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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;Those who hope in the Lord
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:19.)
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles … . (Isaiah 40:31.)
[If you click on the photos they come up in much better detail and clarity.]