A tryst with nature | April 10, 2009 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Cover Story - April 10, 2009

A tryst with nature

Four Days Diablo gives hikers an intimate glimpse of the beloved mountain

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Mount Diablo is fabulous in the springtime when the wildflowers are in bloom. That's why this month was chosen for Four Days Diablo, when outdoor enthusiasts hike the mountain from Wednesday to Sunday and feast on gourmet meals each evening under the stars.

"In the spring, the wildflowers are incredible, and the creeks are running," said Seth Adams, director of Land Programs for Save Mount Diablo, who leads the hikes.

Four Days Diablo is sponsored by Save Mount Diablo, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving open space on and around the mountain.

This year the adventure runs from Wednesday, April 29-Sunday, May 2. Participants are limited to 20, and there are still a few spaces open, said Julie Seelen, development director.

"It's a big effort to take 20 people across the mountain but it really pays off," said Adams. "We show them Contra Costa in a way they've never even imagined. What's in our back yard is pretty incredible."

Participants have gone on to become major donors and board members for Save Mount Diablo.

"We always get connections that have served us well," said Adams. "And we always get marketing out of it - we've been on TV and in the newspapers."

The group hikes a total of 30 miles, beginning at Howe Homestead Park in Walnut Creek and trekking the first day to Live Oak Campground in Mt. Diablo State Park.

"That's part of Shell Ridge," explained Seelen. "The folks of course only carry their lunch packs, which we have provided, and water."

Hikers are greeted at each campsite with a glass of wine and hot towels to refresh their faces, and chefs provide gourmet meals at sundown. This year the dinners will be provided by Prima Ristorante, Forbes Mill, Sunrise Bistro and The Peasant and The Pear.

"Pascal's French Oven owner Bette Felton and her husband came to cook breakfast one day last year and got so excited about the trip that this year they are participants as well as donating a breakfast," said Seelen.

After dinner, experts give talks on the geology of the area and the natural and cultural history of the land traversed that day.

"The lectures really engage people," said Adams.

The second day continues through the state park to Morgan Territory.

"We camp not at an official campsite but at DeSilva Ranch," said Seelen. The third day continues through Morgan Territory Regional Preserve to end in a backpack camp and the final hike continues to Round Valley Regional Preserve, ending in Brentwood.

"The campsites are all incredible places," said Adams. "The atmospheric effects can be pretty dramatic, when the fog surrounds us, split by the hillside. And there are amazing sunsets."

This is the ninth year for Four Days Diablo, and one year they did it twice, in the spring and in the fall.

Sharon Walters, a reference librarian at St. Mary's College, participated eight years ago and she was hooked.

"I've gone back almost every year as a helper, schlepping tents and things," said the Danville resident. She also helps out the organization by working booths at events, and last weekend she led a family hike.

When she first signed up she didn't know much about Save Mount Diablo although she took frequent hikes with an informal Danville group.

"I had always wanted to go backpacking and I thought the four-day trip was perfect," Walters recalled. "I could get a taste of it and hike without the backpack."

"It's not a difficult pace, it's moderate," she said. "Seth is talking the whole time - he's walking backwards a lot of the time."

Adams also leads side hikes in the morning and afternoon, which Walters highly recommended.

Participants have been ages 25 through 72, and they should be in good physical condition. Daily hikes range from 6.5 to 9 miles with elevation gains of 500 to 2,000 feet and elevation losses of 500 to 2,100 feet per day. People provide their own sleeping bags and tents, which are delivered to each campsite.

"The staff goes out of their way to make people comfortable," said Walters. "They bring bandages and are sensitive to making their guests comfortable."

She also raved about the cuisine, which is provided as a donation by some of the best chefs in the area.

"Peter Chastain with Prima's comes personally because he cares about the organization and good food," said Walters.

She has fond memories of the time Chastain barbecued wild salmon with herbs and was making risotto on a camp stove in a field.

"He told me about the chicken stock he'd made, and I got to stir the risotto," she recalled. "That was fun."

She was also enthusiastic about the people who participate in the event.

"They're just the best people," she said. "They bond with each other very quickly. There's lots of opportunity to talk, and they never complain. They tend to appreciate the outdoors already although a lot have never done anything like this in their lives."

The trek was the idea of Executive Director Ron Brown.

"It's partly to popularize the Diablo Trail and the huge amount of land we've protected in the last 10-20 years that most people don't know about," said Adams. "We go down canyons, up boulder-strewn ridges - through places that look like Hollywood westerns' box canyons. We only cross two paved roads the entire time, and both of them barely qualify as roads."

Save Mount Diablo was begun 38 years ago and since then has helped to increase open space on and around the mountain from 6,788 acres to more than 90,000 acres. The Diablo Trail, which covers uninterrupted public open space from Walnut Creek to Brentwood and Livermore, crosses more than 50,000 acres of public land, half of it acquired in the past 15 years.

Adams said he hikes from one to three times a week on Mount Diablo, leading groups or alone.

"It's my profession," he said. "I appreciate being with a group I'm interpreting to, telling about the history on Mount Diablo. I also like hiking completely by myself, bushwacking."

He knows the trails so well that he can predict wildlife sightings. "I say, 'When we go around the bend, we will see coyotes, bobcats, wild pigs, peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, golden eagles, osprey."

Save Mount Diablo's spring schedule offers several hikes each weekend of varying difficulties. Tomorrow morning a Wildflower Walk is billed as fairly easy with little change in elevation. It leaves at 9 a.m. from the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area in Clayton and participants should bring a lunch and water. Contact Sue at 673-3356. A complete list of spring hikes and a map of meeting points are on Save Mount Diablo's Web site: www.savemountdiablo.org.

Four hours or four days - spring is the best time to discover Mount Diablo. Adams recalled walking along a hillside with a tinge of purple showing in the distance; soon the hikers were surrounded by miles of beautiful purple wildflowers.

"I'm not kidding when I say people have no idea how much diversity of open space we have in our back yard," Adams said, noting that Four Days Diablo is the only local event of this kind. "It's really singular to walk halfway across the county."

Discover Mount Diablo

What: Four Days Diablo, a guided hike over trails on Mount Diablo

Who: Save Mount Diablo

When: Wednesday-Saturday, April 29-May 2

Cost: $850 per person; deposit $250

Benefits: Save Mount Diablo programs

To reserve a space: Telephone 947-3535


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