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Priest Rock

Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve

Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve Links:

December 27th, 1998

8.0 miles
2280 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:11

Rating: 6/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

Jean and I hiked by Priest Rock in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve.

The Bay Area had been experiencing unseasonable cold for a couple weeks when we did this hike. There'd been snow on Mt. Hamilton, even down to about 1000 feet at times. There'd been a light rain the night before our hike, and the day was shrouded in mist in the morning. But as we drove to Sierra Azul, the clouds lifted and the sun shone brightly.

The hike starts next to Lexington Reservoir, and climbs and climbs up a service road. There's not much let-up to the climbing for the 4 miles to the top. It averages close to 11% grade, but there are several short sections which are closer to 20%. Unfortunately, where it wasn't steep, it was muddy. After a particularly bad stretch, I felt like I had mud bricks attached to the bottoms of my boots. The mud was only in a very few places, though (i.e., the trail wasn't flat very much).

Trees line the trail much of the way, but there are plenty of spots to take in the views. Manzanitas were easy to spot. In places they grew in bush form like in Henry Coe, but in others they grew with obvious trunks. We spotted an olive tree, eucalyptus trees, and holly. There were many more, but I'd need a field guide to distinguish them. We didn't see much in the way of animal life -- mostly birds, a few squirrels.

The climbing actually made it quite hot underneath the clear blue sky. But at about the 2000 foot elevation, we started to see tiny patches of snow on the trail in the shade. Quite a treat -- that's the first time I've ever hiked next to snow in the Bay Area, though I've biked next to patches near the top of Mt. Hamilton (at over 4000 feet elevation).

The Priest Rock Trail is really a service road, all the way to the Kennedy Trail. It's a very popular trail for mountain bikers, most of whom we saw gunning down the trail (they could have been making a loop trip, going up using another trail). There were a few joggers, as well.

Fog spreading over the valley, as seen from near the summit

At the top, we could actually see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Fog seeped into the Bay Area, and could be seen blanketing the area below. By walking a short distance along the Kennedy Trail, we were able to look out toward Mt .Hamilton, peeking high above the fog.

The return trip was almost all downhill, and it started to get much colder as the sun dropped further and further toward the horizon. But we made it back with plenty of light to spare, a nice change from my recent previous excursions.

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