Mount Diablo is situated deep in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area (or East Bay), North of Pleasanton and East of Walnut Creek. The mountain is part of the Diablo Range, a mountain range that stretches from East Bay all the way down to the Salinas Valley. Much of the mountain, including its peak, is in protected land via the Mount Diablo State Park. A cursory glance of Mount Diablo’s wiki page reveals an interesting fact: the mountain is sacred to many Native American peoples in California and is even regarded by some as the point of creation.
There are three iconic bike climbs in the Bay Area: Mount Diablo, Mount Tamalpais (Mount Tam), and Mount Hamilton (Mount Ham? No not really). I haven’t attempted the latter two but Mount Diablo is apparently “less tranquil than Mount Hamilton and less scenic than Mount Tam”. At least it has the best name. It’s summit is 3849 feet above sea level and the climb from the south is about 3300 feet. This is spread over 11.3 miles and has an average grade of 5.8%. Not too bad but it definitely warrants extra training before, especially for the inexperienced. The mountain is easily accessible by Bart. The base is only 6 miles from the Walnut Creek station.
This state park entrance is known as the North Gate. What’s weird is that it’s located way south of the park. Past it, the road gets significantly steeper and the real climbing begins. It was going to be an especially hot day and I could definitely feel the heat rising by this time. Thankfully, the humidity stayed low and it was bearable. I neglected to put on sunscreen (not smart) but surprisingly, I didn’t get a sunburn. This has been a consistent phenomenon over many of my previous bike trips.
The mountain and its surroundings looked extremely dry. It was a sea of yellow with the occasional green shrubs and trees. Was this because of the drought or was this seasonally normal? Hopefully the latter.
This was taken at around 2000 feet. The entire climb had so far been a slow grind with the intermittent struggle when the road became exceptionally steep. Thankfully, the steep points were far and few in between. It’s actually a very rewarding process as you can gauge progress by how much the view has improved since the last time you looked.
These were taken at around 2500 to 3000 feet. Remarkable views but very tired legs. The thought of all the food I could eat at the summit served as a good motivator. Really, who could say no to protein and granola bars? Exquisite! No kidding though, good views and strenous exercise makes even bland food tasty.
Finally made it! Fittingly, the last hundred yards was the most brutal of the whole climb. It gets up to 16% grade and you’re pretty much forced to ride standing up. Needless to say, I was quite tired and was highly tempted to walk the last bit. I couldn’t do it. I could see the finish line and pushed on for the summit views (and the food).
The summit had a parking lot with a quaint little stone building (the Visitor Center) overlooking the Northern California landscape. Apparently you could actually stand on the very tip of the mountain inside the Visitor Center although I didn’t know it then. The building also had a roof that was open to visitors. The best views can be found there.
To my pleasant surprise, the summit was a lot less busy than what I would’ve expected for noon on a Saturday.
The viewshed at Mount Diablo’s summit is quite impressive. Some even say that it’s the largest in the world (though unfounded). It does indeed have one of the best in the Western United States and this is remarkable considering it’s relatively low elevation. The Sierra Nevada is clearly visible from the summit and apparently you should also be able to see Sentinel Dome in Yosemite and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
I’m pretty sure I downed over a thousand calories in a far shorter time than socially appropriate at the summit. Some say your appetite actually diminishes after long periods of exercise. Not me, mine balloons. Guilt-free eating is the best kind of eating.
Food consumed, views admired, all that’s left was the downhill. It’s the easiest part of the trip, physically at least, and also the most dangerous. Although you can’t feel it during the climb, the mountain road twists and turns at sharp angles and a miscalculation in speed when entering any of these turns could have disastrous consequences. This is especially true with the frequent car coming up the mountain.
I’m no pro at cycling and definitely not great at making sharp turns at high speeds. There are some that are, and they do it angled over as you often see motorcyclists do in races. I can’t (yet) and maybe it’s for the better. Each of my corners was preceeded by generous braking. Nonetheless, it was a very scenic downhill and the effortless biking at such high speeds made it even better.
Overall, Mount Diablo was a challenging but fun and rewarding ride. After a busy week, I definitely enjoyed having some time to myself.