Mount Hamilton

Thursday, October 27, 2011

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Wyatt and I are heading up to Mt Hamilton today. We arrive at the Pleasant Hill BART station before 6 AM to try and catch the 6:02 AM train to the MacArthur station. From there, we can transfer to the Fremont line. The first two floors of the parking garage is for prepaid permit holders only; all others have to park on the 3rd floor and up.

We are able to get on the 6:02 AM train only because BART is running behind schedule. We make the quick transfer across the platform at MacArthur to the Fremont train with minimal effort. The last train is pretty empty and we can sit down with the tandem for the whole ride over. BART is moving very slowly today and it is taking us longer than usual to get to Fremont. But that’s good; it means we can start riding in with no lights.

We exit the station and ride through the city streets on Paseo Padre to Grimm Blvd, High St and Union St. We continue on Fremont Blvd to Old Warm Springs and ride through the industrial section of town. We cross Warren Ave and stay on Warm Springs Blvd to Scott Creek Rd. We head east to cross under I-680 to N Park Victoria Dr. The residential neighborhoods on this road lead us to the edge of town on Evans Rd. There are several horse ranches in this area.

The road name changes to Piedmont Rd after you cross Calaveras Rd. The next 3.8 miles will brings us to Penitencia Creek Rd and into Alum Rock Park. There are clean restrooms located near the first parking lot as you enter the park.

I’ve never been here before, so Wyatt takes me on a short tour of the area. The main road takes us through the valley floor and you can see all the old support structures for the railroad that used to run through this park. This park is quite inviting and is very lush and full of plant life. Black tailed deer can be seen grazing along the slopes. They don’t run away; they just stop and gaze at you!

There’s a Visitors Center and picnic areas with a playground and volley ball court. It’s good to know that there are vending machines here; in case of any snack emergencies. This place must be bustling through the weekends and during the hot days of summer. It seems like a great place to spend the day with friends and family!

The mineral springs are located here too; you can gain access by crossing the old natural stone bridges. The “rotten egg” smell of sulfur is in the air! The spring looks like it’s slowly drying up, minimal amounts of water can be seen trickling through the layers of the stone enclosed grottos.

We turn around and continue up the closed Alum Rock Ave entrance; a damaging landslide caused the road to be closed to traffic. We exit the other end of the gate and continue on Crothers Rd which is also closed. You can see the effects of the landslide on Crothers; there are huge sections of broken pavement with deep cracks and narrowing of the road. We end up getting off the tandem and walk pass the whole slide area.

The climb up Crothers Rd is about a mile long with an average gradient of 7%. The steepest section is after the turn at the yellow right arrow sign; the gradient hits 15%! The views from the top are amazing! The descent on Crothers drops us onto Mt Hamilton Rd.

Mount Hamilton stands at 4200′ and is the tallest mountain overlooking Santa Clara Valley. The climb on Mt Hamilton Rd from Crothers to Lick Observatory is about 19 miles and is very comparable in distance to the start from Alum Rock Ave. It’s a long way to go; the climb up to the summit is in 3 stages followed by a descent between each section. It will seem like it will go on forever but don’t despair! Just make sure you bring enough snacks and water to get to the Observatory and stop if you have to. It really helps “mentally” to know the breakdown of the climb itself.

The climb on Mt Hamilton Rd up to the top of the 1st ridge is about 4+ miles long with an average grade of about 4.25%. The road levels out for a bit after you pass the Grandview Restaurant and then the climb continues on. The views from the ridge looking westward are magnificent! You know you’re near the top when you see the power lines.

The two mile descent from the top of the 1st ridge drops you down through Halls Valley and into Joseph D. Grant County Park; the base of Mt Hamilton. This open space area is filled with oak trees, rolling grasslands, grazing cattle and flocks of wild turkeys.

We ride pass the park’s main entrance kiosk and stop at the Bernal Trailhead; about a 1/4 mile down on the left hand side of the road. Now is the time to refill your water bottles and Camelbak; there is no other access to any water after this point. A porta-pottie and water fountain is located to the left of the gate.

There’s only one way to go and that’s up-we forge on! On the way up, I noticed that several huge sections of this road have been recently repaved; how wonderful! As a stoker, I can look around and admire the beauty of Halls Valley at every turn and curve; there’s a lot to see!

