The snow we got over the weekend was heaviest above 3,000 feet. Since I’m all about the snow outings these days I decided the place to go to see more snow was Mount Diablo, which summits at over 3800 feet. I also wanted to do a real summit hike — starting way down in the lowlands and hiking all the way to to the top. There’s dozens of ways to do it, but only one includes free parking in a neighborhood bordering the park’s northern reaches. Yeah, I drove 25 miles out of my way to save six dollars.

Here’s the hill from the Regency Gate. The summit got foggier as the day went by; I’m guessing warm air moving over cold snow was the culprit (hey, it makes beer bottles sweat, so it must the same effect, right?.

Little bits of snow started showing up about an hour and a half into the hike.

It’s getting foggier — and colder — the higher I go. Diablo always seems to have wacky/way-cool cloud formations blowing by

Two hours into the hike, I’m about two thirds of the way to the summit. My route — Donner Canyon to Middle Trail to Prospector’s Gap to Summit Trail — is between five and six miles with 3,300 feet of climb. Middle Trail to Prospector’s Gap is three miles of up, up, and more up. The mile and a half on Middle Trail is gorgeous single-track, with dense vegetation almost forming a canopy over the trail. The mile and a a half on Prospector’s Gap Road is mean, nasty and all-around brutal, but once you get to the Gap, it’s just another mile and a half on another gorgeous stretch of single-track and the last 800 feet of climb.

This hike is by no means for beginners, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. Going in winter makes all the difference.

North Peak seems way, way too high at this point. When I was done, though, I had climbed 300 feet higher at Diablo Summit.

Prospector’s Gap. North Peak is up to the left, and the Summit Trail is up to the right.

Snow dominated the landscape on the shady side of the hill as I hiked up Summit Trail. On the sunny side, most of the snow had melted.

The last half-mile, at long last!

One of the prettiest scenes was in the last hundred yards before the summit parking lot.

I love it when signs convey a keen grasp of the obvious.

Mount Diablo is so much bigger than the surrounding hills that you can navigate by it from throughout the East Bay, as long as you can see it. When you get to the trailhead and think about hiking to the top, it seems impossibly tall and distant. But if you’ve got the legs for a 3,000-foot climb and the feet for a 12-mile hike, it’s very doable. Best time to go is in winter, when it’s cool, though some of the trails are pure muck at the lower elevations after it rains. Or, snows, in this case.