Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oakland Hills Walk 5 - North Oakland Sports Center loop to Skyline & Old Tunnel Rd

View Oakland Hills Walk 5 - from North Oakland Sports Center in a larger map

The Caldecott Tunnel through the east bay hills is a critical commute corridor for those east of the hills. Initially roads wound over the hills. In 1903 a tunnel was built above the current tunnel location, and when this walk takes you on Old Tunnel Road, that's the origin of the name. The current tunnel started with two bores in 1937, added a third in 1964, and a fourth is budgeted. In 1982, a gasoline truck caused a firestorm within the tunnel, killing seven, and in 1991 an improperly extinguished grass file just above the tunnel caused the disastrous Oakland fire that killed 25 people. I have driven through this tunnel many times, and had to evacuate for the fire, so know this area well.

As you approach the tunnel from the west, you see a lot of houses on the left side, and on the right, eucalyptus, brush, and a high voltage power line on the crest of some hills. Several years ago,  a sports field facility was built on the right side at the base of the hills - North Oakland Sports Center.

I always thought there should be a way to get from there up into the hills but couldn't see any trail from above. Finally I ran across the Walk Oakland map. This showed a trail curling up from the back of the sports field to Skyline Blvd. Back in December, I decided to check it out, not bringing my gps, as it was a clearly marked trail on the map.

It had maybe a 20 car parking lot, a quonset hut type restroom and a large fenced play field. The trail turned out to be a very wide fire road up through a dense young eucalyptus grove, with signs of some vehicle traffic. Initially there was a good view back towards the Golden Gate bridge, but the forest soon closed in around me. There were some barely trickling streams, and fairly high up, a tee junction, not indicated on the map.

The heavily used track went off to the right, even though I knew that Skyline Blvd was up and to the left. At this point I wished I'd been making a trace with the gps. Anyway, I went to the right (south) just to see what was there. In a short time I came to a massive water caused slide, now covered with plastic and sandbags, clearly the object of the vehicle tracks I had seen. Above the slide on the crest of the hill was a massive EBMUD water tank, and a narrow track between the tank and the slide. I took the track on past the slide, and then could see a large fenced concrete parking pad and a gated access road. The tank and pad were clearly post fire construction, and runoff from the pad was the cause of the erosion and the slide. If that slide had been left to nature, a few more storms would have it undermining the water tank, and then a possible flood of debris all the way down and over highway 24.

Continuing on past the tank, the trail followed some high voltage power lines, with good views towards Alameda and the Montclair section of Oakland. Finally the trail dead ended at a large flat area where there was a set of power line towers off to the side. There was a panoramic view of the bay. This would be an ideal stealth camping site if it were not for the law, and for the proximity of the power lines.

My parents used to walk regularly along a path near power lines in Modesto. Sometimes my dad would take a florescent light tube and hold it up near the power lines. The tube would light up. Well, a few years after that, my mother died of cancer. Then we found out that a number of other people who lived along the power line had also died of cancer. The only thing I could find on the web is that there was some suspicion that power lines could accelerate certain cancers. People do have to die of something, and these people were not young, but ever since, I have tried to avoid regular exposure to high voltage lines. Short story, I wouldn't camp here.

Back to the trail, retracing my steps, I get back to the tee junction, and take the upper north leading trail. This winds around a while, comes into an area of construction debris, and a child sized old caboose.

At the time I was a little upset to see what appeared to be construction dumping on public land, but that was my error. I've since done some googling and found that most of the land above the play field is a single private holding, though it is not marked or posted at any  point.

I can see that Skyline Blvd is just beyond, but there is not a clear trail, just a vee choice - one track leading left to the road and one sort of straight, but with a backhoe and truck parked in it. I take the left one, and that leads me up someone's driveway up to the inside side of a gate. Too late now, so I just step around it onto Skyline and turn left towards the rebuilt burn area.

Soon I hit Old Tunnel Road, and then start circling back to the sports center. I can see it in the distance, so just choose the appropriate road. A couple of kids zip by me on skateboards (this is a long downhill), and then I pass a parked car with  more kids getting out with their skateboards. They're shuttling up and down the hill.

This is a nice walk, but farther than I thought, so I speed up - sports field closes at dusk. I can see the bridge I must cross over the freeway, but soon realize that I am still high up on the slope of the hill. The road goes past and above the bridge, and finally, at the fire memorial, I can double back, cross the bridge and get back to my car with some time to spare.

The Google map at the start is accurate, as I did this walk again, this time with a gps to verify the trail location.

I've put together some more images of this walk in a YouTube video that I think you'll like:

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