I spent about 20 minutes yesterday chatting with a East Bay Parks volunteer cop at Mission Peak, one of a few who carry police radios, report crimes to the real cops and try to keep fools from ruining the hillsides by taking shortcuts.

Among the things I learned:

  • Popularity of hiking Mission Peak has exploded in recent years. The volunteer guy did a count one weekend morning recently and noted more than 600 people were on the hill.
  • Break-ins at the Mission Peak parking lot have tailed off because volunteers have stepped up their patrols. However: The break-ins have merely moved to the side streets where most people have to park because the main lot is way too small. Bottom line: don’t assume your valuables are safe in your car, and never leave them in view unless you want them stolen.
  • Lots of beginners with no concept of outdoor stewardship are just charging up the hill, ignoring the “stay on trail” signs and making all the shortcut areas wider, uglier and, of course, more prone to erosion when the winter rains hit.
  • I was mostly interested in taking pretty pictures and it didn’t occur to me somebody oughta write about the mess at Mission Peak till I was done hiking. But if you head up there, you’ll see the damage straight away. All the signs are being actively ignored, and the “use trails” are as wide as the main trail in a disturbing number of places.

    Most of this has happened in the past nine months. I hiked Mission Peak at least once or twice a week in the spring of 2005 and saw none of this; I hiked it less last year but I have no memory of it being so notable. I was starting to notice it this spring, but I took the summer off to avoid the heat. Yesterday was my first visit in months and I was appalled.

    The volunteer guy told me an amusing story: an elementary school brought two classes of kids to the peak. He was heading up the hill on his mountain bike when he came upon a mile-long path of litter that eventually led him to the kids, and then their teachers, who were leading the way and apparently hadn’t looked backward in awhile. He stopped the teachers and said, “hey, your kids need to pick up all their trash.”

    One of the teachers called out to the kids, “hey, we need to clean this up or this cop’s going to send me to jail.”

    The volunteer guy was dubious: “I didn’t think they should give their kids the option of sending their teachers to jail.” Turned out there were no Bart Simpson-caliber brats among the youngsters, who never made it to the summit because they spent the rest of their outing cleaning up after themselves.

    Guess that’s what they mean by “teachable moment,” eh?

    OK, enough ragging on unsightly things, let’s look at some sightly ones. A weather system was moving in, which meant excellent clouds and lots of sky candy. The highlights:

    Meeting the mountain biker/park district police volunteer

    The guy on the right is the volunteer park district cop. He was quite chatty (must’ve been a traveling salesman in a previous life). The folks on the left are passing hikers who stopped to chat. They’re former Arizonans who regaled me with tales of squeezing through slot canyons.

    At the Mission Peak summit

    At the summit, the view of the Diablo Range to the east was wonderful.

    The summit post

    Yes, it’s my 900th posting of the Summit Post.

    Colorful rocks near the summit

    Can’t believe I never noticed these rocks in all my previous trips up here.

    Great dead-tree weather

    My timing was perfect for taking a dead-tree pic. The sun hit this snag at just the right angle — complemented by nice cloud formations.

    Sky candy

    Like I said, a great day for clouds.

    Grinding stone

    These holes in the rock along the Horse Heaven Trail apparently were created by the original inhabitants of this area to grind nuts and other things.

    The peak

    The peak looks pretty good from here.

    More sky candy

    You can see a bit of fall color in those leaves if you look real closely.