I finally hiked Mount Diablo, which I’ve been seeing all my life, as it’s the highest peak in the Bay Area at 3,849 feet elevation. I did it in a big way, with the guidance of long distance hiking expert, Scott “Shroomer” Williams and some of his hiking buddies. We did nearly 3,000 feet elevation gain in four miles on the way up to the summit, and back down—my ears actually popped at one point! This was the ultimate Camino training hike, and I now can see why it’s called Devil Mountain. Scott said there is nothing this tough on the Camino (thank goodness!) and that people train for Everest on these trails. Below is my account of hiking with Shroomer.
Background: I met Scott and his wife Katie at a pilgrim welcome home event last fall and enjoyed hearing their stories of their Camino in 2015. I signed up for his Hike Alerts email, which he sends weekly when he’s in town. I hoped to organized a group hike for our NorCal chapter, but his hikes are never planned that far in advance. His emails provide meticulous details and fair warnings about hikes, but it’s his passion about hiking that totally lured me into wanting to join him. Here’s an excerpt from an email:
We are walking animals and our moods, joys and social connections are deeply influenced by the simple, and for us primordial, act of putting one foot in front of the other. I know it makes me incredibly happy to hike a mile, climb a hill or blast up a mountain. And that’s a chemical response. Our very existence as a species depended upon the long runs and long walks a persistence hunter needed to exhaust prey. To keep us walking, our bodies have evolved to release endorphin, pleasure hormones, when we walk. And it seems that every one of us who came hiking this winter felt that wonderful chemical response over the miles and up the slopes.
I like being in the woods, climbing over rocks and high points, but the real effect for me comes not just from where I am, but what I’m doing when I’m there. It comes from the actual physicality of walking through those woods or exerting the effort to climb a mountain. The walking simply leaves me in a state of bliss.
Walking transports us back to a time before our brain defined us as humans. Our long-distance proclivities predate our oversized cranium and walking digs us deep into the wellsprings of our humanity. The joy we feel is built into the activity. It’s a healing and wonderful place to be. So, take a walk and feel what it is to be human in one of our earliest and most simple and satisfying aspects. It is transformative.
Amen, brother! Count me in. I just needed to figure out how I’d play hooky from work because his hikes are mostly during weekdays. When he announced a Mt. Diablo hike on a Friday, I switched my schedule so I could work the afternoon instead of the morning. I work half days on Fridays, so no hooky required!
I met Scott at a Peet’s Coffee in Walnut Creek and joined a few others to carpool up to the starting point. He said the first time he did this hike, he actually collapsed under a tree not far from the summit and his friends had to carry him up. I felt I was up for the challenge and wanted to test some Camino gear (boots, backpack, clothing and trekking poles.) I was probably the youngest hiker of the group, and yet, the hike kicked my butt! The scenery and people made it all worthwhile. Below are a few photos.
I asked Scott what the name of the trail was and he rattled off a bunch of different names. It’s basically a mashup of his favorite and steepest trails leading to the summit. The hike begins with the Burma Bumps, a series of steep hills. It then continues to the Mothers Trail, which they jokingly called a Mother *@&%^#! I agreed with that assessment as I was still cursing the brutally steep Burma Bumps. To get an idea of the gain, check out the stats from our hike that I recorded using the AllTrails App.
Here’s the satellite view:
Fortunately, the hills were much greener than this image shows. Scott said it’s best to hike Diablo in winter or early spring. If you go now, it’s covered in wildflowers, as he raves about in his recent Hike Alert emails.
Everyone in this hiking group was very friendly. There was a 66-year-old Olympic cyclist and an 80-year-old man who blazed ahead and barely broke a sweat. There were two super fit women that didn’t know much about the Camino de Santiago, so Scott and I gave them the scoop. I got to know an ultra runner who was nice enough to play the role of sweeper and hang back with me while the others blasted up the trail. He agreed that the start was unusually steep and said he is used to a more gradual warm-up to his hikes and runs. He pointed out evidence of where the wild boars bed down for the night and all the different kinds of animal scat and tracks. We passed through Juniper campground around the halfway point. It’s nice to know there’s a 56-site campground with showers and clean bathrooms so close to home! Learn more.
