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7. Murietta Falls (07/06/96)

Hikers (5): Camy, Eugene, Peter, Steve, Taylor
Distance: 12 miles
Rating: 5 difficulty, 10 beauty
Park info: Ohlone Regional Wilderness south of Livermore

Write-up by Peter

Our first Level 5 hike! We had looked forward to it for a long time.

Murietta Falls is the highest waterfall in the Bay Area, and is named after the legendary outlaw of the 1800's, Joaquin Murietta. The hiking book warned us that in the summer months the waterfall would be dry as a bone and only the Ghost of Murietta would be there to laugh at us as we struggled up the climb. Nevertheless, our intrepid group decided to go for it on the Fourth of July, which, to boot, was the hottest day of the year.

We bought lunch at the usual Togo's on Lawrence. Our buddy once again asked us if we were going to Great America (see Hike #1 and Hike #3). I was beginning to think this guy must have some stolen Great America tickets for sale under the counter.

After about an hour's drive, we arrived at the parking lot where a shuttle bus would take us to the trailhead. The trail started next to a big lake where hundreds of families and screaming children had descended for the Fourth of July festivities. Ram was supposed to meet us here, but we figured we had no hope of finding him in the crowds. The barbecue grills were heating up, and so was the weather, so it was time to hit the trail.

Onward ....

After about a mile's walk, we arrived at the official start of the trail. We had some hints that this was not going to be easy. First, we noticed that there was nobody else besides us on the trail. Second, there were plenty of warnings about rattlesnakes and mountain lions. Third, there was a sign-in sheet so that the Park Rangers would know if they had to come and drag our dead bodies away at the end of the day. Ram had not signed in. We signed up and figured he'd see our names if he showed up.

Let the Death March begin!

The first two miles were a slow uphill climb. Esteban was already out of sight up ahead, and Eugene was far behind (he picked a great trail for his beginner hike!). The temperature was starting to take its toll already. Luckily, there was a water tap at the 2-mile mark, so we were able to refill our bottles and regroup. A group of runaway youth had set up camp by the tap and seemed pretty nervous when we first showed up, but after they realized we were just passing through, they became pretty friendly.

The next mile was pretty steep. Eugene was tempted to bail out and go back, but succumbed to relentless peer pressure and forged ahead. We assured him we would mark the trail for him.

The Ghost was starting to smile ....

The trail then flattened out for about a mile, which allowed us to catch our breath. The worst was yet to come .... a long, steep descent into a gulch, then back up the other side. The endless switchbacks leading up from the gulch were a butt-kicker. Added to the torture was knowing that we'd have to go through the gulch again on the way back.

The Ghost was chuckling now ....

After the switchbacks came another grinding uphill climb, with no end in sight. At each point where it seemed like it was about to end, there would be another rise up ahead. About halfway up this portion, Eugene couldn't take it any more and sat down on a rock and refused to go any further. His last words as we left him in the dust were, "Don't leave me for the mountain lions!".

The Ghost was holding his sides laughing ....

The next half-mile took about an half an hour to cover ... water supplies were beginning to run low. As we sat on a log gasping for air, an old-timer came waltzing through carrying nothing but a small hip flask. We asked him how much further we had to go. When he found out we were "only" going as far as the falls, he told us we had about another mile to go. He was in the middle of a 22-mile jaunt through the hills. He laughed at us as he waved goodbye.

Finally, the trail flattened out and we saw the sign for the falls. We were hoping to eat lunch at the falls, but hunger was starting to take its toll. We stopped 200 yards short of the falls and collapsed under a tree. It gives you an idea how tough the hike was -- we didn't have enough energy to go the final few steps without resting and eating. That hot Gatorade burned the back of the throat as it went down!

At this point, Taylor and Camy couldn't go on any further and it was up to Esteban and me to silence the Ghost. From the lunch point, it was a short uphill climb through some thistles to the top of the falls. As promised, the place was as dry as a bone, but that did not matter to us. We had made it! We spit in the face of the Ghost as we stood at the top of the falls and admired the view.

We began to trudge back ... the downhill portions would not be kind to our aching knees and ankles. We picked up Eugene back where we had left him. He had not moved an inch in about 2 hours! The steep descent back into the gulch was painful. At the bottom, we had to rest for a long time. Our water was almost completely gone. I was sorely tempted to drink from the bug-infested stream, but saner heads prevailed, and I just splashed the water all over my head, arms, and legs (maybe swallowing a drop or two when no-one was looking!).

The climb back out of the gulch was murder ... there was only a few drops of water left and we were fighting over it like animals! Do you ever get the feeling you're being watched? We could swear the Ghost was looking down and telling us that he was having the last laugh. The thought of the water tap two miles ahead was the only hope that kept us going.

We finally made it to the tap. The runaway youth greeted us like we were warriors returning from battle. Water had never tasted so good before! We refilled all the bottles and some of us stood under the tap for a while before leaving. Rejuvenated, we began the final leg back down.

Within a few minutes, we were all completely dry again from the heat. As we descended down towards the lake, we could hear the sounds of boom boxes and screaming kids from the valley floor. It felt good to be back in civilization, but also strangely sad to leave this place. We made a promise to come back and visit the Ghost in the spring. Definitely a memorable hike!

The shuttle bus had stopped running by the time we got back to the bottom, so Esteban kindly ran on ahead and brought the car over from the parking lot. What a guy! Everyone (except Esteban) fell asleep in the car on the way home and then we passed out for the rest of the day. No fireworks for us, but a great Fourth of July!

Camy's 1st leaf
Eugene's 1st leaf

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