From Shell Ridge Open Space to the city of Clayton. A one-way, two-day backpack from Walnut Creek’s Howe Homestead Park through Shell Ridge Open Space and Diablo Foothills, over Diablo summit, down to Donner Canyon trailhead in Clayton…
I met my good friend Jereme at the Walnut Creek BART station on Friday afternoon after a ride across the Bay from my home in San Francisco’s Mission District. After a short sidewalk section through a residential area, we hit the Kovar Trail at Howe Homestead Park. After skirting the edges of a housing development we begin ascending Joaquin Ridge in Shell Ridge Open Space, with views of rolling hills dotted with oak trees on one side and the urban sprawl of Contra Costa on the other. It is a moderate, steady climb up the Briones–Mount Diablo Regional Trail on our way across the western flank of the mountain.
Soon the urban views disappear and we’re in Diablo Foothills Regional Park, passing through a sea of golden grasslands abutting manzanita filled chaparral and the impressive rock feature known as the China Wall; hard to believe that I had left home in the Mission just a few hours ago.It’s not long before we’re catching glimpses of the fiery sunset behind us. We pick up the pace and arrive at Wildcat campground via the BBQ Terrace Trail, set up our sleeping bags and kick back to watch the blazing sunset fade to twilight, with the crest of Diablo looming behind us.
Early Saturday morning we tackle the summit trail. The previous day’s laid-back ascent today turns into a heart-pumping climb. Within two miles we’ve gained 1,100 ft of elevation and are rewarded with breathtaking vistas, from Mount Tamalpais and the City to the west, to the faint outline of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range in the east.
After a few photos and a snack, a brisk fall breeze encourages us to get moving. Without a parked car waiting for us back in Walnut Creek, we’re free to make our way down the north side, enjoying new trails and scenery along the way. We snake our way down the North Peak Trail, traverse the length of the Meridian Ridge, and head down the heart of Donner Canyon on our way to the outskirts of Clayton. Near the trailhead, with the suburbs already in view, we are reminded of the wildness around us when we encounter a tarantula on the trail, out looking for a mate. We stop to watch it for a minute, take a photo and then walk the final stretch to the CC110 bus stop on the outskirts of town. Ten minutes later we’re on our way to the Concord BART station, on the final leg of our two-day, car-free escape from the city.