Clouds Rest

From the summit: the Clark Range rises over Little Yosemite Valley.

Last Saturday I finally got the time to head up to Yosemite for some hiking. This has basically been a lost year in terms of peakbagging due to car troubles that weren’t resolved until late July (and even then, I was in no hurry to be outside of easy tow distance from the Bay Area), high gas prices, and other weekend obligations. But with the dip in fuel costs last weekend, I set the 5:45 ᴀ.ᴍ. alarm and was off to Tioga Road. This late in the season, traffic was mercifully light—I had no traffic to contend with on Priest Grade, and the electronic signs that usually warn of Yosemite permit restrictions or the need to arrive early to find parking simply said that the passes were open.

I got to Tenaya Lake (8150′) around 10:20 ᴀ.ᴍ. and was off on the Sunrise Lakes Trail. It’s a bit over seven miles to Clouds Rest, with the elevation gain coming in bursts. After the first couple miles out of the trailhead, there’s a steep stretch of stairs that leads to a trail junction at about 9220′. I paused on these stairs to take my jacket off (temperatures were maybe in the 50s, but sunny) after getting passed by a large group. Who apparently (per a conversation I had with a member on the summit) hadn’t been hiking up a bunch of mountains recently. Well, they still seemed to be in better shape than I was, even though I did get back ahead of them later. (There were a fair number of people on the trail—most of the trail may be in the Yosemite Wilderness, but it’s still a fairly easy dayhike in Yosemite and even this late in the season it’s not really a wilderness solitude experience.)

After the Sunset Lakes trail junction, there’s a brief downhill stretch and then the trail levels out for a while before making the final ascent to the summit. The last stretch is notably fun because the trail peters out and the ascent route goes directly over the rocks of the summit ridge. It’s all very easy (I maybe used my hands for balance once or twice?) and not particularly dangerous; I’ve seen trip reports from people who got frightened by the alleged narrowness of the ridge—and in fairness, the dropoff to the west is stunning, nearly five thousand feet into Tenaya Canyon—but I find it hard to imagine any real risk except on a particularly windy day. And it’s not long before one reaches the the 9926′ summit of Clouds Rest. The views in all directions are the stunning vistas of Yosemite, from the aforementioned drop into Tenaya Canyon, to Half Dome (only a couple miles distant), to Little Yosemite Valley and the high country beyond (Mt. Clark is particularly notable, but Lyell/Maclure are also distinctly compelling, as is the Cathedral Range). There’s no register that I found (it’s too popular a mountain) but I did spent quite a bit of time at the summit just soaking in the views. I ran into a woman, also from Sunnyvale, who said that she spends every weekend in Yosemite. Must be nice.

Alas, this late in the season, there’s a solar clock ticking that stops one from resting for too long. One can, with a car shuttle, continue ten more miles along the trail past Half Dome and descend all the way to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (a mere 4105′ in elevation), but that’s an option for another day. The worst part of the trip back to Tenaya Lake was climbing back to the aforementioned Sunset Lakes trail junction—it’s only about two hundred feet of gain, but, with my lack of conditioning, I took it way slower than I would’ve been happy with. The steep descent out of the trail junction was no picnic either. At least it was finally pretty quiet (I did see a few people going up, and I have questions since you’re not allowed to park overnight in Yosemite after October 15). Due to the crepuscular hour, I began singing snippets from show tunes to keep the bears away, which was only mildly awkward when a group of other people caught up to me. I finally got back to the car at 6:11 ᴘ.ᴍ., and while it was just nine minutes after sunset, it had already gotten uncomfortably cold; had I not been in the home stretch, it would have been time to put on the jacket, gloves, and beanie I had in my backpack. (The alpenglow on Tenaya Peak was really pretty though.)

The drive home was mostly uneventful, and I once again had Priest Grade mostly to myself—the car I was behind at the very beginning pulled over, which I appreciated. The one off-putting moment was at the Kwik Serv in Big Oak Flat, where I stopped to refuel. Not only was it playing extremely Jesusy music, but the card reader at the ATM was displaying a “Let’s Go Brandon” message. (Do they realize that Dark Brandon is ours now?) And to top it off, I couldn’t even get into the bathroom. At least the gas prices weren’t too bad.

This week, the first storm of the year hit the Sierra. Tioga Road, along with all the other seasonal Sierra passes, are now closed, and while it’s officially just closed for the storm and not the season, it’s entirely possible that I got this hike in just in time. While strictly speaking it wasn’t the only time I visited the High Sierra this year, a drive-through over Tioga Pass on the way back from Westercon barely counts. Hopefully next year will be better.

Mount Jefferson

Mount Jefferson and vicinity.

I left Sunnyvale at around 11 ᴀ.ᴍ. yesterday—a bit later than I had hoped, what with having to deal with rental car confusion. (Turns out just because the repair shop’s paying for it doesn’t mean the rental company won’t put the full price, plus security deposit as a hold on your card!) After a quick stop at the Dublin Half Price Books (they had a copy of the Bierbaums’ Legion of Super-Heroes sourcebook) I took my usual route through the Sierra over Sonora Pass (Yosemite, alas, not even allowing passthrough traffic until late afternoon this year) and sure, it’s nothing I haven’t done a dozen times before, but when I got south of Bridgeport and the High Sierra rose to the left, it felt almost like coming home. It’s been almost ten months since I’ve seen Ritter, Banner, and the Minarets in my rear-view mirror, or Mt. Tom guarding the entrance to Bishop, and that’s way too long. (It has not been too long since I’ve had to refuel at Lee Vining. $98 to fill up, yikes!)

Okay, so driving all the way to Bishop might have been a bit out of my way. I pulled into Tonopah at around 8 ᴘ.ᴍ., dropped some supplies off for Westercon, and then headed out to the Pine Creek Campground. I was not prepared for the road conditions. Route 82 very quickly deteriorates into possibly the most pothole-filled road I have ever seen. I was actually relieved when it turned to dirt/gravel, because that road was actually well-graded. (Today, when returning, I was able to drive a good 40 mph on it. But of course that was during daylight.) I finally made it to Pine Creek just before 11 ᴘ.ᴍ. and went to sleep as quickly as I could.

I’m obviously not completing the Nevada county high points this year (turns out you need a working car for that, not to mention the new dispute about Churchill County) but I’ve been loosely planning on tagging the Nye County high point in conjunction with Westercon 74 for a couple years now. There are actually two ways to approach Mt. Jefferson—the more traditional approach does cut off more hiking mileage but is a lot more of a driving adventure, and I certainly didn’t want to risk a road in questionable condition in a rental. (The Nissan Rogue mostly handled everything I asked of it nicely, although it slowed to a crawl over Sonora Pass—is this the CVT?) Pine Creek, at about 7500′, is a good 4500 feet below Mt. Jefferson’s 11,491′ of elevation and about 6½ miles from the trailhead, as the hiker walks.

