I was nervous the day before we started hiking the Ohlone Trail. 28 miles? 7500 feet of elevation gain? Way more daunting than any of our previous hikes. And very much like the miles and feet we’re supposed to cover 4 months from now on the JMT…
We started the day by shuttling our cars: we all drove to the ending trailhead near Livermore at Del Valle Regional Park, then piled into Patrick’s car to drive to Mission Peak. We parked in a neighborhood a few hundred feet down from the trailhead and started our hike, somewhat anticlimactically, along the road.
By 10am when we started, Mission Peak was absolutely swarmed with people, all hiking to the top [edit: apparently the popularity is becoming an overuse problem for the area; they’ve been holding hearings this winter about what to do about it]. I was pretty impressed by the diversity of people from all walks of life walking, running, and biking up. Definitely a solid workout on Saturday morning! We were the only backpackers though.
We were immediately rewarded with views over Silicon Valley to the Santa Cruz mountains behind.
We’d be following these little red “Ohlone Wilderness” signposts for the next 3 days.
At the turnoff: right goes up to the top of Mission Peak, left goes back into the valley along the Ohlone Trail. We took the road MUCH less traveled!
We crossed into land owned by the San Francisco Water District, which we needed our $2 Ohlone Trail permits to traverse. It’s not public land, so you have to stay on the trail.
It’s the time of year when cows have baby cows that they’re taking care of. This apparently makes the cows much more aggressive than normal cows. I was walking in front as we approached a set of cows, including one on the trail. The cow looked at me, and I looked at it… And I decided to wait for the boys to catch up before walking any closer. Patrick and Eric arrived a few seconds later and, more fearless than me, approached the cow (saying “HEY BUDDY!”) to which the cow responded with a very clearly disgruntled threat position. Head down, foot pawing the ground. Not a happy cow.
I scampered straight up the hill away from the cow, giving it at least 50 feet of clearance. (The guys followed). Scott managed to get a picture of the unhappy looking cow when he came by a few minutes later.
We descended into Sunol Regional Wilderness, got some water from some jugs there and chatted to some nice park rangers. They said there were golden eagles and bald eagles around, though we didn’t see any on this trip.
From there, it was all uphill to our campsite for the night, with the wild flowers becoming more and more beautiful as we ascended.
As we hiked up, a thought filtered through my head.
“Did I pack the tent poles and stakes?”
I expressed this thought out loud to the group. Of course, no one knew the answer. They were indeed on my list of group gear to pack. Scott had the tent fly, stove, pot, and water filter. I had the tent body, poles, stakes, and battery pack. But we had packed in a rush on Friday night, after a full day meeting for me and after a celebratory dinner with my graduating class (we all got jobs! Yay!).
At the next rest break, I opened my bag and confirmed my suspicions. I had made the noobiest of all backpacking errors, and forgotten part of our shelter.
I kicked myself a number of times on the rest of our hike up, getting more and more nervous about the night ahead of us.
Two fortuitous things were true though. First, our hammock, which we had taken on our previous camping trip with Patrick, was still in the bottom on Patrick’s bag. Second, my choice of travel companions included two engineers, both totally unflappable in the face of engineering challenges. In fact, possibly a little gleeful in their new opportunity to do some engineering.
BEHOLD THE FRANKENTENT!
Under a perfect tree with a structural branch, using trekking poles, rope, and some extra stakes, the Frankentent was erected. In the mean time, I hung my hammock between some trees in the background. It would be my first hammock camping night and I was still a skeptic, but with no bugs, dry conditions, and a slightly wonky tent, there was no time like the present to try sleeping dangling in the air.
With our sleeping arrangements set, I could finally breathe and take a look at the view, which was, in fact, epically awesome. This is by far my favorite of all campsites I’ve stayed in within two hours of home.
I was a hammock skeptic, but I have to say, I actually got a great night’s sleep! I wasn’t too cold like I thought I might be. The only slightly funny thing was that I kept sliding into a ball at the center of the hammock since it’s sloped on both sides. But considering how
well badly I sleep in a tent, I was comparatively well rested the next day!
We said goodbye to Patrick who was hiking back to his car, switched tents with Patrick since his had poles, and started on our way up and over Rose Peak to our next campsite.
Along the way we stopped to check out some of the other sites in the Sunol Backpack Area. They were all pretty stunning, widely separated on the hill with great views.
- Cathedral Camp: Shaded, close to the seasonal stream, outhouse (shared with us) inside campsite
- Hawk’s Nest: Cute little site, close to water and the other outhouse, nice views.
- Eagle’s Aerie: Awesome site! More spacious, bench AND picnic table, great views, not too far from water/outhouse. I can see why it was already booked up when I made reservations a month ago.
- Sky Camp: Amazing little site just over the crest of the ridge. Fantastic views (similar to our views from Oak View). Farther from the outhouse and water, but would be super private and beautiful.
The wildflowers continued to stun, and the clouds continued to build in the sky.
We also stopped by Doe Canyon Horse camp for lunch. This was a disappointing campsite in all respects, with no benches and limited views. It was a good spot to get water though.
Eventually the sky opened up and we put on our rain coats. Then it would stop raining and we’d stop, take off our packs, put our raincoats away, put our packs back on. Then it would start raining again and we’d repeat the process. (Eric has actually perfected getting in and out of his raincoat without taking off his pack… seems like something I have to practice!).
Sadly it was raining sideways into our faces when we summited Rose Peak, so although our guidebook said that you can see to the Sierras from the top, we could not.
Hiking in the rain was getting old, so I was pretty excited to see the sign for our campsite!
Just a mile later we got to Stewart’s Camp, our home for the night! There was lots of space and some logs for sitting.
We set up camp during a lucky break in the rain.
This is Patrick’s tent that he kindly lent us for the night:
Eric had brought a “dining tent” in case of the forecasted rain, which he and Scott set up handsomely with all 6 trekking poles.
A few minutes after setting up camp, it started raining again. Eric and I were in the dining tent and heard a voice from Patrick’s tent. “Guys, it’s raining on me.” Patrick’s tent, now 12 years old, while more structural than our poleless tent, was notably no longer waterproof. We were in for a damp night.
We woke up soggy the next morning and continued out. Our most exciting stop on the first day was Murietta Falls, a 20-foot waterfall that is normally just a trickle, but given all the rain was flowing nicely for us!
From there we continued down, down, down. 300o feet down. Our last snack break was along this creek.
From the top of the ridge we got a great view of Del Valle Lake, where our trail ended.
And the rain held off, miraculously, until we were at the parking lot, touching the car, when the skies opened again.
Overall, this was my favorite backpacking trip that I’ve done in the Bay Area. The views were stunning, the campsites were amazing, the trail was well maintained, and we got through the 28 miles and 7500 feet just fine. (Definitely felt it on Monday night and the next day though!) And I’ll never forget my tent poles again!
- Distance: 28 miles (over 3 days)
- Elevation gain: 7500 feet
- Highest elevation: 3817 feet