Picture this – you’re coming downhill from a long, all-day hike and only have a mile or so to go. It’s hot, few other folks are out on the trail and you’re eager to reach some shade and a cool drink. So, that big rattlesnake that’s blocking the trail isn’t exactly a welcome sight.
Our group had headed up Mount Diablo several hours earlier, and we had encountered two other snakes already – one a small water snake and the other a sizeable (about 4 feet long) one that seemed perturbed at our presence and then quickly retreated into the brush. This last reptilian friend, also pretty big, had no interest in moving away from the trail, or giving us any room to pass. After a brief deliberation, the 10 of us headed off-trail a few feet into some thick brush and then back onto the trail.
This was my second trip to Mount Diablo State Park, and I’ve got to admit, I’m starting to really like the place. I’ve now explored two parts of the park, which is a sprawling former sacred Indian land located just south of the town of Clayton and east of Walnut Creek. It has some demanding hikes, great views of various summits and plenty to see along the way. Not so devilish, it seems. The last hike, our fearless leader was a veteran of the park, knowing all the in’s and out’s and secret nooks. This time, I was one of the so-called leaders, which says something about our group and I guess something about my own burgeoning trail-exploring experience out here.
After climbing a fire road from the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center, we eventually made our way onto a single-track trail. These trails are a bit tricky – in addition to the plethora of poison oak, the footing can be uneven. And then there are the steep ascents and descents. Our group headed to Eagle Peak, about 2,300 feet and two-thirds of the way up to the actual top of Mount Diablo.
After reaching Eagle Peak, we continued along a series of hilltop ridges, part of what would end up being about an eight-mike hike. This terrain is usually my favorite part of a hike. It’s brutally difficult to be going up and down on rolling ridges, often trotting downhill or trying not to skid, but the breezes are terrific.
We had set out on our hike late morning when the heat of the day had really set in, not my favorite time to be hiking, but enough bits of breeziness and shade did a great job of muting the sun’s effects.
The colors of the flowers along the way weren’t quite as vibrant as they had been a couple of months ago, and the intense dryness has started to turn much of the plants and shrubbery brown. But there was still plenty of Indian paintbrush, juniper and other sights along the way.
For me, it had been a month since my last hike, and boy, was I in need of a serious distraction from the real world. Thanks (or no thanks) to work and life and the vagaries of humanity (how’s that for over-writing…..), I had succeeded in avoiding the outdoors for awhile. Which was a shame, given how absolutely therapeutic a vigorous – and rigorous – hike can be. Good to be back on the trail, huffing and puffing and all that good stuff.