So yeah, it was a long day. I got moving at 5:40 ᴀ.ᴍ. and, honestly, after the vim and vigor of the start wore off, made terrible time on account of being really, really tired. I actually lied down on a rock and closed my eyes for a bit a couple hours in (at about 9200′), which helped—I made quite a bit better time after that. Well, until the elevation started to get me. The Pine Creek Trail is straightforward and clear (with a couple of minor exceptions, which are ducked and generally still pretty obvious) up until around 11,000′. It’s got a good amount of tree cover, since it tends near the creek—in fact, there are no less than eighteen stream crossings of various widths (some trivially jumpable, some requiring rock hopping or branch balancing) on the trail—which helped keep the morning heat off. It’s honestly really pretty—not from a scenic vista perspective, but the trees are nice and there are a lot of wildflowers. Predominantly lupines, I think. Shame about the cows audible in the distance at around 9700′, and their fruit.

At 11,000′, the trail ends and you have to make your way up easy rocklined slopes (I’ve seen this described as Class 2, but it’s only Class 2 by the “some navigation required” definition—at no point did I need hands for balance, although I suppose the trekking poles helped with that) to the summit. I was definitely feeling the elevation by this point. To my mild surprise there was a group of two other hikers (from Salt Lake City) already there, who were gracious enough to take a summit shot.

The views are magnificent in all directions, as you’d expect from an ultra prominence peak. (Mt. Jefferson’s the third-most prominent peak in Nevada, and the sixth highest.) Various Nevada ranges rise in all directions, everywhere you look. Unfortunately I was a dumbass and forgot to bring my Nevada county high point guidebook, so I wasn’t really able to identify which parts of the Kingdom of Nye I was surveying. Gonna be fun going over those pictures. (And speaking of looking at my pictures, when reviewing this I realized I was also a dumbass and dated my summit register note the same as the person above me, who I guess I thought was one of the other hikers. Nope, they summitted on the 25th. If you’re reading this and happen to visit Mt. Jefferson, feel free to fix this!)

The hike out was uneventful if annoyingly warm, and the drive out was likewise. (There was one other party—of three—that I encountered on return.) It took me 6:06 to summit and 4:13 to return to the car, including brief campground bathroom stops in both directions. That’s county high point #69 for me (13/17 in Nevada), and ultra #11. Nice.

2021 Highpointing, and What Comes Next

My current county high point completion map.

The original goal for my August highpointing week in Nevada was to ascend five counties and set myself up for a Nevada county high point completion in 2022. Ultimately, I bagged four counties before calling it a trip due to smoke. I added a fifth (the state high point) over Labor Day weekend. So that leaves five county high points to go in Nevada. I’m still hoping to finish them off next year but getting the timing to work will be tricky. Four of the county high points I need are at least somewhat near Highway 50, which makes the drive between them fairly straightforward. (The drive to the trailhead, on the other hand, may not be so straightforward—I’m a bit nervous about the approach to Bunker Hill in my Forester.) I am definitely planning on climbing Mt. Jefferson in conjunction with Westercon 74, which will be Tonopah over July 4th weekend. Depending on snow levels, the lead-up to the convention might be a good time to bag another peak or two or three.

The other three-day weekend I can play with is of course Memorial Day, although that’s riskier given the potential for snow, snowmelt, and related hazards. (Next year’s Worldcon is over Labor Day weekend, so that’s out except for maybe an Illinois county.) And there’s also the logistical issue that Charleston Peak, the Clark County highpoint, is far away from everything else and almost certainly has to be done as part of a separate trip (or at least, not the day after another hike). It is of course also possible in theory to ascend any of these county high points over the course of a single weekend, but that’s a lot of extra driving and tired Mondays.

Outside of Nevada, I hit up the Imperial County high point en route to Loscon 47 over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m putting Orange and San Diego Counties on hold for a bit—the former is still logistically complicated (if doable) by the Holy Fire, and the latter turns out to have a Class 4 summit block that I’m not sure I’d be able to get up. I also tagged Point Reno, the highest point of Washington, D.C., while in the city for Worldcon a couple weeks ago. It turned out to be just a quick jaunt from my hotel.

2021 year-end statistics:

  • New county high points: 7 (68 total)
  • Home glob: 58 counties (+6), 186,208 square miles (+44,412)
  • New 2000′ prominence peaks: 6
  • New ultra prominence peaks: 2
  • New Sierra Peaks Section peaks: 4
  • Highest peak climbed: Boundary Peak (13,140′)
  • Most prominent peak climbed: Wheeler Peak (13,063′, P7563)
  • New peaks (min. 300′ prominence) climbed: 15
  • P-Index: 128

2020 Highpointing, and What Comes Next

My current county high point completion map.

Well, this year really sucked, didn’t it?

I climbed Grayback and Salmon Mountains over Independence Day weekend but COVID-19 made any further expeditions a bad idea even if theoretically possible. I was hoping to get those last three SoCal county high points over Thanksgiving but cancelled plans to do so in light of viral spread. I did, however, spend a number of weekends in the High Sierra to practice higher-elevation peakbagging. The big challenge there remains being able to quickly acclimatize, as I found myself repeatedly out-of-breath and slowing down after efforts that should not have resulted in that much fatigue.

Next year’s plans are entirely up for grabs depending on vaccine timelines and whether we have an in-person Worldcon in 2021. If we do, then the obvious target is Fort Reno, the District of Columbia highpoint, and I might also rent a car for a day and go after some other area county (or independent city) high points—I have not yet done the research but a recent thread on the county highpointers mailing list suggests that Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas, and Manassas Park would all be reasonable objectives. If we do not, then obviously I won’t bother with an East Coast trip. Either way, I’m hoping to take some time off in the summer and sweep up some Nevada county high points, and hopefully I’ll find time to return to far northern California for Bear Mountain.

2020 year-end statistics:

  • New county high points: 2 (61 total)
  • Home glob: 52 counties (+1), 141,796 square miles (+3613)
  • New 2000′ prominence peaks: 5
  • New Sierra Peaks Section peaks: 7
  • Highest peak climbed: Mount Dana (13,057′)
  • Most prominent peak climbed: South Yolla Bolly Mountain (8094′, P4814)
  • New peaks (min. 300′ prominence) climbed: 26
  • P-Index: 119

Grayback and Salmon Mountains

Independence Day Weekend marked my second three-day weekend of the year. Originally I had planned to be spending this weekend at Westercon in Seattle. However the COVID-19 pandemic postponed that Westercon to next year, so absent any social plans, and given the complete impossibility of making healthy social plans, it was time to head up into the mountains.

The highest points of Del Norte and Humboldt Counties have been on my to-do list for a while. The plan was to spend the first day of the three-day weekend driving up to Bear Mountain (the Del Norte County high point), the second day ascending it, and then the third day hiking up Salmon Mountain (the Humboldt County high point) and driving home. Bear was likely to take all day and as such would not be a good candidate to combine with extensive driving. An extra bonus: routing this way, instead of trying to do Salmon first (likely on Day 1) would mean driving north on US-101 and south on I-5, thereby avoiding bridge tolls.

With this in mind, I packed the usual for a car-camping long weekend and headed up Highway 101 on Friday, July 3. It’s a long drive, reasonably pretty, especially when you get to the redwood sections, but nothing ultra special. The most notable change since the last time I came this way was the Willits Bypass, which opened in 2016. If COVID-19 wasn’t a factor it would have been nice to stop in Eureka or Crescent City, maybe see if there’s any fun bookstores or library sales to check out, but not a good year for that. Past Crescent City I turned onto Highway 199, signed for Grants Pass, and soon turned off that to head into the Smith River National Recreation Area. And that’s where the fun began.

