272. Las Trampas and Eagle Peaks (06/29/02)
Hikers (7): Cal, Eugene, Holly, Isabelle, Jerry, Peter, Taylor
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Las Trampas Regional Wilderness near San Ramon
Write-up by Peter
It was a hot day in June as we headed to the East Bay hills. A couple of our regular hikers, Steve and Russ, bailed out to attend some lame BBQ instead. It was going to be their loss as this was destined to be one of the all-time classic hikes.
By the time Taylor, Eugene, and I arrived at the trailhead, Isabelle, Cal, and his daughter Holly were already there. Welcome, Holly! In a surprise guest visit, we were also joined by Big Jerry Leon. Good to see Jerry on the hike again. We geared up and hit the trail quickly in an effort to get the tough part over with before things got too hot.
1, 2, 3, ... INCH!
As we headed out, I noticed Big Jer had only brought along one bottle of water. I thought to myself that this could be trouble, given that it was going to be a 90-degree day. Isabelle had also only brought one bottle, but this was standard procedure for her. I convinced myself that I was worrying needlessly -- after all, nothing ever goes wrong on an INCH hike.
We huffed and puffed up the incline towards Las Trampas Peak. As always, it was just a piece of cake for Isabelle, although Taylor did a good job keeping up with her. I was in the middle, bridging the gap between the front-runners and the stragglers, making sure everyone was on the right trail. We all made it to the peak in good time. There was a nice breeze at the top, and I made sure we all got a good rest before heading out again.
From the peak, we back-tracked down the fire road for about half a mile, then took the turnoff towards Vail and Eagle Peaks. The next mile was pretty pleasant as it was mostly flat and shaded. It felt good to get off that fire road with the sun beating down on us.
A short time later, we descended into the valley, then scrambled up the steep trail to Eagle Peak. This trail involves some minor rock climbing and you need to use your hands to pull yourself up at a couple of points. As I looked up towards the peak, I could see Isabelle sitting there, having barely broken a sweat. Looking back down, I could see the others making their way up. Jerry had slowed down quite a bit, but he kept going.
There wasn't much shade at the top, but we took what we could get. I wanted to make sure everyone was well-rested before heading onwards. Prompted by Eugene's interrogation, Holly entertained us with stories of her band and their travels on the road. After a couple more minutes, Jerry made it to the top. In contrast to Isabelle, he was sweating buckets and he was starting to look a little pale. He said he was OK, but he was almost out of water, so I gave him an extra bottle and told him to drink it to avoid dehydration. I was starting to get worried again, but I knew that the next couple of miles would be flat and downhill, so that was good news.
As we headed out again, I stayed back with Jerry to make sure he was OK. We made good progress heading downhill and towards the open meadows. I knew Taylor was going to get nervous soon because we were heading into Cowville. We passed one large group of cows without much incident. That seemed to go well, so I told Jerry and Taylor to go ahead as I stopped for a couple of minutes to take a "nature break".
As I headed back out on trail, I saw Taylor and Jerry coming back towards me. What had happened? It turns out there was another large group of cows up ahead on the trail. Cal, Holly, Isabelle, and Eugene had passed through them, but the other two had turned back. It was at this point that I learned Taylor (and Rusty) were not the only ones afraid of cows -- Big Jerry was too! Great, just great.
I walked along in front, trying to get Taylor and Jerry to follow me. As we approached the cows, we could see that they had become quite agitated. I think Eugene had riled them up! To make things worse, it looked like there was also a bull in their midst. This part of the trail was not an open meadow any more, so there was no easy way around them. We were surrounded by cows!
I figured the best thing to do was just to sit and wait for a few minutes for the cows to settle down. Wrong! They just got more and more worked up and started mooing loudly. This carried over to the other group we had just passed, and they started mooing too. This was too much for Jerry and he took off like a bat out of hell and disappeared somewhere in the bushes.
Now, the angry bovines starting heading towards us. Uh-oh! We backtracked up the trail. Fortunately, there were many trees around, so we figured we could hide behind one for protection. Even better, I found one that was easy to climb, so I told Taylor to climb up and find a good spot. She took one fork, I took another, and we called out to Jerry to join us. After some reluctance, he finally came out of the bushes and joined us up the tree. He made it just in time, because the cows had started to walk down the trail towards us.
We sat in the tree, with cows underneath us mooing loudly. I told everyone to sit tight and they would be OK. Sure enough, after a little while the cows settled down and began heading out to join their brethren in the meadow. I told Taylor and Jerry to stay there while I went back down to see if the coast was clear. Bad news! There were more of them coming towards us, including the bull! I headed back up the tree again and told the others to hold on tight.
The cows circled the tree, and one of them just lay down and looked like she was going to take a nap. This was going to take a while. We started shouting at them to get them to move, and eventually most of the them did take off, except for the bull. He continued to pace around the tree and he did not have a happy look on his face. I was just hoping we wouldn't try to ram the tree to knock us out. Jerry was balanced precariously and he'd probably be the first to go tumbling down. By the way, can bulls climb trees?
