One of my favorite threads at the BAHiker.com bulletin board asks folks to share the steepest local hikes.

Hobbs Road Shortcut

There’s wide consensus that a section of old gravel road at Henry Coe State Park known as the Hobbs Road Short Cut (above) takes the prize, with 1,500 feet of climb in 1.3 miles — a 22 percent grade. I introduced myself to this beast at the height of summer a few years back and learned the folly of setting out on very sunny days with highs in the upper 90s, then tackling one of the area’s most notorious hills. Can’t remember sweating that hard, before or since — went through two gallons of water was still thirsty when I got done.

Mount Olympia Trail

Another doozy is the Mount Olympia Trail (above) at Mount Diablo State Park; I’m pretty sure it’s steeper than the Short Cut. I tried it once as a rookie, managed to get lost on the way back down and had to do even more climbing to get unlost. Stayed away for a very long time till I did the famed Diablo Three Peaks route; it was still a monster climb but expecting pure hell made it seem like an almost acceptable purgatory.

Washburn Trail

Yet another doozy: The Washburn Trail (above) at Grant County Park. I’m not sure of the elevation gain, but it familiarized me with the concept of a “point of despair,” the realization after the first mile’s slog that there are more miles to follow, all up.

The common thread among all these “trails” is that they’re really just old gravel roads designed for motorized travel, not remotely suited to hiking. I climbed ‘em for the same reason I’ve gone from valley level to summits of Mount Diablo, Mission Peak and several sites along the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Not because they are fun, but because of some inscrutable imperative that they must be done.

Must be that climbing to high ground conferred survival benefits on our oldest ancestors and their genetic gift to us is that urge triggered by the sight of a hill.