See, the normal driving route to access the trailhead for Bear Mountain involves turning off the highway onto paved forest road 17N05 toward Pierson Cabin. But 17N05 is currently washed out, so the current recommended route involves taking South Fork Road from the highway to Big Flat, then taking 16N02 to Pierson Cabin and proceeding as normal from there. Unfortunately the map I had showed the Big Flat area as a maze of twisty forest roads, all alike, and the route I identified to connect to 16N02 didn’t have the clear connection that I thought existed. As a result, I ended up taking the dirt road 16N03 much much further than I anticipated. The good news is that theoretically this would have actually worked—16N03 eventually terminates at 16N02. The bad news is that 12.5 miles in I was blocked by a large boulder in the middle of the road.

Carefully reversing down the hill until I was able to turn around, I retreated back to (gravel) Big Flat Road and, not seeing any better options, decided to take it north and see if anything else presented itself. Big Flat Road climbs nearly to the top of Gordon Mountain (4160+’) before reaching a junction with the dirt 17N04. I turned right here and eventually connected to 17N05, proceeding further on 17N05 in the hope that maybe I was past the washed-out section, or the washout had been fixed and the Forest Service’s website just hadn’t been updated yet.

Alas, no such luck. The road was closed and blocked a few miles from the trailhead. With night falling, it was time to figure out an alternate plan for the morrow as clearly Bear Mountain wasn’t in the cards for this weekend. (I didn’t have the right road maps on me to try to find yet another route to the trailhead, and adding the extra mileage to what I already expected to be an already grueling ascent just seemed like a recipe for failure.) Opening up the Peakbagger app, I noted that the highest point of Josephine County, Oregon, was a mere thirty air miles away; my vague memories of looking up Grayback Mountain a couple years ago suggested it wouldn’t be excessively difficult. But I was too deep in the forest to have any reception, so actually researching the peak would have to wait.

Saturday, July 4. I woke up at dawn, drove back to Highway 199—this time all on pavement, using 17N05—and proceeded to Grants Pass, passing on my way signs for Oregon Caves National Monument, which I’ll have to check out next time I’m in the area. I stopped for gas, noting with mild dismay that the gas station attendant wasn’t wearing a mask, and downloaded route information about Grayback Mountain. After reviewing it and verifying that it would indeed not be excessively difficult, I turned onto Highway 238 and was on my way.

The drive through rural southwestern Oregon was uneventful, although I did note a depressing number of “Trump/Pence 2020: Keep America Great!” signs. There were a good amount of deer, and after entering the Rogue River National Forest I briefly saw a bear off the side of the road who quickly vanished into the woods. I soon made it to the Lower O’Brien Creek Trailhead (3947′), where I parked—my information suggested that the road to the Upper Trailhead was passable, but unpleasantly rough—and headed up.

The road hike up to the Upper O’Brien Creek Trailhead was boringly monotonous, and the road would in fact have been clearly doable in my Forester. (It was probably nicer than 16N03.) Oh well. Fortunately things improved once I got on trail, and I hiked through (mostly) woods up to 6200′. Here I left the trail and proceeded cross-country up the slopes of the mountain through woods that had been subject to a controlled burn, keeping the bushwacking negligible. The final stretch featured some easy talus-hopping. I topped out on Grayback Mountain (7048′) shortly after noon, three and a half hours after parking; per the summit register, I was the fifteenth party to summit this year. [1]

Views from the summit were not quite 360° due to trees, but I could make out the Pacific to the west and Mounts Shasta and McLoughlin crowning the distance. In the nearer ground, ridges (that I mostly didn’t recognize, having really never been to this area before) stretched away in all directions.

After enjoying the views, I headed back down the mountain, passing one party of two on the trail, returned to my car, and drove back into California via Ashland, passing over Siskiyou Summit, at 4,310 feet the highest point on I-5. Soon, however, it was time to leave I-5 for the scenic beauty of Highway 96, which parallels the Klamath River. The challenge of this drive is not to get too distracted by the river and not stop too often for pictures. Just before Orleans, I turned off the highway to head back into the national forest, where I camped overnight, free from fireworks or noisy neighbors, at the trailhead for Salmon Mountain.

Salmon Mountain is a straightforward trail hike up to 6400′ feet, with maybe a bit more up-and-down than I’d strictly prefer once it reaches the ridgeline. Unfortunately the trail refuses to commit to staying on (or near) the ridge, forcing one to leave it and trek upwards cross-country. While not difficult, the forest floor is absolutely full of fallen branches that one has to crunch though. Fortunately the crunchiest section is brief. At 6520′ I got near the ridgeline and found a faint use trail that I was able to more or less (honestly, mostly less, but at this point the navigation was super easy) follow up to the 6956′ summit. I was the fourteenth party of the year to reach the top and sign the summit register.

There are views in all directions except for some tree-obstruction to the north, but the most striking views are to the east, with an immediate sharp drop, followed by ridges upon ridges crowned by a distant Shasta. Meanwhile, to the southeast lie the striking Trinity Alps, topped by Thompson Peak and its snowfield. [2]

On the way back I stopped to check out an interesting rock formation known as “Indian Rocks“. I thought about trying to climb it but after seeing the thick brush that surrounded it, quickly abandoned that idea in lieu of getting home at a somewhat reasonable hour. It didn’t help that while jumping over a trail-crossing log, a branch managed to tear a small rip in my pants.

After attaining my car, I drove back down the (mostly paved, but so potholed that it must be taken slowly) road to Orleans, where I filled my tank with gas from an old-school pump, that one has to manually reset between customers and everything, and headed back south on Highway 96. After an additional quick stop at Hoopa for refreshments (that’s where to fill your tank if you want a modern gas station), it was time to really just get on with driving home. Highway 96 ends at Willow Creek, and then it’s nearly a hundred miles along Highway 299—much of which parallels the Trinity River, but time constraints prevented me from doing much more than viewing it from my window—to Redding and I-5. And from there it’s just a matter of driving home.


[1] I think. Not sure how to count the page-sized dragon picture.

[2] Technically Salmon is just within the Trinity Alps Wilderness boundaries.

2019 Highpointing, and What Comes Next

My current county high point completion map.

The limiting factor continues to be distance and vacation time. I was able to ascend White Mountain Peak without taking time off primarily due to Open Gate Day reducing the requisite hiking distance and still didn’t get home until pretty late Sunday night. Eagle Peak and Hat Mountain required pretty much the entirety of Labor Day Weekend just from the sheer amount of driving necessary to reach the Modoc National Forest.

Closer to home, Laveaga Peak and Long Ridge were made possible by the efforts of Coby King to obtain legal access to these private-property peaks.

Frustratingly I was unable to get anything done over Thanksgiving break due to bad weather up and down the state. While it’s possible that my plans for Hot Springs Mountain and Blue Angels Peak would have gone successfully despite the snow, that’s an awfully long drive that can be put off until there’s better weather.

My actual biggest peakbagging achievement of the year is finishing off the Nifty Ninety list of Bay Area peaks. I am not planning on going nearly as hard in the spring as this year’s effort to finish off the list on my birthday, especially as in hindsight that led to a bit of fatigue (and a desire to not burn even more gas) in trying to get much done in the Sierras in September/October this year. But I’m sure I can find something to do closer to home before the snow melts.

