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110. High Ridge Loop (03/06/99)

Hikers (6): Jamie, Jane M, Jinglan, Russ, Steve, Wendell
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Garin & Dry Creek Pioneer Parks near Hayward

Write-up by Steve

For my big birthday hike it seemed wise to do something easy. I figured the INCH crowd would treat me well the night before, and I didn't want to regret it later on the hike (this turned out to be the right decision). The first choice for a hike was a marshy salt-flat at a nearby park on the Bay, but I was shamed out of it when Peter found nothing but Level 1 hikes in The Hiking Bible.

My second choice was in Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks, two abutting parks that might as well be one. The Bible listed a legitimate hike in each park, appeasing The Man. The simple plan was for eight miles of hiking pleasure. I had wisely made up maps for the hike the night before, which I left in my car that was parked outside Peter's house. Turns out I had been mysteriously deposited at my own house after the Friday night birthday festivities (alone, I might add) and chauffeured to the hike meeting place the next morning. Anyway, it was my birthday, so I was allowed to muff up the hike by not providing maps.

Fortunately, there were plenty of maps available at the park, reminding me that tax dollars are often well spent. The goal was to hit the longest loops in both parks, so we set off with loop #1: High Ridge Trail. This took us through Dry Creek Pioneer Park. Despite the name of the park, we were forced to cross a very wet creek several times. As if that weren't insulting enough, there were also no pioneers.

After a while Russ, Jamie, Jane, and I were well ahead of Jinglan and Wendell. About half way through the loop we reached the first goal: Gossip Rock. This turned out to be a cluster of rocks with some trees growing around it; not quite as exciting as we had expected. All the same, we got under it and started gossiping until the topic du jour caught up.

We stayed on High Ridge a little longer until turning onto Pioneer trail, a real trail (muddy and narrow). After slogging around, we finally reached the parking lot, which was the midway point of the figure-eight-shaped hike. Many people were complaining about hunger and tiredness, but we pressed on to reach Beth's special spot: Newt Pond. Actually, we didn't all press on. Jinglan stayed behind to protect Wendell's car.

After unnecessarily crossing a stream (always have to make a wrong turn somewhere), we found the famous pond. The fame comes from the fact that some time near Valentine's Day, rangers actually lead a tour to the pond for newt mating season. We've never seen the mating, but previous hikes verify that the newts are definitely out in force around that time. In retrospect, they did look a little randy. Who knew?

Getting to the pond was no small feat: there was deep marsh mud to be crossed (possibly created during the mating frenzy). Everyone made it to the other side more or less cleanly, and we sat on the ground to devour our tasty lunches (they had removed the newt-mating observation benches for the season). We were expecting an area teeming with nubile newts, but only spotted a few unrequited newt virgins in the pond. Some guy came by, though, and informed us that he had seen a "whole lot of salamanders back there." I guess "back there" was Salamander Pond, which we did not visit. Whatever the case, we started to leave when we saw Wendell was only on the third course of his ten-course feast. We encouraged him to speed up and eventually started off without him. Several minutes later he started to follow us, but for some reason decided to disregard all the boards placed out to help cross the mud. One second you could see his head, then nothing, then the din of slogging mud and expletives. Eventually he emerged victorious, if not a bit muddy.

We went on to do the second loop in Garin, which went up and around a few hills, offering a nice view of both Oakland and San Francisco in the distance, a rare feat usually ruined by the haze. The loop went by very quickly and we again found ourselves in the parking lot. As we approached the cars, Jinglan awoke from her slumber in Wendell's car and was immediately stunned as his car alarm went off around her. It's always nice to end the hike on a high note. . . .All and all, not a bad way to spend a birthday.

Wendell's 10th leaf

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