Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mount Vaca: one more discovery for peak #9 of 9!

After Napa County and it's highest point, Mount Saint Helena on Saturday, let's move South-East to the Solano County and Mount Vaca, the last of the PCTR Bay Area 9 Peaks Challenge summits for our family endeavor. Flashback to Sunday April 11.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Mount Saint Helena, what do you find at the top of Mount Vaca? You bet, more communication relays and antennas! As a matter of fact, even civil and military ones for a change. So many that they are not accessible with a fire road this time, but a real asphalt one, even open to car traffic! That reminded me of Pikes Peak, the highest point of the Continental US which is accessible by car and train although it's above 4,000 meters! A fact which makes some people ask where the road is to get to the top of Mount Blanc, in Chamonix (I'm not kidding...)!

But, overall, and even more so than Mount Saint Helena, a climb to the top of Mount Vaca these days will plunge you back into the inferno of the 2020 Fall California wild fires, and it's overwhelming, on every side of the mountain and even hearing a few relays still powered by generators 7 months later as the power lines got severely damaged too.

Following our usual formation, Agnès and Greg power walked the 6 miles to the top, coming down on the same road, while Max and I ran the whole 14-mile loop. It was a good choice because the descent on the other side is really steep, exposed, and wouldn't be interesting to walk.

In contrast with the burnt top, the start was actually super greenery and pleasant, home of fruit trees and growers.

On the way up, we saw a few ruins of houses burnt last year, heart breaking. Let's not burn bridges as we say (this house lost its creek crossing access), a good reminder in this divided society...

What used to be the kitchen...

Even one burnt house at the bottom of the mountain, leaving a swimming pool dangling on the property, and showing the extent of the devastation in the area...

But we also noticed proofs of Mother Nature fighting back as well, more uplifting!

As we started early, before 8 am, we didn't see a single car on the way up. The road is narrow so I strongly suggest the same if you visit on foot. AllTrails has quite a few negative reviews from people who were upset with car traffic, I assume later in the day.

It's quite a steep road at times, must be a good challenge on wheels too!

At the top, you never really know if you actually reached the summit as this is more of a ridge with a collection of relays.

The one I preferred had fences down and this really cool mat which must be a launch pad for para gliders. A cool photo op spot!

The whole loop from the sky, thanks to Relive (click on link or picture below):

Et voilà, this concludes our 4-week challenge. Nothing really as challenging as the concept of peak bears, no peak covered with snow or ice, but an excellent opportunity to accomplish something as a family (but one, overseas) and discover new places, finally! For me, I had visited Mount Diablo once and Mission Peak many times, but not the other ones, at least not exactly their tops: Montara Mountain, Slacker Hill and Mounts Davidson, Umunhum, Tamalpais, Saint Helena and Vaca. I've heard PCTR is working on the next challenge, make sure to hop on the train in case you missed that one. And see you all out and up there then!

PS: I originally forgot to include the photo montages I had worked on in April...

Mount Saint Helena: peak #8 of 9

Another flashback to continue catching up with older running stories on this blog. It was on Saturday April 10, Agnès, Max and I picked Greg in San Francisco, on our way to Napa Valley first. As we had other commitments for Easter weekend, that was our last chance to complete PCTR's Bay Area 9 Peaks Challenge over 4 weeks and we were left with the two most remote ones from where we live: Mount Saint Helena and Mount Vaca.

This area is of course known internationally for the quality of its wines but, more recently, for intense wild fires as well. As much as it felt good to see Mother Nature fighting back with its Spring season, the scares of the blaze are still very much present and visible everywhere.

Numerous construction areas remind us of all the work required to secure the roads after such fires.
Mount Saint Helena, culminating at 4,342 feet (1,323m), has an interesting history. With our local strong Hispanic heritage, I always wondered why this mountain was called this way, not Santa Helena. Well, of course, the mountain had a name way before the territory was taken away from Native Americans. Back then, the Wappo tribe called this peak Kanamota, or the Human Mountain (according to Wikipedia). Then it became Mount Mayacamas. In 1841, a group of Russians surveying the area changed the name to Mount Saint Helena, and that did stick. That was to honor Princess Helena de Gagarin.

Fast forward 2021 and it was our time to conquer this very accessible summit. Indeed, like most other high points in our area, the top is home to several communication relays and antennas, constructions requiring frequent truck access and therefore well maintained wide fire roads. We parked at the  trail head.

The mile 2 marker barely survived the fire...
Rocks call for climbers!
With the lack of vegetation except for sparse trees and bushes, the ascent isn't Alpine-style, so dry and rocky already! Greg and Agnès hiked it, while Max did beat me to the summit again.

The weather was perfect, maybe not the perfect and infinite visibility, but still seeing tens of miles away.

At the top we met a group which was hiking the whole Bay Area Ridge Trail, one piece at a time on weekends, albeit not as part of PCTR's Together Relay. They were about 100 miles done, with 290 more to go, wow!

The plaque left by the Russian crew, and the traditional geodetic survey marker:

Agnès and Greg were already up high when we crossed them on our way back.

While I was holding the lead and a fast pace on the fire road, I let Max go ahead in the last mile which has a few tricky sections (stones, roots and sharp switch backs).

Under the tree line, in particular at the trail head, nature was in full bloom!

The corresponding 3D flyover on Relive:

We stayed in Fairfield for the night to get at the bottom of Mount Vaca for our next little family adventure and close on that challenge which made us discover new places!