Diablo II

July 13, 2001


random trip report

Synopsis: a series of mental errors turns a weekday jaunt into a painful struggle.

NOTE: this page contains three panoramas. You'll need to scroll way out.

I decide to return to Mt. Diablo (3,849'), which I climbed halfway with my 9-year-old nephew Ryan recently. My motivations are:

I sleep poorly and am fuzzy-headed. After stopping for coffee and croissant, I drive towards Clayton at 10:30 AM, wearing my running shoes, intending to change into hiking boots at the trailhead. After a few minutes driving I realize that I've forgotten both hiking boots and walking stick. Neither is absolutely vital, so I keep going. Mistake #1.

A drug store in Clayton has wooden canes for $30. I pass. I consider stopping at park headquarters at Mitchell Canyon for a trail map, but keep going. Mistake #2.

I'm at the trailhead (600') at 11:30. I'm wearing a cotton T-shirt, not the polypropylene one I meant to bring. I put sunblock on my legs, face, and arm, and leave the tube in the car. Mistakes #3 and #4. I chat with a gentleman on a mountain bike; he's a very robust-looking 77 years old, bikes for an hours a day, hikes to the summit once a week ('while the missus is out shopping').

I start up Back Creek Trail at a good clip. It's warm - somewhere in the 80s. Soon I'm sweating excessively. I move my T-shirt so it's just on my back, sleeves protecting my shoulders from sun, chest and stomach exposed. Much better. I look around for a walking stick but all the branches I find are old and rotten.

I reach Murchio Gap (2.0 miles, 1,650' vertical gain) in just under an hour. I meet a young man on his way down from Eagle Peak. I have lunch (a Clif bar and water) where Ryan and I stopped last time. I continue up Bald Ridge trail, reaching North Peak Trail (1.21 miles, 680' vertical) at 1:15 PM, at the saddle between North Peak and the summit.

I go up a dirt road towards the summit, pushing hard to get there by 1:30. That would be nice - 3,200' gained in 2 hours on a hot day. I budget my energy to run out at the top. As a near the top something doesn't seem right - where is the stone building? Then I turn around and look back. The stone building is on the other side of the saddle, a mile away and several hundred feet higher. I went the wrong way. Mistake #5, and a doozy.

#$%^&*. Can't I go on a single #$%^&* hike without some #$*%&% screwup???

It's fairly early (1:30) and I don't want to waste my efforts, so I decide to go for the summit, pace be damned. I descend to the saddle, rest a few minutes under an oak tree, and start for the summit (1.5 miles) at 1:45 PM.

Mistake #6 is not my fault: the trail splits and the upper fork, after a few hundred feet, peters out in some large rock formations. Wisely avoiding the temptation to continue along the rocks, I descend to the trail and push another half mile to the (real) summit, arriving at 2:45.

At this point I'm not feeling real good. My muscles aren't supposed to be aching like this. I open a Clif bar but have no stomach for it. A bottle of blue Fruitopia (corporate corn-syrup beverage substitute) sits unattended on the ground next to the museum entrance. I steal it and drink; this seems like the only way to get energy into my system. I sit in the shade, cooling off, not looking forward to the descent. I resist the urge to beg a ride from corpulent tourists in their SUVs.

At 3:00 I head down. Descending the moderately steep dirt trails puts constant stress on my quads, knees, and back. After a while a pain awakens in the outside of my right knee. My need for a walking stick is acute, but I still can't find anything.

From the saddle, there are two ways to return to Murchio Gap: the trail I took on the way up, and a fire road. I decide by return by the fire road; the indicated mileage is a bit less. Mistake #7. The road has some precipitous descents, which kill my knees, then it meanders a bit and regains altitude. I find a gnarled manzanita branch to use as a walking stick, although it's shorter and springier than I would like.

On reaching Murchio Gap, I'm in survival mode. My body is ready to shut down, but somehow I have to keep going for 2 miles and 1,650 feet down. My right knee is hurting a lot, my left calf is cramping, and my back is hurting from leaning on the too-short manzanita branch. Somehow my brain talks my body into holding together for these 2 miles. In the last 150 feet it all falls apart, the pains and cramps explode like a fireworks finale, and I drag myself like a cripple to the car.

This was a discouraging climb. Physically, I feel worse than after any climb, including the 22-mile Whitney hike. It took me several days to recover (or maybe longer - I haven't felt 100% since). I like adventures, but this went beyond fun. I'm considering not doing any more major climbs this summer.

Copyright 2017 © David P. Anderson