Mount St. Helena (East Summit) • Highpoint: Napa County
• Northern California Coastal Ranges

California PageMain Page

Summitpost

 

Date: December 21, 2001 • Elevation: 4,200 feet • Prominence: 240 feet • Distance: 9 miles • Time: 3.5 hours • Gain: 1,900 feet • Conditions: Cold and wet, with snow and ice and heavy fog up high

What is normally a simple hike along road and trail took me two attempts due to a strong winter storm moving through the region. I was here yesterday morning in a steady rain, and hiked in a half mile before lightning and thunder turned me around. I spent the better part of yesterday battling my way up Mount Diablo in the rain, fog and gloom, all this highlighted by a flat tire.

Very early today, I left my sister's place in San Fran, and drove freeways north through Oakland, Vallejo, Napa and all the winery towns along CA-29. I covered 70 miles from San Francisco to get to Calistoga, and then another 10 miles up the twisty road to the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, where the trail to the top starts.

The weather had cleared up nicely, although leftover clouds and fog still lingered. I started hiking at 8:30 a.m. up a trail with many switchbacks for about a mile to a stone monument for the author Robert Louis Stevenson. He was known to hole up in a nearby abandoned mine in the late 19th century, inspiring him to write. The stone marker is about a mile up the trail with about 300 feet of gain. It's far enough from the highway that it has remained free of vandalism and grafitti. From the marker, the trail makes two more switchbacks then meets a dirt road.

The hike from here follows this road, which is an excellent road suitable for any vehicle. However, it's a private road, not open to the general public for driving. The road was pitched at a 5% grade, which was nice for hiking, but added distance. I made good time, though.

The road makes four very long switchbacks, then achieves a saddle between two peaks. From the saddle, the eastern summit of Mount St. Helena was now visible, about a mile away. I continued on the main road. It dipped slightly then started climbing again. Here, snow and ice started to appear and get thicker as I gained elevation. A short trail cuts about a half-mile of hiking from the main road, then re-connects with the road. About this time, the clouds rolled in again and I hiked the remaining segment in cold fog and icy snow. The snow was crusty enough so that I had good traction in regular boots. Shortly, the road topped out at the ridge and a junction.

To get to the highpoint of Napa County, I went hard-left at the junction and gained 100 feet in a quarter mile to the summit. The top was shrouded in snow, and very pretty. I tromped around a bit, checked out the radio tower, then started back. The true summit of the mountain lies in Sonoma county. Normally, I would have hiked to it, but now it made little sense in the fog. I headed back down. I hadn't seen anyone coming up, but I started to meet more people as I came down. I was back to my truck at exactly noon. The total hike involved nine miles round trip and about 1,900 feet of gain.

(c) 2001, 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.