Hike 37 – The Wind Battered Diablo Trail, April 10, 2010
Ever tried reasoning with the wind? Here’s a tip: don’t, because you can’t.
That is exactly what I was trying to do on the trail and it was not working. The meteorologists had called it wrong again. According to them, we would have winds of 12-13 miles in the morning, 20-30 miles in the afternoon, while some areas along the coast might get up to 60 mph winds later in the day. These were more like 80 mile winds on steroids smacking me around effortlessly. Thankfully I was not hiking along a cliff otherwise the results could be disastrous.
Meanwhile, I was not the only one struggling. Birds were having a tough time controlling their flight too. Two swallows narrowly missed crashing into my head. This would make quite an interesting story for the emergency room crew. I can picture them in a break-room, “Remember the time this guy was wheeled into the hospital with two swallows impaled in his forehead?” If I didn’t know better, I’d accuse the swallows of drunk flying.
Meanwhile, snot was doing a salmon run up one nostril and sliding across and taking off for ports unknown along the other cheek. I had wisely tied the hat down but my clothes were flapping like renegade flags and the straps on my daypack were beating together like thunder. I called my logistical support team, my wife at home, to check on the weather for me. She reported that the forecast had not changed.
About an hour earlier, at 7:30 AM I began my hike in Morgan Territory Regional Preserve. The temperature at the trailhead was 48 degrees but I hoped to warm up quickly as the trail climbed. Based on the forecast, the morning would be cold but bearable, but conditions would get worse as the day progressed. A quick early hike seemed plausible.
Unfortunately, the higher I climbed, the colder and windier it got. Within minutes my eyes and nose started running and did not stop until I was safely back inside the car a few hours later. The plan was to hike a total of 11 miles along the Diablo Trail. This was going to be section 4 of 6 of the 30-odd mile long Diablo Trail. I would begin on the Diablo Ridge Trail along Morgan Territory Road and head out 5.5 miles towards Old Finley Road and turn back at the intersection of Black Hills and Sulphur Spring trails.
Less than half a mile into the hike, I moved out of the shadows of trees and into the open ridge and conditions immediately deteriorated. But I was rewarded with hillsides covered with wild flowers. Overhead, dark clouds were moving in and it looked like we might get some rain as well. The forecast had indicated only a 10% chance of rain. For the next hour or so, the threat of rain remained real but thankfully it never materialized.
The wind by now was hitting me from all sides. Airline pilots always mention headwinds and tailwinds but what I was experiencing was headwinds and sidewinds, no Hawkwind. According to my thermometer, the temperature had dropped down to mid-40’s although it felt a lot colder than that.
Morgan Territory is one of my favorite parks in the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) and even though it was cold and windy, I was actually loving this hike. Particularly the views of rolling hills with trails snaking through their soft contours, the valleys below and solitary trees taking a stand against the wind. They seemed to have better luck than General Custer did on his last stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The wildflowers were an added bonus and they were everywhere; on the trail, along the trail, on the hillsides and wherever I looked. From a distance the hills looked green but as I got closer to them, I could see that they were littered with small blue, yellow, pink or purple flowers. This was enough reward for being out on a day like this. I tried to photograph the flowers but conditions were either too dark or windy to get anything useable. I hoped the weather would clear on my return and I’d be able to get some decent photographs of flowers.
Eventually, I got to the Crestview Trail. It made a u-turn and I could see the route I had just covered. I could see the lone tree near the top of a hill in the distance. I would have to climb all the way back up there again. This would be about 1,000 feet up but thankfully it was a gentle climb.
Birds were twittering “loco gringo on the loose.” I had yet to meet anyone on the trail, and I was fast approaching my turnaround point. I seriously doubted I would meet anyone today because this was a rather remote part of the park and weather conditions were not ideal for hiking.
At 9:30 AM I got to the turnaround point. I had taken 2 hours to cover 5.5 miles and that felt good. Meanwhile, the cold was taking a toll on the battery performance of the camera and it started flashing a low battery warning. I tried to keep the camera body warm and limit the number of photographs I took so that it would not die on me on the hike.
As I got closer to the turn around point, the winds started losing some of their bite, but things began getting rougher on the return. The paraphernalia hanging from my daypack was making strange sounds and I kept turning around expecting people or ghosts right behind me.
My hopes of getting good photographs of flowers on the return did not work out. Conditions remained cloudy and windy making it rather difficult to photograph them up close with the limited capabilities of my point-and-shoot camera.
My hopes of encountering tailwinds on the return hike did not pan out either. Apparently tailwinds exist for airplanes flying at 30,000 feet elevation, not hikers stuck on the ground at much lower levels. All I encountered were more headwinds and sidewinds. Like the fists of Mohammed Ali.
As I approached the end of the hike, I finally met one jogger on the trail. We both were surprised to see each other. I also saw one deer on the trail and what looked like a feral cat near the campground. Later I researched what I saw and it became clear to me that it was a mountain lion cub, not a feral cat. This one had the telltale spotted markings of mountain lion cubs and had a thick long tail as well. Last year I had seen a mountain lion, not a bobcat in that vicinity.
At 11:30 AM, I was back at the car. I had covered 11 miles in 4 hours. The temperature back at the trailhead had barely risen from 48 degrees to 52 degrees. It felt good to have covered section 4 of 6 of the Diablo Trail. I like to hike it each year. In past years I have covered it in 5 sections which makes for a couple of very long days. This year I decided to split it into 6 sections making for 6 easy to moderate hikes instead of a couple of strenuous hikes and three easy ones.
Here’s a map of the hike courtesy of Google Maps:
Here’s a link to a brochure and trail map from the East Bay Regional Park District website:
Here’s a slideshow of these and other photographs from the hike: