The Mountains of California

Bay Area County Highpoints, 2000 & 2001

San Benito • Santa Clara • Santa Cruz • San Francisco • Sacramento
Solano • Contra Costa • Napa • San Mateo

I had taken a lot of high-quality photos on my trips here. However, tragedy struck. I was in a hotel room one of those nights when I heard some noise against the wall, some footsteps, giggling and my door handle starting to jiggle. Suddenly, a band of hippies, high on the devil's weed, came bursting into the room. Bursting isn't quite the right word. No, they sauntered into the room. One of them stood next to me and pointed an object at me and said "like, man, don't move, man, because if you do, it'll, like man, not be righteous." I couldn't see what he was pointing at me. Later I found out is was a macrame hanging vase holder, the kind that looks good in a mid-1980s-style kitchen. I lay there in terror as they rummaged through my belongings. Among the things they took were my camera with the film that had the photos on it still. They then slowly sauntered out of the room. I was so scared I didn't move. I was like, bummed, too, man.

The images you see below are a re-enactment of my climbs of these various peaks and highpoints. The re-enactments are performed by kittens. They required little direction, and much of what is seen here is unscripted, in order to best convey the feel of each climb. I would give them the general idea of what I wanted them to do, but beyond that, they were free to improvise as they went along, in order to best capture the raw experiences.

San Benito Mountain. Here, we see the moment when I make the final right-ward bend and come upon the summit. Victory is mine.

Copernicus Peak. A time to contemplate the vastness of the universe.

Mount Bielewski. A calm scene of snow-draped fir trees. Quietness abounds. Overhead, an eagle soars.

Mount Davidson. I have rights, man, I have rights, man!

Mount Tam: The Golden Gate Bridge barely pokes above the omni-present fog that is common here. Overhead, an eagle soars.

Diablo Mountain. A dark foreboding is made moreso by the technique of low-angle imagery. The good-ol'-boys in the back were not scripted. I chose to keep them in, although I did not seek clearances.

Mount Vaca. Need I say more? How can one add to the glorious image seen here. Mere words simply don't suffice. There is a tribe in what is today the Central African Republic who speak by singing, the tone and pitch conveying meaning rather than actual words. I am told by anthropologists that in this manner, the deeper emotional aspect of an experience is better conveyed. Suppose I was down by the river doing laundry. Would you rather hear a dull recounting of it spoken in words, or a soft tune that better captures the joy of laundry in a creek? Yeah, I thought so.

Long Ridge. A rock came loose and after a two-hundred foot tumble down the rocky and cat-claw infested slope, I came to a stop. It was dark when I came to. Later, I would discover it was a week from next Tuesday when I finally awoke. I stumbled back to my truck. It was covered in dust, and one of those orange stickers police put on it as a warning it will be towed. I was shaken and alone. I sought the comfort of a woman that night. Life is strange, yet never dull.

In December of 2000 and in 2001, I drove to the Bay Area to visit as many county highpoints as possible, plus to visit with my sister. This page is a collection of reports from my two visits.


San Benito Mountain
• Highpoint: San Benito County
• Highpoint: Diablo Mountains

Date: December 18, 2000 • Elevation: 5,241 feet • Prominence: 3,481 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 1.5 hours • Gain: 600 feet • Conditions: Clear and breezy


I started today lying in bed at the "Motel-9" in the small town of Maricopa, down by Bakersfield, barely able to move after yesterday's 12-hour, 32-mile hike-&-bike up Big Pine Mountain in Santa Barbara County. And this was a day after a 17-mile hike up Caliente Peak in San Luis Obispo County. Eventually I would transfer my sore bones into my truck for the day's drive north to the Bay Area, planning to stay a couple days with my sister in San Francisco.

From Maricopa, I followed state route CA-33 northbound, instead of the faster Interstate-5. I have driven the interstate many times, and the stretch along the southern San Joaquin Valley is the dullest stretch of highway on the planet. So today, I wanted to try something different and follow parallel CA-33.

