I get some of my best ideas in the shower.

Sunday morning I was somewhere between the wash and rinse cycles when I realized I had to go to Mount Diablo, hike up to a knob at about 3,000 feet called Mount Olympia, and if the mood struck, continue on to North Peak and the Diablo Summit.

Seven and a half hours after starting out, I was done. Around 14 or 15 miles, somewhere north of 4,000 feet of elevation gain. On the wrong day this route at Diablo would make hell feel like the Antarctic. But on the right day, it’s one of the most amazing all-day hikes in the Bay Area.

Sunday was one of the right days.

Yeah, the wind coming in off the bay was blowing at gale-force. Sure, the trails were mercilessly steep in places. But it was a cool day with all the Bay Area to soak in from the heights. Tips of the Sierra peaks were visible off to the north. In a word: excellent.

So let’s check out the pictures:

I started out from the Regency Gate in Clayton and headed up Donner Canyon Road till the trail markers pointed me toward Mount Olympia. The first mile and a half are pretty easy; the second mile and a half are brutal. The consolation of climbing such steep terrain is that the panoramic views open up pretty quickly.

Tree before sunrise

Most of the hiking is on the west face of what’s called the Diablo Massif. This means the morning sun’s on the other side of the hill till well into the morning. I caught the sun shining through this tree at a little after 9 a.m.

Rocky knob

Here’s a rocky knob about a half-hour from the Olympia summit.

Snag over the trail

A snag over the trail not far from the Olympia summit. The trail’s mucho steep along here, which provides an excellent excuse to squeeze off a few frames. Once you get to Mount Olympia, Diablo’s North Peak beckons. It’s about another 600 feet of climb, but after the first 2000 are out of the way it seems hardly a challenge at all (fortunately I don’t have to seek my feet’s permission before making such judgments.)

Rocks and sky

Excellent rock pinnacle along the North Peak trail. Around here the wind is blasting over the top of the peak and roaring through the pines. The trail is rocky and uneven, with traces of snow left over from a few days ago. “Man, this is hiking,” I think.


Self-portrait, along the North Peak Trail. I’d be Popsicle without my trusty windbreaker and hiking hat.

Tree and sky

Some shots I cannot resist snapping, or posting.

Catwalk to the transmission towers

So when you get to the main road going up to the North Peak summit, you turn left and head up for about a third of a mile. And by up I mean nose-bleed steep. You get to these catwalks but if you have a trace of sanity you will not try to walk on them. Coming back down is even more fun — I figured out you have to avoid all the gravel and step on the hard bits of rock in the road. Still, harrowing. For some reason all the technology up here doesn’t bug me. It’s a kind of reassurance that others are foolish enough to come up here too.

The summit marker

From North Peak you it’s down to Prospector’s Gap to catch the Summit Trail for a mile and a half up to the summit visitors center. The top of the center has an enclosed viewing area for taking in the sights sheltered from wind blast. This bronze plaque is in the center. of the room.

Now for the fun part: all downhill to the parking lot.

Nice sky

Along the Summit Trail heading back to Prospector’s Gap. Nice view, eh? At the Gap I take the Bald Ridge Trail, which has the nerve to throw in some uphill sections along its meandering mile and a third.

A look back at North Peak

Here’s a look at North Peak from the Bald Ridge Trail.

My kinda snags

My kinda snags, along the Bald Ridge Trail, which I take to Murchio Gap, where I pick up the Back Creek Trail. From here it’s a few more miles back to the car and I’m done.

An oak tree

An excellent oak tree along the Back Creek Trail.