Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mount St. Helena - Robert Louis Stevenson State Park

Mount St. Helena From Calistoga
Mount St. Helena is located in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park between Calistoga and
Middletown on CA Hwy 29. The hike to North Peak is a 10 mile round trip, mostly on a fire road. The mountain was named by Russians in 1841 while on an survey expedition from Fort Ross located near the terminus of the Russian River on what is now the Sonoma coast. In 1872 a silver an gold vein was discovered and a mining town named Silverado sprang up near what is now the trail head. By 1880 the town disappeared with most of the buildings moved to new mines or torn down for there wood. In 1880 the author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife spent there two month honeymoon living in an abandon mining barracks. During his time on the mountain Stevenson keep a journal he called the "Silverado Sketches" he later incorporated it into "The Silverado Squatters". Additionally much of the scenery of the Mount St. Helena area is incorporated into his book "Treasure Island". Here are a few other facts about Mount St. Helena; it is the highest point in Napa County (East Peak/Middle Peak 4203'), the North Peak is in Sonoma County, the trail also briefly passes through Lake County at the bend in the road below East Peak.

The trail head for Mount St. Helena is located 8 miles north of Calistoga, or 9 miles south of Middletown on CA 29. There are two small parking areas on either side of the road. Parking is limited and on weekends fills up quickly. Hikers will want to take the trail (Stevenson Memorial Trail/North Peak) on the north side of the highway. This trail is a series of switchbacks under a canopy of Douglas fir. After 1 mile you will arrive at the site of the Stevenson Memorial. From here you will have to traverse a 100 yard section of severely eroded trail before reaching the fire road.

Bubble Wall
Mountain bikes will want to travel about .3 miles north from the parking lot on 29 toward Middletown. Take the first road on the north-west side of the highway. The road should have an arm gate and signs indicating communication tower access. Make sure to take the leftward switchback at .75 miles. You will come across the Stevenson Memorial trail junction at 1.25 miles, from here hiking and mountain bike directions are the same. 

Hikers The trail is now an exposed fire road with a pretty aggressive grade for the rest of the hike. In about .8 miles you will come across Bubble Wall a popular spot for climbers. From here you have a nice view of the Napa valley with Mt. Diablo in the distance. The trail will switchback here and you will start to be able to see sections of Lake County. The view will continue to become increasingly better as you approach the ridge line of the mountain. Even before you reach the top of Mount St. Helena; San Francisco, Mt. Tamalpais and Lake Berryessa become visible. At about the 3.5 mile mark you can take a .4 mile spur trail to the South Peak (4003') of the Mountain. South Peak will give you about a 230° view looking into Napa, Sonoma, Contra Costa and Marin County with San Fransisco in the distance.

View of Calistoga from Bubble Wall
If you have strength, I highly advise continuing on to North peak it offers an incredible view, twice as nice as South Peak. As you cross the ridge line the trail flattens out for about a half a mike before resuming its aggressive climb. Now, weather permitting you should be able to look to the east and see mountains of the Sierra Nevada. To the N.N.E. you can see Mt. Lassen. Shortly you will come across the spur trail to East Peak (4203'), the highest point in Napa County. Keep right you are within half a mile from the summit.

The final climb to North Peak is steep but just keep telling yourself "your so close don't give up". Once you reach the summit (4343') you will see replica markers from the Russian expedition and rocky outcropping. From here you have an incredible 360° (the massive comm tower gets in the way but you can walk around it). To the west you can see Lake Sonoma, NW Mendocino County, just a few degrees west of due north on a clear day Mt. Shasta can be visible beyond Snow Mountain. The town to the near north is Middletown and the hillside development is Hidden Valley. Just east of Hidden Valley you can see a large circular clearing with an antenna in the center, this is an antiquated USCG LORAN navigation transmitter, a maritime predecessor to GPS.

