Not feeling well, out of money, and seeing his career prospects fading quickly, the newcomer to California needed a break. So he headed to Calistoga thinking the mountain air would rejuvenate him. Plus, it was his honeymoon so what better place to spend it than a Napa Valley excursion. Local history buffs know the story of Robert Louis Stevenson, who turned his bucolic Napa visit into a two-month stay, literally squatting in a cabin on the side of Mount Saint Helena.
From that experience, he wrote “The Silverado Squatters,” a travelogue that detailed his daily life and some of his exploits around wine country. All that’s left of the cabin today is a stone plaque erected by the Napa Valley Women’s Club. But Stevenson’s stay on the mountain is said to have inspired much of the scenery he later wrote about in “Treasure Island.”
Last weekend was my second climb up the mountain. The first one was with a few other folks, done in slight rainy and snowy weather on a blustery, windy day. This couldn’t have been more different with a picture-perfect fall day as the backdrop. The trail in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park starts at the summit of State Route 29, just outside Calistoga, and the parking area for the trailhead is easy to miss. Unfortunately for those who do find it, there’s been a problem with car break-ins at the trailhead lot in recent years, so if you’re going, don’t leave anything too valuable in the car.
The trail starts with about two miles of narrow paths through the woods, all uphill, leading to an open fire road, which extends another three miles to the peak of the mountain. On the way, there are stunning views of Calistoga, Santa Rosa, and. way in the distance, a glimpse of the SF skyline. While the fire road isn’t anything special to walk on, the elevation is pretty dramatic as there’s a 1,300-feet climb to the top, which itself is about 4,300 feet up.
Our group, usually fairly compact, spread itself out over the hike, with some going off to explore an old mine shaft in
It’s a busy hike, and given the weather, lots of traffic was on the trail. Pictured at top are the hardy members of Boy Scout Trooop 49 who came from Modesto. They were spending the weekend at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and had come out to Mount St. Helena for the day.
The top of the mountain has amazing panoramic views, but it also has other stuff — like a massive collection of communications satellite dishes and electrical-grid towers. And some accompanying outbuildings. While we there, an earthmover was moving piles of rocks around the summit. Not actually what Stevenson encountered during his stay there, but progress sometimes requires backhoes and wires.