Training hike is a fun romp

Mount Hoffman Challenge hikers take a ‘training’ hike at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve in preparation for their Yosemite adventure in July.

On a recent Saturday, the Mount Hoffman Challengers met at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve above Palo Alto for the final prep hike prior to our ascent in Yosemite next month. I should describe what a grueling ordeal our six “training” hikes have been, but that would be shameless puffery. The simple truth is we have had a fun winter and spring tromping the local hills. Monte Bello OSP was no exception.
Like a pearl necklace, a wonderful succession of parks and preserves are strung along Skyline Boulevard atop the peninsula hills. Some take you into cool moist redwood forests where creeks run and flowers bloom long after our grassy hills have faded to brown. Others hoist you onto a perch with grand views of the bay or forested slopes descending toward the open ocean.
While Monte Bello OSP offers both, the outgoing leg of our loop was across high open hilltops. Just steps from the parking lot near the top of Page Mill Road, we could see our goal, Black Mountain, two and a half miles away. While the hills had largely burnt to brown, hints of spring lingered. Here and there amid the sweep of dry brown grass, two species of mariposa lily stood tall and vibrant, indifferent to the parched surroundings. The exotic and elegantly colored petals of these two flowers impressed everyone who paused to look closely. How do they thrive in such dry times when all others have gone to seed?
As we traversed the slope on the Canyon Trail, then the Bella Vista Trail, we rolled through relic orchards and eucalyptus trees left behind by long gone residents. Black Mountain loomed straight ahead, but the big volume view was down below. On our right, just-born Stevens Creek carved a huge densely forested swath on its way to San Francisco Bay. The dark green forest of Douglas firs, oaks, and madrones was a striking contrast to the bright open slopes above.
From the top of Black Mountain, views were grand across the bay and out to sea. Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo were islands in a sea of fog that covered the ocean and extended into the north Bay Area. We sat above it all enjoying a snack in warm sunshine.
Instead of edging across the hills as we had walking out, on the return trip we descended the Indian Creek Trail into the cool forest and caught the Canyon Trail near Stevens Creek. Downstream, the Canyon Trail follows Stevens Creek for another four miles, but we turned right and climbed toward home.
This moderate five-mile loop is a gem, one of many in the preserves along Skyline Boulevard. The trails at 3,436-acre Monte Bello OSP connect with Los Trancos OSP, Russian Ridge OSP, Skyline Ridge OSP to name just a few of the adjacent parks and preserves. Summers are cooler in the peninsula hills. It’s a perfect time hike this loop or a different combination of trails that suits you.
For the Mount Hoffman Challengers, there is only one thing left to do. On July 11, we will meet at the May Lake trailhead in Yosemite at 9 a.m. Whether you have been with us before or not, you are welcome to take the challenge. The last two years, our challenges were much longer. At only six miles round trip, Mount Hoffman is much shorter. But we are going 1,000 feet higher, to 10,850 feet. In the past two years, so many people have gone from “I can’t” to “I did.”
If you’re interested in participating in the Mount Hoffman Challenge, email [email protected]

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