This highway runs below the foothills of the Coastal Ranges as well as of the Diablo Range, the hills and mountains that border the San Joaquin Valley on the west. The highway passes through a series of small cities such as Taft, Avenal and Coalinga, which either derive their income from oil, or from prisons. Each city seems to have one. The land here is drier and more desert-like, the mountains forming an effective rain shadow. Traffic was light and I enjoyed the leisurely drive.

In Coalinga, the highway starts a bend toward the interstate, meeting it a few miles north of the city. There are big dairy and cattle pens up here. The smell of poo is pervasive. After a couple hours of driving along CA-33, I was now on the Interstate, but not for long. I exited at Little Panoche Road and aimed west, passing through Mercey Hot Springs and into the Diablo Range and the hinterlands of San Benito County.

My goal was the county's highpoint, San Benito Mountain. The drive there was fascinating. This literally is a part of the state no one goes to. I followed Little Panoche Road for 20 miles to Panoche Road (County Road J-1), then left on Panoche Road to New Idria Road. The area out here is hilly, with low grasses and few trees, and is mainly cattle ranch property. I think I saw two other vehicles the whole time.

Now on New Idria Road, the sign said New Idria was 22 more miles. The road itself was paved but in abysmal condition, appearing to be abandoned by the state and county. I drove it slow and avoided potholes, some big enough to park in. New Idria was the site of an old quicksilver (mercury) mine, one of the world's largest. When it was in business, the town of New Idria was a fully-functioning city of workers, support staff and their families. The mine closed in 1972, and the town was abandoned. But not everyone left.

As I drove in, I started encountering sign after sign put up by the locals about gun rights and of similar themes, the kind of signs that have too many words on them, as if anyone is actually going to stop and read them. I rolled into "town". Buildings from the mine still stood, as did a few homes. A couple seemed inhabited. One had two dogs penned in small enclosures. I saw one guy walking a road. Man, what a creepy place. If you needed to hide out from society, this would be a good place to start. It was pushing noon when I arrived.

I was looking for the main road out of town that goes up into the mountains. I found it, and it was rough at first, but improved as I gained elevation. Now I had another 8 miles to drive to get close to the peak. I hoped to park close, as I was in no mind for another long hike. The ground here features natural asbestos and the roads are often closed when it's dry, as the dust can be deadly.

I was able to get to the base of the spur road that goes to the top. This was close enough. I parked at this junction and walked 600 vertical feet to the top, a mile each way. At the top, the summit is full of radio towers, but the natural tippy-top is in a jumble of rocks nearby, which I scampered up to tag. I spent a few minutes inspecting the top, admired the views, but then got moving down not too much later.

I drove down the dirt road into New Idria once again, slowly passed through town, and bumped my way out New Idria Road to where it re-met with Panoche Road (J-1). This road is in fine shape and I proceeded west toward Hollister, the drive meandering through hilly rangeland. My truck was low on gas (I was slightly concerned I'd run out somewhere back there near New Idria) so I gassed up, then drove more into San Hosey where I scored the last room at a Motel-6 for the evening.

Copernicus Peak
• Highpoint: Santa Clara County
• Diablo Mountains

Date: December 19, 2000 • Elevation: 4,360 feet • Prominence: 3,080 feet • Distance: 0.75 mile • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: 200 feet • Conditions: Lovely


Today, I had four county highpoints on the agenda, starting with Copernicus Peak. I followed surface streets to Mount Hamilton Road (CA-130), which winds into the foothills of the Diablo Range. I had unintentionally timed my drive for sun-up, so that I had to battle the sun almost the whole way up. Parts of this road were narrow, with no abutments or railings on the outside to guard against drivers going over the edge. The distance to the summit area is 20 miles, much of it curvy and I was lucky to go 30 miles per hour. It took an hour to drive to the top. I saw a feral pig cross the road at one point.

The Mount Hamilton Road ends at the James Lick Observatory, run by the University of California. The summit is topped by about four observatory domes and a smattering of buildings including a one-room school for the local kids. It's all owned by the University of California. No signs specifically prohibited hiking or exploring the area.