The climb up to the 2nd ridge from Grant Park is about 3 miles long with an average grade of about 4.37%. You’re at the top when you see the Twin Gates Trailhead sign. There is a porta-pottie available but no water. The mile long descent is shaded and we both can feel the temp drop immediately; BBRRRR!

The climbing continues after you go over the bridge and cross Smith Creek; the CDF Fire Station is located on the left side of the road. On the way up, you will catch a glimpse of the observatory and think you’re getting very close but then you see that sign that reads “Lick Observatory-5 miles”. You’ll look at the odometer and realize that you’ve only gained 2 miles since passing the CDF station. Don’t let “dread” come into play, just keep going!

The average gradient for the next 5 miles is at around 4.73% with pitches of 6-7% at the curves and turns. This section also has more sun exposure; this is a perfect day to be up here, it’s neither too hot nor too cold. The scenery, views and the surrounding landscape is beautiful here!

The Observatory is really in sight and we’re getting closer with each pedal stroke!

The driveway up to the Observatory is probably the steepest section; watch for  cars, the road is pretty narrow. The views from the summit are spectacular!

We park at the back of the building where the Post Office is located. It’s a much easier access to the water fountain and restrooms. The vending machines will eat up dollar bills, so bring some quarters if you’re planning to buy anything.

We will be descending the backside of Hamilton on San Antonio Valley Rd. The sign says 47 miles to Livermore and that’s where we’re going! The initial descent is fast with a few tight turns; proceed with caution! But wait, it’s not all downhill, there are a few climbs to look forward to after you cross the bridge over Isabel Creek. There are also numerous cattle guards along this road.

This area is very remote with no services until you reach the junction. Traffic is pretty much nonexistent back here. You can see a few ranches and old farmhouses along with grazing cattle.

The descent from the last climb drops us along the valley floor. The terrain is flat to rolling all the way to the junction. There are a few horse ranches and old barns tucked back here. There are grazing horses and cattle out on the open meadows and pastures. The last time I was out here, I saw a herd of Tule elk. Today, they are nowhere to be seen.

We arrive at the Junction Cafe for a mini lunch/snack stop. You can order sandwiches and other items along with hot and cold drinks. Water and restrooms are available inside. There is a large outdoor area with plenty of picnic tables and benches.

San Antonio Valley Rd becomes Mines Rd at the junction. We continue north on Mines Rd for the next 28 miles. The first short climb up to the CAL FIRE Station always seems to hurt the most after you’ve been sitting at the junction.

There are two modest climbs before the long, flat rolling descent to Livermore. The first one begins after you pass Ruth’s Barn Trash & Treasure; it’s about 2 miles with a gentle gradient of around 3-5%. You’re at the top when you make the right hand turn up to the ranch.

The long descent will take you to the 2nd climb out of the valley. It’s a little more than a mile long with gradients ranging from 6-8%. This section can get hot; it has full sun exposure. You’re at the top when you reach the gap on the last turn to the right.

The major climbs are done for the day! The rolling descent towards the valley is fast; watch out, there are a few blind turns! The run along the valley floor is completely flat. There are a few more ranches and yet more grazing cattle back here.

The next section of road takes us out of the valley and along the ridge of the mountain. I believe this is still part of the Diablo Range. Rolling along the ridge line is fantastic; you’re on great pavement with spectacular unobstructed views! It feels a bit like a fast mini roller coaster ride.

The descent towards the flats on Mines Rd is super-fast; I really have to hang tight! We ride pass a residential area with ranches, vineyards and a pumpkin patch.

We turn onto Tesla Rd and head towards Pleasanton on Concannon and Isabel. We make a quick pit and snack stop at the Chevron EM store on Vineyard.

The last 26 miles back to Pleasant Hill is flat. We hop onto the Iron Horse Trail at Valley Ave and continue on the trail all the way to Danville. We exit the trail at San Ramon Valley Rd and take Danville Blvd to Rudgear Rd. The Iron Horse Trail from Walnut Creek leads us back to Pleasant Hill BART.

Thanks to Wyatt for another adventurous and fruitful tandem ride!

117.50 miles with 7570′ of elevation gain

Weather: FANTASTIC! A full day of sunshine with afternoon winds. Early morning temps in the low 50’s and reaching the mid 70’s for the day.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>DON’T STOP-KEEP RIDING!>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


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