It was her birthday weekend, and they wanted to do all sorts of fun exercising over her birthday week- swimming/boating/hiking/ballooning. The first stop is Mt. St. Helena, the towering dormant volcano that looks out over the Napa Valley. First, before leaving the house they had a smoothie, some eggs, watered the garden, fed the cats, put on some shorts, toe spacers for lee’s feet, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water and headed out for Calistoga and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, where they’ll begin their trek to the summit. Its a 5-mile (8 km) hike to the summit of Mount Saint Helena from which much of the Bay Area can be seen. On clear days it is possible to see the peak of Mt. Shasta, 192 miles (310 km) distant.
The park is named after Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped. In 1880, Stevenson and his new wife Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne spent their honeymoon living in a cabin at a played-out mine on the mountain along with Fanny’s son. Although nothing remains of the cabin, the site is identified on the trail to the summit. Stevenson’s book Silverado Squatters contains stories he wrote about his experiences during his visit to the area. The area has rough terrain, with evergreen forests in the canyons on north-facing slopes and chaparral on the south-facing slopes.
Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is located off State Route 29 between Calistoga and Middletown. The park is registered as California Historical Landmark #710.
The Mt. St. Helena Trail starts your climb up the mountain about 300 feet west of the main parking area. The trail meanders at a gentle grade through forest for 3/4 mile to a stone monument, which marks the site where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon in an abandoned mine building during the summer of 1880. From here, you climb more steeply and leave the forest to intersect the fire road. After a short walk, you can look down on the patchwork of the upper Napa Valley and beyond to Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais, both mountains Pam and lee have climbed this past year. As you continue on the south-facing slope of the mountain, you’ll be surrounded by chaparral, and the higher up you go, the more exhilarating the view. At 3.6 miles, a road branches to the left leading to a ½-mile hike to the North Peak. Be prepared with plenty of water, block, and sun hats–the entire Mt St Helena’s trail is actually a switch back fire road to allow the maintenance vehicles up to take care of the communications towers on top of the summits.
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON STATE PARK
At this 5,272-acre park, shade is limited and some areas are hot in summer. No restrooms or camping.
The Mount St. Helena Trail (5.3 miles, 2,100-foot elevation gain) follows a fire road to the summit. Table Rock Trail (2.2 miles, moderate difficulty) winds though forests and chaparral to a scenic overlook. It connects to Palisades Trail (four miles, moderately strenuous), which connects to Oat Hill Mine Road (4.5 miles, moderate). Hikers also can access Oat Hill Mine Road from a trailhead at Highway 29 and Silverado Trail in Calistoga.
Directions: Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is seven miles north of Calistoga on Highway 29. Look for trailheads on both sides of the road at highest part of the highway.
Information for both parks: (707) 942-4575.
To protect the park’s wildlife and other natural resources, dogs are not permitted in this park.
Before Napa became famous for wine, its economy depended on another natural resource: mining. In the late 19th century, cinnabar (the ore used to make mercury), gold and silver mines dotted the mountainsides of the upper valley. Today, the old wagon roads now form some of the region’s best hiking trails.
The mountain was first climbed and named by the Russian traders who settled the West Coast from Alaska as far south as Fort Ross just north of San Francisco. Rising behind the hills of eastern Healdsburg, Mount St. Helena is one of the few remaining mountains in the old Maycamas Mountain chain, a small range that was formed by ancient volcanic activity and runs parallel to the California coastline in the eastern Sonoma County area. Volcanic rocks on and around Mount St. Helena have been dated as 2.4 million years old.
In 1880, Robert Louis Stevenson and his bride, Fanny, honeymooned in an abandoned bunkhouse at the Silverado mine on the slopes of Mount St. Helena. They’d gone there to flee the fogs of San Francisco, which were thought harmful to the writer’s sickly and perhaps tubercular lungs.
“The woods sang aloud, and gave largely of their healthful breath,” Stevenson wrote of his first ascent up the mountain. “Gladness seemed to inhabit these upper zones, and we had left indifference behind us in the valley. … There are days in a life when thus to climb out of the lowlands seems like scaling heaven.”
At about 3.1 miles into your hike, the fire road flattens out at a saddle junction. The left-hand road goes to the southwest summit, which is lower than the northeastern summit. The southwest summit is 6.5 miles round-trip from where you started hiking. Depending on conditions, Lassen Peak (just east of north), the High Sierra (east), Snow Mountain (north), Mt. Diablo (southeast), Mt. Tamalpais (south), San Francisco (south) and the Pacific Ocean (west) may also be visible.
The right-hand fork leads to the northeastern summit—the highest point on Mount St. Helena. To reach it, continue on the trail to the north. You’ll encounter two more junctions on your way to the northeast peak, but stay on the main trail towards the summit.
After a little less than a mile you’ll come to a sharp bend in the road. Continue past this bend for another half-mile. You will pass a radio tower on your right before you reach the antenna-covered crest of Mount St. Helena.