The actual highpoint is called Copernicus Peak, a small hill on the north side of the road east of the main complex of observatories. I parked and started hiking up this little hill. The initial segment is along a paved road, gated shut at the bottom. No signs prohibit trespassing, but they do prohibit soliciting, which I thought was odd.

The road is steep and degenerates into gravel, then ends about 30 feet below the summit, which is marked by an old lookout tower. A little trail makes the final portion to the very top. It is a short hike, just three-eighths of a mile one-way with 200 feet of gain, but the views were nice.

Looking west I could see most of San Jose. Fog and haze limited my views farther west, otherwise I might have been able to see San Francisco. Looking east I could see more hills. Looking north I could see Mount Diablo. After a few minutes I descended to my truck and drove out. My only regret was that I timed my visit when the visitor's center at the Lick Observatories was closed, otherwise I would have stayed a while and looked at the displays.

Mount Bielewski
• Highpoint: Santa Cruz County
• Santa Cruz Mountains

Date: December 19, 2000 • Elevation: 3,231 feet • Prominence: 1,421 feet • Distance: 1.5 miles • Time: 45 minutes • Gain: 300 feet • Conditions: Pleasant


I descended back into San Jose, crossing the city into the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west side. I followed state routes CA-17 to CA-9 through the town of Saratoga, then up the road to the main ridge of the hills and the junction with Skyline Drive (also known as CA-35).

My plan was to visit Long Ridge, the San Mateo County highpoint first, then backtrack south and visit this place, called Mount McPherson or Mount Bielewski, the highest point in Santa Cruz County. However, I was unable to visit the highpoint at Long Ridge due to unexpected fencing and a watch-dog (scroll down for more details). I then drove south to the Castle Rock State Park, which for me was a place to park my truck for this hike.

Mount Bielewski is apparently off-limits for much of the year, being on private property. However, it is a Christmas tree farm, where people can go in and cut one down on their own, so access is opened for a few days and weekends prior to Christmas every year. This worked well for me since Christmas was a week away. From the parking lot at Castle Rock Park, I followed trails that went south, but those fed me back onto the highway, so I walked along the highway to the Mount Bielewski access road, which was gated shut.

I hiked up this road and momentarily, I was at the Christmas tree farm. It was quiet and seemingly abandoned. There was a camper there but no one was in. Nobody was cutting down any trees. This being so close to Christmas, where was everyone? Maybe the watchman went away on errands.

This worked well for me so I could go about my activities without being hassled by anyone. The actual highpoint is past the farm in the forest, a flattish summit that required pacing to be sure I "got" it. I didn't linger, and I exited the way I came in and was back to my truck in less than an hour. It was not that memorable of a hike.

Next up, San Fran.

Mount Davidson
• Highpoint: San Francisco County
• Santa Cruz Mountains

Date: December 19, 2000 • Elevation: 927 feet • Prominence: 625 feet • Distance: 1 mile • Time: 1 hour • Gain: 300 feet • Conditions: Pleasant


Mount Davidson is located in the south-central part of the city, topped by a hundred-foot tall cross. It is a landmark and easy to identify from miles around. This may be one of the most visited mountains in the world, as hundreds of people come here daily. It was featured in the movie Dirty Harry, so I have climbed a peak that Clint Eastwood has climbed, and that crazy guy he was after.

I was in the Bay Area for a weekend, hiking the county highpoints in the immediate area, plus a visit with my sister, who lives in San Francisco. Last night, I stayed in a hotel in San Jose. It was like studying for a final exam, me studying the road maps to memorize the ways to the Mount Davidson area. I had not been to San Fran in many years and was a little nervous about driving its warren of roads.

I entered the city from the south along Interstate-280, then exiting onto northbound Portola Boulevard and aimed for the area surrounding Mount Davidson. I then turned into a jumble of side roads, and not unexpectedly, got lost with no idea what to do. The homes here were big mansions and it was a very pretty area of the city.