The other lesson learned was to not try to crowbar a non-trivial highpoint into a weekend where I’m already busy and tired—hiking is best done before the convention starts. I’m not currently planning on trying to work any highpointing into Westercon weekend. (Note also that July 4th weekend is still pretty early in the season for the Seattle area.)

So what’s next? It’s mostly a question of trying to work out vacation plans. I’m almost certainly not going to Worldcon this year (turns out flights to New Zealand are really expensive) so I am hoping to spend a week in the Sierra sometime in August. It would also be really nice to bump off both the Salmon/Bear duo (likely a Labor Day Weekend target) and the three I have left in SoCal next year, although this may be a tad ambitious given that the latter would likely have to be crowbarred into Memorial Day Weekend and I’m not sure that’s actually enough time considering the drive.

For summer weekend trips, there’s also a number of county prominences that I’m interested in—Granite Chief, Mt. Conness, South Yolla Bolly, Hull Mountain, and Babbitt Peak come to mind.

Longer term, I’m planning on combining my 2021 trip for the Tonopah Westercon with some county high points in southern / central Nevada, as well as a few easy pings in D.C. and environs in conjunction with the 2021 Worldcon.

2019 year-end statistics:

  • New county high points: 5 (59 total)
  • Home glob: 51 counties (+5), 138,183 square miles (+14,580)
  • New 2000′ prominence peaks: 3
  • New SF Bay Nifty Ninety peaks: 25
  • Highest and most prominent peak climbed: White Mountain Peak (14,246)
  • New peaks (min. 300′ prominence) climbed: 22
  • P-Index: 103

Eagle Peak and Hat Mountain

Eagle Peak (9892′) and Hat Mountain (8745′), the highest points of Modoc and Lassen Counties, respectively, are in the far northeastern part of California, an area that most people haven’t seen. I took I-80 and US-395 to get to the Modoc National Forest and it’s quite striking how the last hour or so of the drive (north of Susanville) is almost completely empty of people. It’s 7-8 hours from Sunnyvale depending on traffic. Some notes:

  • I didn’t see anybody on either Eagle Peak or Hat Mountain. There was one entry in the Eagle register from earlier on Saturday (noting the visible smoke from Burning Man), but I have to assume that he took a different route up.
  • There were a good number of others present at the Mill Creek campground on Saturday night. It’s accessible via paved roads and has bathrooms and running water. Luxurious (from a car-camping perspective) if a bit less quiet than I might have liked. (Special shout-out to the campers that kept managing to direct a bright light into my driver’s-side windows.)
  • The short stretch of trail past Clear Lake is absolutely infested with spiders. Seriously I don’t know how you can get through that section without taking at least one strand of silk to the face.
  • Eagle really puts the day in dayhike. It took me a bit over ten hours round-trip from Mill Creek Falls (about 5700′), not counting about half an hour on the summit. There are other routes that start higher but have a bit more mileage.
  • After getting back and taking a bit of a breather I drove further into the forest towards Hat Mountain, this time on gravel roads. The biggest surprise of the drive was the calf on the road.
  • The stars are absolutely amazing in the Modoc National Forest. Seriously, if you haven’t ever seen the stars from a really rural location like the Modoc, you owe it to yourself to find a moonless night and fix that. There are just so many stars! (And I really need to remember to actually bring my binoculars on one of my overnight peakbagging trips.)
  • Just as I was getting ready to sleep on Sunday night, I was surprised to find somebody driving up Forest Road 38N18. We chatted briefly and he confirmed that the road was in good shape.
  • The standard route up Hat Mountain involves a 600-foot descent through brush to Lost Lake. I got partway through this two years ago and turned around in disgust. (The rainstorm the previous night didn’t help.) This year, Kimberly St. Clair tipped me off about an improved route that involves driving a few miles down 38N18 and taking mostly roads/trails from there. This route is a huge improvement. There’s minimal bushwacking and only a 200-foot elevation gain on the way back, much of which could have been further reduced if I had driven a bit further. The first three miles of 38N18 past its junction with 38N18A are a somewhat rocky road but nothing a Subaru Forester can’t handle.
  • Amusingly there are actually two registers atop Hat Mountain because it’s not entirely clear where the exact highest point it. I of course tagged them both. (The better view is probably slightly lower.)
  • I didn’t get much (okay, any) reading done this weekend because I didn’t get to either trailhead until after sunset. Part of this was because I extended my trip to the area a bit by stopping at a couple Half Price Books locations to take advantage of their 20% weekend sale. I picked up five books, the highlight being a first edition copy of Iain M. Banks’s Inversions.

So that’s California county highpoints 42 and 43 done. Next up, in all likelihood: Thanksgiving weekend for the San Diego and Imperial high points. Plus Orange if I can figure a legal route up Santiago Peak post-Holy Fire.

On the Nifty Ninety

I finished up the San Francisco Bay Area Nifty Ninety peak list on my birthday, the fifteenth of June. It’s my first real list completion (I’m not counting “Everest by the Bay” as I didn’t follow a lot of the routes on those peaks). This is a relatively new list, published at the end of 2017 by the local Sierra Club. I had ascended 31 of the peaks when I became aware of the list, and tagged the remaining 59 over the next year and a half. Nothing on the Nifty Ninety is overly challenging, and it’s a fairly straightforward list to go after for a Bay Area peakbagger. Unlike the older California Coastal list (which I’ve referred to as the “CC list” here) everything here is on public land. Some brief thoughts on each of the individual peaks, along with links to some photos:

Federal Sites

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (photos)

Berryessa Mountain (3057′)


This is a bit of a haul from where I live in the South Bay, but very much worth it. Great views directly overlooking Lake Berryessa. It took me about seven hours round trip so plan accordingly if you’re interested, and avoid when it’s hot. Unfortunately this was burned badly in the County Fire last year and the trail, in good condition when I visited in December 2017, has been severely damaged.

Mount Vaca (2819′)

The Solano County high point. I did this from Mix Canyon Road back in 2015 in my first push through nearby county high points. Extremely easy but the communication towers somewhat spoil the scenery.

Point Reyes National Seashore (photos)

Mount Wittenberg (1407′)

Point Reyes Hill (1336′)

I did both of these over Memorial Day weekend last year. Point Reyes Hill is really the more interesting peak; I hiked it from Inverness Ridge, although you wouldn’t miss that much by just using the near drive-up approach as only the beginning of said trail really has any views. The top of Point Reyes Hill is an FAA facility but there are a couple of benches on top where you can look out towards the ocean. Mt. Wittenberg, on the other hand, is a forested summit with no views, only really notable for being the highest point on Point Reyes. Might be more interesting to combine a visit there with a longer Point Reyes hike.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (photos)

Hawk Hill (920′)

Hill 88 (950′)

Slacker Hill (915′)


These are all in the Marin Headlands. The hardest part about Hawk and Slacker Hills is finding parking, but it’s obvious why these are popular; the views of the Golden Gate are spectacular. Hill 88, on the other hand, is a bit further back from the coast, near Rodeo Lagoon, and an actual hike.

John Muir National Historic Site (photos)

Mount Wanda (640′)

Nothing particularly notable about this one, an easy little jaunt near Martinez. There’s some ambiguity about which of two neighboring peaks is Mt. Helen and which is Wanda, so I just tagged both of them.

