Mount Whitney Training Hikes: Bay Area Edition

Main Mt Whitney Trail, just below Trail Crest
Main Mt Whitney Trail, just below Trail Crest

Modern Hiker recently published a great post about training and preparing to climb Mt. Whitney. Hop on over there and give it a read, especially the parts about altitude. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Casey wrote about some training hikes in Southern California, and that inspired me to think about good training hikes in the Bay Area. These are lower in elevation than the Southern California hikes and won’t prepare you for the affects of altitude, but they will help you understand how it feels to put in a long day on the trail.

South Bay

"The Shortcut". And this is the easy part.
"The Shortcut". And this is the easy part.

Mount Sizer Loop (Henry Coe State Park)

If you’ve never hiked over 15 miles or over 4000 feet in a day I highly recommend doing this hike before committing to Whitney. I try to do it every spring as a benchmark of my hiking condition going into the summer. It is a 16 mile, 4500 ft of gain and descent hike at the minimum, and there are options to make it longer if desired.

In fact, hiking a long distance to anywhere in Henry Coe is good training. As I’ve said in this blog before, people don’t go to Coe to train for the Sierra, they go to the Sierra to train for Coe. Steep roads, east-west trails that pass over endless parallel north-south ridges, and the heat all conspire to beat you down. Learning how to make these kind of hikes bearable, and even enjoyable, was a triumph of my hiking career.

Sizer is the highest point in Henry Coe State Park and the hike along Blue Ridge is excellent – you can see deep into the park’s backcountry and find all kinds of interesting trees and wildflowers. One other reason I like this hike is that it can be done on fire roads only (the track I include here has one stretch of single-track trail), so it’s easy to avoid poison oak if you’re really sensitive to it. This hike will take you on the “Shortcut”, often cited as the steepest trail in the Bay Area. Choose your loop direction based on whether you prefer going up or down really steep trails. I prefer going up.

Peninsula

On the way to Sombroso in 8 inches of snow
On the way to Sombroso in 8 inches of snow

Kennedy Road in Sierra Azul (Mt El Sombroso)

Kennedy Road is a trail that starts in the hills above Los Gatos and climbs up to the main ridge of  Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. The stretch to the first trail junction is a steady uphill slog, and then you have the option of making a loop along some roller coaster rolling hills (gain 200 ft, lose 200 ft, rinse, repeat a million times) or heading to the summit of Mt El Sombroso. Sombroso is an uninteresting high point of the ridge, complete with a PG&E tower and wires and trees blocking 80% of the view. However, it makes a good turnaround spot for an in-and-out hike up Kennedy Road that will get you 4000 ft of gain in 12 miles. It’s also a great place to hike in the snow when we get the rare dusting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Or, you can do a lollipop shaped hike by turning on Priest Rock Trail and connecting to the Limekiln trail.  This gets you the same amount of elevation gain in 14 miles. If you’re feeling really ambitious you could do this loop with the additional side trip to El Sombroso. This will add on another 2 miles and a few hundred additional feet of gain.

East Bay

Pond and delightfully flat but short stretch of trail
Pond and delightfully flat but short stretch of trail

Rose Peak from Sunol Regional Wilderness

Until recently, Rose Peak was known as the high point of Alameda County. That honor actually belongs to a slightly higher bump on a nearby ridge according to recent measurements. Rose, however, is the highest *legally accessible* point in Alameda County. It is along the Ohlone Wilderness trail about half way between Sunol and DelValle. The track I’ve included here is the slightly shorter Sunol approach via the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, coming in at 17 miles with about 4200 ft of gain.

Like most of these hikes this is best hiked in the spring since there is very little shade on the trails and it gets very hot and dry in the summer. The winter can be muddy. But the spring is usually beautiful with green rolling hills and wildflowers.

Monument and Mission Peaks from Ed Levin County Park

Coyote below Monument Peak
Coyote below Monument Peak

Mission Peak is an extraordinarily popular summit with hundreds of people hiking it each weekend. Most people, however, take the short approach from the Stanford Road trailhead. The longer and more difficult approach via Ed Levin County Park is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable since the trails aren’t busy. The most likely place you’ll see someone is on a hang glider soaring above. The hardest part of this hike is the first and last few miles where you climb from the parking area to the ridge. Once the steepest climb is done you can take the side trip to the quiet summit of Monument Peak, then follow the undulating ridge over to Mission Peak. After enjoying the view with the large crowds that will no doubt join you on the summit, you can retrace your steps back along the ridge.

