Murietta Falls, a 12.5 mile hike with 4500 feet cumulative elevation gain in the Ohlone Regional Wilderness, has been described as "brutal" and "strenuous." I came away from it feeling like it was more of a “quest” than a hike, requiring stamina and stealthy timing to see the falls. It turns out the 100-foot tall, threadlike waterfall depends on a steady flow of rain to make it go. Too early in the rainy season and it’s a trickle or nothing at all. By late spring, the falls dry up. Here’s a bit about what I discovered on the trail and what makes the hike special to me. This week’s inspiration comes from Smokey Robinson.
I set out for Murietta Falls with the same mentality I use on difficult hikes: Hike only as a fast as my body can comfortably keep a steady pace. On an easier hike that usually comes out to about 2.0 miles per hour. On hikes like Mount Whitney where altitude is a factor, it came out to 1.0 mile per hour. For Murietta Falls, it turned out to be something in between: 1.6 miles per hour. Slow! And yet, I’m not embarrassed to say I hike slowly. Over time I’ve realized that by adjusting my speed to suit the hike, I have a good chance of completing it. That is really my goal—to spend time outside, to take pictures, and to complete the hike I set out to do that day.
Murietta Falls is special to me for a couple reasons. The first is the “quest” of the thing—getting the timing of the falls right and getting through all the elevation gain, especially the brutal 1,200 feet on the return. The second is the stunning grasslands and oak savannah. Since learning there are deciduous oaks and evergreen oaks, it is as if my hikes have gone from black and white to color. Now when I see yellow and brown fallen oak leaves, I can narrow it down to blue oaks, black oaks, and valley oaks. When I see deep green oak leaves in the dead of winter, there’s a strong possibility they are canyon live oak, coast live oak, or interior live oak. There are many more species, but these are the ones that seem most prevalent, and ones I am currently practicing telling apart.
And so I finished the punishing hike to Murietta Falls, hiking rather slowly but taking it all in. I joked on Instagram that Murietta Falls should come with a warning sign. Warning: You will want to hike the full 28-mile Ohlone Regional Wilderness Trail after hiking to Murietta Falls. The first 5.3 miles of the Murietta Falls hike are on the Ohlone Regional Wilderness Trail, a 28-mile one-way hiking trail that is only open to hikers and horseback riders. It stretches west to east, beginning at Mission Peak Regional Preserve, continuing through the Sunol Regional Wilderness and Ohlone Regional Wilderness, and finishing at Lake Del Valle in Del Valle Regional Park. Murietta Falls definitely inspired me to consider hiking the Ohlone Regional Wilderness Trail this spring, when the hills will be alive in wildflowers and the sun exposure still bearable.
Next week, it will have been one year since we moved to the Bay Area. Sometimes people ask me what the difference is between hiking in Seattle and hiking in the Bay Area. I hold my hands apart like bookends and pretend I'm shifting the Sierra Nevada west, closer to San Francisco. That's one. The other is the shaded conifer forests of hemlock, cedar, and fir in the Pacific Northwest. I never thought to value shade. When you backpack, you learn the value of water and the value of time. Now I know.
Hope you will find gratitude in what you have this week.
My inspiration this week is Smokey Robinson, who was on Oprah's Master Class podcast last Wednesday, January 9. I loved this excerpt is particular about appreciating friends and colleagues who push you and the joy in helping others succeed. You can listen to it beginning at 15:01.