A Special Girls Hike to Borel Hill

Ridge Trail

Since moving to the Bay Area, Onur and I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with our dear friends, Pooja and Sri, and their two precocious children, Eesha and Vikram. Sri and I met in graduate school, and after some years, he and his wife Pooja hosted me in their warm Sunnyvale apartment as I was driving up the west coast to Washington State. Fast forward almost ten years, and unbelievably, we're now just a few neighborhoods away. 

Pooja and I had talked about going hiking sometime, and decided on a special girls hike for a fun outing together. I wanted to take her and Eesha to a destination—preferably someplace with views, wildflowers, and wildlife less than an hour's drive from the South Bay. 

I chose one of my favorite preserves: Russian Ridge Preserve, named for a Russian immigrant, Mr. Paskey, who ran a dairy farm on the land from 1920-1950. What makes this 3,137-acre preserve so special are bursting wildflowers in the springtime, views of the mountains, bay, and Pacific Ocean, and the open, often treeless ridgeline: A perfect spot for Mr. Paskey's cattle. And ridgeline enthusiasts like me.

A particularly scenic route is hiking the Ridge Trail just under a mile to Borel Hill, elevation 2,572 feet, the highest named point in San Mateo County and one of the Sierra Club's "Nifty Ninety Peaks." I thought this would be a great starting point for our girls hike, and, if we wanted to go further, we could continue on a shady, 4.4 mile loop I learned about in 101 Great Hikes San Francisco Bay Area.


Right from the start, I was enchanted with Eesha's observations and curiosity about everything on the trail. She and Pooja spotted beetles, birds, lizards, a small bunny, tidy tips, thistle, lupine, buckeye, and bright orange California poppies.

We picked out the familiar shapes of Mount Diablo, Mission Peak, Monument Peak, the San Francisco Bay, and Mount Umunhum.

We identified the north, south, west, east directions of the mountains, bay, and Pacific Ocean.

We talked about Leave No Trace, yielding to uphill hikers, why dogs weren't allowed on the trail, and hiking in the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space Preserves. 

We took our time.

Incredibly, a misty cloud blanketed the hillsides, making it feel mystical and theatrical. Birds quietly sang, lizards darted along the scrub, and grasslands rose up around the trail as if to confirm the trail's existence.

We didn't always know the answers to what this particular plant was or that particular bird or insect, but we encouraged each other to come up with ideas. One that stumped us was why dog poop turns white. (Any theories?)


When we did reach our destination—Borel Hill—the cumulative effort of all our observations seemed to melt into the accomplishment. I loved taking it all in through Pooja and Eesha's eyes: Eesha's fascination with all the flowers and wildlife and seeing them both enjoy the views and wonder of the hike.

I also learned a valuable lesson. I had initially picked another peak, Mindego Hill, for our first hike together in Russian Ridge Preserve. It had seemed exceptionally scenic but didn't have much information written about it. Deciding to go check it out one day, I quickly learned the hike starts with a steep descent (600 feet), followed by a 400 foot climb. Although beautiful, it would have been a strenuous hike for our first outing together. 

After telling Onur about my hike-scouting experience at Mindego Hill, he reminded me of a saying I tell him when we're trying to decide what to cook for dinner guests: Always cook something you've done before. You know it and there's less chance of a disaster. This held true for me taking my friends hiking too; it worked out well to have had some familiarity with the trail first. I could relax and point out neat characteristics of the hike, and I knew it was a gentle route that suited us. 

Here's what else learned from our experience:

1. The simplest plan can be the best one. The short, 1.5 mile roundtrip hike to Borel Hill gave us the accomplishment of reaching a peak, while short enough to work for a good starter outing. At the same time, the preserve's 10+ miles of trails gave us the flexibility of going further if we felt like it. 

2. Company is the point. I focused on our conversation, looking at things that captured Eesha's attention, and just enjoying our time together, which made it a relaxing, enjoyable, and entertaining outing.

3. Special treats make it more fun. Having a girls breakfast afterwards gave us something to look forward to, more time to catch up, and the pleasure of enjoying a treat afterwards.

The best part? Eesha asking when we could do it again :)