State Parks

Robert Louis Stevenson State Park

Mt. St. Helena (4339′)

Mt. St. Helena South Peak (4003′) (photos)

The smart way to do these would be in one go. To get to the top of Mt. St. Helena South, you take the Mt. St. Helena trail to a saddle and then turns left instead of continuing straight for a short side trip. However, I did not do this the efficient way.

Mt. St. Helena was the third peak of the Nifty Ninety I ascended. While it is not a county high point itself, Napa County’s highest point can be found on its eastern subpeak. I drove here directly from Mt. Tamalpais, underestimated the time required, and ended up getting back to the trailhead right at dusk; however I would have likely ignored the south summit anyway as just a miscellaneous subpeak surplus to objectives.

Mt. St. Helena South was the third-from-last peak of the Nifty Ninety I ascended. The summit itself is pretty ugly due in large part to the 2017 Tubbs fire, which had burned over Mt. St. Helena since I last visited. Now the southeast subpeak is the only summit of Mt. St. Helena that I have yet to visit.

Table Rock (2460′) (photos)


This uses the exact same trailhead as Mt. St. Helena but is 2.2 miles in the other direction. The really smart thing to do would be to park at the trailhead and do all three peaks in the same outing. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do that on any of my visits, as the park closes at sunset and I hit up other peaks on the way on each occasion; like Berryessa, this is a multi-hour drive from where I live. Table Rock itself isn’t really a peak but I’m glad it was here nevertheless; it’s a fun little Class 3 scramble overlooking the Napa Valley. It’s the kind of thing I probably wouldn’t have found myself but am grateful I visited.

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park (photos)

Coyote Peak (N) (1170′)

This was a fun little redwood hike (I love redwoods so I’m never going to complain about them) but nothing special, especially for the distance I drove to get here. No views from the summit and nothing too interesting on the way either.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (photos)

Bald Mountain (N) (2729′)


On the other hand, the views from atop Bald Mountain are great in all directions. This was well worth the drive. I did this as a nice loop hike through Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (adding the CC-listed Red Mountain on the way) and there are definitely options to extend the loop further if you has the time and inclination to do so—this only took me about three hours.

Olompali State Historic Park (photos)

Mount Burdell (1558′)

While this is the Olompali SHP high point, I did it the shorter way via the Mt. Burdell Open Space Preserve. It’s a worthy peak objectively but I found it a bit frustrating because there’s no clear high point and there’s no trail along the ridge, meaning you’re walking through thistles and sticker-spewing grasses. Plus there are enough trees that you’re not getting many views. The Open Space Preserve itself is quite nice though, if nothing too different than elsewhere in Marin. This ended up being my last Marin Nifty Ninety peak just because it’s a bit distant from everything else on the list.

Samuel P. Taylor State Park (photos)

Barnabe Peak (1466′)


The state park high point, I did this right after Point Reyes, which was not necessarily the greatest of ideas because after the beginning the trail has very little shade. Apart from the heat though, this has very nice views (and a lookout tower) towards both Point Reyes and Mt. Tamalpais. A worthy inclusion.

Mount Tamalpais State Park

Mount Tamalpais (2571′)


Not specified in the listing, but this is the east peak. I first visited this as a kid with my dad but reascended in June 2015 when going through local county high points. (Ironically, this isn’t the true highest point of Marin County—that’s still the paved-over West Peak.) It’s a short hike from the nearby parking lot, although you could make it a lot longer if you wanted. And of course, the views are great.

Angel Island State Park (photos)

Mount Livermore (788′)


When I was growing up Angel Island was a thing I saw frequently but somehow never got around to visiting. I finally checked it out a couple weeks ago, taking the ferry from Tiburon and climbing to its top. Unfortunately it was a little too foggy to have much visibility, and the best views of Tiburon and Belvedere were actually a littler lower down, below the fog layer. I want to come back here at some point not just for the views but to also take the loop around the island and check out the various historic sites.

Mount Diablo State Park (photos)

Mount Diablo (3849′)

North Peak (3557′)


Mt. Diablo is likely the easiest county high point in the state; simply drive up to the top and step into the visitor’s center. After spending a bit of time checking out the rest of the visitor’s center and admiring the views, I decided this was too easy even for me and hiked out and back to the north summit. This was in 2015.

Mount Olympia (2946′)

Eagle Peak (2369′)


To get the other two peaks in Mt. Diablo State Park, I figured I’d just head up to Mitchell Canyon on the north side of the park and hike the other two peaks, making a big loop of it. Easy, right? Well, it took a good eight hours. However I’d call out Olympia in particular for having some really nice views to the north of Diablo, plus being isolated enough that you’re not going to encounter lots of people up there, a rarity for this crowded park. I’d recommend combining Olympia with North Peak as the relevant trail junction is just over 400 feet below the latter, and I seriously considered reclimbing North Peak on the spur of the moment but decided it was too hot for side trips.

San Bruno Mountain State Park

San Bruno Mountain (1314′)

I did this as a birthday hike in 2015. It’s the most prominent peak in San Mateo County and an obvious landmark when driving to and from San Francisco; the actual highest point is a little obscure because it’s next to a communications tower. I’d also like to revisit this one because I was here on a foggy day that, while making the hike itself quite comfortable, made the views all but non-existent.

McNee Ranch State Park

Montara Mountain (1898′)

Did this from San Pedro Valley Park on a very foggy August day back in 2015, while chasing local CC-listed peaks. Might be worth a revisit for views; it’s only a couple hours’ worth of hiking.

Castle Rock State Park

Goat Rock (2850′)

One of only a couple entries on this list that requires scrambling. You could rock climb Goat Rock from its base if you’re into that kind of thing. For lazy people like myself, there’s a trail that gets you most of the way there and then an easy scramble up to the top of the rock. The actual highest point is at the end of a somewhat narrow segment of rock that I suspect a lot of people skip.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Pine Mountain (2150′)

This probably should be delisted; the spur trail that takes you to the summit is marked, apparently permanently, “Area Closed for Plant Rehabilitation” and is somewhat blocked with deadfall. There are no views at the summit but there is a massive cairn. Alternative nearby targets include Buzzards Roost, which I still need to actually climb one of these days.

Mount McAbee (1730′) (photos)


Based on the altitude listed this is actually a reference to McAbee Overlook, which is where I finished on 15 June. There’s a nice little bench at the overlook and a nice little view of the ocean, although it’s not anything particularly special. Still I’m never going to complain about a straightforward redwood hike. I skipped the bushwack to the actual summit due to lack of views and motivation to do so. Maybe another day, although 500 feet of prominence is not quite enough to get me excited about an otherwise uninteresting peak.

Chalk Mountain (1609′) (photos)

There are a number of ways to hike this. I went with a long loop from Waddell Beach, taking the Westridge Trail up and the Skyline-to-the-Sea (via Chalks Road and Henry Creek Trail) back. There’s a lot of extra up-and-down on this route; I estimated 2114′ extra elevation gain on the way in and 4700 feet of gain total. Not bad for a peak only sixteen hundred feet tall!

While on the way out along Chalks Road I heard a noise that I first took to be a leak in my water supply before looking to my left and noticing an unhappy snake on the hillside to my right. I quickly bypassed the snake but it would have been a long way to help if anything had happened.

The Henry Creek Trail has multiple crossings of West Waddell Creek. The last crossing, right before the Skyline-to-the-Sea junction, was pretty wide at this time (May 2017), if not notably fast, and required proper precautions in crossing. Be prepared to get your feet wet.

