Hiking Blue Ridge: Higher Than An Eagle’s Wings, Surer Than A Deer On The Heights

I hiked Blue Ridge above Lake Berryessa in the Vaca Mountains of northern California. It was still a few minutes before 6:00 when I stepped out of the car into the cool air, the sun shining but still low on the eastern horizon, the trail along the creek deep in the canyon dark in morning shadows.

The Buckeye trees and canyon flowers gave way to grasses as I hiked upstream, crossing the almost-dry creekbed and edging along the trail for a mile or more before it turned sharply to the right and up the side of the mountain. From trailhead to crest is a 1500 foot ascent, and then a 1500 foot descent as well by the time the five mile hike is complete. Pine trees crowd the climb at first and then give way to oaks. The ridge is near when the oaks in turn give way to manzanita.

Up on the ridgetop, the trail as it starts through the chaparral

Up on the ridgetop, the trail as it starts through the chaparral

But that’s not the end of the climb.

The mountain range extends for miles behind, with this section of trail leading to the ridge’s end where it is cut by a creek from the next range continuing farther north. The end of the range is also the height of the hike, but to reach it you must climb up along the spine and then dip back down and then go higher still and then down again and eventually reach the highest point.

The ridge in morning shadow and light

The ridge in morning shadow and light. My way went up and to the right.

This portion of the California Coast Range – a 400+ mile long mountain range made up of smaller overlapping mountain ranges – separates the large Sacramento valley from tiny Suisun Valley, while over the ridge to the west lies Napa Valley with its grapes, then over the next western range is the Sonoma Valley (Jack London’s storied Valley of the Moon) and yet more western mountains separating these inland areas from the vast Pacific.

Traversing boulders

Traversing boulders

The views are stunning from these heights, but not easily gained. It’s not just the climb up the steep mountainside to get to the top, but that much of the trail is nothing more than boulders to be traversed.

There was plenty of evidence of the native inhabitants as well. Coyote scat and deer beds were all along the trail, while crows cawed and quail gave their gentle ca-ca-cow (“Chicago” some say it sounds like). Lizards and rabbits scurried under brush as I passed by.

Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa

The wind rose from the lake below, the updraft strong enough to make me plant my feet carefully on the boulders as I looked down to the lake more than a thousand feet below my perch.

These same updrafts occasionally lift  raptors on high, circling and swooping as they look down in search of prey. But they are not looking down on me. Rather I am high enough that I look upon their backs, lit by the sun, seeing their shadows far below them brushing the chaparral in which the rabbits hide.

Boulders at the height.

Boulders at the height.

At the highest point of the hike, just as the ridge is ready to terminate over the canyon below, stand a group of boulders. To say you’ve reached the very top, it’s necessary to climb atop them. So I do, every time.

Then it is time to begin the downward trek, switchbacks and stairs cut into the hillside to protect the soil and the hikers upon it. And as I walked down I thought of God’s promise to keep my feet sure on the mountain heights, and to raise me up as if on eagle’s wings.

I get a taste of that every time I hike Blue Ridge. His word comes alive, and I am blessed to walk in it as I walked that trail.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:19.)

Those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles … . (Isaiah 40:31.)

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[If you click on the photos they come up in much better detail and clarity.]

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6 Responses to Hiking Blue Ridge: Higher Than An Eagle’s Wings, Surer Than A Deer On The Heights

  1. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for sharing this experience with us, Tim — beautiful writing. And the verses made me think: sometimes we reach the heights by flying effortlessly (it seems), and sometimes it’s a tough, slow climb.

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    Sounds so beautiful! I love hiking. We have a big pile of boulders around that are fun to climb. Your post makes me think of the exploring we will do on the new heavens and the new earth. And I won’t have to be afraid of snakes there!

    • Tim says:

      There will be an infinite number of vistas to explore in the new creation, won’t there? In the meantime if you are ever out this way you can join the hike. We haven’t run into a rattler yet on that ridge. Nor a mountain lion. I think the rattlers and mountain lions are sleeping at the time I get there.

  3. Adriana says:

    First of all, thank you for the pictures! — You know I’m a picture person. These are stunning! Very Ansel Adams-esque!

    And thank you for the careful descriptions of your experience. The part where you were looking down on birds of prey and seeing their shadows far below made me think of my first transcontinental flight — I was enthralled by the sight of the shadows on the surface of the ocean made by the clouds we were flying over! A change in perspective can be pure magic.

    Lauren Winner introduced me to the idea of “dislocated exegesis.” I had actually been doing it most of my life, but she gave me a fancy name for the practice. It’s simply reading Scripture in a place other than my reading chair or church pew. It fills up my senses!
    ♫. . . like a night in a forest . . . like the mountains in spring time . . . like a walk in the rain . . . ♫

    I read classic lit out in nature too. There is this certain spot in the woods were I once read a chapter of Anna Karenina and every time I pass it I think of the moment when Levin is walking out of the fields and he glimpses Kitty in a carriage and realizes he still loves her. And then there was the time I was walking by the river listening to Pilgrim’s Progress and suddenly there was Christian and Pilgrim walking beside the River of Life! I could go on and on . . .

    All that to say, I like your post and think the Scripture passage is very appropriate. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Your lit and nature experiences remind me that place can be just as meaningful as prose, and the two together are a powerful combination, Adriana. I am so glad you liked this post!

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