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Easygoing "peak" climbing just east of Berkeley.

Easygoing "peak' climbing just east of Berkeley

There's a lilt to the air these days that can make your legs want to get up and get going. While it's a little early for most High Sierra outings, it's a good time for Bay Area residents to challenge some local hills. A prime candidate: Briones Peak, in the hills east of Berkeley.

"Peak' conjures up the wrong image-- there's no craggy, moon-raking promontory here. Among many knolls on a grassy upland, Briones Peak happens to be just a little higher than its neighbors.

But the walk up is delightful. Summer's gold has taken over the sunny slopes here in Briones Regional Park, with traces of spring green lingering along shady creeksides. Wildflowers can be seen in patches of color, from the white and yellow of creamcups to the orange of Indian paintbrush and the dark blue of lupine.

Trails lead to the 1,483-foot peak from all park staging (parking) areas. Using the Briones Road Staging Area (1 on the map) gives you the shortest walk.

From State 24 in Lafayette, go a mile north on Pleasant Hill Road, turn left onto Reliez Valley Road, continue 5 miles to Alhambra Valley Road, go west a short short to Briones Road (watch for the small park road sign on your left), and follow that narrow road as it winds about 1 1/2 miles up to the parking area at the 860-foot level.

Heading south from here on Old Briones Road Trail, you'll pass shady slopes twinkling with wildflowers. In less than a mile, the trail emerges onto an upland meadow grazed by Herefords and black Angus and punctuated by natural year-round lakes called the Maricich Lagoons. Bear left onto Briones Crest Trail; a short ways farther, an obvious spur leads up to the redwood bench at the crest (a 2-mile hike in all, one way).

View from the top

Gaze around as you reach the crest. From this vantage point, you have fine views north toward Carquinez Strait and the town of Martinez, east to 3,849-foot Mount Diablo, and south to rolling Lafayette Ridge.

Most of the land immediately around you was part of Rancho Boca de la Canada del Pinole in the 1800s, owned by the Briones family. Cattle grazed here then (as they still do), and grain, fruit, and vegetables were grown for use and sale.

Listen--can you hear the sighing of Dona Maria Manuela de Briones, mourning her husband Felipe, felled in 1839 by an Indian's arrow?

Three other approaches

These hikes use staging areas numbered 2, 3, and 4 on the map above.

Newest approach is provided by the Alhambra Creek Valley Staging Area (2). Look for a big park sign on Reliez Valley Road 4 1/2 miles north of Pleasant Hill Road. At the sizable parking lot a mile up the paved park entry road, you'll likely see a few horse trailers; the creek trail is especially popular with local horse owners (sad to say, there are no rental stables).

Cross a stream bed to a picnic site--10 tables, 6 with barbecues--in a tree-rimmed meadow, then follow signs for Alhambra Creek Trail. At first nearly level, it steepens and moves into the shade of live oaks, buckeyes, and great bay laurels as it approaches Spengler Trail. If you follow Spengler west and north around a shoulder, you'll soon reach the aforementioned upland meadow and the connection to the peak (3 1/4 miles in all).

Another approach is to park at the small Gloria Terrace Staging Area (3), where Gloria Terrace Road ends at Reliez Valley Road. The Live Oak Trail that starts here has been partly damaged by slides; this approach is for hikers only. It takes you almost straight west, climbing steadily, to join Briones Crest Trail a short 1/2 mile from the spur leading to the crest (about 2 1/4 miles in all).

Fourth approach is from Bear Creek Staging Area (4) on the park's west side. To reach it, take the Orinda exit off State 24 and follow Camino Pablo northwest 2 miles to Bear Creek Road; turn right. Continue northeast on Bear Creek for 4 miles as it winds through farms and ranches to the signed entry.

There are picnic tables here, a children's play area, and a public field archery course maintained by Briones Archery Club (call 415/647-7249 for details).

From the parking lot, your route to the peak takes you northeast on Old Briones Road Trail to join Briones Crest Trail. Turn right; in less than a mile, you'll see the spur to the crest (2 1/2 miles in all).

Mountain bikes, parking, dogs

The dirt roads of the old rancho attract devotees of the knobby-tired mountain bicycles so popular these days. Sunday mornings and many Wednesday evenings, weather permitting, riders leave the Bear Creek parking lot on 12- to 15-mile rides.

Parking fee is $1.50 at Alhambra and Bear Creek areas; fee for dogs (they're permitted on park trails) is 50 cents. Hours are 8 A.M. to dusk. For a free folder recounting the rancho's history and showing trails and the sites of two group camping areas, write to East Bay Regional Park District, 11500 Skyline Blvd., Oakland 94619, or call (415) 531-9300.

Photo: Sunlight on oaks and buckeyes silhouettes a trio enjoying the Old Briones Road Trail

Photo: They're striding up to the peak for view of distant hills. In back, old Briones road winds down to Bear Creek parking area

Photo: Major freeways cut close to the 5,086-acre park, but local roads are winding, bucolic. Numbers show four main staging areas

Photo: Silence--then the twang of a bowstring as an arrow flies 80 yards to its target, one of many set up near the Bear Creek entrance
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Briones Regional Park, California
Date:Jun 1, 1986
Previous Article:Want to paint Mendocino?
Next Article:Birds of the Great Basin.

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