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Creek Running North
November 01, 2004
In 1983, Bob Baird and I set out to climb Mount Diablo. We had neither car nor ability to borrow one. So we hopped on BART at six in the morning, disembarked at Walnut Creek station, and headed for the mountain. It was a good six miles of walking through morning suburbs before we ascended a single slope.
We carried almost no water, and the temperature would reach about 100 later in the day. By the time we reached the park boundary, about nine miles into our walk and 1500 feet higher, we were already exhausted. We rested a bit, filled our gullets and small bottles and shirt pockets with water, and struggled up the last 1500 feet of climb to the summit, taking a break midway to lay near-comatose in the trail, attracting a half dozen inquisitive turkey vultures.
The summit, in those days, bore a snack bar. We gorged, looked out at the view from the top (elevation 3849), and then descended the north face down Mitchell Canyon, past tarantulas and the first rattlesnake ever to rattle at me. At the trailhead, we hitched a ride to BART in Concord and then fell asleep on the train. I spent the next two decades thinking of that hike, looking at the broad slopes of Diablo and remembering a very long, hot, achingly exhausting day.
Last week it occurred to me that I needed to climb Diablo again.
Matthew came along with me on Friday. We started out from the Mitchell Canyon trailhead at around 10:30. I'd foolishly worn heavy jeans rather than shorts, and within about half an hour was convinced that my sartorial decision would prove my undoing. Our trail was more or less level for a couple miles, and then started climbing steeply, switchbacking up the head of the canyon. Before long, I was working too hard to worry about clothing choices.
It was a great day for a hard hike, and the brush rabbits and prairie falcon seemed to agree. After a couple luxurious snack-and-oxygen breaks among the oaks, the hike between them with increasingly dramatic views, we trudged over a bald ridge and were greeted by a view of the Oakland Hills ten miles off and a thousand feet below. The summit, which we reached not long later, was eerily calm. Stretching calf muscles never felt so good.
And then down, especially hurriedly when we realized we had 90 minutes of daylight left to walk eight miles and descend more than 3000 feet with legs already hoping to rest. We feared we might have to sit at trailside in the dark for an hour before the moon rose. Or perhaps that should be "hoped." Either way, we dropped out of the sky, abusing our quadriceps horribly on the steep fire roads. Before the light ebbed completely, we were at the truck. Call it 16 miles of hiking, and probably 4000 feet total climb to make 3300 feet in elevation gain, over the course of eight hours. On Sunday, at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, I looked south toward the mountain, retraced our hike on the horizon, and thought about side trips for the next climb.
Posted by Chris Clarke at November 1, 2004 03:42 PM
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I greet Mt Diablo every morning, from a precipitous crest near my apt in San Francisco, but have never been tempted to climb it ... more of a wet-forested-valley hiker myself, afraid of all that heat and clarity ...
But I'm glad it's out there, marking the frontier ...
I know we keep making mention of a mutual outing. Given your last few stories, I'm getting a little nervous . . . you seem to have a knack for potential disasters, and I a talent for actual ones: were I on that hike, I'm sure I'd've never made it back down in time.
Ah, the hell with it. Disaster stories make for good blogging. One of these days, right?
Right.Posted by: Siona at November 2, 2004 04:35 PM