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94. French Trail (11/14/98)

Hikers (4): Beth, Eugene, Peter, Steve
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Redwood Regional Park near Oakland

Write-up by Peter

The hiking bible had told us of the wonders of a huge redwood forest smack dab in the middle of Oakland ..... couldn't pass this up!

There was a small turnout for this hike, but the intrepid foursome pressed ahead nonetheless. As it turned out, "smack dab in the middle of Oakland" was somewhat of an exaggeration. The park was at least 6 or 7 miles away from downtown Oakland, in the foothills overlooking the city. But the beauty of the place was not an exaggeration. It was certainly nice to see such a large redwood forest so close to a big city. The added bonus was that it was almost deserted (maybe the fact that it was a cool day in November had something to do with it).

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

After a quick half-mile along the flat Bridle Trail, the second half-mile was much tougher as it led up through the Orchard Trail switchbacks to the French Trail. Even though it was a nice cool day, we were huffing and puffing by the time we made it to the top. Whew! I was hoping the rest of the trail would not be like this!

My wishes came true ... the next 2.5 miles were a stroll through beautiful dense redwoods. Every once in a while, a gap would open up providing a great view of the canyon down below. Vive la France!

We finally came to a fork in road. Looking at the map, we saw that both trails led to our ultimate destination, Redwood Peak, the highest point in the park at just over 1600 feet. Muffy and Eugene chose to be lazy and take the shorter and easier of the two routes. Boooo!

Esteban and I were overflowing with testosterone and chose the tougher route, which involved first dropping down a few hundred feet and then taking the steepest trail in the park up to the peak. Onward!

The downward part was over quickly, and before we knew it we were standing in a giant clearing with huge redwoods towering over us. It was just the type of place you would expect a UFO to land in. Beautiful, but yet somewhat creepy! Even the name seemed somewhat out of this world: the Star Flower Trail.

After this, it was just pure uphill for half a mile on the Redwood Peak Trail to the top. Esteban blazed on ahead, and I kept plugging along at my slow pace. At one point the trail seemed to fork. Figuring the peak was on our right, I took the right branch. Not a good choice! Pretty soon I found myself in thick brush and getting poked by tree branches from all angles. I backtracked to the main trail and took the other branch. Much better!

As I neared the top, I heard Eugene and Muffy chattering away, and then I looked up and saw them coming towards me. This was odd ..... they had not seen Esteban. We scratched our heads and poked about in the bushes to the side of the trail (there were many places that looked like people had made trails, but they were all dead-ends).

Finally, I concluded that they had missed the turnoff to the peak and proceeded to continue along the Redwood Peak Trail. Sure enough, about a minute later, we arrived at the turnoff that took us up to the top, where we found Esty sitting on a big rock and wondering why it took everyone else so long to get here.

The top of Redwood Peak is different from most peaks that we've been to in that it's covered in redwoods (hence the name), which means that (a) the trees block the view, and (b) the trees block the sun, so it's pretty damn cold in mid-November! I didn't really care -- I just wanted to eat!

I took my time eating lunch (including savoring the all-important pickle), but the others were itching to go, so they packed up and headed back. I didn't care about the cold. My only concern was getting stuck with an arrow from the archery range just below the other side of the peak. Visions of cowboys and indians came to mind ....

The trail back was quite different -- open fire road along the top of the West Ridge -- dry and sunny. It felt good to walk under the warm sun on a late fall afternoon. Mmmmmmmm! Life is good.

After a couple of miles, the trail linked up with the Orchard Trail which led back down to where we had started from. Before heading back to the car, we stopped by to check out the route the famous Rainbow Trout take to swim upstream from the San Leandro Reservoir to spawn, but seeing as it was not spawning season (late winter / early spring), there were no fishies to be seen.

It just means we'll have to come back and check it out another day -- not a bad idea at all!

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