Covering a whopping 27 percent of the earth’s surface, mountains – those stunning geological wonders that rise out of the bedrock in all shapes and sizes and levels of majesty – are amazingly crucial to our planet’s overall well-being.
One tenth of the world’s population gets its life support directly from mountains. These same mountains are also a lifeline for millions of lowland towns, cities, and villages. Add that up, and pretty much all of us benefit from mountains in one way or another. Why? In case you need a little Biology 101 refresher, mountains are the sources of all the world’s major rivers, and many smaller ones. They help capture moisture from the clouds (causing rain), and gather snow to be stored until spring and summer, when it melts. In arid and semi-arid regions, over 90 percent of river flow comes from mountains. In short, they are the bringers of water, and we all need water to live.
Today, December 11, is International Mountain Day – a day of recognition mandated by the United Nations in 2003. The UN uses International Mountain Day as a way to spotlight the importance of sustainable mountain development (because mountains provide resources like water, energy and food that are becoming increasingly scarce). While many resources are abundant in mountainous regions, these same regions are also vulnerable to climate change, deforestation, and natural disasters.
Here in the Bay Area, we’ve got a few mountains of our own, and we count ourselves lucky that many of them are protected under land preservation laws, so their beauty, mystery, and wildlife can remain unadulterated. It couldn’t hurt to tip your hat to these beauties in honor of the life, inspiration, and opportunity for adventure they give us. We’ve chosen a few of our favorites below.
Aside from having some major video game street cred, Mount Diablo is the prime locale (and one of the Bay’s highest peaks, at 3,864 feet!) for hikers and bikers to score sweeping views of the Bay and its surrounding cities from the East Bay.
The two best trails that offer Mount Diablo’s famous views are via the mountain’s summit and the Grand Loop. The general exploration of the Mount Diablo State Park will eventually get you to the summit, because, after all, that is the cherry on top. It’s an easy 4-mile, 1-3 hour trail that, on a clear day, will give you a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Farallon Islands, Mount Loma Prieta, Mount St. Helena, and way more. The 3-4 hour, 6.2-mile hour Grand Loop boasts a bird’s-eye view of the Bay Area, enabling hikers to gaze out over the Bay and beyond, to the Farallon Islands, Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Lassen, and the Sierra Nevada.
If you’re a hardcore cyclist, be sure to check out the Save Mount Diablo Challenge, a timed 11.2 mile rile to the mountain’s summit for a different way to experience the mountain.
Hundreds of miles of trails cover Mount Tamalpais, so whether you’re on foot or on two wheels (mountain biking was, after all, literally invented on Mount Tam), grab a map and get thee to the top. If you haven’t been to the 2,572 foot summit, you’ve probably seen countless Instagrams of the view from your friends who’ve made it to the finish line. The mountain has three summits: the West, Middle, and East Peaks. While the East Peak is the most popular thanks to its gorgeous view of the San Francisco skyline, almost every hike to the top offers amazing vantage points looking out over the ocean, Bay, cities, bridges, and all the attributes that make the Bay Area glorious: fog, sunsets, rocky outcroppings, water falls, wild flowers, ocean cliffs, beaches, and way more.
Right in the heart of the city lays San Francisco’s highest peak – Mount Davidson. While it’s not quite as formidable as other Bay Area mountains, its manageable 928 foot summit and heart-of-the-city locale make it perfect for a quick jaunt to the top. Foot trails criss-cross the mountain, so depending on whether you want a looped route or a there-and-back route, it’s definitely a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience. In all, the hike through towering eucalyptus and pine trees takes about an hour, and the summit not only hosts a very bizarre, 103-foot cross at the top (read about its history here), but a front row view of Sutro Tower across the way, sweeping views of the city, Oakland, and Berkeley beyond the Bay’s glittering waters.
San Bruno Mountain
Bike or hike along the San Bruno Mountain range to view San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Bay itself looking north. Not only is the mountain covered in gorgeous wildflowers in the spring and extremely popular among cyclists, it was once a hotbed of controversy back in the early 1970’s.
We’ll give you a little history lesson: As the Bay Area’s population continued to grow and expand, David Rockefeller schemed to develop and fill an area of the South Bay the size of Manhattan to make way for residences, restaurants, and industry. Rockefeller funded the West Bay Communities Associates – Crocker Land Co., Ideal Cement Co., and investment banking firm Lazard Freres & Co. – to get the bay fill project underway. Crocker Land Co. owned San Bruno Mountain, and to reap even more real estate development, the company hatched a plan to chop off the entire top of the mountain off. Can you imagine? Read how local residents took West Bay Communities Associates to court and stopped their plans.
Here in the Bay, we are blessed with so many life-giving mountains, and even the Bay itself has the Sierras and their snowpack to thank for its rippling waters. What are your favorite Bay Area mountains?