Monday, April 7, 2008

Mt. Diablo - Donner Canyon Falls Trail

"To understand water is to understand the cosmos,
the marvels of nature, and life itself."
-Masaru Emoto, The Hidden Messages of Water

Locale: Mt Diablo State Park (North Section), Clayton, Contra Costa County, CA
Date: Sunday, April 6, 2008
Duration: Approx. 5.5+ miles, took us around 4 hours
Price: Free
All in all: Don't go chasing waterfalls this time of year BUT still a great hike.
Rating: ***
Depending on where you are coming from, trying to find the proper exit may be tricky. We were coming from 680 from the North (as we live in Vallejo). The directions that we obtained were coming from the south or from San Fran, however, I go to school in Pleasant Hill and swore I had seen Ygnacio Valley Rd off of 680 as our directions noted. Coming from the North, we passed Walnut Creek and found ourselves in Danville. Danville is home to the main entrance of the Mt. Diablo Park but this is the southern entrance. To do the Donner Falls trail, you must be in the Northernmost part of the park. So we turned around and on 680 and sure enough we found Ygnacio (ONLY accessible from the right side of the interstate coming from the south). So if you are coming from the north, you need to turn around shortly after passing the first Walnut Creek exits or around Olympia exit. The park trail is in a odd location. It's found in the suburbs of a small town called Clayton. After driving on Ygnacio for around 7 miles, you turn right on Clayton and then another right on Regency Dr. Regency is where the entrance of the trail is located. Park somewhere at the end of the road (which is a dead end).

As we parked and looked around at the nice houses, I couldn't help but wonder if these people take advantage of the beautiful landscapes and trails that are literally in their backyard. I'm sure the people who have lived there for years may grow tired of the same trails or perhaps the hikers who take up their guest parking spots on the road. But I feel that's a small price to pay for the views. The trailhead is down a small hill from the street on the left. You enter a gate (see below). Read what the signs say as well. Be careful of rattlesnakes!! Also there may be a few equestrians as there was with our trip (only on the beginning/end of the trail where it's double pathed). We had the Mt. Diablo map which unfortunately was NOT helpful whatsoever. I believe it's the same map at the entrance. The map shows the entire park and does not show all the individual trails. We were a bit confused at first. Three trails are found at the beginning of the entrance. (We later learn they all take you in the same places, well, kind of). We had to ask hikers on their way out. Take the middle doublepathed trail which follows the Donner Creek.

We got about .1 or .2 miles down when we saw a big wild turkey to our left. I've seen wild turkeys before but this one was large. We managed to take a few pictures before it gobbled and we moved onwards.

We followed a detailed guide from a hiking book I had bought but though some of the trails and mile markers were correct. We found ourselves confused by the trail markers. You have to be sure to be looking at the posts correctly or else you may go in a circle and not realize it. Once the trail became a single path dirt trail, my boyfriend swore he saw either the shadow or the real thing - a black panther. I, however, did not. I had mentioned to him previously that people have sightings of the panthers around parks here occasionally. Was there really a panther? Do not know, but I am doubtful. Ode to the power of suggestion perhaps.

Once we hit mile 2, the trail begins to climb and keeps climbing. I was aware that the trail was much like a roller coaster - going up and down but I found it to be a bit of the opposite. It just goes up, then goes down. From around mile 2 all the way to the last waterfall you see, you will be climbing. The first steep section seemed to be the worst in my opinion (depending on if you like hiking uphill). It seemed to keep going. We have not yet purchased hiking poles but poles would most definitely help on this trail. Note: This was the first hike we did with our new hiking liner socks as well as wool socks on the outside. Though it was warm, it made such a huge difference. My feet were just a little sore and I had no blisters (either it was the socks or the moleskin).

Once you get to the top of the first long ridge, however, it is rewarding. Look around. You will see acres upon acres of trees, hills, Mt. Diablo, the creek, endless trails, a bit of the suburbs, and magnificent rocky cliffs. Much like in this picture.

The first half of the hike is pretty much all uphill, the last half is all downhill. This is how I can describe it best. The waterfalls were much like Monet paintings (much better from a distance). It's been a dry winter and spring so the trails were very dry and so were the falls. The falls were starting to decrease in quantity - you can tell by the mold and moss how big the falls can get.

Though we chose the trail mostly for the falls, I found it to be one of the least enjoyable aspects of the hike. I thought just the gestalt view itself was the best part. Of the three hikes I've blogged thus far (Muir Woods, Pt. Reyes, and now Donner Canyon Falls), I found this to be the most challenging even though it was the shortest. This is due to the fact that it is all uphill one way and all downhill the way back. Some prefer this as they'd rather expend lots of energy in the beginning but I thought going downhill (there are a couple rather steep downhill sections) was just as hard if not more difficult. We tended to let ourselves run down the hill rather than step by step. This proved to be faster to get through those sections but I found myself face first in the dirt.

All in all, the hike went by very quick. Though it's just the beginning of spring, it was very dry and hot in the sunny areas so I had regretted wearing my fleece vest. Layers like a hoodie would be better as you can drape that around your hips. Climbing upwards got very warm and a couple who passed us were barely wearing anything because of the heat. They didn't have any water as well which I thought was a mistake. We saw them later cooling off with the cool water at the falls and creek. Just bring water to drink. They were in better shape than I but I bet you any money they were dehydrated when they returned.
As we headed back, the last mile of trail is pretty flat which was a big relief. It also transitions you from the rocky hills back into civilization. If you so choose, you can reach the summit from this trail as well, it's about 4 miles from the entrance. We figured if we were a bit winded after this hike, we better go on some more day hikes before tackling the summit. One of these days.

1 comment:

brthomas said...

We didn't see as much wildlife as you did, but hiking on the day after a rainstorm we saw some wildflowers and big waterfalls at Donner Canyon in Mt Diablo State Park. This is one of Contra Costa County's great hiking trails.