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally seemed to tire of us and walked off slowly. We decided to wait a while longer to make sure he was far away before climbing back down. Now that the little ordeal was over, we'd have to make up for lost time. I figured we'd spent the better part of an hour up in the tree, so there was no hope of catching the others. We'd just have to do the best we could.
The next mile was all downhill, followed by another flat mile, so we didn't make any stops. We took the sharp turnoff leading towards the Amigo Trail. This portion had a few short uphill sections, and I could see Jerry was starting to struggle again, so I slowed the pace down.
By the time we made it to the foot of the Amigo Trail, Jerry was exhausted and did not look good at all. He said his chest was hurting. Uh-oh. I knew he had been given pills for his high blood pressure, and this was definitely not good. I said we should take a long rest. The added complication was that Taylor had a doctor's appointment later that afternoon, so she couldn't stay long. She was also out of water at this point. This was not good at all. I had one bottle left, so I split it between her and Jerry.
I knew there was another park entrance about a half-mile downhill from where we were, so I told Jerry to take a long rest and then head towards that entrance. My plan was for myself and Taylor to go back to the start, then drive around to the other entrance and pick Jerry up. But Jerry didn't like this idea. He said he would just rest a bit and then follow us. I didn't think it was a good idea, but he insisted he could make it, so I gave him my map and then we headed out.
The toughest trail of the day came at the worst time. We were tired, thirsty, and in a rush, so there was no time to stop. We huffed and puffed our way up the incline. This was brutal. The trail was only three-quarters of a mile long, but it just went straight up without a break anywhere. We finally made it to the top, and stopped to catch our breath.
We waited and waited and waited ....... no sign of Jerry. I wish he had just taken my advice and stayed put. Taylor was getting antsy because she was worried she'd miss her appointment. I gave her my car keys and told her to take off. I'd go back down to get Jerry and then we'd either get a ride home with the others or we'd wait for her to come back and get us later.
I pointed Taylor in the right direction, and then I headed back down the hill. I was hoping I'd see Jerry soon, but no such luck. I kept calling out for him -- Jer-ree, Jer-reeee, JER-REEEEEEE!!! -- but no reply. I went all the way back down to the bottom of the hill, with no sign of Jerry anywhere. I could only think of two possibilities -- he'd either taken my advice and headed towards the other gate (good), or had tried to make it up the hill and had keeled over somewhere along the way (bad).
I had to go with the worst-case senario, so there was no time to waste. I headed back up the Hill From Hell from one more time. Ugh! This was even more brutal than the last time. I would have killed for a drink of water. The Amigo Trail was no friend of mine! All along the trail I kept calling out for Jerry and looking down the drop-offs to make sure he had not fallen down somewhere. No luck. I made it back to the top with no sign of Jerry. He must've taken the trail to other gate. Now I just had to get back to the start to tell the others.
I rested briefly, just long enough to catch my breath, and then headed out again. I knew it was less than 3 miles back to the car, so I'd be there in less than an hour. I headed down into the next valley and up towards the top of the final ridge. Man, was I thristy! My throat felt like sandpaper and I was afraid my muscles would start cramping. As I passed a watering trough for the horses, I was mighty tempted to take a drink. Fortunately large parts of this trail were shaded, so it offered good protection from the mid-afternoon sun, and helped me from keeling over from dehydration.
I finally made it to the Ridge Trail. Now I was back under the merciless sun, but at least I knew I was close to the end and it would all be downhill from here. Less than half an hour to go, so I picked up the pace as best I could. As I began to get closer, I thought I heard a helicopter circling behind me, but I paid it no attention. I was too tired to care. I was just focusing on one thing -- to get back to the car and get help for Jerry.
As I stumbled into the parking lot, I saw Cal, Holly, and Eugene were there, but no Isabelle. I assumed she had taken off. My car was also still there! Where was Taylor? She was supposed to have been here before me. Uh-oh! I asked Cal if he'd seen her and he said he'd been here for a long time and had seen no sign of her. They'd all come back together and Isabelle had already taken off. Now, I was starting to get worried. Just then, some park rangers, a state trooper car, and a large fire truck pulled in. A couple of seconds later, another helicopter flew over the parking lot. What the heck was going on?
I headed over to the fire truck and asked what was going on. The crew told me they'd heard that a hiker had a heart attack and was searching for him and asked if I knew anything about it. I said no and headed back towards our group. Suddenly it hit me -- they were talking about Jerry! But then I thought if it had been Jerry, how would these guys have heard about it? The only person who'd been with me and Jerry was Taylor, and she wasn't here either. I was completely confused. Where the heck was she? I tried to work through the sequence of events with Cal and Eugene, but nothing made sense.
I headed back to the fire truck to get more information. They were looking at a map of the park and reviewing the areas they had searched. They also told me they had a horse patrol and foot patrols out on the trail. This was a big operation. I reviewed the sequence of events with them, including the part where we got chased up the tree by the bull. When the ranger heard that part, he chuckled and said, "You got treed, huh? Yeah, Ol' Nasty will do that to a couple of people each year!". Since there were more pressing issues at hand, I didn't delve into why they didn't remove Ol' Nasty from the park.
