Christmas 2012: Spent on Peaks

I decided to hike some peaks to celebrate Christmas this year since I’m flying solo in a new city. In the morning I drove to Montana de Ora State Park and hiked the Valencia Peak Trail. The Park has a very cool entrance, with a road that winds through a tree grove. Scenic views of the Pacific are to the right, rolling hills and peaks are to the left. Valencia Peak is 1,347 feet high, with a two mile trail leading to the summit. When I arrived no other cars were parked at the trail head, and I thought no one else planned to celebrate Christmas on this particular mountain. By the time I reached the halfway point I saw glimpses of someone dressed in red well ahead of me on the trail. I caught up to her on the summit. Her name was Virginia, and she was a long-time resident of the area. She good-naturedly told me that she had been watching me gain on her and it inspired her competitive streak–she was determined to stay ahead to the peak. She pointed out the visible members of the Nine Sisters (the volcanic peaks in San Luis Obispo County). We talked for awhile, then she left and several other friendly people arrived. I spent about 30 minutes on the summit in conversation, taking in the beautiful views.

On the summit of Valencia Peak, with Morro Bay behind me.

On the summit of Valencia Peak, with Morro Bay behind me.

The sky was a bit gray, but visibility was still pretty good. The view of Morro Bay was nice. Morro Rock is impressive.

Morro Bay viewed from Valencia Peak.

Morro Bay viewed from Valencia Peak. The Bay is on the right, the Pacific is to the left.

Since the rains have been falling the landscape has been getting greener. The hills and peaks of the central coast are beautiful.

The view inland.

The view inland, California hills.

The peak beside Valencia had been burnt recently as part of a controlled burn. The effect was a bit eerie, a darkened mountain with little tree skeletons on the ridge.

A neighboring peak burnt recently.

The neighboring peak that burnt recently.

Looking down at the coast was mesmerizing. The waves crashed into the rocky shore. I plan to return to the Park to sit by the coast and watch the fishing birds. I’ve also been told that whales can be seen off this coast at times.

A coastline view, with the trail visible in the foreground.

A coastline view, with the trail visible in the foreground. That trail is about 1000 feet above the shoreline.

Another coastline scene, this photographed from a lower vantage point.

Another coastline scene, this photographed from a lower vantage point.

It was almost noon when I got back to my car. Many people were out hiking by that time. I drove back to SLO and parked at a trail head for Bishop Peak, one of the Nine Sisters. Bishop’s Peak is 1,559 feet high, and the trail is a bit more rugged than the Valencia Peak Trail. I think it is  about 2.2 miles long. I hiked to the top, greeting hikers and runners frequently. One exchange made me laugh. A middle-aged couple walked by, descending as I was ascending. I said hello. He responded with “Happy Hanukkah!” His wife looked at him funny. Then as they walked along the cutback below me I clearly heard this exchange:

Her: “Why did you wish him a happy Hanukkah?”
Him: “He’s Jewish.”
Her: “How could you tell?”
Him: “His shirt said Temple.”
Her: “That’s a university. And Hanukkah is already over.
Him: “Oh.”

At the top of the trail there are mounds of boulders that can be scaled to reach the true peak. I climbed most of the way up these boulders, but some of the overhangs and points looked a bit scary. I did not want to celebrate Christmas by falling 1,559 feet–so I left those alone.

From the top of the official trail the view of SLO is obscured partially by boulders. Just below the top of the trail there is a short path to an outlook on the SLO side. The city is nestled in the valley.

San Luis Obispo viewed from Bishop peak.

San Luis Obispo viewed from Bishop peak.

That's my town.

Posing with my new home (Madonna Mountain is the green peak right behind my head and shoulders–I plan to hike that soon).

One thing I learned this afternoon: if you hike up a mountain it is important to remember which side of the mountain you parked on. Thanks to cutbacks and winding trails I got disoriented enough to pick the wrong side. So upon descending I had to walk around the base of Bishop Peak to reach my car.

Tonight I Skyped with my family for a bit. When my niece asked me where I was I told her her California. She responded with “Tortilla?” She thought I was at California Tortilla.

It’s been an exhausting day. California continues to be beautiful and friendly.

Merry Christmas and to all a good night.

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