Monday, January 14, 2013

The water works

The first hike of the year is always special; it sets the tone on the trail for the rest of the year. I had hoped for an easy jaunt on the southwest slopes of Mount Diablo State Park. But I got a little more than I bargained for with a cold, soggy adventure to start my new year of hiking.

My jump off point for the hike was the Macedo Ranch staging area near Danville. There are several hikes in the park that start from Macedo Ranch and I chose the Shell Loop Ridge.
The hiking trail winds through foothills and pastures eventually joining with an old stage coach road. I made this 7-mile hike in late August of 2012 and with a warm summer breeze the golden hills and dusty trails made for a pleasant hike. Saturday's hike would be far different as I would
tackle the trail in mid winter.

Weather forecast called for chilly morning temperatures and standing at the trailhead I made a quick check of the weather with my iPhone.  Danville was listed at 30 degrees as I started out on the trail just after 8 a.m.
The hike would take off from Macedo Ranch and head out along Wall Point Trail.  I would pick up the Briones-Mt. Diablo Regional Trail which would take me into the neighboring Diablo Foothills Regional Park. Continuing along I would make a decent on Buckeye Ravine Trail to Stage Road which leads to Dusty Road and Wall Point Trail again for my return to the staging area.

Heading out along the Briones-Mt. Diablo Regional Trail I tried to make the best of the chilly morning weather. I tried to stay warm with a brisk pace but the ruts in the trail from the rain and countless hoof prints from grazing cattle made for slow going. 
Nearing Diablo Foothills Regional Park I made a short detour to the sandstone China Wall rock formations jutting out of the hillside for a few pictures as the sun rose above the hills.

Back on the trail I came cross my first indication of how cold the trail really was. I came across a section of trail still in the shade of a nearby hill to find a line of frozen footprints in the mud. The path of a hiker or jogger had iced over leaving a series of silvery footprints shining against the mud.

Reaching Buckeye Ravine I began a slippery descent down along the narrow trail. Pockets of ice clung to the path making the slick mud even trickier to navigate. Reaching Stage Road I thought I had left most of the difficult trail work behind but I was about to receive a soggy surprise.
One of the reasons I had picked this hike was regional hiking book described that the seasonal Pine Creek that parallels the trail crosses it several times in the rainy season. It might make for good photos I thought. Starting the back end of the loop along Stage Road I could hear the creek as it rolled along next to the trail.

The creek had spilled across the trail in several places. I looked for easy ways to cross the creek making use of rocks and shallow spots as it flowed downstream.
One section of trail was flooded for about 20 yards. A nearby bed of reeds looked to be dry and I decided to try and cross the creek there. Unfortunately the reeds were floating on top of the creek runoff and as I stepped in I could feel the water pouring into the top of my hiking boots.
With waterlogged boots I headed along Stage Road to find the creek had flowed into the trail even further. Stage Road it looked like I was hiking through a stream bed as I sloshed along the trail, my feet growing cold in the wet socks.

Looking down the trail I could see the ribbon of water flowing through the trail.  I kept walking with my feet were wet to the point where I didn't even try to find the driest parts to walk on.
Eventually I reached the Dusty Road junction and began a steep climb up away from the creek. At the Wall Point Trail marker I began the last leg to the staging area on feet that were getting numb from the nearly three-miles of wet hiking.
Back at my car I was glad I had remembered to pack a towel and a pair of dry socks for the drive home.

The first hike of the year had turned form a simple hike to a cold and wet adventure. There were plenty of photo opportunities and a lot of funny moments as I splashed along the trail.
It was great way to start the hiking season and I am looking forward to another year of adventures on the trail.