Category Archives: Recreation

Mt. Diablo: Falls Trail Loop

IMG_1969I took a hike up Mt. Diablo last Saturday with some good friends of mine. We hiked the Falls Trail Loop which is a 6 mile loop of moderate difficulty. I’ve lived in the East Bay for many years and this is the first time I have ever hiked Mt. Diablo. I’ve driven up to the top of Mt. Diablo several times during summer months when it is very hot and dry. I think that is why it has never really appealed to me to take a hike in this park. However, during the winter and early spring water falls appear and you can view these falls on the Falls Trail loop. The falls make for a much more appealing and interesting hike.

We started our trip at 7:30 a.m. departing from the park entry at Regency Drive and following the Donner Creek fire road. I won’t repeat the directions of the trail, but you can find more information about the hike here and a map of the trails here. Hiking during this time of year the trails are a bit muddy so I would suggest a mid-height hiking boot to provide some ankle support rather tennis shoes.

After a moderately steep inclination, the trail narrows from a wide fire road, to a small single-track trail and you begin to feel like you are really going somewhere. The elevation increases and some great views of the city of Clayton and the brushed covered areas below can be seen. At this point in the hike you can also hear the water from the creek below rushing by and see a glimpse of the falls as shown above. Continuing on the narrow trails takes you though some thickly covered areas where moss covers rocks and hillsides in a vivid greenish-yellow color. Ahead, the creek washes over the trail and this is the first place where you cross water on the hike. The creek is narrow and very shallow but adds some interest to the hike. We crossed the creek three times over the entire hike, some places the water is deeper and wider than others.

After crossing the creek and hiking over the hill about another 1/10 mile we come to another crossing which has the first water feature indicative of a water fall. A group of moss covered rocks which the creek washes over. Above this is another similar feature of a larger scale which I did not get pictures of. We stopped here for a bit to take some pictures, have a quick snack, and enjoy the scenery.

While we rested I realized that there is much more to Mt. Diablo than meets the eye from a distance. From far it doesn’t look like much more than scrub brush and dirt. Once you get inside on the trails however I saw a lot more than I expected. I also realized that Mt. Diablo is a great place to train for longer hiking expeditions. While the Falls Trail loop is a moderate hike, there’s a network of trails some of which I suspect can be quite strenuous.

IMG_1987After a short break we continued on to find the next fall. A short hike and we were there. For the size of the falls in Mt. Diablo this next fall is medium in size and has a small pool of water at the bottom. It’s not grand in size but adds a lot of interest to the hike. We stopped here again to take some pictures. I noticed the wind had kicked up a bit and the temperature dropped in this area. It’s best to be prepared with at least a light wind-breaker if you are going to take this hike. While you may remain warm while hiking, stopping to take pictures allows your body to cool off. I put my jacket back on at this point and kept it on for the remainder of the hike. We snapped a few pictures and carried on.

IMG_2003The next and final fall we came to is the largest of the falls viewable on this loop. I am not sure if this is the grand-daddy of all falls on Mt. Diablo but it is the largest of the ones we saw on our hike. Getting viewable access to this fall was a bit of work in itself. We had to climb up some very soft dirt on a steep incline to get up and over the creek and then navigate over wet, slippery rocks up the creek a bit to even see the fall. This is where having some nice lug soled boots comes in handy. Once there I stood on a steep face of soft dirt to get the picture to the right.

The fall is a long, and narrow fall that funnels water down a face of rock and into a shallow pool at the bottom. It’s hard to capture the true experience of being there in a camera lens but this is worth seeing at least once if you plan to hike Mt. Diablo. For a back yard destination this is a great hike.

We stopped here for awhile, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery before heading out. We navigated back down the creek, and slid down the steep hillside to get back to the main trail. This point is the highlight of the hike, the last, and largest fall to encounter. I took my last look around and then continued ahead on the main trail. We are also at the highest elevation of the hike as well and I was glad to realize the remainder of the hike is mostly down hill. We still have about three miles of hiking ahead of us from this point.

Not having any more falls to take pictures of I began taking pictures of whatever flowers I encountered. I have no idea what these are but here’s what I saw on this hike.

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A couple more miles and we had finally made it back to the trail head. The entire hike took us about four hours, including the time we took to stop and take pictures. On our way out it was about 11 a.m. and we saw quite a few people just starting the hike. Many didn’t even know where they were headed and I was surprised at how many I saw that seemed ill prepared for a hike, not even carrying water. Some I saw had two walking staffs and a full pack on. If you are going to take this hike I would recommend a minimal amount of gear. Here’s what you should have:

  1. Water – recommend 32 oz., minimum 16 oz.
  2. Cell phone – In case of emergency.
  3. Snack – energy bars, sandwich, etc.
  4. Trail map
  5. Mid-height hiking boots or rugged athletic shoes.
  6. Camera
  7. Light jacket

All of this fits nicely into a small day pack.

It’s also very helpful to know where you are going. You can find a map of Mt. Diablo trails at http://www.mdia.org/PDF%20Files/MtDiabloBrochure.pdf. Print it out and take it with you on the trail. A map is also posted on a board at the park entries but it’s better to have the map with you on the trail. Trail indicators are posted throughout the park to help guide your way as well. Heed the warnings on the signs. While it is rare you will
see one, keep an eye out for rattle snakes. Snakes are cold-blooded and they will warm themselves on rocks and gravel roads in the morning sun.

