70. Ohlone Wilderness Trail (06/13/98)
Hikers (5): Amy, Haydar, Jamie, Peter, Steve
Distance: 30 miles
Rating: 7 difficulty, 9 beauty
Park info: Ohlone Regional Wilderness from Del Valle to Mission Peak
Write-up by Peter
We had to choose a good hike for the INCH 70th. I had originally thought about going from Del Valle to Rose Peak and back (a 20-mile Level 5 hike), but then Ram suggested that as long as we were going to Rose Peak, we may as well do the entire Ohlone Wilderness Trail from Del Valle to Mission Peak (28 miles total). Hmmmmmm. It sounded appealing. The book recommended doing this hike over 3 days, but we were going to do it in one. A Level 7 hike for the 70th!
Note: After Ram got us all psyched up to do this hike, he bailed out himself! I was sorely tempted to dish out a Black Leaf for that. Rusty had some lame-ass excuse about wanting to spend the day in San Francisco instead. I guess we know who the real hikers are around here!
We met up at Intel at 5 o'clock in the morning. Taylor and Beth had graciously volunteered to drive us to the trailhead and pick us up at the other end. They were both in their jammies and yawned the entire way to Del Valle. I guess they didn't have the same pre-Ohlone adrenaline rush to keep them awake. The rest of us did our part by making sure they didn't fall asleep on the way and kill us before the Death March.
When we arrived at Del Valle, there was a long line of cars with boat trailers waiting to get in. Figuring this would give us a long delay, we decided to get out and walk the extra mile to the trailhead (like 28 miles is not enough!). Muffy and Buffy joined us in the INCH chant:
1, 2, 3, ... INCH!
The first 6 miles of the trail was the standard hike to Murietta Falls ... the steep incline at the beginning, the breather at the top of the Rocky Ridge, the walk down into Williams Gulch, then the butt-kicker climb up the Big Burn to the top of the Wauhab Ridge.
Partly because we had psyched ourselves up for the 28-miler and partly because of the cool weather thanks to the early start, this first portion was not that bad. Esteban got separated from the rest of us pretty early. I figured I wouldn't be seeing him the rest of the day. The girls were a little ahead of Haydar and myself. When I stopped for a brief rest in the gulch (my favorite spot on this hike, which I always make a point of stopping at), Haydar took off as well, so I was on my own.
After a short while, I began the trek up through the switchbacks. As I said, it was not so bad this time. I didn't even need to take a break at the gate near the top (another of our usual resting spots). A little bit after the gate, I caught up with Amy and Jamie. By now the sun was starting to come out, and the girls were starting to peel off their layers of clothing. I was glad we had got the steepest part of the trail over with early.
At Johnny's Pond, we stopped to slap on some sunscreen and study the map. From here, we would be branching off from the usual Murietta Trail and venturing into new territory. Rose Peak was 4 miles away -- a piece of cake! The next stretch was one of the more pleasant parts of the hike. Pretty flat, with lush green fields and lots of shade. If you like cows, then there was plenty to keep you happy. Amy (who we renamed Perky) was having the time of her life chatting away with our bovine friends. Moooooooooo!
We began our descent down into a canyon. Not good! That meant that we would have to climb out the other side to make it up to Rose Peak (the highest point in the Ohlone Wilderness). We crossed the stream at the bottom of the canyon then began the trek up the other side. By now the sun had come out in force and we were starting to get a little tired. As we made it to the top of the ridge, it did not help that we saw the trail going back down the other side again. It looks like Rose Peak would take a little more sweat than we had anticipated!
After another long downhill/uphill combo, Rose Peak was finally in sight. It's not a large peak and does not really stand out from the surroundings, but it inspired us to pick up the pace nonetheless. As I approached the turnoff for the peak (it's not actually on the Ohlone Trail), I saw an arrow of rocks pointing to the peak. Esty wanted to make sure that we didn't miss it!
The view from the top was great ... we could clearly see Mt. Diablo, Mission Peak, Moffett Field, downtown San Jose, the Bay Bridge and the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco. The downside was that after 4 hours of tough hiking, we were only one-third of the way through the hike, so we did not have much time to sit down and enjoy the view.
Shortly after leaving Rose Peak, I began to feel the initial pangs of hunger coming on. I was tempted to stop for lunch (we had been hiking for over 4 hours already), but convinced myself to go further before breaking. After all, we were only one-third of the way through this damn hike! I knew the next few miles would be mainly downhill, so it would not be so bad.
We kept going ... the good news was that we could see our final destination (Mission Peak) up ahead to inspire us. The bad news was that after walking for another hour, it did not look any closer! We kept going ......
We finally reached a creek at the bottom of a small valley. I took off my backpack and threw it on the ground. Time for lunch! The girls said they were going to keep going. I sat there on the ground looking at them struggling up the incline on the other side. Did I really want to do that right after eating lunch? Probably not. Better to keep going. I loaded up again and began the trek uphill.
At the top of the incline, the scenery suddenly changed. We were now truly in the Ohlone backcountry -- not a tree to be seen anywhere. Just miles and miles of rolling hills and grassland. We trudged along under the midday sun. Perky and Jamie were starting to blister up. My feet were fine, but my knees were starting to get pretty sore. We do this for fun?
As I walked along, I suddenly saw something crouching in the tall grass off to the side. Mountain lion? I stopped in my tracks. It did not move. I waited. After a few seconds, it began to slowly back up, and then disappeared. I waited a few more seconds, and then began to slowly walk away. As I rounded the next turn, it scurried out of the tall grass behind me and ran off. It was only a bobcat (but much bigger than I had imagined).
