Fresh Tracks: Ah, Wilderness! Chase in Eugene O’Neill’s Steps at Las Trampas

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 10:36 PM

So send ’em in. Really. Knock yourselves out, people. This month’s offering, in fact, comes from reader Joe Franklin, an outdoorsman with a literary bent, apparently.

Fresh Tracks: Ah, Wilderness! Chase in Eugene O’Neill’s Steps at Las Trampas

We do requests here at Fresh Tracks. So send ’em in. Really. Knock yourselves out, people.

This month’s offering, in fact, comes from reader Joe Franklin, an outdoorsman with a literary bent, apparently. He recommended , in those oak-drunken hills hugging the monied E Bay enclave of Danville.

“We combined it with a hike-in ride to ,” Franklin wrote. “Some of the trails were steep but right presently it's incredibly green. … It was about eleven miles and two.500 feet of climbing. It was a excellent early spring hike.”

Now, many a time, I’ve made – his plays chronicling familial dysfunction are sort of sacred texts to many of us Irish, more real-life than fictive, if you should know – and had noticed that a well-manicured trace (the Madrone, it turns out) runs right past the property, within view of the grave of O’Neill’s beloved Dalmatian, Blemie. But, so besotted was I with O’Neill’s life and oeuvre, that’s as near as I ever got to Las Trampas. (The Nobel Prize-winning playwright lived in Danville from 1937-44 and wrote three of his most well-known plays there.)

So Franklin’s suggestion that I tramp through Las Trampas was enticing, particularly since I, hack writer that I am, could create cheesy utilize of the title when describing the trail’s length and lung-straining difficulty.

You don’t necessity to be an O’Neill scholar, or even know him from sitcom star , to appreciate this hike. But I couldn’t assistance but imagine the playwright trudging along the single-track paths mulling the human condition, and sought to go in his footsteps.

Per Franklin’s suggestion, I began the jaunt by parking at the Ringtail Cat Staging Area, which has a tiny lot surrounded by sprawling mansions (one for sale: $two.39 million). From there, you proceed in a counter-clockwise direction up, up, up to grassy Las Trampas ridge, then create a twisting loop down through oak and laurels to ogle the Tao House from afar and obtain back to the Ringtail Cat Trail.

I’m not going to mince words: This hike is a haul. It taxes your lung capacity on the uphill – one.713 of the 2.457 total elevation gain comes in the first five miles – and then tortures the knees on an extreme winding downhill to reach the border with O’Neill’s property.

A two-week dry spell in late February-early March kept the paths from becoming too muddy, but the ruts and indentations from grazing cows and galloping equine made them coarse going in many places. The ankle-ligament-tearing erosion, too, will unhurried you down.

Even on a weekday morning, you’ll discover other hikers setting off from Ringtail with canines huge and small, but they mostly hold to the first 0.3 miles, which is lush and not too hilly. Once the climbing begins and peaks during 2-mile stretch of the Madrone Trail, humanity thins out and you can be left alone with your thoughts.

That early portion of the Madrone Trace (you’ll look it again in the final 2 miles) climbs over the treeline and is so unrelenting that you nearly obtain into a Zen-like, arm-chugging rhythm. There’s not much in the way of views, except if you turn around and stare atto the east, so you keep your head down and concentrate on where each ft fall can go along the rutty path. It’s so noiseless the only sound is your labored breathing; not even the hawks squawk this high.

Actually, once I opened the cattle guard in the midst of another climb where the Madrone and Las Trampas Ridge Trace intersect, I did discover myself in an encounter with sentient beings: a cow and her calf.

Regular “Fresh Tracks” readers might recall and the advice from a livestock researcher saying to walk slowly into the cow’s “flight zone” – the physical space where it loses its feeling of safety – and it'll flee. But this cow, smack in the center of the single-track with a calf at her side, refused to move even when I was an arm’s-length away. Raising her head from chewing, she eyed me suspiciously. I decided to create eye contact and speak soothingly as Mr. Rogers (“I’m going to step over here now … ”) while I walked gingerly around the cow’s ample hind quarter, giving her a wide berth.

From there, though, I saw number living thing – rescue salamanders, out in force – until the return on the Ringtail. The view keeps you company, though. To the north, you can look beyond Concord and Martinez to the Benicia Bridge; to the south, you can laugh at the destitute suckers stuck on I-680 making their .

You can’t totally drink in the views because there are some serious downhills to navigate, particularly the descents on the Sulphur Springs and Del Amigo trails. My GPS later told me I covered the uphills faster than the downhills, which are joint-rattlers.

Close the finish of the downhill, you obtain your first Tao House sighting: the handsome Spanish tile roof gleaming in the late-morning sun. That image stays with you as you go back up the Madrone (yes, two more killer hills) and back to the trailhead, ten miles traversed and several hours of solitude enjoyed.

Get I-80 to I-680, exit at Stone Valley Road, west. Turn left on Danville Boulevard. Turn right on Hemme Avenue. Parking lot is at road’s end.

From the Ringtail Cat Trailhead, go about 0.7 miles to the Madrone Trace and turn right. Chase Madrone 2.4 miles to the junction with the Las Trampas Ridge Trail. Turn left and go about 1 mi to the intersection with the Bollinger Creek Loop Trail. Veer left to stay on the Las Trampas Ridge Trail. After about 2 miles, turn left onto the Sulphur Springs Trail. After 0.6 miles, veer left (a sign will point towards Del Amigo Trial). Chase Del Amigo down 0.5 miles to the Virgil Williams Trail. Turn left and go 0.7 miles. Turn left on the Madrone Trace and go 1.2 miles back to the Ringtail Cat Trail. Turn right and retrace steps to the trailhead.

2.457 feet

No

Yes

No

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