I started driving roads, taking random turns. encountering dead ends and then trying other roads. This went on for about 15 minutes. Finally, I asked a mailman what to do, and he pointed me to Dalewood Road. I got there and parked, and hiked to the top.

Dalewood Road is very steep, perhaps a 20% gradient. My hike was short and direct, but it was more of a workout than I had planned. In moments, I was on the top and its big cross. The surrounding park is lovely, with some trees as tall as the cross. There were many people here today, but for a few minutes, I had the place to myself.

I spent a few moments wandering the monument, looking up, and also looking out over the cityscape. The trees blocked some of the views. I also studied the plaque, which now commemorates the 1915-1918 Armenian Genocide by the Turks. When more people started to show up, I walked back to my truck. My total time was an hour, including the time spent being lost on the lower roads.

Now it was time to locate my sister's place, in the South of Market area near downtown. Back on Portola, I headed northeast through late-day traffic. The traffic was getting heavy and people in San Francisco just dart into the street, assuming the motorists will do the veering. I was able to find her place with no trouble, having been given excellent directions by her.

However, she was still at work, so I waited in my truck for about a half-hour and watched a city worker set up orange cones on a side road, then get out his radio-controled play car and race it up and down the now-closed road. My sis and I went to a good Ethiopian restaurant nearby her place. The next day I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and hiked Mount Tamalpais, then drove home to Phoenix all in one day.

Mount Tamalpais • East Summit
• Mount Tamalapis State Park
• Marin County

Date: December 20, 2000 • Elevation: 2,571 feet • Prominence: 332 feet • Distance: 0.6 miles • Time: 40 minutes • Gain: 300 feet • Conditions: Cool and windy


Mount Tamalpais (or just "Mount Tam") is the highest point of Marin County. For years, it was assumed that the east summit was the highest. However, there is strong evidence to conclude that the western summit is higher by a few feet. In 2000, I hiked to the eastern summit thinking it was the highest, but not the western summit.

I was in the Bay Area for a few days, visiting my sister and hiking a few county highpoints before the Christmas Holidays set in. Today was my last day in the area. I planned to hike Mount Tam, then head home. From my sister's place in San Francisco, I headed north on US-101, somehow managing the heavy traffic, narrow streets and the people to get onto the Golden Gate Bridge. I followed the signs off the highway toward Mount Tam, parked, and hiked the path to the eastern summit with its lookout structure on top. There was no one else here today, so I had the place to myself.

The views were excellent, with San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, the shipyards, and a lot of low clouds and fog. It was what one would expect when viewing San Fran from a high perch. The day was sunny, but windy with a slight chill. I tagged a few rocks then headed down, the round trip taking 40 minutes.

I then started driving home, back to Arizona. I planned to get somewhere in Southern California by nightfall and get a cheap hotel. I drove Interstate-5 south and stopped for a meal at the Andersen's Pea Soup Restaurant in Santa Nella, a landmark and a place we used to stop often when I was a kid.

I passed through Bakersfield, Tehachapi and Barstow as night fell. I pushed on to Needles. Once In Needles, I decided to keep going. I have an unofficial rule - if I am inside Arizona returning from a long road trip, I just push on home. This I did. I arrived near midnight, a 900+ mile drive from San Francisco. My cat was pissed I had been gone so long, but he was being looked after.

The western summit used to be the highest point of the mountain, but was graded down so that buildings could be placed there. It had been assumed that the eastern peak was now higher, but recently (2016), there is some consensus that the west peak is highest. At the very least, it is too close to call. Thus, as of April 2016, I have relinquished my claim to Marin County's highpoint until I visit the western summit.

This was the end of my 2000 visit. I would return a year later.

