If At First You Don’t Succeed…
A Tale of Defeat, Perseverance and Success!
Recently, I took an ill – advised stab at a trail I hadn’t hiked for 3 years. I knew better – before I started out I was already tired. It was warm, I was just not “feelin’ it” and besides, baseball was on TV that afternoon. It was the perfect setup for a quiet afternoon at home, just hanging out with my wife and the hounds.
I have this “thing” about wasting a perfectly good sunny day. I get wound up
tighter than a
Fast forward, two weekends later. Somewhere between hellish – hot weekdays and a warm Sunday was one gorgeous, slightly overcast, mid – 70’s summer morning. My previous attempt at Highland Ridge was weighing heavily on me, and it was clear I wouldn’t rest until I gave it at least one more try, after plenty of rest. The weather today might be a sign, I thought, that this was the day to throw everything I’ve got at this trail.
felt wonderful. I was more positive in general, and simply not in a mood to let
some little hill beat me up. With knobbies and day
pack on, I set off once more toward Highland Ridge. There were a ton of surprises
in store this day, some unexpected, some just purely delightful to take in. The
East Bay Regional Park District had, using much foresight after meeting me a
few years back, set up wheelchair accessible entrance gates not only at
That was enough a draw for me. I tend to be rather extreme when it comes to hiking, and following the map along the course of Highland Ridge, I found several trail markers indicating this was also the Diablo Regional Trail. The map doesn’t mark the trail as such. This is a multi – agency trail which sets up the possibility of beginning a hike at Round Valley Regional Preserve on Marsh Creek Road, following the trail into and through Morgan Territory, and over the chaparral ridges into Mt. Diablo State Park – and beyond. It’s not a day hike, but a very intriguing backpack trip, one I’ll be trying in the fall. A local backpacker’s destination? Right in our backyard? And no one knows about it?
I took off across the road to the west side, where a little rise brought me to the entrance gate. The trail instantly displayed its “up” side, as it got steep without giving me a chance to loosen up. I know why I got tired that last time! Here’s a word of advice when starting out – if you are poison oak sensitive, stay clear of the edges of this first stretch of trail. It’s nicely shaded by a variety of oaks and laurels, but most of the low brush is poison oak. Stay on the middle of this wide fire – road type trail, and you’ll have no problems. I recommend leaving your dog on a leash until breaking out of the canopy, too. Hounds being hounds, they will without a doubt wander off trail sniffing all the deer, squirrel, and other critter odors found on a trail into the poison oak - and all your precautions will be for naught. Wait for another ¾ of a mile before entertaining the idea of letting the pup, or kitty if you’re so inclined, off leash. This stretch may be the steepest part of the trail, but the pitches are short and easily attained with little bursts of effort. I remember my first time here, right after a November downpour some years ago. Runoff was flowing right over the trail in low spots beneath the trees. But how wonderful the smell! Add those laurels to almost any scene, any time of year and the aroma of the forest is motivating, almost intoxicating.
Several dips and rises follow until a gate’s reached. Plod right through the gate, making sure to close it after you – during certain times of year cattle are out on the west side of the preserve, and you don’t want to be the one known as the cause of The Great Morgan Territory Stampede, do you? From the gate, a short, steep stretch eventually levels into an open, small meadow which is perfectly lovely in Spring. The first time I happened upon it all was green, with a wonderful mix of wildflowers and grasses. Today it’s dry and wavy in the warm breeze. I know many who hate the Diablos in summer because it’s so dry and seemingly dismal, especially when it’s hot. But I enjoy the smell of the dry grass in the breeze. It’s usually windy up on this trail, by the way. That same wind is a comfort to a warm hiker. Resting beneath a tree to catch a minute of shade, I feel great – quite unlike the previous trip. With each grade I plow up, I feel more confident that I was only having a bad day a few weeks prior; as my energy is suddenly abundant. So I pressed on through a little intersection, and up past the meeting with the Clyma Trail. Maintaining course past Clyma and up the hill, I’d already gone several hundred yards farther than the last aborted try. I’d forgotten just how neat this next short hill was, and as I crested this short ridge the breeze picked up earnestly. It felt great.
north was a postcard image of
nicely placed downhill allows my sore shoulders to let up for a minute, and as
I pass a crossing of the Raven Trail (one of my favorites for sighting Golden
Eagles in fall, by the way), a pleasant sight comes to focus beneath the trees
– it’s the Morgan Backpack Camp, a not very well known, close to home getaway
for those without the time to drive hundreds of miles on a weekend for a
overnight hike. Reservations are required, and the recommended method of access
is to be dropped off at the trailhead or the main parking area, depending on
your desired trekking mileage. It’s not
prudent to leave a car out on
There’s an equestrian water trough, too, and remnants of equine droppings would lead me to believe that horsemen and women are the prime users of this campground. But I can’t confirm that until I spend a night or two out there. It’s a pleasant place to rest beneath an old valley oak, and I accept that opportunity without protest. The trail seems to get serious from here up, but I’m feeling great, in stark contrast to the previous outing. I can see what appears to be Highland Ridge some ways up the trail. The relatively cool temps, a solid, cooling breeze and my energy level provide enough impetus that I accept the challenge and head back out.
The trail up the hill looks long. It’s not as bad as it looks, though, as it twists up toward the ridge. Lizards and grasshoppers, a symbiotic relationship if ever there was, line the trailside. Occasionally, I stop to check the stems of the tall grass, to look for praying mantis specimens. Sure enough, a few small, less than 2” long individuals are found. This has the making of a fine tarantula viewing place in the fall, too, It’s quiet and sparsely traveled – I crossed paths on this beautiful day with no other hikers, not a single one. A recluse’s Heaven! The churn up the hill is tempered by cool, strong winds all the way up the hill. Each turn provides a different view to the north and east, and they’re great places to take a moment and enjoy the view. On an early, clear morning, you could look east and see the Sierra crest with the naked eye.
few short pitches offer some small anxious moments, but I push over them and
eventually reach the ridge top. At that location, a fenced off section
indicates the EBRPD has land - banked some property for future expansion of
back was simply reversing the order in which I arrived. A nice view to
Directions: From central Livermore or
Hwy 580, take