Mount Diablo • Highpoint: Contra Costa County
• Diablo Mountains

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Date: December 20, 2001 • Elevation: 3,849 feet • Prominence: 3,109 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 1 spooky hour • Gain: 850 feet • Conditions: Cold, rainy, foggy, lonely • Teammates: Just me, literally, not another soul on the peak

Mount Diable is a landmark peak, the most prominent mountain in the East Bay. Hundreds of people visit the summit daily, as it is a state park with a paved road to the top, and a large visitor's center at the very summit. I was visiting my sister in San Francisco for a few days, and hiking a few of the Bay Area county highpoints. I figured this would be my easiest highpoint of the trip, but it turned out to be my most challenging for many reasons. Even the "easy" peaks can become epics.

I started today at a hotel in the town of Calistoga, in northern Napa County. I was planning to hike Mount Saint Helena, the Napa County highpoint, then drive south toward the Bay Area for a leisurely drive up Mount Diablo. During the night, a strong Pacific storm blew in and brought with it rain and cold weather. I drove up to the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park at the foot of Mount St. Helena. I got dressed for the conditions, bundled up in rain gear, and started hiking. I got about a half-mile up the trail when I heard thunder. Even though the rain wasn't too heavy, I decided to abort this attempt and try it the next day. I returned to my truck and sat in it for about 20 minutes to dry out. I was bummed, but not too much.

I decided to visit Mount Diablo anyway, to salvage the day. I drove south through Napa, then through Benicia and Walnut Creek to Danville, where I found the road heading up to Mount Diablo State Park. The rain had remained steady the whole way down, a cold, wet, gloomy day. The road up Mount Diablo is very pretty, featuring classic California scenery of large oaks on grassy hillsides. After 9 miles, I came upon the ranger station where I parked to pay my entry fee. That's when I heard the hissing sound.

I stood there, watching my right front tire go flat in a matter of seconds. I saw the culprit: a small, 3/4-inch dagger-shaped rock that had pierced my tire. I pulled out the rock and chucked it. In the cold rain, I had no choice but to change my tire, which I did, getting wet and filthy in the process. I decided to not take my chances, so I headed down to Walnut Creek and found a tire place, where I bought a new pair. Since I had about two hours to kill, I went to a nearby brew-pub for lunch, then looked over the bikes at McGuire's Harley-Davidson shop next door. It was 2:30 p.m. when I got my truck back, so I tried again.

The drive back up was pleasant but rainy. I paid $2 to the ranger lady, who was mildly surprised to see me again. But with the weather as it was, she told me they had to close the final 2 miles of the road to the summit due to snow and ice. I was allowed to drive as far as Juniper Camp, where I could hike the rest. I was the only person in the parking lot, and the weather had really gone bad, with fog, strong winds rain and sleet. I found the trail near the picnic area and started my hike.

I followed the trail for 1.25 miles to where it let out at one of the big summit parking lots. I covered this stretch in about 30 minutes, moving quickly as you might imagine. There was no one parked at this parking lot and the whole place had a ghostly, abandoned feel to it at the moment. It's not hard to imagine that on a good day, hundreds of people can be congregated at the top. And here I was, with it all to myself. I wonder how often that happens.

Whatever natural summit once stood there was long ago graded away to kake room for the buildings. I sought the highest point of land not part of a building. In the gloom and sleet, I scampered around the buildings, stepping on anything that looked "high". I didn't waste time, and spent fifteen minutes up here before starting down. I bee-lined for the trail back to my truck, a total time of 90 minutes for the hike. It was nearing 4 p.m., but being so close to the winter solstice, the sun was setting by this time. Coupled with the weather, it was a dark and foreboding place. I drove down into civilization.

I hit rush-hour traffic, compounded by the rain, in Walnut Creek and somehow, slowly, made my way back into San Francisco, where I dried out and relaxed back with my sis. What a crazy day! The next day I was able to hike Mount St. Helena, the storm having dumped a pile of snow on that peak for me to enjoy.

(c) 2000, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.