It had been a while since DD and I did a proper backpacking trip. It was my first since the West Coast Trail last year; Danny’s first since his solo Yosemite hike.
However, Danny had already hiked a segment of this path earlier in the year, the 12-mile out-and-back to Murietta Falls with Jared and Justin, the one with ~4000 in elevation gain just in 6 miles. This was the hike that tweaked his back again and made him realize that in order for him to hike the John Muir Trail this summer, he had better start taking care of his body properly stat.
I didn’t go along on that hike and stated at the time that I wished I did. At the time, and up until I actually stepped foot on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, I had absolutely *no* idea of what I was asking for.
Day 1 – Del Valle to Maggie’s Half Acre (9.8 miles)
Basically Day 1 could be described in 3 segments:
- Segment 1: the “Warmup.”
- Segment 2: the Big Burn
- Segment 3: stumbling on tired legs to camp
The trail started with climbs straightaway. From 750′ to 1190′ in the first mile to the Ohlone Trail Sign In Panel. Of the eight or so sign-ins on the board, most indicated they were headed to Murietta Falls. Only one other couple specified Rose Peak as a destination. The next part of the Warmup had us doubling our elevation in about 1.5 miles from 1190′ to 2380′. We paused at the “summit” of the warmup – near Boyd Camp and Rocky Ridge Trail – a little after 1pm to have some lunch: Bahn Mi and Roast Beef-Jalapeno popper sandwiches we had bought from our favourite neighborhood cafe Wooly Pig.
Afterwards, we kept trekking on the warmup, descending to 1890′ downhill for a little bit towards William’s Gulch before embarking on the “Big Burn.” I had started out a bit too aggressively, perhaps my muscle memory from trail races kicking in, despite the fact that I was carrying 23 lbs plus 3 litres of water on my back. Danny kept cautioning me to slow down and indeed – I should have listened.
The Big Burn
This segment is so-named because one ascends 1400′ in a little over 2 miles. Strava rates the elevation grades at anywhere from 10% to 30% in steepness. If the weather had been just a tad warmer, I think we would have been absolutely miserable. The climbs just seemed interminable. During Danny’s last hike to Murietta Falls they had waited to get to the falls to have lunch; we were both glad that we didn’t wait to eat. We certainly needed the energy. Snacking every hour or so probably helped.
Stumbling to Camp on Tired Legs
We finally made it to the top of the Big Burn, but still had some 3 miles to go of more rolling ups and downs to get to camp. We passed a couple with large packs who mentioned that they were also on their way to Maggie’s for the evening. We passed them around 3pm and didn’t see them for the rest of the day.
I was definitely not in a good place and was fairly exhausted both mentally and physically. I had gone into the hike thinking that I was in pretty good shape and was definitely, immediately, and soundly humbled. I wanted nothing more than to be able to stop, eat, and curl up into my sleeping bag. The views and prettiness of the wilderness certainly helped, if one could get over the fact that civilization was so close by.
We stumbled into the cluster of Maggie’s Half Acre Campsites around 4:45pm. I was glad to have at least an hour of good daylight left and we were able to check out campsites 3 and 2 before trekking up that. last. mini. hill to our designated space, campsite #1. (Reservations for the campsites are required, by the way. More on that below.)
Campsite #1 is definitely the best of all of the 3 areas. If you’re heading from Livermore, it’s the last site up an incline (a little of an insult after the earlier grueling climbs) and, unlike the other 2 sites, a short bit away and not visible from the main trail. #2 is probably the least desirable, since it’s directly across from the porta-potty (ensconsed in a wooden container) and water pump. Note that the signpost by the amenities indicate that water is potable; however, the pump itself sports a large sticker that warns that the water is untreated and you must either boil, filter or treat it.
And so DD set up our tent – our first time testing out the ZPacks Duplex on an actual backpacking trip. It was definitely roomier than our prior Big Agnes UL Fly Creek and has the added advantage of utilizing our trekking poles rather than requiring one to schlep extra frame poles. The result, a superlight tent that weighs a little over a pound at 21 ounces. We did have a wee bit of difficulty with the ultra-loamy soil at the campsite, though, but with rocks and the 2 of us each in turn holding things down while the other pulled, pushed and pounded stakes into place, we got set up for the evening. Rocks were definitely a must.
Another drawback of campsite #1 – the lack of fairly level spots to camp. Perhaps the view made up for that. Ultimately, we were glad there were just 2 of us – in one tent – there that night.
Dinner was Mountain House Beef Stroganoff – it was as tasty as we’ve heard touted. But it can really use a bit more soaking in water (and probably a better cozy than a loosely-wrapped microfibre towel). I handled a 1.5 cup portion just fine; DD had 2 cups and “could have eaten more.” Like all civilized backcountry hiker trash we finished with a cheese course, polishing off half a block of cave-aged Gruyere that had survived the daytime trek nicely.
And with that, we crawled into our tent and sleeping bags when darkness descended (“hiker midnight”) at 7pm, and fell asleep to the oddly soothing chorus of frogs croaking in the near distance. The sounds of planes above (we were in the SFO and Oakland flight paths) were also constant – they bothered DD enough that he eventually put earplugs in – but for me they sounded like the murmuring rumble of the N-Judah going by our house, which was familiar and also comforting, and I didn’t have any large objections to their noise.
Permits and Such
DD handled all of the permits. You will need to call to reserve the campsite of your choice by going to this EB Parks website. A permit to hike the trail is also required – that costs $2 per person and is good for an entire year. The permit itself is a large map printed on heavy, glossy paper, but must have caught some dampness and dried since the seams were brittle and began to rip immediately as we unfolded it. A parking permit is also required whether you park at the Del Valle location or Mission Peak in Fremont. DD chose to leave the car at Del Valle since he had read some internet mentions of numerous car break-ins at Mission Peak. All told, the camp reservation and parking permit cost us $23; the permits cost us $4. $27 to wear ourselves out, sleep under the stars, and shiver a little in the cold? Hell of a deal.