MT. WITTENBERG (1,407') 3X AND MT. ST. HELENA (4,343') 19X January 16-17, 2003

Ravaged mentally after some three-week long, cold and rainy periods earlier this winter, I was so game for an activity! I was free now not to rely on partners, since these are easy solo peaks. Plus, I wished to enjoy a longer drive along some scenic parts of California that I haven't seen since I was a kid.

I couldn't sleep. Deciding at 2 a.m. in the morning, Thursday, that I would leave early and make it a long day, I packed my stuff into my car and departed home by 3 a.m. I had a small breakfast on the road, and arrived at the main Visitor Center parking in Point Reyes National Seashore at about 5:30 a.m.

One of my new toys is a three diode headlamp. This was a good test. It was yet night, with a full moon which didn't help with visibility since it was now low on the western horizon, and there was night fog. I used both my new and old headlamps, and dressed overwarm as I ascended the Mt. Wittenberg Trail. Some may consider this a "wimpy" peak, but it is the highest point in the National Seashore, and the Park Service thinks enough of us peak baggers to build and mark a trail to this point.

It was sort of haunting to hike up through an ancient forest, replete with animals making sounds, in the pitch black. I had some usual worries about mountain lions. Many predators feed in the nocturnal hours, and cases of attacks pop out of the blue. I had what comfort of knowing I would then be a big item in the news, but it was fair to assume I could beat off a big cat.

My glasses fogged, and I let my hair out. Oh, for a partner, sometimes, to alleviate my irrational fears! Soon, I came to the upper trail junctions and it was beginning to get light. I didn't expect a great sunrise, but summited after an hour and ten minutes. A red glow to the east made for some photo ops.

There has never been a register here, so I waited without any reading entertainment, and then snapped away, over the trees from a point 100 feet to the south, as the sun rose. I don't recall that I have ever done anything like this--either camping on a summit, or hiking up early, to watch the sunrise from a mountain top.

The moment was over, so I hiked back down the trail. Two casual hikers getting their morning exercise was a relieving sight. There was a great digital photo op, with the early morning sun through the trees. I could never capture a shot like these with my film camera!

Back to the car, I found I was too early to wait for the visitor center to open (9 a.m. on midweek), so motored off to complete my long day's drive up CA 1.

Expecting interesting, rural towns for pictures and stops, I assumed some Cal Trans vista points for views of the dramatic North Coast. Little communities named Jenner, Gualala, Elk, Albion, and Little River, CA, provided some wonderful charm. And, the State Park System thought wisely to provide many free, official pullouts, designated Sonoma Coast State Beach.

There was some road construction, and then some fog banks to spoil my fun. But, I was then able, again, to take pictures in the sun, and the highway passes through some beautiful forests, including redwoods.

The turning, winding road caused me some fatigue, but then I came to the scenic town of Mendocino, CA. It was about 1 p.m. I parked my car and took a short stroll along the picturesque buildings and out to the Headlands. I shot some movie clips of the wave action, with five or ten foot waves spraying up over the rocks.

One of the State Parks where I wished to do some hiking was unmanned at its entrance station, so I couldn't ask for information. A sign declared for one trail, "hiking not advised" due to "fallen trees," so I skipped that. Another hike for another trip?

I sought to visit Fort Bragg, CA, so motored down the main street there, with more historic and gaudy exteriors to snap photos. Walking a few blocks to see the town better, I would have wanted to lodge here, but the motel signs don't announce the room rate. I am too full of disappointments to hope to find a bargain price.

I turned around and headed back south. I gained this sight of Mendocino as I motored back to CA Highway 128. This winds along the Navarro River, and passes through long, deep and dark groves of redwoods. There is camping along this drive, but with the long nights, and my lack of good sleep the night before, I went to Ukiah, CA, for more civilized comfort. I did have my sleeping bags along in case I decided to save some money. I did take a few pictures of Boonville, CA, and then crossed over north on CA 253.

With a modest meal, then sleeping well, I departed on Highway 101 south in the morning, and was dismayed at the time it took to drive along. My plan was to drive east on CA 128 again, and come to Calistoga, CA. Countless vineyards, wineries, and green, oak studded hills made this the typical scenery for this part of the State.

After almost two hours of driving, I came to the road summit parking on CA 29 for the hike to the top of Mt. St. Helena, my old, favorite, stand-by solo climb. Almost no cars were in the parking areas, today. I stripped off some clothing, and started up the trail by about 10 a.m.

Other hikers appeared to keep me some company. The weather caused me to remark, "I've never seen it this warm in January up here." It would be T-shirt conditions without the stiff wind. My ascent was finished after my standard two hours, and then four of us enjoyed the view, with food and drink. The Sierra Nevada was visible with its snow, and identifiable peaks. Snow Mountain to the north had strips of snow. Lassen Peak stood out to the northeast. Fog obscured the southern Napa Valley, above which stood the distant bulk of Mt. Diablo. I shot plenty of digital photos set at higher res. It seems now that publishers will use my .jpg images.

It was too cold for the other hikers, so they shortly left. I departed after a half hour, knowledgeable that gloomy fog was the local weather upon my return home. I read the register on the East Summit, then found that the south summit viewing structures are now closed. Radio waves are considered a danger.

I passed a couple more hikers and mountain bikers still heading up, and I took one rest at Bubble Rock (no climbers today). Back to my car by 3 p.m., I stopped for more walking and pictures in the upscale towns of Calistoga and St. Helena, CA. There was plenty of sun. Past Napa, CA, bumper to bumper traffic and deep fog marked my return to my humdrum routine.

I hiked some 16 miles total with 3,800' gain. I drove some 490 miles, all at 41 mpg, I'd presume. I shot some 330 digital photos. With only gas, food, and one night's economy lodging, my total expenses were down to about $70.