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Mount Diablo - or - that's why they call it the "Thicket of the Devil"

Published by 360 Pro , 21 February 2014, 18h00.

Region: World » United States » California
Date of the hike:19 February 2014
Hiking grading: T5+ - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Climbing grading: II (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: USA   US-CA 
Height gain: 1600 m 5248 ft.
Height loss: 1600 m 5248 ft.
Access to start point:Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center, 6$ day use parking fee.

Mount Diablo, the "center peace" of Mount Diablo State Park is an isolated peak which is visible from most of the San Francisco Bay Area and much of northern California. It's "only" 3557 feet high (1178m) but has a remarkable visual prominence. On a clear day one can see many of the Sierra peaks, a lot of the Central Valley and of course the surrounding cities, bridges and the pacific. There is actually a road all the way to the top of the mountain, but who wants to drive up there if there is an interesting hike to the summit?

The conventional view is that the peak derives its name from the 1805 escape of several Chupcan Native Americans from the Spanish in a nearby willow thicket. The natives seemed to disappear, and the Spanish soldiers thus gave the area the name "Monte del Diablo", meaning "thicket of the devil." (Monte was later misinterpreted by English speakers as mount or mountain.) I can confirm that the thicket on this mountain can be evil, because I got to a point where I got stuck and had to turn around.

Matthew Holliman (on describes an interesting round trip from the Mitchell Canyon trailhead to the top and back which doesn't always follow the path but includes some optional calss 2-3 scrambling and which bags 4 summits in the area, exactly what I'm looking for. Bob Burd more or less repeated it and came to the conclusion: A very enjoyable outing indeed! So there's no holding back for me any more. However, I noticed that the two didn't include a named peak in their hikes: Ransom Point, north of the main summit. Instead, they chose the same way up from and down to Prospectors Gap on their routes. For me the logical route is to connect Mount Diablo and the Bald Ridge Trail via it's connecting ridge and also bag Ransom Point at the same time. Well, the idea is good, but the execution causes some intimate encounters with some bushwhack.

I arrive at the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center sometime before 9 AM and start my hike by first following the Eagle Peak trail. Since I want to do the round trip clockwise I don't hike up to Eagle Peak but head towards Mount Olympia by hiking to the George Cardinet Back Creek Trail. After a few hundred yards on this trail there's another trail on the left which takes me over to the next little valley and to the Donner Creek Fire Road which I follow to the next intersection. There I take another left turn towards the Park Boundary. At the gate with the sign Private Property the path leads up the mountain on the right hand side and takes me to the Mount Olympia path and to it's top.

From Mt Olympia I then follow the ridge which connects it to the North Peak. Matthew Holliman says in his report "this variation features some extremely loose class 3 rock and a bushwhack through poison oak. I don't recommend this", but Bob Burd found it not as bad: "I would have called it class 2, loose in only one section, and not too bad ... - I rather enjoyed it a great deal". I have to second Matthew in this case. Strictly following the ridge is quite adventurous, the rock is unpleasant and brittle and I would not really recommend this either. From the North Peak I then follow the path to Prospectors Gap and then take the North Peak trail. After a while I reach the E-Ridge of Mount Diablo with its rock outcroppings. I follow this ridge and take the direct route to the summit which offers some enjoyable scrambling on excellent rock, including the "needle" of Devil's Pulpit (T5/II).

The view from the top is amazing indeed. Unfortunately the Sierra Peaks are mostly in the clouds. After taking in this panorama for a while I leave the quite busy top and find my way to my next goal Ransom Point, by following the N-ridge of Mount Diablo. At the beginning it is a clear path and all the bushes are cut out. After the wooden platform on the trail which circles the summit, things get a little more complicated. Thick bushes decorate part of the ridge and block the way. However, somebody must have gone to Ransom Point with a bushwhacker or some sort of tool to cut back the bushes, because I can clearly recognize some sort of a path. However, in some places I still need to get down to my knees and crawl through the thicket. The last part to the top of Ransom Point is a pleasant and easy scramble in stable rock (T4).

From Ransom Point I then visually inspect my direct "path" to the Bald Ridge Trail. There are quite some "vegetables" in the way, in particular further down, but as far as I can see from here, it looks feasible. So, I follow the ridge where possible. Since I don't find any cut back bushes any more after Ransom Point, I have to bypass the worst - usually on the west side of the ridge, but the ridge itself seems the best place most of the time. At some point I scare some wild boars away, in fact they scared me too! About 100 yards from the open visible trail (there where the ridge gets flatter) things get really bad and the bushes become my enemies. I sometimes get a little further by crawling on the ground or whacking some branches with my poles, but I soon have to realize that there is no way for me to get to the path without any tools to cut back these bushes. I have the feeling that I'm probably only 30 yards away from the trail, but laying on the ground with bushes all around you doesn't give one a good overview of the terrain. I try in a few different places, but at some point I give up, I can't make it through the thicket and have to turn around. Even though I don't really look forward to crawl and climb the 1000 feet back up the hill, I have to bite the bullet and swallow the bitter pill. Almost 2 hours after I stood on Ransom Point the first time I'm back, with a torn T-Shirt, some scratches and being quite exhausted from all the crawling.

I walk back up to Mount Diablo where I restock my water supply and then retrace my steps to Prospectors Gap. From there I follow the Bald Ridge Trail to the Eagle Peak and then via Twin Peak along the Eagle Peak Trail back to the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center.

Regarding the difficulty of this hike: I gave it a T5+/II (the + is for the loose & brittle part on the Mt. Olympia - North Peak ridge), because of the optional scrambling parts of the route. However, if you don't feel like it, these scrambles can be left out. Simply following the paths would probably not be much harder than a T2.

PS: Inspecting the thicket from "the other side" (the Bald Ridge Trail), makes me believe that there actually would be a way from Ransom Point to the trail without getting stuck in the bushes. Not there where I was searching for, but on the east side of the ridge. The Bald Ridge Trail actually leads through the "shurb-belt" where I had to give up, and the path there is cut out, but not on the west side of the ridge but more east of it!. When walking on the Bald Ridge Trail, I realized that at some point during my trials and errors I was probably only a few yards away from this trail (you can see where that was on the track below)... So I might give it another try the next time I'm around!

Hike partners: 360

Click to draw, click on the last point to end drawing

 50035.gpx Route via N-Peak 9/18/2020


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