I suspect the falls will dry up shortly, so get out there and take a look before they slow to a trickle and the weather gets too hot. It’s definitely worth the trip. You can find more pictures of the hike here.

Returned from Newfoundland

I am back from my trip to Newfoundland, Canada. The trip was good. There were no weddings to attend this year (which is the reason for my previous trips) but it was the official coming home year for Daniel’s Harbor which is where my fiance is from and many of her family members still live. Three days of events were planned and an auditorium was built by local volunteers to host the bands and local talent. There was a BBQ, a poker tournament, face-painting for the kids and a few skits to entertain people during the day but the main attractions were the dances held in the late evenings at the auditorium. There was a five dollar cover charge and drink tickets were sold for beer and Bacardi Breezers. Needless to say everyone had a great time mingling, dancing and seeing old friends.

I also spent a lot of time salmon fishing on Portland Creek during the evenings. Unfortunately, the salmon fishing was slow and I only caught one salmon this trip. I tried every fly I had in my fly box and ended up empty handed most days. The salmon run is bad all over and the salmon just seem to be passing through and not hold up in the pools like usual. I am not sure if they are just late in showing up or if they have changed their behavior. I am not too disappointed though…the worst day fishing is still better than the best day at work. I enjoy just being on the river.

My fiance’s father, Dan, is a commercial fisherman. He fishes atlantic cod, lobster, and crab. It’s currently cod season and I decided to take some time and learn a bit about the commercial fishing trade by accompanying him on the fishing boat.

My first trip out began at 4:45 a.m. I met Dan over at his house to hitch a ride with him down to the boat. He supplied me with some rain gear, rubber boots, cotton gloves and a cup of tea. We quickly drank our tea and headed down to the docks, or “the beach” as they refer to it. We arrived at the boat a little past 5 a.m. and when Jason, my fiance’s brother, arrived he untied the boat and we headed out. The lines were not set out very far so it did not take long to steam out to the buoy locations.

Dan drove the boat, Jason pulled up the lines, and I took a crash course in how to gut 1200 lbs of cod fish and later learned how to cut out the tongues (cod tongues are a delicacy similar to calamari, but not quite). I quickly realized that I have been sitting behind a desk for way too long! My hands fatigued quickly to the point where I could barely maintain a grip on the fish as I held them overboard to gut them. I dropped a couple overboard but was able to retrieve them before they drifted out of reach below the surface of the water. While pulling up the lines a couple of these ugly buggers were on the line. Its known as the Atlantic wolffish and it is a mean looking son of a gun!

Cod fishing is a dirty job, and I was covered in fish guts from head to toe. Standing in a shallow pool of crimson-tinted water, blood and guts, I joked to them about sending up Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs.

After returning to the harbor, offloading the catch and selling it to the purchaser it was time to rebait the troll lines. Dan purchased about 8 boxes of frozen herring and we headed up to his shed and began cutting bait and rebaiting. This is a laborious process which is hell on the back and shoulders. I started out cutting bait and filled up three 5-gallon buckets full of herring. Then Jason set me up with a troll line bucket (basically a 30 gallon trash can) to bait. Each bucket contains a line, or rope, with 200 hooks attached at set intervals along the length of the line.

The process begins by dumping out the coiled rope and begin baiting each hook, and re-coiling back into the bucket. It’s extremely important to coil the line and baited hooks back into the bucket so that they do not get tangled as they are pulled out later when they reset the troll lines in the water. Needless to say this is not a speedy process and it takes several hours for 2-3 people to bait 10 buckets of troll lines containing 2000 hooks. I was not the fastest baiter but Jason did say I had the neatest coil he has ever seen.

After all the troll lines are baited it’s time reset them in the water. I never went out with them when they did this. I was simply too beat and smelly to care at this point. However, it doesn’t take them long to drop them back in the water, about an hour, and it might have been neat just to see how they go about selecting the spot to fish. Instead, I chose to head back to the house and call it a day. Needless to say when I returned from the beach I wreaked of fish guts, bait, sweat, and sea water. I was badly in need of a shower, food, and a nap.

I hopped in the shower, and cleaned up the best I could but the smell of the bait sticks around for a day or two. Later that evening, after lunch and a nap, I was bellied up to the bar for a much needed beer when a friend of mine said “Who smells like fish?”. I had to own up, but atleast I had an excuse.

I went out on the boat a couple of times. The experience was good and I don’t envy fishermen no matter how much I am fascinated with the TV show “The Deadliest Catch”. Now, there’s no confusing the Bering Sea with the Gulf of St. Lawrence but this was dirty, smelly, laborious work which made me appreciate my desk job even more.

The flight back was long. We missed our plane from Montreal to San Francisco so we were re-routed from Montreal to Vancouver, then to San Francisco. On top of that the flight from Vancouver to San Francisco was delayed by an hour. This all added up to an additional 4 hours of travel time on top of an already really long trip. But we got back safely and that’s all that really matters.