Ultralight backpackers from all over the world boast of prominent land features near their homes that define their backpacking. In the U.S., that might be the Rockies, the Sierra, the Great Smokies, or White Mountains.
My “local” favorite (10 hours from home) is the Sierra; my favorite spot Thousand Island Lake at 10,000 feet at the crossroads of the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails.
In the Eastern U.S., the White Mountains, which cover about a quarter of the state of New Hampshire and a small portion of western Maine, are most prominent. The highest mountain in the Northeast is Mount Washington at 6,200 feet — a rather dinky peak compared with the “fourteeners” (14,000 foot peaks) in Colorado. Astonishingly, there are 53 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado.
I’m sure each mountain range and peak offers its own special beauty with “tall” having nothing to do with it. Often times, however, it’s the smaller mountains that get overlooked. Among them is Mt. Diablo, located in the middle of the San Francisco East Bay and surrounded by a population of 600,000. Yet, if you are camping or backpacking there you could be a million miles from civilization. At 3,800, it dominates the landscape of Contra Costa County, California.
From the top you can see over the hills to downtown San Francisco, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, San Francisco Bay and on a clear day, Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, more than 200 miles away.
This weekend I car camped on Mt. Diablo, braving a driving rain one night, spending 12 hours in the tent. The next day, however, was beautiful bright sunshine and wispy white clouds with a blazing campfire to top off the day.
I’ve also completed the 28-mile backpack trail on the mountain twice — a wonderous trip you can enjoy all year around the San Francisco Bay Area’s temperate climate. In early spring (February/March) between rains when grass is green but short and trails not too muddy, the vistas are stunning.
Because it is close to local communities (Walnut Creek most prominently), there are always activities in the works built around hiking. But the backpacking trail offers a wide variety of vistas and is little used. Both trips, my friends and I were the only ones on the trail.
If you don’t have time for a backpack, try out the hiking trails, some of which are very demanding.
Check it out. And remember: Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.