The Desais Do Diablo

by Dinesh Desai

Joy and I spent the next few days hiking various trails on the north side. I had deliberately not spent much time looking at the elevations or the contours on the map. We both feel that too much information takes away from a sense of discovery and adventure. On the other hand, a closer look could have helped me realize that a 17-mile day with a substantial elevation gain wasn't going to be easy, especially in the middle of a rigorous schedule of hikes. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had finished a 20-mile hike with an elevation gain of almost 6,000 feet. But then, I didn't have to take a careful look at trail junctions or continually consult a map. Nor did I have to get up the next morning and go for another hike. The hikes were taking a bit of a toll on us too. Joy's old back injury was giving her some trouble and I was experiencing some heel pain. Luckily, neither one of us had any blister problem.

I reluctantly added two more days to our schedule. It was insurance against us not achieving our goal. It had its price. We had invited a few friends to join us on Sunday for the last day's hike followed by a picnic celebration. That had to be canceled, as we would now be finishing mid-week.

As we hiked the trails near Diablo Mine, it was apparent that the trails were used mostly by equestrians. We had to move slowly down some of the more rutted trails. A few looked like no one had used them for quite some time. Previously, we didn't have any trouble finding or following trails. Not so on the heavily wooded Blaisdell Trail. Shortly after the trail made a 90° turn, we lost it. There were many fallen tree limbs and just as many indistinct paths. They all soon petered out. After 45 minutes, we gave up and followed a deer trail. It put us on Crested Jay Road, about 300 feet from its junction with Blaisdell Trail. I was happy that I had changed our schedule and allowed one more day to hike the trails in the Diablo Mine area. A 45-minute delay would have put real pressure on us if we had to hike 17 miles. Later, Joy found $16, neatly folded, by the side of a trail. I thought to myself, "This must be the Trail Gods' way of compensating us for our frustrating experience on Blaisdell Trail. Four beers should be enough to drown our sorrow, err, my sorrow". Joy does not drink.

Dinesh lying on the ground next to a stream

Why hurry?

Dinesh negotiating a very wet trail crossing

Dinesh holding on to the wire as he gingerly walks the steel plate.

"It may be easier just to sit and slowly slide down. I have done it a few times myself," I told the young woman who stood paralyzed just below the summit of North Peak.

She was looking at the steep and rock-strewn road that lay ahead. She seemed to be wondering how she was going to make it down without falling. I could see the fear in her eyes. I recalled how fearful I was in a similar situation. In the high sierra, there is a cluster of nine peaks called Echo Peaks. The vertical gain isn't an issue, but most require climbing exposed ledges and knife-edge ridges. A fall is guaranteed to cause bodily harm, if not death. It was my first time on a so-called class 3 route. Though afraid, I made it to the top. While others in our group enjoyed the vistas and ate their lunch, I sat there, frozen with fear. I could hardly bring myself to look at the ridge we had just come up. Climbing up was frightening enough; going down seemed downright suicidal. My lunch stayed in my pack, untouched. To my great relief, the leader announced that we would be going down via a longer but an easier route. Once on terra firma, I resolved not to climb any more routes rated 3 or higher until I had some training.

I can say unequivocally that the short access road to North Peak is the most troublesome trail in Mount Diablo State Park. It is steep and the footing is extremely unstable. Joy even took a tumble going up on it.

We had the company of two of my relatives from Arizona. My niece's husband Ashesh, and their 13-year old son Aashay, were getting a taste of Mt. Diablo. We began our hike at Juniper campground and eventually climbed the main summit, North Peak and Olympia Peak. Joy and I had previously hiked Olympia Peak from the north. In order to hike all the trails of the park, we had to climb it again from the south via a different trail.

Joy and Dinesh on Olympia Peak

Joy and Dinesh on Olympia Peak.

Ashesh and Aashay next to a stand of wildflowers

Look to your right; that's where the flowers are.

Both Ashesh and Aashay are reasonably fit, but they had never walked more than a few miles. They were good sports, and in spite of being tired, they were ready for one more day of suffering. We hiked the less demanding trails near Macedo Ranch the next day. The rolling hills were in sharp contrast to the terrain of the previous day. Coming from Arizona, they found the scenery and the flowers breathtaking. I thought I heard Aashay muttering something about going to a university in the Bay Area.