Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunol and Ohlone Regional Wilderness: An Overnighter mini backpack trip.

by Gabe

Stones and Bones Ohlone Wilderness links page
Ohlone Wilderness large map

Entrance from parking
Kirk (trail name Captain Tardy) and I planned on conquering a big one this weekend - From Fremont to Livermore via the Ohlone Trail and Ohlone Regional Wilderness.  Due to injury on my part, we abreviated the trip to more of a scouting backpack trip just the Sunol Regional Wilderness for Friday night.  This meant driving to the Geary Rd. entrance to Sunol Regional Wilderness off of Calaveras Rd., and hiking the several miles to the Sunol Backpacking Campgrounds, where we would spend one night.

Kirk and I at the entrance, with rain gear.
The weather looked somewhat discouraging, with 70% chance of rain for both Friday and Saturday.  We made special preparations
- Backpack covers (Kirk's cover didn't end up with us, so we improvised with a garbage bag)
- Waterproof jackets, water repellent pants.
- Waterproof hiking boots
You can never stay completely dry while camping or even hiking in the rain, but if you do things correctly, you can minimize the rain's impact.

I had heard about the Ohlone Regional Wilderness trail online.  After seeing Mission Peak from Hwy 680 and discovering that it is hike-able and adjacent to the rest of the Ohlone Regional Wilderness Trail, I pieced together a potential two day backpack trip.  The trip is still on our list.

Afternoon, Mission peak
Sunol Regional Wilderness is the second of several preserves and land zones going West to East along the trail.  Calaveras Rd. separates Mission Peak Regional Preserve from the Sunol Regional Wilerness.  Sunol has several campgrounds and a staffed ranger area.  Backpack camps are located near the end of the park before the trail continues on towards the Ohlone Regional Wilderness and on.

Sunset, Mission Peak
Park staff was very friendly and helpful, and upon arrival around mid day Friday, we were able to find a spot easily since weather was bad.  A $28 fee included camping at two sites, one night at each site, for two people (we only used one of course), parking and nice maps.  At the entrance, we were given information, directions and told that we were the only people who had any sights reserved at the campground (yay!).

We parked at Sunol/Ohlone trail marker 41 (You can see it on the map) where McCorkle Trail and Camp Ohlone Road first meet.  From here, we hiked Camp Ohlone Road to the later connection with McCorkle Trail.  This road follows the Alameda Creek.  This time of year, with the heavy recent rains (flood warnings just Thursday), the creek was a torrent.  Areas that rarely see water were underwater, and old Oaks were popping out of the middle of the creek.  All of the grass in the park was green, and when the sun broke the clouds occasionally, patches of grass would light up - it was a very beautiful.  This is why I focus on hiking in the San Diablo Mountain parks during winter, rainy months.  (These mountains also include Alum Rock, Joseph D. Grant, Henry W. Coe parks and several other good ones as well as the San Antonio Valley).

After reaching McCorkle Trail, we began our climb to the ridge via Cerro Este Road.  This trail, along 1 mile climbs from an area called "Little Yosemite" at around 700 feet up to the junction with McCorkle Trail at 1161.  Along this point, we began sighting turkeys, a few newts, and plenty of free ranging cattle.  Even though Spring began just a few days ago, various wildflowers were beginning to show, and there was a decent showing from the birds.

After a third of a mile on McCorkle Trail/Cerro Este Road, the two split off at a mountain pond.  We broke right, and hiked the 1.28 miles East towards the Sunol Backpack Camp.  The views from this point were excellent.  One can see the back side of Mission Peak, the dam and most of Calaveras Reservoir and other great views of some familiar Diablo Range landscape.

Our main big challenge of the day we met along the trail to camp - where McCorkle Trail crosses Rock Scramble.  The creek going down Rock Scramble was pouring full blast, and it left only a few boulders popping out or just barely submerged.  This proved difficult and risky to cross with 30+ pound packs on, but we were able to take our time and make it.  Using hiking poles definitely helped here, when compared to crossing creeks back at Pinnacles under similar circumstances!

Camp at Sunol Backpack Camp
After another half mile, we reached the Sunol Backpack Camp.  A restroom (basically an outhouse) and water source (spigot and trough, requiring filtering or boiling) were the amenities.  Since the ranger informed us that we could have our pick of sites, we checked a few and ended up choosing Eagles Eyrie.  This site was on a small ridge that poked out south from the McCorkle Trail, and had a large rock (ten feet high, twenty by twenty roughly) with a large Oak at the end all to the site's self.  We set down our gear, checked out the view - excellent and able to see Mission Peak from the East side.  With a break in the sprinkling/rain, we set up Kirk's tent and then mine.  We were early, and were able to relax, and get everything well organized.  About an hour before dark, the rain stopped and stayed away for a few hours until after we had gone to bed.

Had another great dinner of Campbell's stew, Idahoan potatoes and canned veggies!  Sunset over Mission Peak was an awesome view, and shortly after we headed to bed.  Unfortunately, no campfires at the backpack camp.

Kirk, with our big rock in the background
Around 11 PM, the wind and rained picked up, and battered hard on our tents all night and the next morning.  I learned how important it is to fully stake down your tent even when you don't expect heavy winds!  Not worth fixing in the middle of the night!  I had about 3 hours of real sleep unfortunately.  We woke up when the sky lit, and packed up camp promptly since it was raining anyways.

Headed out via the shortest route - BackpackRoad down to Camp Ohlone Road along the Alameda Creek trail.  We saw wild turkeys, and more newts, and only three people over the several miles back to the car.  Overall a successful trip in which we prepared more for the total 28 mile Ohlone Trail!

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