A little further up, I passed the marker for the halfway point of the hike. It felt good to see it. By the way, I have to say that this is one of the best-marked trails we have ever been on, and the numbered signposts make it very easy to follow. There are also quite a number of taps, so there is not a need to carry a lot of water. Now that I had crossed the halfway point, it was definitely time for lunch. I stopped at the next tree I came to (which was more than a mile away) and took a long-overdue rest. Aaaaaahhhhhhh!!
The girls showed up a few minutes later. They only stopped briefly, and then kept right on going. These are Superwomen! Looking at my watch, I saw I was right on schedule, so I could not afford to linger too long. I finished my lunch quickly, then saddled up once more.
After another couple of miles, we entered the Sunol Wilderness Area. There's a popular backpack camp there which can be easily accessed from the Sunol side. After a few hours wandering in the wilderness, it felt almost strange to see other people!
After a couple more miles, we ended up on one of the trails we had taken just two weeks ago. It felt comforting to be back on familiar turf again. Inspired, we picked up the pace, and before too long we were at the Sunol Ranger Station (but not before I slipped on a steep downhill and twisted my knee for the second time in a week - ugh!).
We found a nice picnic table under the shade and peeled off our socks and shoes. It was not a pretty sight! But, man, it felt good just to sit down for a few minutes.
Having made it back to civilization after having walked more than 20 miles, it really felt like this would be a good point to end the hike. At the very least, I could have really used a one-hour nap. Getting motivated to put our shoes back on and now begin the uphill climb to Mission Peak was really tough. I would have to say it was the hardest part of the whole ordeal.
Jamie mentioned that she had a cousin who lived nearby and could get her to come pick us up. I was not going to quit, but by looking at her blisters, I would not have blamed her if she bailed out at this point.
I am proud to say that no-one bailed out. We did another INCH cheer for morale and then hit the trail again.
The first mile led uphill through open grassland -- not a pleasant way to spend a hot summer afternoon. Thankfully, by the second mile the trail became shady. Perky took off at a pretty good clip, I kept lumbering on at my slow pace, and Jamie was bringing up the rear. After a while, I noticed I was getting hungry again, so I pulled my last bagel out of my backpack and ate it as I walked along.
After a couple of miles, the trail flattened out and led through some nice grassy meadows ... it was refreshing to see some green after all those brown hills at Ohlone. I was thinking that this was certainly a nicer way to visit Mission Peak than our usual brutal trail. It would be nice to do a Sunol-to-Mission Peak hike in the future.
The trail turned uphill again, then finally plateaued out a mile from the top of Mission Peak. Finally, it was in clear sight! Seeing it gave me burst of energy. I blazed my way through the field of Killer Cows, and caught up with Perky on the other side. She must have had a field day with the cows!
We headed up the incline towards the top of Mission Peak together. When we reached the final junction before the peak, she decided to stick with the trail and head down the other side (the peak itself is not part of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail). Even though I had been to this peak many times before, I just could not go this far and not walk to the top. I had to go the extra half-mile uphill to the top. Besides, doing the side trip to the peak would make the whole thing an even 30 miles. Bye, Perky!
I huffed and puffed my way up the steep incline and finally made it to the top. Thankfully, there was not a big crowd up there and I was able to sit down and enjoy the view in peace. Somewhere, off in the distance, over countless hills and valleys, was Del Valle reservoir. It's a satisfying feeling when you're so high up and still can't see where you started walking from because it's so far away.
After about 20 minutes, I began to head back down. Coming off the peak, I crossed paths with Jamie on her way up. Atta girl!
The way down was rough on my aching knees. Every step would send a shooting pain up and down my legs. I was sure I was going to be majorly sore the next day. It took me almost an hour to get down to the parking lot, but the ordeal was finally over.
Esteban had come in about 3 hours before me and had read most of War and Peace (or some other equally lengthy book) in the interim. Haydar had been in for about an hour and Amy had made it back about a half-hour earlier. After another 20 minutes, Jamie showed up as well. High fives all around! Fortunately, our two kind drivers showed up a few minutes later. Good timing!
Now, it was time to go home for a well-deserved rest!
Note from Steve 12/2002: Found my trail map from this hike while organizing a giant pile of accumulated hike material. Noticed I had scrawled the "finish" times of everyone on the hike (I started a stopwatch at the beginning of the hike). Let this serve as a guide for other intrepid hikers.
Note from Peter 12/16/2003: I just saw a notice on Intel's internal web site that Amy passed away suddenly. "Amy Barron, a seven-year veteran of Intel and Human Resources, died Tuesday at Kaiser Medical Center in Santa Clara after collapsing on her way to work. Amy was assisted by Intel employees who were unable to revive her ... (some Intel-related stuff deleted) ... Amy is survived by her 4-year old daughter, Lauren, her mother, Kathy, and sister, Cassy. Amy was 36 years old, and her passions included caring for her daughter, boating, and being outdoors." We only knew Amy briefly, but I will never forget her. She only did three hikes with us, but they included two of the toughest ever -- Mississippi Lake and the Ohlone Trail. When she did the Ohlone Trail with us, she was actually pregnant with her daughter, but hiked the entire trail. Our backs were sore, our knees were aching, our feet were all blistered and bloody, but she never complained once and the thought of stopping or turning back never entered her mind. I will always remember Perky's enthusiasm and beautiful smile. To me, she represents the true INCH spirit. May she rest in peace.
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