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203. Briones Crest Trail (03/24/01)

Hikers (2): Atul, Steve
Distance: 11 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Briones Regional Park north of Lafayette

Write-up by Steve

Sometimes there is a good reason to choose a hike, but not this time. We chose Briones simply because we had not been there in almost three years. Last time it was an ill-fated hike, with multiple groups getting lost and logging several extra miles.

But we would learn from their mistakes: we had newer maps to guide us!

The Man and Russ were out of town, and there was a chance of rain, so the turnout was low: just the die-hard Atul and myself. On the plus side, this gave lots of conversation time, and by the end of the hike Atul was explaining the finer details of Indian mythology to me (OK, actually, the discussion was about Ganesha, which I had seen in an episode of The Simpsons, but it is a good story).

We had mapped out a sort of hourglass-shaped six mile route to take us around the interior of the park and over the two tallest peaks. It was a long drive to the trailhead in Martinez (probably why we hadn't been back), and amazingly, Atul had to come back to the same town again that night for dinner. What are the odds? Fortunately, there would be plenty of time for him to get all the way back to Santa Clara, buy a gift for the host, take a shower, and come all the way back. At least, that was the plan ...

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

We set off on the trail to hit Briones Peak. The day was a bright and clear, and we laughed (Ha!) at the poor accuracy of the weather people. After a while, we came to a clearly marked intersection. A quick glance at the map showed that we were a little farther along than expected, but at a reasonable location. So we took the appropriate turn and headed onward. At the next junction, we were somewhere completely off the mark. We proceed a little farther down the trail and reached a completely unmarked yet major junction. Not a good start!

With no signage to help, we took the steepest path up. After a short time we started passing families with strollers, which can only mean one thing: we were near a parking lot. Eventually we came upon some bikers stopped near a pond. After consulting the signs, the landmarks (the pond turned out to be Maricich Lagoons), and the bikers, we discovered that we were almost due West of our starting point where we should have been due South. Well, at least we knew where we were again, and headed off for Briones Peak.

The land around here was beautiful, with rolling green hills as far as the eye could see. Atul lamented that he hadn't brought his camera. Dark clouds were brewing on the horizon. Could the weather people be right after all? We reached the summit of Briones and saw a sign pointing toward Table Top trail, and another pointing to some other trail. Well, we didn't want Table Top because it would take us on a long loop down and back up through many contour lines. Plus, Atul had plans that night! So we took the fast-path trail. Oddly enough, it looked like this trail would go the wrong way, but a sign is a sign, and that's all we had to go on.

After a while, we realized that the trail was actually the Table Top after all, and we were taking the hard long way around. D'oh! Oh well, we relish a good workout. The trail was actually pretty nice, and fairly underused. We were no longer seeing other people, which is usually a good thing, but in this case we wouldn't have minded seeing someone to verify our route.

After a while, we came around a corner (with a great view of Mt. Diablo) and found ourselves at a junction. To the right was a trail leading to a giant (and I mean GIANT) cow in front of a fence. Beyond the fence looked to be a paved road. Probably not where we want to go, I said (although the cow was a major part of the decision-making process). Atul agreed, and we took the trail to the left, which steeply rose up the side of a hill. When we got to the top of the hill, we could see the trail junction where we mistakenly took Table Top. Thus, we had managed to make a full loop to within 20 yards of where we started. That's OK, at least we knew where we were, and so we took the only remaining path.

This trail took us past some antenna and seemed to head off forever into the rolling hills. We met up with some British women and asked them if we were on the path to Spengler Trail (our next target). They had no idea, since they had came from a different trailhead and just intuitively knew the route. Fortunately, not too much later, we found the Spengler trailhead and headed down it. Ten minutes later we passed a "no trespassing" sign and we both said, "Hey, wait, didn't we see that before?" Another ten minutes passed and we were at the giant cow intersection. How could this possibly happen? It felt like we were in the Blair Witch Project--we started looking around for those little stick bundles. It was a wee bit scary, because it seemed like we had not missed any turns, and yet took two completely different paths to get to the same place.

The cow was gone, so Atul lobbied to check out the previously-guarded fence. We climbed over to get out, and eventually concluded that this wasn't part of the park, and would lead us far, far away. So we climbed back into the park and headed up the steep hill. Again. This time, though, we came across a junction that we had missed previously (actually, we didn't miss it, but my keen orienteering skills had ruled it out the first time around), and took the new route. This turned out to be the right way, and after a while we were actually making progress back toward the car.

The rest of the trip was straightforward for a change, and we eventually stumbled into the parking lot around 3pm, about the time we were originally supposed to be back at Intel. Whoops! Sorry Atul, but at least it was a good, beautiful, rain-free, hike. This may be the only hike I would avoid in the future, but with so many great parks in the Bay Area, we can easily wait another three years to try it again.

P.S. After the 1.25 hr drive back, a very hungry Atul managed to get home, shower, and drive all the way back to Martinez to make his dinner appointment right on time at 6pm. Hopefully it was worth it!

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