Carpenter Hill
• Highpoint: Sacramento County
• Highpoint: City of Folsom

Dates: (1) December 18, 2001; (2) July 28, 2005 • Elevation: 828 feet • Prominence: 178 feet • Distance: 1.5 miles (2001); a few yards (2005) • Time: 30 minutes (2001); 5 minutes (2005) • Gain: 250 feet (2001); 30 feet (2005) • Conditions: Meh


Carpenter Hill is the lowest highpoint of the 58 counties in California, just 828 feet above sea level. No sane person would hike this for its physical merits alone. But because it's the highpoint of Sacramento County, suddenly it's a very important "peak".

The hill itself is just a boring little mound in the city of Folsom, on the county's eastern parts along US-50. It is the first dinky little hill that eventually leads to more substantial foothills that eventually become the mighty Sierra Nevada way to the east. I've been here twice, once in 2001 when it was still undeveloped, and again with βð in 2005 after all sorts of homes had been built nearby it.

First visit, December 2001: I was travelling to the Bay Area for a few county highpoints plus a visit with my sister. I had driven from Phoenix to my brother's place in Southern California the previous day, then endured the incredibly dull 300-mile long Interstate-5 to get myself into Sacramento, just in time for late-day rush hour traffic. From "the 5", I took US-50 east for 20 miles, exiting at the Scott Road/Bidwell Road offramp.

I found the hill with no difficulty. It was a lonely, unkempt mound of grass-covered dirt. However, land graders and other big machinery things were all over the place, carving up the land for future homes. I parked at the end of Broadstone Parkway, and asked a couple construction guys if it was okay to park here. Since they were going home for the day, they did not object.

From my truck, Carpenter Hill was three-quarters of a mile away, but signs in the area said "no trespassing". I went in anyway. A recent rain made the roads muddy and the grass slick, but I was at the top in 15 minutes. I found rockpiles and the benchmark, plus beer cans and burger wrappers. I tagged the top rock then returned to my truck, a total round trip of about 35 minutes. There was nothing memorable about this hike.

I snacked at a McDonalds in town, then battled traffic to Davis, where I stayed with family friends for the night, and caught up on old times. I couldn't see myself coming back ever again, but I did, with my wife.

Second visit, July 2005: We were wrapping up five days in northern California, visiting family and hiking peaks in the coast ranges. Our flight home eas late in the day, so we stayed in a cheap hotel near Sacramento, then spent today touring Sacramento. We were close to the Sacramento County highpoint anyway, and I was curious to see how much it had changed since my visit in 2001.

We exited US-50 at Bidwell Road and went north to Iron Point Road. The highpoint hill is visible, and had been heavily developed, with new homes everywhere. Access would not be so open as it was in 2001. We drove Iron Point Road and circled around the hill's south side. We drove onto a couple of residential roads and got as far as a cul-de-sac that was just below the radio towers and fencing on top the hill. However, it didn't appear we could get to there without crossing private yards.

This time, we followed Serpa Road to Caversham Road to its end, which put us below the towers. We found an open gate at the bend in Caversham Road and drove up a couple hundred feet to the top. This appaently is the lone access road to the hilltop. A city worker was "hiding", eating his lunch, and he didn't mind us being there. βð got out and tagged the highpoint rocks, as did I, and that was all there was to this excursion. We celebrated with a lunch and coffee down below at the new shopping center at Broadstone and Bidwell before returning to the airport for our flight home.

Future visitors may not find the gate we took open, but it does appear that access might be possible from the south along Iron Point Road since it does not appear that they'll be building homes on that slope at all (too steep). I've been there twice now and probably won't go back for a third.

Mount Vaca
• Highpoint: Solano County

Date: December 19, 2001 • Elevation: 2,819 feet • Prominence: 1,959 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 1 hour • Gain: 250 feet • Conditions: Sunny but getting windy fast, fog rolling in. Storm's a-comin'


This was my second day of a short tour of Bay-Area county highpoints and a visit with my sister. Yesterday, I drove north from Southern California and visited Carpenter Hill, the measly highpoint of Sacramento County. I spent the evening with family friends in nearby Davis.

