Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

On Sunday, February 18th, the East Bay Barefoot Hikers met in Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve and hiked the Skyline National Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail).

Twenty-one people took part including myself, my son Gareth (12), Duane, Tim and his children: Christopher (7), and the twins Jonathan and Hilary (5), Vivian, Darren, Dan from Oakland, Dan from SF and his companion Elizabeth, Lynda, Phoebe, Ivan, Debra, her son Eric (12), Fred, Ezra, Kathy and Barbara.

Once again, an excellent write-up has been provided by Duane !!.

-- Mike Berrow

Although Saturday night's TV weather graphic was a storm cloud with rain pouring down, Sunday dawned with thin clouds and hazy sun. Mike Berrow must have put in a word with Someone. The drive up to Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve along Grizzly Peak Road features a "visual hazard"--sweeping vistas of the San Francisco Peninsula, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais. Pulling over for a good look is highly recommended, as the road is narrow and twisting, and on a weekend there are many bicyclists. The parking lot at Sibley was filled to overflowing, but there was space to park along Skyline Blvd.

Just before 1 P.M., the crowd of shod hikers and bicyclists were surprised by a spectacle unusual in the twilight of the Twentieth Century: nineteen pairs of bare feet converging on the information display under the outdoor pavilion. There were college students, office workers, professionals, moms, dads, children, and one friendly blue-eyed Husky accompanied by a first-timer wearing hiking boots, unsure of whether she _really_ wanted to try barefoot hiking. By the time Mike started the parade at 1:10 P.M., she had her boots off and in her backpack. We all stepped single file through a dense forest of dripping eucalyptus and pine.

The trail surface was initially layered with pine needles and damp Live Oak serrated leaves. Brilliant moss carpeted tree trunks and sections of the trail's edge. Exposed roots criss-crossed the path, and occasional rock outcroppings lent some variety to the damp earth. To no one in particular, one of the smaller children said quietly with a sense of wonder, "This is so fun."

The first-time hiker remarked that she was spending all her time looking at the trail, and wasn't able to enjoy the other sights in the forest. Duane suggested using a technique which long ago became second nature; glance down at the path and scan the next ten feet or so, taking note of roots and stones. The bare feet learn to position themselves to avoid the hazards. It also helps greatly to be sure to step straight down without sliding or shuffling. A long-time hiker recently trying out barefoot hiking remarked that when wearing expensive hiking boots, he takes great pains to avoid muddy stretches, but when barefoot, finds it really neat to just go right through the mud.

The bare earth trail crossed a service road of rough asphalt, to the dismay of several first-timers, "Oh no!". Mike halted the group for a few minutes to give the stragglers time to catch up. Once across the pavement, the trail straightened out and then rose and fell gently for a while. Through openings in the trees we could see a narrow canyon on the right, with fog and mists slowly falling. Soon the trail started to descend in earnest, and damp clay sections became quite slippery. Walking sticks help out greatly to provide an anchor in such places. We passed a huge gnarled and twisted red-barked Manzanita tree, which is usually grows only the size of a small shrub.

The trail soon became rockier and steeper, and led directly through an outcropping ridge of crumbling rock, a barefooter's "Devil's Staircase." The trail surface was completely rock, all dirt having been washed away by the winter rains. The loose stones were cubes approximately one to two centimeters square. If the trail had started out this way, we would have probably lost some beginners immediately. The blue-eyed Husky was getting the most exercise, running through the underbrush from the head of the group to the rear many times. Somebody said he could be the "Messenger Dog," carrying notes from the front to the rear. Somebody else said, "My message would be 'Ouch.' " The group took a rest at a small wooden bridge over the convergence of two trickling creeks. People took the opportunity to wash off and wade around the angular rocks.

We shortly found ourselves walking silently through the bottom of the canyon. On the opposite wall, ferns grow in profusion on the almost vertical slope. A brook flows around boulders and through fallen logs and branches. The area reminded Duane of his favorite childhood barefoot haunt in northern Virginia, which we called "Turtle Valley" because of the terrapins. We used to fill our pockets to bulging with lead Civil War minnie balls from the creekbeds. A hiker recently from Florida related a childhood story about searching for shark's teeth in sandy layers washed away by a rainstorm. An appealing aspect of barefoot hiking is the way it encourages the fresh child-like manner of viewing and experiencing the world, directly and on its own terms.

While crossing the stream, one of the small children looked up at the head end of the hikers, far above us on a switch-back. "Oh no!" he wailed, dismayed at the climb ahead. After a few minutes of climbing rocky switchbacks with small streamlets flowing through them, Mike announced a food/rest stop, saying "The children have mutinied. They want to eat _now_." As we sat on mossy logs and snacked, we began to hear random splots of rain in the leafy canopy overhead, although none was falling on the ground yet. Two of the original barefoot hikers had turned back due to time constraints.

Two more barefoot hikers (Kathy and Barbara) from Glen Ellen appeared on the trail below us, with two friendly dogs in tow. It turns out they had arrived at the parking lot at about 1:15 P.M., just missing the main group. They had followed the bare footprints through the muddy trails, so we weren't difficult to track. Turns out they plan to form a Sonoma County Barefoot Hiking chapter in the near future.

The rain was becoming more insistent, and many of us pulled out ponchos before starting up the trail. Someone noted that Mike's poncho, coming down to just above the knees, made him look like he was a cross-dressing-barefoot-hiker, which he said would call for a new special interest group on the 'net. As we started single file up the narrow damp trail, strains of "Singing in the Rain" filled the forest. There were many more switchbacks on the steep canyon wall, and one of the smaller children took a shortcut, but had some trouble at the very top. Following the advice to "Grab the stick," he was pulled up safely.

We were now on the appropriately named "Huckleberry Trail," which shortly led across an open space to a wet grassy picnic area beside another parking lot. It was now almost 4:00 P.M., later than anticipated. Since the forest way back to our cars in the first parking lot would have been along the same trails we just hiked, it was almost unanimously decided to return the shorter way via paved Skyline Blvd. We picked our way through gravel and eucalyptus acorns beside the road, small streams running in the ditches, the occasional car swooshing by in the steady rain. Sometimes through a break in the trees we could see the canyon and the open East Bay hills beyond. The roadbed cuts through twisted layers of serpentine--it's fun to think that each layer was once an ocean bottom, and impressive to see how they have been lifted and contorted by geologic forces and time.

When the parking lot was finally in sight, several barefoot hikers realized that the first-timer with the blue-eyed Husky had made it all the way without resorting to her boots. As we washed off under the faucet and parted, there was much talk about "next time."

Thanks Duane !! -- Mike Berrow

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