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

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View Mt. St. Helena in a larger map
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