t take long to get down to Prospector’s Gap. I recalled that the running on the Bald Ridge Trail was excellent and wasn’t disappointed. At Meridian Ridge Road we left Bald Ridge and descended into Mitchell Canyon. At Deer Flat Creek, once again the course headed up. I couldn’t recall how long the climb was going to be, but it looked like we were going to have to work over a high ridge to get to the Castle Rock side of the mountain. The ridge turned out to be Moses Rock Ridge and the climb over it fit right in with the other hills on the course. Click, click goes the elevation-gained counter.
Most of the course is a big loop, but to access the peaks and aid stations there are four short out and back sections. You get to know the runners around you on these sections and we’d give each other encouragement as we passed. The runners around me were great and throughout the run we had many good conversations.
Then there was Burma Road. Somewhere around mile 26, I commented to another runner that we were running out of miles and at some point we were going to have to lose a lot of elevation. The Burma Road descent took care of that.
Many thanks to Jasmin and Sam of Brazen Racing for putting together such a superb event! And a BIG thank you to all the volunteers, ham operators, runners, park staff, sponsors and especially the Save Mount Diablo Foundation. I thoroughly enjoyed running on Mt. Diablo!
Unlike most of the rainy season, March rainfall has generally been above average in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Last Saturday I’d enjoyed a run in Pt. Mugu State Park following a few days of wet weather, and today my outing would be in the wake of the strongest storm to affect the area since January.
The storm had been a warm one, with high snow levels, and I was surprised to find the morning temperature at Red Box in the mid-30s. The surface low and trough associated with the storm were still along the West Coast and the circulation was creating a strong southwesterly flow. This was pushing mostly benign mid-level clouds into the valleys and mountains. More picturesque than threatening, the clouds imparted a high mountain flavor to the surroundings.
Last year I’d done San Gabriel Peak first, so today I started with Strawberry. It’s the more difficult of the two peaks. The route to its summit is about a mile longer; it has a bit more elevation gain; and it includes a stretch on rough, steep, unmaintained trail. Of course, that’s part of its appeal.
The clouds were ever changing. While Strawberry Peak escaped most of the clouds, San Gabriel Peak was often obscured.
The rock and brush-choked gully was going to have to do. There was no “use trail” or other path that I could find. Just to be sure I wasn’t missing another route, I followed the overgrown dirt road past the power transmission tower to where it dead-ended at a wall of chaparral.
Returning to the gully, I looked up. A large boulder and some other debris were wedged against a tree, blocking its entrance. Knowing well the pitfalls, I carefully clambered over the aggregation and started up the congested channel.
Curiosity is an irresistible force for most that love the outdoors. It propels us to explore near and far, experiencing what we have not experienced before. It knows no geographic bounds, and can be equally strong a mile, or a hemisphere, from home.
In a sense this adventure began years ago, when I first noticed the power line service roads paralleling the Bulldog Mtwy fire road. Since then I’ve done the Bulldog loop many times. Each time I’ve looked over at those roads and wondered why they didn’t connect — and how difficult it would be to link the two.
That question might finally be answered today. The plan was to do a variation of the Bulldog Loop, finishing the climb to the crest using the power line service roads, rather than Bulldog Mtwy.
When I’d parked at the the Cistern trailhead on Mulholland the temperature had been a chilly 28 degF. A mile and a half into the run, down in the canyon along Malibu Creek, the Tempe sensor attached to my pack read 24 degF!
It was cold enough that the wind chill from running 4-5 mph was significant. I could feel the cold through my gloves and arm sleeves and my hands were getting cold. I flexed my hands as I ran, and from time to time would briefly walk to reduce the chill. Relief was only a couple of miles away — at the start of the Bulldog climb I would break into the sun.
Ah sun, glorious sun! There is nothing quite like the warmth of the morning sun following a cold dawn. It warms the body and imbibes the soul. It is something to relish and celebrate.
I’d reached that sun about 30 minutes ago. Now I was immersed in cool shade and working my way up the steep drainage through thick chaparral. The puzzle was not an easy one, and I’d almost turned around several times. To not make a foolish decision, it is necessary to be willing to turn around.
At one point the route up the gully appeared to be blocked. Looking for an alternative, I worked up a steep slope on the left, concentrating on the route-finding. It wasn’t going to go either. When I stopped to re-evaluate the route, I realized I was surrounded by a tangled thicket of just-sprouted poison oak.
Resigned that it was just going to be too ugly to continue, I returned to the gully, intending to follow it down. But then I muttered to myself, “I wonder…” and took a couple steps up the gully, and then a couple more. A route through the impasse revealed itself. Many times that’s all it takes — a step or two — to see a solution not seen before. I could continue.
Eventually the terrain forced me to the right of the gully, up along a sandstone rib, and toward a little outcrop. The rock quality was very poor. Fist-sized pieces of cobble embedded in the sandstone could be pulled out by hand and sound-appearing holds were easily broken.
With some careful route-finding I was soon on top of the sunlit rock. An island in a tumultuous ocean of chaparral, it gave me the first good view of my surroundings since I’d started up the gully. From the outcrop I could see why the roads didn’t connect. Partially hidden from view, a 50′ tall headwall completely blocked the drainage.
There was no way I was going to try and climb the headwall directly. Trying to force a line here would be a very bad idea. But there was a weakness on its right side that — if it wasn’t too steep and loose — might go.
And it did! Once on top of the headwall, only a bit of bush-whacking was necessary to get to the first tower on the upper service road. Freed from the tangle of chaparral, it didn’t take long to get up to Castro Peak Mtwy, and back onto the Bulldog loop.