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Clouds over Calistoga hills. Welcome sight on a mid-summer day.

The conventional wisdom for many Bay Area hikers is that when the summer heat arrives, although it’s never that bad, the answer is to head for the coast and cooler spots. The downside is that you’re not alone, or even close, as lots of people have the same idea and once-isolated trails quickly clog up. But sometimes that wisdom is upside-down, hence in recent weeks my cool hike was pretty heated, and my too-hot hike was nice and brisk.

In the last few weeks, I’ve done no blogging (sorry, Mom!) but actually a fair amount of hiking. (And an even greater amount of Olympics watching….)

On a particularly hot day, I headed to one of my favorite coastal spots – the Point Reyes hike out to Bass Lake and Alamere Falls. It’s about nine miles round-trip and includes a mix of terrain, amazing coastal views much of the way, and a chance to stand on the sand underneath a steep rushing waterfall. I’ve hiked this trail many, many times in all seasons and all times of day and night and it continues to be my favorite hiking spot. A few things that stand out:

1. Beware of the poison oak. The quarter-mile stint of trail that leads to the a set of waterfalls and the cliff overlooking the beach is a poison trap. There is no way to avoid it, and the best strategy other than wearing long pants and shirt is to accept that you’ve been exposed and react accordingly afterwards.

2. Watch the tides. Time on the beach itself is precious and it’s fun to walk about a half-mile north to the Wildcat Campground, but if you hit the beach at the wrong time of day, it’s hard to do much true walking.

Triple Falls at Point Reyes.

3. The scramble. The extremely steep rockslide down to the beach is worse than ever. It erodes continually and is not safe. It’s doable though – I’ve gone up and down it each and every time I’ve hiked there, but I’ve also seen a few people slip-slide their way down and not fare that well. Not for the faint of heart.

4. The lake is party central. Bass Lake is deceiving. Walking by, it looks like a quiet little spot. But get closer and there’s the entire scene of coolers, cityfolk, swimmers, kayakers and lots and lots of summertime merriment. Depending on your tolerance level, this may or may not be a cool part of the hike.

So, the Point Reyes hike that day was actually pretty hot, which was surprising. Last weekend, I headed up toward the Palisades in Calistoga, a place that I have vowed never to hike in the summer because of the exposed trails and the sweltering conditions. It’s a winter hike in every way.

But I went anyway and it was terrific, thanks to extensive cloud cover the entire time and even a few raindrops. Not having to worry about the sun or getting overheated, it was a more enjoyable hike. Our group started at the Silverado Trail trailhead on U.S. 29 just outside of downtown Calistoga and hiked about four-plus miles up to Holms Place, and then close to the base of the larger volcanic rock formations that typify the area.

The views weren’t as stellar as usual, but Mounts Tam, Diablo and St. Helena were all still visible much of the way, and it was a pleasant experience. This trail, and the associated spurs that lead into Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and up toward Table Rock are tough on the feet with all the rock surfaces, but there are several overlook spots to regroup.

Coming down, most hikers either have to come very, very slowly to avoid scrambling, or they give in and basically jog the whole way to take advantage of momentum. I did the latter and managed to come down in a third of the time it took to come up. Not that I was in a hurry, but the Olympics were awaiting.


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