Thursday, May 14, 2020

Brushy Peak (SF Bay Area)

Mission Peak and Sunol Ridge from high slopes of Brushy Peak
4.3 miles loop, 750 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Paved but narrow road to trailhead, free parking lot

Brushy Peak is a small, oak-covered, double-peaked summit rising above the treeless hills of the Diablo Range near Altamont Pass, which separates the San Francisco Bay Area from the Central Valley. This short and fairly easy hike visits the higher slopes of Brushy Peak, providing views over Livermore Valley to Mission Peak and Pleasanton Ridge and a closer look at the Altamont Pass Wind Farm. It's a pleasant hike that's nicer when the hills are green during the spring. The hike lies in Brushy Peak Regional Preserve, a park administered by the East Bay Regional Park District of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The loop I'll describe here is a clockwise walk through the park, starting on the lower leg of the Westside Loop and then finishing by visiting the peak's higher reaches on the Brushy Peak Trail.

I hiked Brushy Peak in early May, arriving early to avoid the heat of midday. From the Bay Area, I took I-580 east from Hayward towards the Central Valley. After passing through Dublin and most of the city of Livermore, I exited at Vasco Road, the last exit before I-580 started its climb towards Altamont Pass. Taking Vasco Road north, I immediately turned right onto Northfront Road, which I followed east along I-580 until reaching Laughlin Road. Turning left on Laughlin Road, I followed it north until it ended at the Brushy Peak Trailhead. The last stretch of this road was narrow and just a single lane for both directions, but the terrain is open and there's only a single blind turn. Brushy Peak was visible along the entire drive up Laughlin Road and rose a short distance away from the trailhead.

From the trailhead parking area, I started from the trail on the west end to hike the loop clockwise. Passing through the gate, I started on the Westside Loop Trail. Immediately, the loop forked: left to take the ridge, right to follow the flat bottom of the drainage. For variety, I chose to take the right fork through the valley, as the return leg on the Brushy Peak Trail is a high route.

The trail wrapped around the base of the hills, staying just above the flat, meadowy bottom of the valley. Brushy Peak with its distinctive double wooded summits rose just ahead. Sheep were grazing the slopes of the hills above me, a nice change from the cows more commonly spotted along hikes in the Bay Area.

Brushy Peak
After three-quarters of a mile, the trail reached the foot of Brushy Peak and passed by a small, peaceful pond. The trail ran along the west side of the pond and then began climbing up a gully on the side of the mountain.

Pond at the base of Brushy Peak
After a short but steep climb, I came to the junction with the Brushy Peak Loop Trail, a single track trail which led off to the right and began a moderate, steady ascent.

Heading up Brushy Peak
As this trail stayed out in the open, there were views almost immediately. The pond appeared at the foot of the nearby hills while the ridges of the Diablo Range on the south side of Livermore Valley began to emerge as well.

Grassy Diablo Range hills and the Brushy Peak pond
The trail continued climbing up the gully, wrapping around the lower summit of Brushy Peak. A house appeared on the ridge above as the trail approached the edge of the preserve. The trail approached the houses quite closely as it swung up to the northern boundary of the park before switchbacking south and heading towards the saddle between the two peaks. The higher reaches of the peak still had green grass, which paired with the oaks on the mountain to beautifully frame views of Livermore Valley with Mission Peak and Sunol Ridge in the distance.

High slopes of Brushy Peak
As the trail approached the saddle, I looked back towards the houses on the ridge and spotted Mount Diablo just barely peaking above nearby mountains of the Diablo Range; this was my only view of Mount Diablo of the hike.

Glimpse of Mount Diablo and the development behind Brushy Peak
Passing through the saddle, the trail flattened out as it arrived at the high point of the hike. The next stretch of trail followed the oak-dotted high slopes of the peak, featuring nice views of the Altamont Pass Wind Farm. When construction started on the first windmills in the early 1980s, this was one of the first major wind farms in the United States. For a time, it was the largest wind farm in the world. Only the outermost ridges of the wind farm are visible here, carrying just a handful of windmills, but the farther ridges carry row after row of them.

Altamont Pass Wind Farm
The trail does not visit the summit of Brushy Peak, which is off limits to hikers. Passing about 200 feet in elevation below the summit, the trail crossed over the rocky spine of the hill, which for some reason was dotted up and down with copious blooming monkeyflower. This spot was about two miles from the trailhead.

The high point offered nice views to the south and west. Below, Livermore Valley was one of three valleys in the Tri-Valley area, a suburban zone holding San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore nestled in the Diablo Range. Livermore is home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a Department of Energy research facility. Element 116, an unstable and rapidly decaying chemical element only observable in the lab, was named livermorium after Lawrence Livermore Lab's contribution to science.

View over Livermore to Mission and Monument Peaks from trail high point
After passing the rocky ridge, the oaks ended and I was back out in open grasslands. The trail began descending and made a bend to the south after passing through a high gully. The open terrain allowed me to see some dramatic wildlife interactions: I saw a pair of raptors apparently fighting in the sky over Brushy Peak.

Brushy Peak Trail through grassy hillsides
The trail then gradually descended on the sides of the long south ridge running down from Brushy Peak. The path was through open grassy hillsides, so views out into Livermore Valley provided constant engagement. The trail then made a major bend to wrap around the ridge and began descending down into a longer valley below. I enjoyed the last of the views before dropping back down to lower elevations.

Descending through grassy hills of the Diablo Range
The trail met the bottom of the ravine and turned sharply, passing through a gate and then following the dry creekbed out of the valley. At the mouth of the valley, the trail passed a small manmade pond, then it turned back into the main valley from the start of the hike and arrived at the trailhead parking lot.

There were a decent number of other hikers on this trail, but it wasn't crowded. The views on this hike are nice but not superlative; it's an enjoyable jaunt for residents or if you're passing by and want to stretch your legs.

No comments:

Post a Comment