If we were playing $20,000 Dollar Pyramid and the answer was “The Bay Area”, someone might shout out some clues like “Uber expensive town homes, Silicon Valley, traffic congestion!!”, and if they were really awesome maybe even “The Ohlone Wilderness Trail!”. Wilderness in the Bay Area is a bit of an anomaly, but if you know where to look you can find it. The Ohlone Wilderness Trail stretches out over about 30 miles between Fremont and Livermore, with Sunol at the approximate midpoint. It’s hard to conceive that it’s possible to start hiking in Fremont and not suddenly not spot people, cars, or buildings for as far as your eyes can see. For that, the Ohlone Trail is a sure thing, but there are a few things to know before you go!
Destination: Del Valle Lake
Trail Head: Mission Peak in Fremont (elev ~200 ft)
Distance: 29 miles point to point, 8380 ft gained, 7830 ft lost (~560 ft/mi avg)
Remoteness: Crowds at either end, occasional hiker once in the wilderness, expect company at the camp.
Motivation: Escaping the bustle of the Bay Area, 360 degree views of the foothills.
Notes: 2 vehicles required, only camping is at the Sunol Backpacker’s Camp (reservation req’d), hiking in summer is not advised.
The Report from Our Trip :: Aug 13-14, 2011
Sandra D and I had been hitting up local hikes of moderate distance in attempt to get some miles on our legs prior to a planned hike of the High Sierra Trail later in the year. The Ohlone Trail seemed to fit the bill. Although one would usually avoid this in the summer due to hot weather, lack of cover, and lots of hills… it had been unseasonably cool and we thought it seemed workable. Our plan was to start late in the day and hike mostly at night under the full moon, then get an early start the next day to finish up. As this report will show, things can go south even on the simple trips with the best laid plans… or as we later called it, Fear and Loathing on the Ohlone Trail!
We dropped off a car at the Del Valle Lake parking lot and picked up our permit. The Ranger there was “not sure” if it was going to be ok to leave a car there overnight (?!?). We decided to chance it and just left a sign in the window, then headed over to the Fremont BART station and caught the bus toward the college. We hopped off in town near Mission Peak and walked a mile or so to the TH, a good warm up. Immediately there is a big hill and a lot of people on it moving along like ants in a line. After rounding the peak of it though the crowds drop off and as we walked towards the entrance of the Wilderness proper, we saw no one.
After a few more hours we emerged at the Sunol Regional Wilderness area (in which we have hiked before) and register at the second of three sign-in boards. The sun was almost down A quick break for dinner and we’re under way again. We dodged a Ranger who would have probably wanted to know what our plans were since we were headed out near dark and had not registered for a camp site. We figured being mid-week and all, there would be an open spot somewhere and we’d just slide in. With the moon now out, we set off to find the camp.
The McCorkle trail winds through a tight valley and is flanked by chaparral and other spooky looking plants that grow up and over head at some points. It looks like the perfect area for a mountain lion to ambush someone… happy thoughts. As we approached the descent into the valley several large cows stood on the trail and more along the ridgeline. We could just make out their silhouettes as they stood still, staring at us while we passed by. Weirdness. Then we came across a sign board showing that we were closing in on camp; eventually we slid into camp, but not as gracefully as planned. Every spot was full, except one that we couldn’t find in the dark. A couple of guys offered to share their site with us and we took them up on the nice offer. In the morning we thanked them and set out early, as planned.
We managed to find that last camp site on our way out, and of course it was vacant. Ah well, the company was nice anyway. The morning hinted at a warmer day ahead than had been forecast. Day two would have some big hills including the climb up Rose Peak. Day two also had the bad juju for us. Sandra was in trouble before she (or I) even realized it.
At some point she started slowing down and mentioned that I was moving faster, which I wasn’t. After checking out her water it was obvious she hadn’t been drinking enough, and was dehydrated enough for it to impact her energy. We rested a bit, took some water, and some fresh oranges, and had some salty snacks. After resting a while she was not getting any better. We had over 8 miles to go and from that point she was battling managing water intake and preventing hyponatremia. We didn’t have any more electrolyte supplements and to make matters worse we missed a trail junction on the way out and took a small detour, adding half a mile and a big hill climb to our hike. The 16.5 miles walked that day felt like the whole 30. I carried both packs for most of that last 8 miles but it was more the concern about her health than the physical labor of it all that was taking a toll on me. When your hiking partner has an accelerated heart rate and showing signs of confusion, that’s scary shit no matter how close or far you are from help. Spotting the parking lot was a huge relief. Sandra dove into the chips and Gatorade and I dropped the packs.
It had been a serious wake up call that since her surgery, her stomach doesn’t take up water like it used to (and to drink more). Extra water and daily electrolytes are a must, even on a 2 day trip. Our first aid kits now contain salt sticks and Nuun mix “just in case”. The Ohlone Trail is a great escape in the Bay Area, but much like Henry Coe, the combination of hills, hot weather, and exposure to the sun makes it prime territory for dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. It’s a hike best saved for spring time. The temps will be mild, the grasses will be green, and if timed right, Rancheria Falls will be flowing. -JD