Here, hidden on the southwest side of a large shed, you’ll see a plaque commemorating the establishment of the Russian settlement of Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast, as well as an 1841 Russian ascent of the peak. Amazingly, on clear days you may see the top of Mt. Shasta, 192 miles distant.You can see the imposing mountain towering above the wineries. Mt. Saint Helena is a landmark, a wild backdrop behind the neat cultivated vineyards of Napa Valley. The best view of the wine country is from the top of 4,343-foot Mt. Saint Helena, reached by a five mile trail that winds through stands of knob cone pine to deliver summit panoramas of not only Napa Valley but the High Sierra and San Francisco Bay as well. While winter is not the most popular of seasons for touring the wine country, it is the best time for looking down at it from the top of Mt. Saint Helena. Crisp, clear winter days mean breathtaking views from the summit. Local Sierra Club members schedule an annual New Year’s Day hike up the mountain—surely an invigorating way to celebrate the year past and welcome the year ahead. Most of the summit and broad shoulders of Mt. Saint Helena are protected by Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Stevenson, best remembered for his imaginative novels, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, honeymooned in a cabin tucked in one of Mt. Saint Helena’s ravines in the summer of 1880. Quite the world traveler, Stevenson, constantly seeking relief from chronic tuberculosis, globe-trotted from Switzerland to the south of France to Samoa. The native Scot followed his heart to California to marry an American woman, Fanny Osbourne.Short of money, the newlyweds honeymooned in the abandoned mining camp of Silverado, moving into an old cabin and using hay for a bed. While so encamped, Stevenson filled a diary with local color and later penned an account of his experience, The Silverado Squatters, which introduced him to American readers. Stevenson fllled his notebooks with descriptions of the many colorful Napa Valley denizens—from stage drivers to winemakers—he met. Perhaps the biggest influence upon Stevenson during his stay on Mt. Saint Helena was the mountain itself; it became the model for Spyglass Hill in his novel Treasure Island. Today you can take a short (one mile) hike into California literary history by joining the trail leading to the secluded site of the Stevensons’ honeymoon. Wrote Stevenson: “At sunrise, and again later at night, the scent of sweet bays filled the canyon.” A memorial in the form of an open book commemorates the author’s stay on the mountain and marks the site of his cabin. Travelers interested in learning more about Robert Louis Stevenson and his work should head for the Silverado Museum in St. Helena, located seven miles south of Calistoga. The museum features books, letters, and other memorabilia of Stevenson’s life. Stevenson Memorial Trail is particularly enjoyable for the first interesting mile as it winds through the forest to the memorial. The next four miles of trail—a well-graded fire road leading to the summit—are frankly a bit monotonous; however, the grand vistas, becoming better and better as you climb, more than compensate. Directions to trailhead: From downtown Calistoga, at the junction of Highways 128 and 29, head north on the latter road. Highway 29 ascends 8.2 miles to a summit, where you’ll fnd parking at turnouts on both sides of the highway for Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. The trail departs from the west side of the highway. Hint: The not-very-well-signed state park is easy to miss. If you find yourself rapidly descending on Highway 29, you overshot the summit and the state park. Carefully turn around and return to the summit. The hike: Just above the parking lot is a picnic area. During Stevenson’s day, a stage stop and the Toll House Hotel were located here. The Stevensons came down the hill from their honeymoon cabin to buy provisions. Signed Stevenson Memorial Trail switchbacks up a shady slope forested with oak, madrone, bay and Douglas fir. A pleasant mile’s walk brings you face-to-face with the granite Stevenson memorial, itself something of a historical curiosity, having been erected by “The Club Women of Napa County” in 1911. To continue to the peak, scramble up a badly eroded hundred-yard-long stretch of trail to the fire road and turn left. The road soon brings you to a hairpin turn and the first grand view en route. You can admire part of the Napa Valley and surrounding ridges, San Francisco high-rises, as well as two distinct and aptly named nearby peaks: Turk’s Head to the west and Red Hill to the south. The road continues climbing moderately, but doggedly, up the mountain. Wind-battered, but unbowed, knob cone pine dot the middle slopes of Mt. Saint Helena. Three miles from the trailhead, you’ll pass under some power lines, and another half mile’s travel brings you to a junction with a spur trail leading 0.4 mile to Mt. Saint Helena’s South Peak. Half-a mile from the summit, the road passes through a forest of sugar pine and Douglas fir, then begins the final climb to the peak. Various transmitters, communication facilities and a fire lookout clutter the summit, but don’t block the view. Vistas include the Sonoma County coast to the west, Santa Rosa due south, San Francisco and the Bay to the southwest, the High Sierra north of Yosemite to the east. On the clearest of days, you might be able to glimpse Mt. Shasta, nearly 200 miles to the northeast.The views were tremendous. Look for Lake Berryessa, Napa, and Calistoga, and others. It’s worth that final steep push to the end.
Pam and lee returned to the parking lot 2 hours later, exhausted, sweaty and happy- they hugged, kissed; had a drink of water from their Platypus bladder; she lovingly brushed the dust from his ass through the Under Armour shorts he was wearing, and off they went in to the day, their quiet reflectiveness holding them in a rapture the whole way home.
over and out.