MT. ST. HELENA (4,343') 20X December 16, 2004

Thinking of a big road trip out to Eastern Utah, I phoned the Arches National Park ranger to find there is now little or no snow, about the red rock, for winter photography. No live cams to check. Thus, I'd spend probably $500 just to hike the trails I haven't done already, and mostly see the same old sights again.

So, to delay the trip for a time when there is new snow and then sunny weather, I figured on doing a local few peaks and hikes. My plan was to climb Mt. St. Helena, then lodge in Ukiah, CA. Then, I'd drive to Russian Gulch State Park to do a few trails said to be good and easy. I might have the time to do other trails, or just enjoy the coastal drive, again. This wouldn't cost too much.

Not able to sleep again, I left home by about 4 a.m. to have a good breakfast along I-80. Taking CA 29 north, I stopped to catch the sunrise (photo, right) in the town of St. Helena, CA. This is an upscale, trendy town, with many window fronts nicely decorated for the holidays.

Motoring on to Calistoga, I walked about to snap more photos.

Then it was time to do the peak. I started from an empty parking area at about 8:30 a.m. I saw a banana slug on the dirt trail, and noted some new posts indicating the distances to the north peak, the highest one. Low clouds lay over the northern Napa Valley, and I snapped many a photo (below). It was cold and windy, so I wore four layers. The sun was out, above, but fog lay over much of the distant landscape. I decided later that the coast might be covered in clouds, when I got there, as I could see, so opted to cancel that plan.

I looked for ten minutes, but failed to find the register for the East Summit, or the now signed, "mid peak." This is the high point of Napa County. Descending back to the main dirt road, I ran into another hiker. We talked about peaks, and hikes, and we both summited at about 11:25 a.m., some three hours total time for me. Slow. But I was carrying my 23 pound day pack.

The Sierra was clearly seen above the Central Valley fog, and the ocean was covered in low clouds. I hoped for a clear enough view today to maybe spot Mt. Shasta, but only Lassen Peak, as usual, was seen. It appears that much of the snow from past storms had disappeared. Snow Mountain looked bare.

We both headed down at Noon, encountering a few more hikers coming up. Nobody was climbing at Bubble Rock. I took a few drink and rest breaks, then came back to my car by 2 p.m.

The hike is signed as 10 miles round trip, with some 2,400' gain. I use a road switchback shortcut just before the final stretch to the top.

I stopped at a bakery in Calistoga to refresh myself, and snapped a few more pictures with afternoon sun. I shot over 200 images. Nothing for movies. My total cash spent was a bit over $30 total. Plenty of fuel left in my tank. Better to save up, plan, and wait for a more spectacular, winter, Utah and Vegas road trip, maybe.