My plan today was to visit Mount Vaca ("Mount Cow") in Solano County, and later, Cobb Mountain in Sonoma County. The day started nicely, and from Davis I drove toward Fairfield partly in the dense fog that the Central Valley is known for. From Fairfield, I followed local roads toward Mix Canyon Road, seven miles from the freeway. This area is rural and very pretty.

Mix Canyon Road winds steadily up to the spine of the range, which feature communications towers. Hence, the road itself is in excellent shape, paved nearly all the way to the top. At first, it meanders through homesteads, but after a certain point, there are no more homes, and the road narrows and steepens for the last push to the top. Down low, the flora consists of large trees including oaks, but higher up, it's woody chapparal. The pavement ended near a large Y-junction just below the main ridge, and I parked in a clearing off the road.

I walked the rest of the road past a gate, which was open because there was a worker up ahead. My walk to the top covered one mile and 250 feet of elevation gain. Within minutes I was on top, the summit somewhere amid the smattering of buildings. Although I had good weather at the start, the wind picked up and a lot of low clouds and fog was blowing in from the ocean. I spent little time up top, and was back to my truck after a total of 45 minutes.

I spent the rest of today battling Cobb Mountain in Sonoma County, with a major Pacific storm coming in.

Mount Diablo
• Highpoint: Contra Costa County
• Diablo Mountains

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 Diablo is a landmark peak, the most prominent mountain in the East Bay. Hundreds (thousands?) 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 figured this would be my easiest highpoint of the trip, but it turned out to be the 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 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 will avoid thunder and lightning at all costs.

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 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 make 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!

Mount St. Helena • East Summit
• Highpoint: Napa County
• No. California Coastal Ranges

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


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, intending to retry my hike up Mount St. Helena. 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. 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 gentle 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.

Long Ridge
• Highpoint: San Mateo County
• Santa Cruz Mountains

Dates: December 19, 2000 and December 21, 2001 • Elevation: 2,600 feet • Prominence: 120 feet • Distance: 4 miles • Time: 1.5 hours • Gain: 580 feet • Conditions: Nice in 2000, heavy rain in 2001 • Teammates: Some random dog


The San Mateo County highpoint is a bump along the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains called Long Ridge, located in the south part of the county in a private housing development. It took me nearly a full year to properly "hike" this highpoint.

I was here last year (December 19, 2000) and hiked a trail from the highway (CA-35) about two miles through pretty California coastal woodland. I came into the open at the ridge, and hiked to the summit, only to find it was fenced and there was a dog patrolling the area. I was about 200 horizontal feet and 15 vertical feet below the top, but the fence looked electric and the dog probably wouldn't have been too friendly ... or maybe very friendly and too willing to bark and make noise, so I admitted defeat and hiked back to my truck.

I was up in the Bay Area again. I made arrangements with the landowner of the highpoint in advance and we established a "date" for me to visit. The day arrived (today) and it was a cold and stormy day, the whole state being slammed by a major winter storm. I left my sister's place early and drove 50 miles to Saratoga, where I topped the gas and poked around a bit, as I was still early according to the time we set to meet.

I drove into the development and parked below the man's property. It was a short "hike" up his driveway to meet him. He was friendly and surprised I was here given the conditions. After a short chat, I made the "official" visit to the highpoint, then went back in to talk a little more with the man. For now he was living out of a camper, with plans to build a large home on the property.

He seemed curious about this hobby and why people would come from so far to visit this point, so I gave him some background. Our visit went well and overall, he seemed like a decent guy. My whole visit with him took just 30 minutes. I told him about my hike a year earlier and about the dog. He confirmed he owned the land back then but had no idea who the dog belonged to. It wasn't his.

I said my good byes and started the long drive home. Many hours later, I rolled into the town of Mojave east of Bakersfield, stayed there for the night, then home the next day. It had been a fruitful Bay-Area highpoints trip and a nice visit with my sister.

I should stress that visits to this highpoint should only be done through a coordinator, with more information found on the Long Ridge page at Peakbagger. Don't go on your own. The landowner is amenable to coordinated visits but not random people showing up in his front yard.

(c) 2002, 2019 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. .