View of a foggy San Francisco
This is a somewhat difficult hike but its defiantly worth it. The view from North Peak is one of the best views in the Bay Area. Now for the warnings; bring water and lots of it. There is nowhere for you to filter water, the mountain is very dry above the Stevenson Memorial. Sunscreen required, the trail is exposed for most of the hike. Additionally temperatures in the summer hover around 90-100°F. Best season for clear views is winter but this mountain can receive snow so be prepared. Spring and fall are nice but like in the video above a haze can interfere with the view.

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Robert Louis Stevenson State Park

Near by camping at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Exploring NorCal Bothe Post  

View Mt. St. Helena in a larger map

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Little Darby Environmental Education Area, Willits - BLM Acarta Field Office

Transition from Fir Forest to Brushland
Little Darby Environmental Education Area is located 6.6 miles east of US 101 in Willits on Mendocino County Road 306/Canyon Rd. This small isolated piece of BLM land is truly a hidden treasure. The Little Darby area includes 3 distinct micro-environments; a small creek/riparian area, a Fir forest, and Chaparral brushland. Unlike most BLM land, activities here are limited to hiking, picnicking and off leash dog walking. You don't have to worry about hunting or target shooting here (while I fully support the responsible use of firearms it is nice to have a family area without them).

Crews form the Ukiah California Conservation Corps built the original nature trail when the area first opened in 1978. Winter storms in 2005 & 2006 damaged a culvert and caused increased sediment flow into Little Creek. In 2012 the Little Darby Environmental Education Area was closed briefly so the Ukiah C.C.C. could provide trail realignments, riparian area restoration, downed tree removal and storm damage repair. In the meantime students from Humboldt State University spent the semester designing the graphics and text for new interpretive signs at Little Darby. Students from Willits Charter School created artwork inspired by their field class that was held at Little Darby each Friday in the winter and spring of 2012. BLM staff members from Arcata  joined the students for projects including plant and fungi identification, water quality monitoring, wildlife camera maintenance and geomorphology lessons.

Trail map
The parking area is well marked and obvious on the north side of Canyon Road. Once you arrive check out the kiosk for information including a trail map. There are only two trails, both are loops. You have to take the lower Forest Loop trail in order to reach the Brushland Loop. Follow the trail from the road, cross the bridge and continue on to the picnic area. Once at the picnic area you will have a choice of heading up hill to the left or slightly down hill to the right. My advice is to take the trail to the right because the informational signs will be more in order.

After you pass the first sign there will be a small bridge leading to an opening with two benches, this is the study/outdoor classroom area. Just south of the bridge Big Canyon Creek and an unnamed creek come together. From the bridge the trail continues up hill through the Douglas Fir forest. Here in the under the canopy in the canyon the forest cool. Every few hundred there is an informational sign reveling insights about the immediate surroundings. The trail will eventuality fork near two large toppled Fir trees, you can continue straight/left and return to the picnic area on the Forest Loop or turn right and head up the Brushland loop.

Sanhedrin Mountain in the Distance
On the Brushland Loop as you approach the ridge the foliage begins to change from towering Firs to shorter Madrone and Chaparral. Here it is much warmer than the canyon floor below, the canopy thins and you can see Sanhedrin Mountain (6,175') located in the Mendocino National Forest (I'll be heading up there soon). The climb is now over, and you have picked up around 300' of elevation. As you head down hill you will see a trail to your left, this is the Forest Loop, keep right again and you will be back in the picnic area shortly.

I visited this spot with my kids and I highly recommend taking your children if you have any. We stopped at each informational sign and learned about our surroundings. The trail, if you take both is less than 1.5 miles long with an easy climb. One could easily hike the trail in about 40 minutes but if you are taking young ones and plan on really taking in the area give yourself at least 90 minutes and consider taking lunch, the newly installed concrete picnic benches are nice. Also remember you can take you dog off leash as long as its under your control. Best seasons are spring, fall and winter, normal California environmental hazards; ticks, bees, rattlesnakes. 

