Monday, February 28, 2011

Murietta Fall

View from the top of Big Burn
It was a little disappointing when the south bay didn’t get the widely speculated snow all the way down to the valley floor during the evening Friday 2/25/11. We wound up cancelling a trip to Yosemite recently because of my work commitments, so this was going to be our paltry alternative, at least for this timeframe. Absolutely no comparison really, but even still, we had already been planning just how we would enjoy the rare phenomenon should it actually happen. But when it didn’t, that narrowed our choices for a Saturday hike to either views or a waterfall. Or even better, a hike that potentially features both. The hike to Murietta Fall is a bay area classic. The round trip distance is only about 12.5 miles, but don’t be fooled. With total elevation gain in the neighborhood of 4700 feet, this is not casual hike. That’s almost enough elevation gain to match a Half Dome assent. The Ohlone Wilderness Trail can be a punishing trail if you are not in at least reasonable condition for strenuous hiking.

The northeastern trailhead for the Ohlone trail is in Del Valle Regional Park right near the Lichen Bark picnic area at about 748 feet. From there the trail begins climbing immediately. It’s fairly steep up to about 1251 feet, where it descends gently down to the sign-in panel at 1191 feet. The next section is a mostly steep uphill to the top of the first little ridge topping out at about 2386 feet. On the way up you pass through a trail camp called Boyd Camps. Feeling spry after making the ridge top and gaining almost 1700 feet in the process, you shortly come to a junction, turn to the right, and immediately start heading downhill again giving back a nice chunk of that altitude. A few switchbacks bring you down into William’s Gulch where you must cross the creek and transition over to the next ridge system. I registered the lowest point at 1829 feet.

Creek at William's Gulch
The creek was running strong on this trip. This was the first time I have hiked this trail when the water levels were actually at near peak conditions. It was actually a bit tricky to cross without wading in the frigid water. I have done hikes to Rose Peak on this trail, usually during the spring wildflower season when the rains are more sporadic. But on this hike, all of the creeks along the whole hike were running strong, and the cascading water makes really great background sound. I really love it when I get naturally occurring sonic waves like rushing water, gentle wind in high trees, or bird sounds playing in the back of my head. On this hike I was even enjoying sounds from little creeks that I didn’t even know were there before. That’s a great benefit of doing this hike just after thick winter rains. Of course the disadvantage is going to be the mud. Early in the morning there’s ice everywhere, and the ground itself is partially frozen. But if the sun comes out, the surface turns into soupy mud. I used one of my old pair of boots.

The next section is called “Big Burn”. It’s aptly named as this is a relentless uphill section from the creek bed in William’s Gulch all the way up to the next ridge top at nearly 3400 feet, bringing your total elevation gain to about 3200 feet, and you’ve only hiked about 5.0 miles. In springtime, this is a great section for spotting wildflowers. At 3080 feet is a little outcrop called Schlieper Rock that can easily be scrambled for some fine easterly views, but you can also see pretty well from the trail. The weather conditions on this hike were changing. In the morning it looked kind of if’y, but later some fog came through up high and we had hiked right into it. I was expecting, or should I say hoping, to maybe enjoy clear views which have been good enough in the past to see the mighty Sierra Nevada in all its winter glory, however the high fog was thoroughly preventing that. Instead we got very chilly winds and sub 40 temperatures. No matter; we were having fun just the same. Turning the corner at the partially frozen Johnny’s Pond (no clue who Johnny was), we headed down to Murietta Fall.

Murietta Fall
Murietta Fall occurs when a couple of very seasonal creeks join together and flow down a large crevasse cutting down the center of a large jagged rock formation jutting form the hills. The rock formation can be seen while hiking down the trail, but the water eroded crevasse is so deep that you cannot see the actual fall until you hike all the way down to the bottom. The trail to get there is not marked, and is almost un-noticeable. It would be easy to walk right past it if you did not know what to look for. You walk out along the rocks and climb down a steep trail almost scrambling in places down to about 2857 feet at the base of the fall. That makes Murietta the highest waterfall in the bay area. On this day, it was flowing strong; much stronger than I have ever seen it. The fall comes cascading down the jagged course of rock and splashes into a little pool at the bottom, the sonic embellishment making it a perfect place to relax for awhile. On the hike out we spotted a golden eagle, but not close enough for pictures. The eagle is unmistakable with such a commanding swift soar, its flight feathers extended like flaps, nary flapping its wings at all, cutting over the terrain. The sun came out for awhile on the way back making the trails even soupier, but we expected that. We found that walking through patches of snow works great for cleaning boot soles. So that’s my hot tech tip for today. We had a fine time even though the better weather would have been on Sunday. You can view my trip report with GPS track and photos at EveryTrail.
(fixed the track log)


Chris Marks said...

One of my favorite hikes around the Bay. Murietta falls is an absolute gem and even on a weekend you can have it just about to yourself. Timing IS everything with Murietta. Jan/Feb is always the ideal time to visit - but even then only after a big downpour.

Waypoints said...

So true. This was the only time I've actually caught Murietta in peak flow. I love to do the Ohlone trail in spring for the wildflowers, but I usually don't divert over to the fall. Just as well because it's usually not flowing very well then.