As we approached the summit, Scott pointed out where he collapsed eight years ago on his first Burma hike. He was 50 pounds overweight at the time. He calls the tree his “epiphany tree,” for it was a real “come to Jesus moment” in terms of his health. Over the next three months, he lost 30 pounds hiking that Burma trail, three times per week. He then went on to summit Mount Shasta, a goal of his at the time.
At the summit, we went into the lighthouse museum and up to the observation deck to enjoy the breathtaking views. We could see the snow-capped Sierras, and the Pacific Ocean, and everything in between.
There was a wedding being set up for later that day. An attendant told us that the bride wanted to get married in a location where she could see the entire Bay Area. It was a good choice for them, as the weather that day was just perfect and the rolling hills were green. See wedding site below.
We had a nice picnic lunch at the top and Scott and I talked about the Camino, John Muir, the joy of hiking, and how lucky we are to live in the Bay Area.
All my gear worked well. Thank goodness for my trekking poles! The hike down is a knee wrecker! Somehow Scott seemed to easily shuffle down the steep trails. Maybe it was his sassy Dirty Girl Gaiters he swears by, giving him that extra spring in his step. Observe below:
Of course, it’s all his experience with long distance hiking and being a Triple Crown* hiker. Scott’s psychedelic gaiters and his nickname made me curious, so I asked him how he got the name “Shroomer.” Here’s what he said.
I’ve been a mushroom hunter since I was a teenager. As a hippie in the ’60s, I was into many different kinds of uses. As an adult I became a Probation Officer and retired after 30 years, during which time I put all those early illicit experiences to better use working with drug addicts and other troubled people.
The year that I hiked the PCT was a very wet year and the mushrooming in the East Bay Hills was incredible. Between 3 of us, on training hikes 3 to 4 days per week in January, February and March, we picked over 1,500 lbs of chanterelles, most of which we gave away to friends or froze.
When I told that story to a group of folks in a van, on the way to the start of the PCT at the Mexican border, the driver turned to me and said, “Dude, you’re Shroomer.” And the name stuck. There were too many cross connections and with the law enforcement career, it was just too funny not to keep it. So, in the hiking community, I’m Shroomer.
There you have it!
I was grateful to be able to do this trek with someone who knows Mount Diablo so well. If you have the opportunity to hike with Shroomer, take it. To subscribe to his Hike Alerts, email Scott. He’s a gentleman, and a good story-teller. Much respect for the Shroomer, my “partner in climb” for a day.
Scott gave an Injury Prevention talk at our annual Pilgrim Blessing ceremony in March. See his video presentation of Injury Prevention Tips for the Camino blog post.
See you on the trail! Or on the Camino Portugués, in about a month. 😉
About Mount Diablo State Park
On a clear day, from the summit of Mount Diablo State Park visitors can see 35 of California’s 58 counties. It is said that the view is surpassed only by that of 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. With binoculars, Yosemite’s Half Dome is even visible from Mt. Diablo. The park features excellent hiking and rock climbing opportunities. The mountain was formed when a mass of underlying rock was gradually forced up through the earth’s surface so, unlike other mountains, older and older rocks are encountered as you climb the mountain. The mountain was regarded as sacred to Native Americans.
Check the State Parks website for additional information on the weather, suggested day hikes, or to see the park brochure, campground map, park photos, video, and more. Information available will vary from park to park.
If you’re curious about why the mountain was named Diablo, check out Legends Of The “Devil” Mountain Of California.
*The Triple Crown of Hiking informally refers to the three major U.S. long distance hiking trails:
Pacific Crest Trail – 2,654 miles (4,270 km) long, Washington, Oregon, and California between Mexico and Canada following the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range.
Appalachian Trail – 2,184 miles (3,515 km), between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Continental Divide Trail – 3,100 miles (5,000 km), between Mexico and Canada following the Continental Divide along the Rocky Mountains and traversing Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.