Henry Coe State Park

Mount Sizer (3216′) (photos)


I took about seven hours to do the infamous “Sizer Loop” from Coe Ranch. This includes one of the steepest trails in the Bay Area (the Hobbs Road “shortcut”), which gains 1700 feet in just 1.3 miles. Sizer itself is nothing too exciting but it and its ridgeline have some pretty great views into the Coe backcountry.

Willson Peak (2651′) (photos)

Vasquez Peak (2210′) (photos)

Bills Hill (1988′) (photos)


I made a very long loop of all of these from Hunting Hollow on Memorial Day. This would not have been possible without the weather being unseasonably cool and cloudy, otherwise I’d have gone through way too much water to make this viable. Willson and Vasquez should generally be combined as they’re on nearby ridgelines but Bills Hill is its own special brand of fun, as the trail to the top is heavily overgrown and full of ticks. The view from Bills to the west is quite nice though once you do get up there.

Burra Burra Peak (2281′) (photos)


I did briefly think about trying to cram this into my Memorial Day hike but it would have been too much. Instead I tagged it a couple weeks later from Dowdy Ranch. An easy hike (with annoying flies at the top). Be careful of Dowdy’s early closing time; I drove out at around 5pm and encountered a ranger on the way down who had just closed the gate going up and told me that it wasn’t locked but to just close it behind me when I got to it.

North Bay Regional Parks

Mount Hood Regional Preserve (photos)

Mount Hood (2730′)

I did this from Pythian Road on Memorial Day 2017 after hiking to the top of Sonoma Mountain (2463′), the most prominent peak in the county, earlier that day. The summit of Hood Mountain itself is nothing special but a short detour from the summit gets you to the Gunsight Rocks, which have spectacular views right down into the Sonoma Valley. Unfortunately his area was burned over badly in October of that year so I suspect the forest hike is a bit less pleasant than it was when I did it. If focused on the Nifty Ninety, I’d try to combine this with Sugarloaf Ridge State Park as it’s only a short drive away.

Loma Alta Open Space Preserve (photos)

Loma Alta (1592′)


This has great views of central Marin marred, in my case, by surprisingly strong winds. The parking is directly off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The hiking took me a bit under an hour each way. A lot of the Marin peaks that follow (and precede, for that matter) are easy, fairly short hikes that can and should be done in conjunction with each other.

White Hill Open Space Preserve (photos)

White Hill (1430′)

The hardest part of climbing White Hill is finding where to legally park as there are signs rather ambiguously restricting street parking. I’m not entirely sure my parking spot was 100% legal but figured it was close enough that I was unlikely to get in trouble in the time it took me to summit and return. The views are really good for a fairly low-effort summit.

Mount Tamalpais Watershed

Pine Mountain (1762′) (photos)

The second Pine Mountain on this list! The real highlight of this hike for me was not the peak (which has good views but nothing that distinguishable from any of the other nearby peaks) but the waterfalls I visited on the way back. Carson Falls has multiple stages for a good 75 feet of water drop.

Pilot Knob (1187′) (photos)

This is a spectacularly easy hike (ascent took me less than twenty minutes) but you’re looking directly at Lake Lagunitas when you get to the summit, and you’re close enough to Mt. Tamalpais that you get some of the best views up to the actual mountain that I’ve seen. Recommended especially for the lazy.

San Pedro Open Space Preserve (photos)

San Pedro Mountain (1058′)

One of the less exciting Marin peaks. The summit is too broad and flat (and surrounded by brush) for any views, plus it’s marred by communications equipment. There’s some nice looks into San Rafael on the way up though.

Skyline Wilderness Park (photos)

Sugarloaf Mountain (1630′)


I did this in March and it was worth it for the wildflowers alone. The actual summit here is not particularly interesting but on the switchbacks just below the summit you get great views of Napa and the northern end of the Bay itself. Skyline Wilderness Park also has a pretty nature garden near the parking area that makes for a nice spot to relax.

Hiddenbrooke Open Space (photos)

Sulphur Springs Mountain (1112′)


This felt a little weird to me because the hike rises directly over a subdivision and an associated golf course, until they’re blocked by intervening hills near the summit. The trail was a bit muddier than I was expecting due to recent rainfall.

San Francisco Regional Parks

Mount Davidson (925′)

The San Francisco City and County high point, crowned by a large cross that technically lies on private property. A surprisingly fun park to wander around in that feels more wild than it really should. No views from the summit but what I suspect are probably good views of the city from the trail; it was too foggy when I visited to know for sure.

Twin Peaks (922′)

The big tourist viewpoint in the City. The actual summits are slightly less full of people than the parking area and overlook but it’s still very, very busy. Understandable; you’re looking right at downtown San Francisco.

Mount Sutro (908′) (photos)

Tank Hill (650′) (photos)

Corona Heights Crag (510′) (photos)

Bernal Heights (459′) (photos)

Hayes Hill (265′) (photos)


I took a nice long walk through San Francisco and hit up all of these on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend last year. Sutro has no views but feels the most wild of any of these, as you have to do a bit of trail walking through a tree-filled city park to get to the top. The rest of these are right next to city streets and offer various perspectives on the City. Fun and easy.

Nob Hill (325′) (photos)

Russian Hill (300′) (photos)

Telegraph Hill (275′) (photos)


This was an earlier walk through San Francisco, but with a twist—I was in the City for a work training session that let out early, so I decided to take the rest of the day to tag some peaks, made a bit spicier by the need to conform to the Muni/Caltrain schedules. The highlight here is Telegraph Hill, home of Coit Tower. I’ve still never actually been inside of Coit Tower (it was closed when I got there) but it really is a nice little area, with the Filbert Steps a fun route down.

East Bay Regional Parks

Ohlone Wilderness

Rose Peak (3817′) (photos)

Schlieper Rock (3080′)


These are both on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, which can be approached from either Del Valle or Sunol Regional Parks. When I first visited the Ohlone Wilderness in 2016, I came via Del Valle, as my primary objective was the Alameda County high point which is notably closer to Del Valle than Sunol. On the way back, I scrambled up Schlieper Rock to enjoy the view across Williams Gulch. I had considered tagging Rose Peak that day but decided I didn’t want to deal with the extra elevation dip of Indian Creek.

Williams Gulch, of course, is the most frustrating feature of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail from Del Valle, adding five hundred feet of extra elevation gain in each direction. (It’s especially brutal on the way out at the end of a long day.) Not wanting to deal with it yet again when I finally got around to Rose in April, I started from Sunol and had a fairly gentle but long hike through the cows to the top. It was surprisingly pleasant for a peak I had been putting off for a while, with views in all directions, including the “back sides” of Mission Peak and vicinity.

Mission Peak Regional Preserve

Mission Peak (2658′)

Monument Peak (2594′)


Mission Peak may be one of the most congested peaks in the Bay Area. The parking lot is consistently full and the neighbors don’t want hikers parking on their streets. The main trail up is packed and so is the summit (complete with a photo-friendly pole). Why? Because of the views, directly overlooking Fremont and the South Bay as a whole.

There’s no way to get around the crowds at the summit, but you can enjoy a bit more tranquility on the way up by taking instead the Horse Heaven trail. This puts you on the south side of Mission Peak when you reach the ridge, and traversing further south leads you eventually to Monument Peak, passing on your way Mt. Allison, the private-property highest point in the area. I saw very few others along the ridge and it made a pleasant change from the hordes at Mission.