There are some variations to this loop – it can be an in and out, or you can follow different trails up and down. In any case, is is approximately 14 miles long with about 3500 feet of gain. It’s not the most strenuous of these hikes but it’s a beautiful wildflower hike in the spring and if you love rolling ridge walks this is a good one.

Murietta Falls
Murietta Falls

Murietta Falls

Murietta Falls is also along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail and is not that far from Rose Peak. But this hike starts on the opposite end in Del Valle Regional Park. Just like the hikes in Coe, this goes up and over a few different ridges between the trailhead and the falls. Over the 15 mile round trip you’ll gain almost 5000 feet.

Although there is a bit more shade on this hike than the others, spring and winter are still the best seasons for this hike. The waterfall dries up easily so if you want to see water find a nice day about a week after a good rainfall. There should be water in the falls but the trails should have had some time to dry out.

North Bay

Mt Tamalpais Steep Ravine Trail
Mt Tamalpais Steep Ravine Trail

Mt Tamalpais from Stinson Beach

This is kind of an unusual hike in that you have to do a lot of work to get to a place you can drive to. The loop I’ve included here is one of many options; there are so many trails on Mt Tam that you could probably hike this every day for a month and not do the same exact loop twice. Coming in around 16 miles with a bit over 3000 feet of gain, it doesn’t have quite the vertical oomph of the other hikes I’ve listed here, but it provides a different type of scenery than the stuff south of San Francisco. The Steep Ravine trail is rich with deep, damp shades of green. Starting at the ocean usually means a nice cool layer of fog to make the beginning climbs more comfortable.

When you get to the summit you’ll be joined by the picnicking families and tourists that have driven to the top. Grab a hotdog and cold soda from the stand. (Yes, this summit has a hot dog stand. Don’t expect that on Mt Whitney).

 

 

Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Free range human. Mountain sports addict. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Team OmniTen and Evernote Ambassador. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +

  • Scott B.

    I’ve done two of these hikes as training for Half Dome in 2004: Mt. Sizer and Monument/Mission. The Sizer loop was our last training hike prior to attempting Half Dome, and it’s roughly the same distance and elevation gain/loss (I think). I absolutely despised the Shortcut though.

    At some point in the next few years when my son gets bigger, I want to try to summit Whitney. Thanks for the collection of local hikes for that purpose.

    • Calipidder

      Yeah I don’t know anyone who really enjoys that shortcut trail. I should have added that trekking poles are absolutely necessary in Henry Coe – yesterday I couldn’t have gotten down one trail I took without them.

      Did you do any other training hikes that I didn’t include here? I’m always looking for good hikes that hit that sweet spot around the stats in the hikes I’ve included here.

      • Scott B.

        We started training in February 2004 for our Memorial Day hike. My girlfriend (now wife) and I came up with a plan to increase the mileage and elevation over the course of the next few months.

        In rough order:
        Mission Peak (Ohlone up, Horse Heaven down) – ~6 miles

        Northern reaches of Joseph Grant Park (similar to this, but we extended it by starting the loop near the barn on Washburn Trail (9+ miles)

        Monument Peak (8+ miles) – had to deal with agressive cattle on this hike

        Pinnacles (for a Bear Gulch/Balconies/Chalone Creek hike) – 7 or 8 miles

        Henry Coe (Hobbs/Frog Lake/Middle Ridge/Poverty Flats) – ~9 miles

        Big Basin Three Waterfalls loop from HQ (about 12 miles)

        Distance hike (no elevation) in Coyote Hills and Don Edwards – 18 miles

        Henry Coe (HQ to China Hole, then up Meadow/Mahoney to Poverty Flats, and back to HQ)

        Big Basin hike, from Waddell Beach to the three waterfalls and back (like this) – 15+ miles

        Henry Coe Park – Sizer Loop (as you detailed above)

        We had a few other hikes in there, including an additional visit to Coe (best park for training for Half Dome), Point Reyes, and Castle Rock.

        I’m looking forward to the day that we can go hiking with our son (he’s only 5 now). We’re going to introduce him to camping this summer, so hopefully he’ll develop a love of the outdoors like his parents. I’m hoping that when he’s a teenager, he’ll accompany me on a thru-hike of the PCT.

  • fedak

    I’d include the Mitchell Canyon Route of Diablo (optionally turning it into the 4 peaks loop).
    Thats one of the few places on the coast where you can get that sort of elevation gain in that short of a route.

    • Calipidder

      Good suggestion. I have yet to do that one.

  • A

    How long did Sizer take you roughly?

    • calipidder

      I’d estimate 10 hours probably?