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Use Address 6500 Canyon Rd, Willits, CA in Google Maps

BLM Arcata Little Darby Page

BLM News Letter, Little Darby

View Little Darby BLM in a larger map

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mt. Konocti, Part 2, Buckingham Peak - Lake County Park

After conquering Mt. Konocti's highest point, Wright Peak, I wanted to return to check out  Buckingham Peak because I heard it had some interesting rock formations and a better lake view. All access and trail information remains the same up to the well marked trail intersection at about the 1.5 mile mark. If you would like to review that information check out the Part 1 post.

From the trail intersection you will take the trail to the left. From here you have less than a mile to go. This trail gives you a short break from the climb, but you are going to pay for that flat section. In the last 0.4 miles you will have around a 300 foot climb (in all about a 1,300' climb over 2.5 miles).

Once you reach the top you will find the view is mostly obstructed by the surrounding foliage except for a clearing to the east overlooking some small islands, Sulfur Bank Point a large natural jetty and the community of Clearlake Oaks. At first I was disappointed with the view but a friendly cell site worker gave me a hint on how to find the rocky outcropping I had heard of.

Before I go on I must warn you of the possibility of severe injury up to and including death! The following instructions will take you to a DANGEROUS AREA, consider yourself warned.

To reach the rocky outcropping, known as Buckingham Bluffs, head to the back (north side) of the communications tower and look for the guy wire anchor located outside of the fencing. From this point you will find a unmarked, unofficial trail headed straight down the hill. (From conversations, sat imagery and old topo maps I believe this trail continues all the way down to Riviera Heights neighborhood off Soda Bay Rd, again unofficial trail but located on BLM land.) Head down this trail for about 100 yards at most. Make a hard right and continue on for about 100', a little brush crashing may be required. Continue on a west and slightly downhill trajectory. Approximate GPS location N38°59.4959, W122°46.0965. When you find the rocks please USE EXTREME CAUTION. Once you step on to the rocks the trees part and you will be on the edge of a 2-300' drop-off. Although this is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS the view is incredible.

From Buckingham Bluffs you will have a view of the Black Forest, Little Borax lake and Buckingham Point directly below you. Across the lake you can see the communities located on Hwy 20 from Lucerne to Clearlake Oaks. If you look carefully at the video you can see birds ridding the winds below. This is an incredible view but please consider your ability's and experience before attempting to access this location, otherwise enjoy the video.

This is a good hike in spring or fall. In winter the peaks may have snow on them and in summer temperatures can be in the 100°'s, additionally the park may close due to high fire danger. Also this is rattlesnake country and there is no water on the mountain. One last thing, the trail is extremely well marked, if you use Google maps it shows the road a little off of where it is don't worry about it just follow the signs. I have included some links for additional resources and historical info.

I have tagged this post with both horse trails and mountain bike labels, while these are future planned uses of the park currently they require a special use permit for all non-hiking activities, (707) 262-1618.

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Note, the yellow trail is an approximation for demonstrative purposes.

View Mt. Konocti - Buckingham Peak in a larger map

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mt. Konocti, Part 1, Wright Peak - Lake County Park

Mt. Konocti is located on Clear Lake's south east shore adjacent to the small town of Kelseyville in Lake County, CA. Standing at 4299', Mt. Konocti is clearly visible from all points around the lake. (You can see another view of Mt. Konocti from the Mendo Rock post) The mountain is part of the Clear Lake Volcanic Field which consists of volcanic cones and domes that range in age from 10,000 to 2.1 million years old. Mt. Konocti is thought to contain a large empty magma chamber that is possibly connected to Clear Lake. Old legend says that in the drought of 1818 Native Americans discovered a cave that connected to a large underground lake under the mountain. Other legends tell of people dropping items into cave shafts and later finding them floating in Clear Lake. Many caves where blasted closed in the early 1900's for public safety and the private land holders had discouraged exploration until recently. I found some scientific evidence that suggests the theory is at least valid. Scientists have detected changes in barometric pressure suggesting the mountain is "Breathing" or that air is moving in and out of the mountain. 