Tilden Regional Park

Vollmer Peak (1905′)

Grizzly Peak (1740′)

I did these together in March 2017 as part of a cloudy day spent bagging peaks in the Oakland Hills. All of these peaks are extremely easy, with most of the day’s activity being driving. Vollmer is slightly spoiled by communications towers at the top but there are good views in every direction if you’re willing to walk around said towers and look around trees. Grizzly is one of the more questionable list inclusions in my opinion as it has somewhat questionable access (again, a communications company) and the view is really no improvement on what you can get from the parking area.

Wildcat Peak (1211′)

I ran out of time for this on that day in 2017 so did this with my friend Marissa in December 2018—my last peak of the year. It’s another easy peak in the Oakland Hills but has a nice little circle on top where you can walk around and check out the 360 degree views.

Sunol Regional Wilderness

Vista Grande (1840′) (photos)

Flag Hill (1360′) (photos)


I decided to check out Flag Hill and Sams Peak in a November 2017 trip to Sunol. Flag Hill isn’t too exciting on its own but looks directly down into the parking area and the road to Little Yosemite. This is an area of the park while, not unpopular, doesn’t see as many visitors as the Little Yosemite trail. Sams Peak is a bit further beyond and, while not on the Nifty Ninety list, was the main objective of the day, having 300′ of prominence and views to the north.

Vista Grande was a bonus “peak” that I hit at the end of the day, driving over to Welch Creek Road and walking over. It’s really more of an overlook, with views over the entirety of the Sunol Regional Wilderness south of Welch Creek Road, although I did make sure to step over the highest ground nearby.

Maguire Peak (1688′)


Usually referred to as the Maguire Peaks plural, although I’ve only been to the higher summit. A fun hike from Welch Creek Road in a less developed part of the park. I ran into another hiker at the summit and we chatted for a while about various topics, including the flowers and the lizards that frequented the summit.

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness (photos)

Las Trampas Peak (1827′)

Vail Peak (1787′)

Eagle Peak (1720′)

I’m not entirely sure why Las Trampas has three peaks on this list. It’s a nice park and a nice ridge walk, to be sure, but Vail in particular doesn’t have any views and a mere hundred feet of prominence. Las Trampas Peak is the standout here, although Eagle Peak does have a nice view of Mt. Diablo. To the west of the trailhead is Rocky Ridge, a P1K that I still need to visit; I would have done it when I visited the first time had I had the requisite permit.

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

Round Top (1763′)

Another peak I bagged on that Oakland Hills day. The summit is unremarkable (communications towers and view-blocking trees) but the loop trail itself has some interesting signage about the area’s volcanic legacy. May be worth a revisit on a less cloudy day when I have more time to complete the loop.

Brushy Peak Regional Preserve (photos)

Brushy Peak (1702′)


This summit can only legally be accessed via a guided tour from the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District. The summit itself is yet another forested East Bay summit with marginal views. However the Brushy Peak Regional Preserve lends itself to a nice loop hike at the far eastern edge of the Bay Area, with nice views over both Livermore and the hills to the east. The loop hike is good, the peak is meh.

Redwood Regional Park

Redwood Peak (1619′)

This was my first stop on that Oakland Hills trip I keep mentioning. It’s a nice little redwood hike that was a good warmup for the day, even if there’s nothing really to see at the top. (Except redwood trees. I like redwoods!)

Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve (photos)

Rose Hill (1506′)


Tucked away near Antioch, I headed here after Mt. Wanda. The trail to Rose Hill takes you through the historic Rose Hill Cemetery, where those who died in the coal mining town of Somersville in the second half of the 1800s are buried. Once past the cemetery, the trail up is surprisingly steep and leads you to good views especially to the north, looking towards Suisun Bay. Unfortunately I just ran out of time to check out the visitor’s center and mines before closing time, but I’d be interested in coming back at some point to get more on the history of this area.

Briones Regional Park (photos)

Briones Peak (1483′)

Mott Peak (1424′)

Russell Peak (1357′)


Another cow-infested East Bay regional park. Again, probably all three peaks don’t really need to be here (although annoyingly, the peak with the most marginal views would be Briones, the high point), but it’s a nice excuse for a loop around this park. I also added Table Top as a bonus peak along the way, between Briones and Russell.

Dublin Hills Regional Park

Donlan Point (1139′)

An exceptionally easy peak overlooking Dublin, as well as the houses built right nearby. Lots of cows, and grass that wants to spread its seeds on you.

Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park

Gossip Rock (1080′)

One of the more questionable entries on the CC list. I first visited Dry Creek Park for this point in January 2016. You can imagine the rock as a “gossip” place for the Native Americans who lived here back in the day but otherwise this is mainly an excuse to walk through the park. Obviously, worth combining with Tolman if you’re here for the Nifty Ninety.

Tolman Peak (995′) (photos)


A bump near Walpert Ridge, which is sadly on private property on the other side of the park boundary. Perhaps the most notable thing about Tolman is the geocache on top commemorating United Flight 615, which crashed about 87 feet below the peak on 23 August 1951.

Garin Regional Park

Garin Peak (948′) (photos)


From Dry Creek Park it is only a quick drive along Mission Boulevard to Garin Park. Garin has a couple hundred feet of prominence, which is enough for good views over the Bay as well as more casual views toward the house-choked hills behind it.

Peninsula Regional Parks

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

Windy Hill (1905′)

There are two ways to hike this peak; from the Spring Ridge Trail, 1200 feet and a couple miles below, or Skyline Boulevard, right next to the summit. I did it the lazy way. This was back in July 2015, when I was on my first rush of CC-listed peaks; it was my ninth Nifty Ninety peak.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve

Borel Hill (2572′)

This is just a bit down the road from Windy Hill via Skyline Boulevard. Like Windy, this treeless summit has great views of the Peninsula and South Bay. I did this CC-listed peak right after Windy.

Mindego Hill (2143′) (photos)


This peak, on the other hand, is not on the CC list. I’m glad it’s on the Nifty Ninety because otherwise I might have missed out on this fun little jaunt in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with views clear on out to the Pacific. My summit experience itself was marred by a few kids that were enjoying themselves a bit too raucously for my tastes. Off the trail, there’s also the Council Circle which has good views of nearby Langley Hill; the trailhead also has a nice scenic overlook if you don’t want to hike.

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

Black Mountain (2812′)

This one’s more about the exercise than the views. Via the Rhus Ridge Trail, this will gain you 2240 feet in about five miles, and there are steeper options if you want them. The summit area has a bunch of rocks over a large, somewhat flat area; not too exciting but a good spot for lunch.

Upper Stevens Creek County Park

Table Mountain (1852′)

This has my vote for most pointless entry on the list. No views, no clear summit, and the worst part is that the trailhead from Skyline Boulevard is a good seven hundred feet higher. Not really sure why you’d visit except for the list credit and maybe the exercise, although there’s plenty of more fun hikes you could do for the latter.

