Climbing Mount Diablo From the Regency Gate
I think there’s an ordinance requiring every office in the east bay suburbs to display a painting of Mount Diablo. Our dentist, the doctor, and the school district office all have a mount Diablo painting hanging in their lobby. Even the DMV has a Mount Diablo painting. While driving around town you always know where you are based on the peak looming in the distance. Since moving to East Bay in July I have been itching to climb the peak that dominates our landscape. I knew I would climb Mount Diablo as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
All the online hiking guides advise against attempting the hike in summer, but I am pretty sure most those trail reports are written by aging hippies. How hard can it be to climb a 3800 foot hill in summer? On the way to the trailhead I stopped at CVS and bought a couple big bottles of water and a Gatorade. I was also provisioned with a half a bag of ginger snaps and a granola bar. I also carried a space blanket – just in case.
The closest entrance to Mount Diablo State Park (for me) is the Regency Gate. This access point has the added benefit of street parking and no park fees. The hike starts at the edge of the suburbs. At the park gate there is a big trail map along with the requisite mountain lion and rattlesnake warning signs. I am beginning to think California parks post those warnings for strictly romantic reasons. How much cooler is your neighborhood when you believe that an apex predator could be lurking just beyond the back hedge? The idea of a mountain lion is almost as exciting as the real thing.
Here’s where you park — the end of Regency Drive in Clayton. Clayton is pretty safe, however, whenever I do a hike in the bay area I take all valuables out of my car and I leave it with the all windows rolled down and the doors unlocked. This tells the thiefs you are a pro and they don’t mess with your car. Otherwise, you are just asking for a busted window and having all your Kenny Loggins CDs stolen.
The trail begins easy enough. From the Regency Gate follow the Donner Creek/Canyon trail (the trail on the left in the above picture). It’s mostly flat for the first several miles. The above photo was taken at the very start of the hike. The goal, the peak of Mount Diablo, is visible in the distance. It’s about six miles away.
Here’s a cropped view of the summit. You can see the lookout tower if you squint hard enough.
For about two miles the scenery is classic east bay hills with stands of oak trees and dry grass. It’s pleasant, but don’t let this part of the hike fool you. The going gets tough soon enough.
Here’s a nice shady glen. Enjoy it. The shade doesn’t last long.
Things are easy until they get hard. The real climbing starts abruptly. I told myself, “this slope can’t last long, it’s just so steep, it’s going to have to level out a bit.” But, it never levels out. In short order you climb above the pleasant shade of the oak groves and enter a godforsaken country of burnt looking bushes and no shade.
On long climbs I recommend a positive mental visualization. Have you ever watched a horse eat an apple? Crunch, crunch, crunch and the apple is gone. It’s no effort for the horse and looks so satisfying. That’s the image I hold in my head as I climb, a horse eating apples — one after another. I only stop for photos here and there. I know if I take a real break it’ll be all over. Plus, there isn’t much to look at. The middle portion of this hike is pretty ugly. Vultures are circling on rising air currents and the sun is oppressive.
Eventually the Donner Canyon trail comes to a “T” intersection. The shortest distance to the summit is via Prospectors Gap — hang a left. The trail to Prospectors Gap is at points the steepest part of the climb, but also, there are a couple short downhills and levels spots. The landscape at this elevation opens slightly with wide views of the suburbs far below. The Chaparral gives way to pines. It feels like you’re on a mountain now.
Eventually the Prospectors Gap trail climbs up to the gap. This is where the best park of the hike begins. Take a right on the single track trail — the summit trail.
The summit trail is very scenic. There are sweeping views of the south slope of Mount Diable, rocky out croppings, and shady stands of pine trees.
The goal is within reach. The summit trail comes around the south side of the mountain. From here you can see the Mount Diablo Lookout. It looks close, but there’s still another 3/4 mile of climbing. Near the top, the trail crosses a road and a parking lot. Up until this point I only saw two other hikers during the climb.
Ah, I made it to the top. My iPhone said the trail was 6.2 miles with a 3300 foot elevation gain. It took me 2:35 to reach the lookout. After a short break I started back down. The entire hike, including break, took me 4:51. My phone GPS says it was 12.45 miles.*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!