Everest by the Bay

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The weather didn't look too promising as we assembled to climb Mission Peak. The bigger problem, however, was that it was 9 a.m., our usual starting time, and one car hadn't shown up yet. Everyone had been absolutely punctual the last two days, thanks, in part, to the fact that it was easy to estimate the travel time on weekends. Most of us live in and around Palo Alto and I had tried to arrange the order in which we would climb the peaks taking into account the traffic patterns from there. Still, there was no way for anyone to anticipate traffic jams due to accidents. Steve had spent an extra 45 minutes before he met the others in his carpool and by the time they arrived at the trailhead, only a couple of minutes after nine, he was fit to be tied. Yes, the same Steve who had no trouble summiting Denali (in Alaska) in horrible weather, was ready to quit! Galen Rowell, the famous mountaineer and photographer, describes a similar situation in his book In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods. On the long approach march to the K2 base camp, his party bickered endlessly with the Pakistani officials and porters and threw barbs at each other. When they finally reached the base camp of that awesome mountain, he felt relaxed. No mere mountain, even a fierce one like K2, could be as bad as the approach march endured in negative atmosphere.

lunch at the Ohlone College cafeteria

After climbing Mission Peak, we hiked down the other side to the Ohlone College cafeteria. The meals purchased here were as varied as the hikers. Joy and Tom ordered healthy fare, whereas Steve (with his back to the camera) had a huge burrito and I had Polish sausage with fries.

As we drove towards Montara Mountain on our fourth day, it really poured rain. Luckily, it stopped just as we reached the trailhead. It remained cloudy, but it never did rain again that day. I had selected the end of April to hike the peaks for two reasons: it is after the April 15 tax deadline and the weather is good -- still cool and the rainy season almost over.

Ron was not with us today. Ron, Tom, Curt and Carol had previous engagements for the latter part of the week. In order to hike the nine peaks in nine consecutive days, they had hiked the peaks they would miss prior to the group's first hike on Mt. Diablo. Montara was to have been Ron's eighth peak. However, Ron found out a few days earlier that he was supposed to show up for jury duty on the day after the Montara Mountain hike. This meant that he wouldn't be able to do the ninth peak. He decided that his only option was to do two peaks in one day. Ron is used to doing marathon runs and I was glad that it was he and not I who had to hike 24 miles and climb 6,700 feet, not to mention all the driving. He did catch up with us at the picnic area, where we had stopped for lunch, and he managed to finish the nine peaks.

Though acquired by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District almost 15 years ago, the south bay landmark Mt. Umunhum, capped by a tall, rectangular concrete building, is still not open to the public. So it was that El Sombroso, a minor peak nearby, wound up on our list. The actual peak is surrounded by a thicket of scrub oak and scattered patches of poison oak. Joy and I had hiked up to the top a few years ago, and there was then a definite trail leading up to it from the nearby power line road. However, when we hiked a few months ago, the trail had completely disappeared. Apparently, no one had been there for many years. So we bushwhacked our way to the top. A couple of days later, Warren and I went up with clippers, saws and ribbons and made a passable trail.

on top of El Sombroso

The wilderness on top of El Sombroso. Clearly visible are a couple of limbs sawed off by Warren. I broke my arm last year and was milking that fact to let Warren do the hard work.

Our friends Sandy (from the Seattle area) and Patrick (from Colorado Springs) had arrived the night before to hike the last five peaks with us. They were pleasantly surprised at the vistas, but really surprised at the steepness of the terrain. I guess they didn't know we have mountains, albeit small ones. A thousand-foot steep climb in the bright afternoon sun had Patrick sweating. But it was Warren who was really struggling. Almost 75, Warren has been a specimen of physical fitness. For many years, he was a scout leader and a front runner with a local hiking group known for its fast-paced, long hikes. Though he would only be a few minutes behind, it bothered him to realize that his days of being at the front may well be over. He could still hike faster and longer than 95% of the population, but it is only human to remember your old glory days and feel sorry for yourself.

I had a previous encounter with Paul McHugh, the outdoors writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He had written an article about my 450-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail walk. When he found out about "Everest by the Bay" through a mutual friend, he asked if he and Michael Maloney, a Chronicle photographer, could join us on the Black Mountain hike. I told the group that they would probably walk with us for about ten minutes. Was I ever wrong!

pause during climb of Black Mountain

Here we are just 800 feet below the summit of Black Mountain and the Chronicle staff is still with us. Actually, Paul hiked with us the entire day. From left to right Carol, Michael, Paul and Warren. Follow this link to read Paul's article.

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