Jan 19

Steep Climbs

Last weekend I hiked with several geocachers to Sombroso in Sierra Azul … for the fourth time in the last year. On our hike we had a discussion about steep hikes … which hikes in the Greater Bay Area are the steepest? I claimed it’s “The Shortcut” at Henry Coe; others chimed in for Knibbs Knob at Uvas Canyon County Park. Who’s right?

I decided to go through my old tracks and find some steep climbs and rate them. I found the steepest section of each hike and figured how many feet of climb there were and in how many hiking miles. I then divided miles/climb. Hikes with larger numbers are less steep; hikes with smaller numbers are insane.

In some cases I eyeballed the numbers a bit .. so don’t get too obsessed about the decimal points.

We’ll start with some that sure seem steep … then get to some that are truly insane.

  • Coyote Peak, Santa Teresa Park. The hike from the closest parking to the summit is less than a mile … and 550 feet of elevation gain. SamRating: 8.64
  • Mist Trail to Nevada Falls, Yosemite National Park. Beautiful. 2.7 miles, 1700 feet. SamRating: 8.38
  • Cataract Trail, Mt. Tam. Waterfall central. 1.4 miles, 950 feet. SamRating: 7.78
  • Pinnacles National Monument, Juniper Canyon Trail to High Peaks … 1.2 miles, 900 feet. SamRating: 7.04
  • Mt. Diablo summit via Mitchell Canyon … 5 miles, 3900 feet … SamRating: 6.76
  • Willson Peak, Henry Coe State Park … 2.0 miles, 1676 feet … SamRating: 6.6
  • Knibbs Knob, Uvas Canyon County Park … 1.9 miles, 1700 feet … SamRating: 5.9
  • “The Shortcut” to Mt. Sizer, Henry Coe State Park … 1.2 miles, 1500 feet. SamRating: 4.22

So … do I win? Well … sort of. But the craziest hike is:

  • El Toro, Morgan Hill, Final Ascent … 0.2 miles, 300 feet … SamRating: 3.52

At only 0.2 miles El Toro isn’t exactly a “hike”. But it’s clearly insane. If you’ve never done it … you really should. Once.

So, there you go. What climbs did I forget that you can add to the list?


UPDATE Jan 20, 2011: Wow, lots of people are suggesting more steep hikes to put in the list, and some are actually rating the hikes too. I’ll keep a list of them in a little database here. Send in your ideas!


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  1. Karl

    Parts of Steer Ridge, near Hunting Hollow, also comes to mind.

  2. Joe

    It’s another short-but-whoa, but what about Ollason Peak at Toro CP?

    1. Joe

      Another one: I seem to remember the PG&E Trail in RSO being steep, but I might’ve just been out of shape when I did it last.

      This is fun. It might be interesting to compare this to something canonically steep, like any of several of the hikes out of Yosemite Valley (Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Four Mile — or Mile-and-a-Half — etc)

  3. Doug

    There are some trails at Morgan Territory that probably rank in there somewhere. Raven trail is probably the steepest off the top of my head, but it is by no means the only one worth of consideration.

    Sunol also has several contenders. Flag Hill, backpackers road, etc.

    And, don’t forget The Big Burn in The Ohlohne Wilderness. Really it’s the climbs on either side of Williams Gulch.

    Pleasanton Ridge has some worthy climbs. Getting out of Sinbad Creek is a challenge, for example.

    Augustine Bernal park in Pleasanton connects up with the ridge, and hiking to the top is pretty steep.

    Some trails in Redwood regional, Tilden, Kennedy Grove.

    Gosh, there are a ton of good climbs around here. Not all these would be amongst the steepest (they’re steep enough I remember them!), but they get the pumper pumpin’!

    Notice an EBRPD theme? :)

    1. Karl

      Big Burn at Ohlone is a good one! Maybe I need to go visit Murietta Falls again before it dries up.

      I just played with Google Earth on Steer Ridge and came up with roughly a 4.2 for the lower part, from the beginning of the trail up to N 37° 05.159 W 121° 27.525 (a cache location, for reference). Approx 1650′ / 400′. The criteria (contest?) could be refined to be a minimum trail length, perhaps 1 mile?

  4. DavidC

    I’m glad that El Toro was at #1… I remember that after you climbed it you didn’t plan to ever return, but now that you’re a Hiking Machine I suspect it would be much easier for you. :)

    I never thought of the Mist Trail as bad, even before I took up hiking, but my wife probably has a different opinion.

    I’d add the climb out of Devil’s Hole at Las Trampas. The shorter/steeper route is really quite a steep grind.

    There are some other steep sections around Coe, and some good uphill grinds in Nisene Marks… And back from Berry Falls…

  5. Sam

    Thanks to everyone here and at the Geocachers of the Bay Area who suggested additional hikes! It’ll be fun to add them to the list!

    I’m thinking about changing the definition of the stat…or keeping an additional one. The statistic out there now measures the slope of the trail. I’m wondering if we should then multiply that by the length of the trail. A trail with slope 4 that’s 1 mile long isn’t as hard as a trail with slope 4 that’s 2 miles long.

    So the additional stat would be

    distance hiked^2/vertical gain

    Does that make sense to capture?

  6. Karl

    I’d keep it simple, but it’s up to you: steepest grade over a minimum 1 mile stretch.

  7. Michael

    How about the Washburn Trail in Grant, from the creek up to the ridge? It’s been a couple of years, but my memory is that was pretty dang steep.

    I was also going to mention The Big Burn in Ohlone. I’m curious to see what number that one gets.

    1. Joe

      My feeling is that if you inverted one side of the Big Burn — so that it was a straight-up or straight-down climb — it wouldn’t be nearly as taxing. There’s something inherently evil about looking across the canyon at the trail climbing out and thinking “I’m going to have to lose a thousand feet in the next mile just to immediately regain it…”

      But at that point, I’m practically suggesting a psychological factor, which is against the whole purpose of this post 😉

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