Back to the search ..... the fire crew told me a guy had called in from the trail, saying that someone was having chest pains and was in trouble. Hmmmm, since it was guy that had called, it wasn't Taylor, so maybe someone else had found Jerry (if indeed it was Jerry they were referring to). But it still didn't explain where Taylor was. Maybe she had taken a wrong trail and ended up at another entrance. Dammit! I wish she had just waited a few minutes for me and not taken off by herself.
I had to go back out on trail and look for Taylor, but first I needed some water. Everyone was completely out. Great, just great. Eugene offered to go get some, but I couldn't wait that long. Looking in the back seat of Cal's car, a bottle caught my eye. Cal said it had been sitting in the hot car for a few weeks, but I didn't care. I guzzled that warm algae-filled liquid like it was crystal clear ice water distilled from an Alaskan glacier. Aaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!
I went back to check with the crew one more time. The operation had now expanded to include emergency personnel from the county as well as the local authorities. They said one of their helicopters had picked up someone, but gave no further details as they all headed out. I figured the best thing was just to stay put until we got more definitive information.
We kept trying to put the pieces together, but nothing made sense. It was getting late, and there was no more news, so I was starting to get antsy. I figured the only way to get to the bottom of this was to head back out on the trail. I recalled that as I was heading down from the last ridge, I had seen a lone hiker standing off to the side of the trail looking down into a gulch. The way he was acting seemed a little odd, but I had not thought much of it at the time. Now, I was starting to feel nervous. Had something happened to Taylor? Had this guy done something to her?
I headed back up the ridge as fast as I could, with all different thoughts racing through my head. I was thinking the worst, but I tried to push those thoughts out of my mind. I found the spot where the hiker had been standing and looked down the embankment. I called out Taylor's name, but no reply. The long grass did not show any signs of anyone having walked through there, but I started heading down towards a clump of trees. I couldn't find any signs showing that anyone had been there. I called out her name again, looked around a little more, and finally decided to turn back.
Back on the trail, I kept going further up towards the top of the ridge. I told myself that this really didn't make sense because this was the same trail I had come down earlier and if Taylor had been on this trail I would have seen her. I told myself to stop, take a deep breath, and think logically. After a few seconds of internal deliberation, I decided to head back down and explore other trails.
I ran down the hill, calling out her name every few steps -- "Baby, Bay-bee!!!". Then I heard her voice: "Bun!!!". I looked down the hill, and there she was, standing off on a side trail. She was safe! I felt such a huge sense of relief. We waved to each other, and I shouted for her to stay there as I headed down as fast as I could (just picture the scene in the movies when the boy and the girl run to each other in slow motion through the field with the music building to a crescendo). I was just hoping I wouldn't trip and break my neck as I ran down the hill. That would kind of spoil the moment.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached her and gave her a huge hug. We both started talking at the same time, through gasps of air. It turns out that after she left me, she met up with the lone hiker and told him about Jerry. The hiker then called 9-1-1 and told them a guy on the trail was having chest pains, but could not give an exact location. In the meantime, Taylor took off on the wrong trail and got lost. After running around for a while in the heat, she actually fainted under a tree. By the time she came to, she heard a helicopter circling overhead, so she thought it was a search party for her. She made it to a clearing and flagged the chopper down. They picked her up, and she told them about Jerry, so they all went off in search of him.
While they were circling around, a radio call came in that an ambulance had picked up someone on the other side of the park and they were bringing him to the parking lot. Turns out Jerry managed to get out of the park, stumble into a residential area, and collapse in someone's driveway. The homeowner saw what had happened and also called 9-1-1. Jerry later told me that as he lay there in the driveway, he could see the chopper circling overhead and he knew it was coming for him, but the chopper had nowhere to land so he had to wait for the ambulance.
By the time we made it back to the parking lot, the ambulance and choppers had cleared out. Jerry was there, and he looked none the worse for wear. The paramedics had told him he was OK, just a little dehydrated. What an ordeal! To top it off, Jerry told us today was his birthday! Imagine the phone call I would've had to make to his mom telling her we killed her son on his own birthday. This was definitely one for the ages.
For better or worse, this was one of the most memorable hikes of all time. Our thanks to the folks from the San Ramon Fire Department and emergency crews for an outstanding job in helping us out. You guys are the best, and we are eternally in your debt. To the lone hiker, our thanks for calling the emergency crews. I'm sorry I mistrusted you and thought the worst. People are fundamentally good at heart!
The key lesson I hope we all learned is not to take the hike too lightly. Respect the trail! Make sure you are in good shape and have enough water, otherwise bad things can happen. The last thing I recall was Big Jer throwing his head back and cackling like a maniac as he peeled off in his Mustang. Maybe some lessons are learned the hard way .....
Epilog: A few months later, a writer from the Contra Costa Times contacted me to get some information about Las Trampas. Of course, I had to include the highlights of this hike. You can read all about it in Jackie Burrell's write-up. I should drop Jackie a note complaining that they spelled my name wrong!
Eugene's 160th leaf
Holly's 1st leaf
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