Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday hike to Mission Peak

[For a full set of pictures, visit my Gallery page here.]

Today is Sunday, which means I usually go for a hike to Mission Peak. Mission Peak is one of the higher points (2,515 feet) in the Southern part of the Diablo Range to the East of the Bay Area. It is part of the Mission Peak Regional Preserve. Their website is here. I usually hike up the Ohlone Trail from Ohlone College.

The trail starts just above the Ohlone College parking lot. The college campus is on a hill in a pretty nice setting. The trail starts just past a grove of eucalyptus trees. It seems that some kestrels make use of these trees for nesting. After the new chick fledge, you can usually see some of the young ones hanging out on a dead tree near the edge of the grove. I've seen as many as 2 or 3 on that tree at a time!

After a bit of a steep grade, you get to a little valley I like to call "hawk valley". On sunny afternoons, if the wind is right, you can see tons of hawks soaring around here. Mostly I see red-tailed hawks, but occasionally there are Cooper's hawks, kestrels, northern harriers, white-tailed kites, and even golden eagles! There are also lots of ground squirrels in this valley. That may be why there are so many raptors around. Oh yeah, and sometimes there's even a coyote here.

Past hawk valley, you will get to the "cow pond". This pond is across a barbed wire fence from the trail. There are usually a bunch of cows near the pond. By the end of the summer, the pond is completely dry and the cows like to roll around in the dirt for a bit of a dust bath. My best encounter with a golden eagle was here! Check it out on the left.

Next you pass through a wooded area. This is the best part of the hike on a hot summer day. Nice and cool. In the winter, however, it can be pretty muddy here, so watch your step! After a little ways, the trees start to thin out to more of a thicket. Then pretty soon you're back out in the open. Now you have to cross a field before you start heading up in earnest. I have seen many, many wild turkeys in this field.

After the field, the trail joins a dirt road. The road climbs up a ways via switchbacks. I imagine the road is for fire use, but it is also used by a group of avid hang-glider fans. On a good day I have seen as many as 10 hang-gliders and para-gliders up in the air near Mission Peak.

After you get to the top of the switchbacks, you can see Mission Peak up ahead. The next bit is fairly flat, so rest up now, because the steepest part is coming up. This is another great area to observe the abundant wildlife. Once again there are a lot of ground squirrels and raptors. You may also see coyote here.

Just before the steepest part, you will come to an outhouse and some junctions. I have never braved the outhouse, so I can not vouch for its cleanliness. The first junction to the right goes to the hang-glider launch. Just after that, also to the right, is the trail down to the Stanford Avenue trail head. A little further on is a bigger junction. The right fork goes to the Stanford trail again. The left fork is the continuation of the dirt road which can be used to get to the peak. It is mostly used by bikers. The common hiker path is the middle fork. This one goes straight up (at least that's what it feels like).

It's not much farther to the top. The trail follows a bit of a ridge, then winds its way up the rocky side to the summit. When you first get to the top, you will see a post pointing out all the sights around the Bay. This is the North Summit. A lot of people will most likely be resting here. However, this is not the true summit, so don't be fooled. The true summit is the slightly higher South Summit. Look among the rocks for the U. S. Geological Survey marker denoting the summit. That's it, you're at the top! Now just stop, relax and enjoy the view!