South Bay Regional Parks

Joseph D. Grant County Park

Antler Point (2995′) (photos)


I did this from the Hotel Trailhead, fifteen hundred feet below. The highest peaks in Santa Clara County are mostly on private property, but this, the highest point in the park, makes a fine substitute, and you can extend your route here depending on just how much of the park you want to visit. There are really two places to visit at the top; an overlook with a bench and views of San Jose, and the actual highest point. You also have an up-close-and-personal look at the Mt. Hamilton ridge, twelve hundred feet above.

Mount Hamilton (4213′)


A drive-up from the Mount Hamilton road, overlooking the South Bay. Obviously, check out the observatories when you’re here. This is not technically the highest point in Santa Clara County; for that, you need to go a bit further along the ridge (and the road) to Copernicus Peak, at 4360+’. A spur-of-the-moment visit here in May 2015 is what got me back into hiking and peakbagging; I looked at Copernicus from the observatory, said to myself “huh, is that the highest point in the county”, and the Internet provided.

Almaden Quicksilver County Park (photos)

Mines Hill (1728′)

Church Hill (1450′)


Almaden Quicksilver is less interesting for its peakbagging than it is for its history. This was the site of the New Almaden mercury mines, in operation for over a century. Mine Hill overlooks both the crest of the Sierra Azul (including nearby Mt. Umunhum) and is worth the trip to the top. On the other hand, while I’d absolutely recommend visiting the area of Church Hill to see the structures remaining from English Camp, the actual summit has little to recommend it.

St. Joseph’s Open Space Preserve

St. Joseph’s Hill (1253′)

Easy but fun; St. Joseph’s is accessed from near the Lexington Reservoir and provides good views of the same. I recommend making a loop hike of this; it took me just a bit over an hour.

Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve

Mount Umunhum (3486′) (photos)


One of the highest peaks in the Sierra Azul, this was cleaned up and finally opened to the public in September 2017. I visited a month later via the Umunhum Trail from the Bald Mountain Parking Area, and would highly recommend this route rather than just driving up. Atop Umunhum is a Cold War facility in the shape of a cube that’s visible from much of the South Bay. It’s also home to some interpretive signage about its years as an Air Force facility, a Ceremonial Circle, and outstanding views of the Santa Clara Valley. Make time to visit!

Mount El Sombroso (2999′)

Ticked this one off my list in December 2016 when I just needed to get out of the apartment. From the Limekiln Trailhead I made a bit of a loop, ascending via the Priest Rock Trail and descending via the Limekiln Trail. El Sombroso overlooks the higher nearby mountains of Umunhum and Thayer, and the trail provides looks down toward the South Bay.

Bald Mountain (S) (2387′) (photos)

This should really be done along Umunhum as it’s just a quick jaunt from the trailhead. I, however, did not do this as I didn’t really know about Bald Mountain when I first visited Umunhum, prior to the existence of the Nifty Ninety list. So I stopped by right before heading over to Almaden Quicksilver; the trailheads are quite close to each other.

Santa Teresa County Park (photos)

Coyote Peak (S) (1155′)


The highest point of the Santa Teresa Hills, Coyote Peak has nice views of the Bay Area from the south. I made a nice loop through the hills on this hike, and I’d recommend doing so when visiting this area.

Uvas Canyon County Park (photos)

Nibbs Knob (2694′)


Tucked away in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains, to get here one has to first pass through the Swedish retreat of Sveadal. The hike up to Nibbs Knob is steep, with 1600 vertical feet gained in 1.7 miles. The summit itself has a picnic bench with views towards Loma Prieta, the highest point in the range at 3786′. (Loma Prieta would make a great addition to this list if it wasn’t technically off-limits.)

Back at the trailhead, I checked out the several waterfalls of Uvas Canyon. There’s decent variety and in December 2018 there was definitely a good amount of flow. If you’re here, they’re definitely worth seeing.

Mount Madonna County Park (photos)

Mount Madonna (1897′)

The southernmost peak of the Nifty Ninety. It’s not too exciting in and of itself but I hiked it from a few hundred feet below to get in some redwoods before reaching the summit; I get the impression one of the primary attractions of this park is as a camping area. There’s also a goat paddock near the top.

Highpointing Season!


It’s June, and that mean it’s time for the summer highpointing season to finally kick off. My plans for this year:


I have concrete plans for the following:

  • 9 June: Laveaga Peak (3801′). Highest and most prominent point of Merced County, CA. With a group of fellow county highpointers for what will be the first legal ascent by any of us. (I’m pretty excited for this.)
  • 4 July: Thurston Peak (9706′). Highest point of Davis and Morgan Counties, UT. In conjunction with SpikeCon. There are a couple of route variations and I’m still locking down exactly how I plan to do this. (And of course, subject to change based on weather.)

I’m also hoping to swing by SoCal at some point in the fall for Santiago Peak (Orange: 5687′), Hot Springs Mountain (San Diego: 6533′), and Blue Angels Peak (Imperial: 4548′). Thanksgiving sounds like a good time for this.

I believe I am out of county high points that can be legally ascended in the course of a day from home, and there isn’t even much that can be sensibly done over a full weekend. The biggest possible exception here is White Mountain Peak (Mono: 14,246′) and the big question there would be whether trying to do it as a weekend blitz is sensible from an acclimation perspective, as well as not being super tired on the drive home.

Unfortunately there’s only one other three-day weekend during the summer season and that’s Labor Day Weekend, which I hope to spend targeting either Eagle Peak (Modoc: 9892′) and Hat Mountain (Lassen: 8745′) in far northeastern California or Salmon Mountain (Humboldt: 6956′) and Bear Mountain (Del Norte: 6411′) in northwestern California. Hard to plan this in advance without knowing weather and wildfire status.

If all goes well this should put me at 44-47 of 58 California county high points by the end of 2019.


I am not currently planning on ascending anything of note during my trip to Ireland for the 77th World Science Fiction Convention. I looked into trying to squeeze in Carrauntoohil (1039m), the country high point, but I don’t think I can make it work logistically without spending way too much time away from the convention. (Kippure (757m), the highest point of County Dublin, is more feasible but still requires a car.) I haven’t figured out what the highest point of the City of Dublin itself is yet.


Not the highest point of anything, but I do plan on completing the Nifty Ninety list on McAbee Overlook (1730′), in Big Basin State Park, on my birthday, 15 June. If anybody wants to come along I expect to be hitting the trailhead around 9am.

This is going to be a very late Sierra season due to high snow levels but I am potentially and particularly interested in weekend ascents of Granite Chief (9006′), Mokelumne Peak (9334′), and Mt. Hoffmann (10,850′), most prominent peaks of Placer, Amador, and Mariposa Counties, respectively.

Additionally, well, I maintain this wish list for a reason.

Notes from Table Rock


I climbed Table Rock (2462′) in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park on Saturday. Some quick thoughts:

  • There are better things in life than sitting where you can look straight down into a valley and see the tiny little signs of habitation. But not many.
  • When somebody is shooting somewhere below you, it’s really quite loud. And it echoes.
  • First time in a while a rock has made me bleed my own blood; scraped my elbow downclimbing the Class 3 summit block. Need to practice getting down a bit more, I think.
  • I am super ready to take a break from peaks with overgrown trails, as I don’t find dodging brush particularly enjoyable. (Bills Hill was the worst for this.) This was Nifty Ninety peak #86 for me, and I tagged Mt. Caroline Livermore and the south peak of Mt. St. Helena on Sunday to make 88. Still aiming to finish on my birthday….