Until the fall of 2011 the mountain had been off limits to the public because much of the mountain was private land. After many years of negotiation between the County, State, BLM and private land holders Lake County's largest park opened. There are two trail options, both start at the same place and both are about 3 miles one way. One trail will lead you to Buckingham Peak and give you a better view of the lake. The other trail will take you to Wright peak, the high point of the mountain, location of a CalFire lookout and more of a 360° view. The tower is being leased to the County and may be open to public access at times, but I have no further information on that. At present the trails are only open for hiking but future planed uses include horseback ridding and mountain biking. Currently you can obtain a special use permit for non-hiking uses (707) 262-1618.

To access the park take Main St. in Kelseyville to Konocti Rd/County Rd 518. After about a mile the road will turn to dirt and continue for the next 3 miles. Don't let the dirt road turn you away! This is one of the best maintained dirt roads I have ever used, I easily made it to the trail head in my Girlfriend's Mazda 6. After you pass the entrance sign you will see a parking and picnic area to your right, you can park there or continue on to the parking area with a restroom just up the road on the left.

The trail starts just up the road from the parking area. You will pass the gate and continue for about a tenth of a mile. Very visible signs will guide you away from the road and to a well marked trail taking you around an orchard. This is private property please be respectful, access through this property is essential to keeping this park open. The trail shortly rejoins the road from here you can see a sub-peak of the mountain, Clark Peak a very distinct conical formation.

Now back on the road the climb begins, if you are going to Wright Peak you will be picking up 1600' of elevation in 3 miles that averages an 11.3% percent grade, averages meaning it's steeper at parts. The trail/road continues on with great views of the Kelseyville/Lakeport area. At about the 1.5 mile mark, known as the junction, you will reach a fork in the road and a bathroom. Here you have two choices, left to Buckingham Peak or right to Wright Peak. The hike to Buckingham is perhaps slightly easier with less of an elevation gain. Also I am told there are some interesting rock formations near Buckingham peak. I took the right to Wright peak, the top of the mountain, my testosterone forced me to choose this trail. Must stand on top of mountain (caveman voice).

Jump over to part 2 for Buckingham Peak.

A short distance up the Wright Peak trail the vegetation changes and you will find yourself in an oak grove. There is another intersection with a short spur trail that can take you to an old homestead site. Just beyond the oak grove is another restroom, here the trail curves around the back of the mountain and you get your first look toward the cites of Clearlake, Lower Lake and a view of Mt. St. Helena. As you continue on there is another spur trail this one to Howard Peak, the second highest peak of the mountain. At this point you have one last push to reach the top.

Once on the Summit of Mt. Konocti the view is beautiful. To the north-north-east you can see Sanhedrin and Hull mountain. To the north Goat Mountain and Snow Mountain, the highest point in Lake County. To the east you can see peaks on the Cortina Ridge in Colusa County and Blue Ridge in Yolo county (and on a clear day the Sierra foothills). To the south Mt. St. Helena in Napa, Sonoma and Lake county, and Boggs and Cobb Mountain in Lake county. Finally to the north east Cow Mountain and Mendo Rock on the border of Mendocino County.

Overall this hike was a little harder than I had expected although the reward was a magnificent view. The view is not as unobstructed as the video makes it look, I had to move around the peak to get the composite 360°. This is a good hike in spring or fall. In winter the peaks may have snow on them and in summer temperatures can be in the 100°'s, additionally the park may close due to high fire danger. Also this is rattlesnake country and there is no water on the mountain. One last thing, the trail is extremely well marked, if you use Google maps it shows the road a little off of where it is don't worry about it just follow the signs. I have included some links for additional resources and historical info.

Again I have tagged this post with both horse trails and mountain bike labels, while these are future planned uses of the park currently they require a special use permit for all non-hiking activities, (707) 262-1618.

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View Mt. Konocti in a larger map
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