mount saint helena

There are days in a life when thus to climb out of the lowlands, seems like scaling heaven. –Robert Louis Stevenson in The Silverado Squatters.

So far this year the temperature has been rather warm, even for Californian standards, which has been great for my hiking project, and my first winter back from snowy eastern Canada. Making the most of the January sun, last weekend I decided to hike in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, famed author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In 1880 Stevenson honeymooned in Napa county on Mount Saint Helena, occupying an abandoned home left by silver miners, and later penning the memoir The Silverado Squatters about his time there.

Robert Louis Stevenson memorial, marking the location of the home where he squatted

Robert Louis Stevenson memorial, marking the location of the home where he squatted

My hiking partner Matt and I set off from my home in Davis on a Sunday around 8am, reaching the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park around 10am. We had opted to travel along back roads, which took us a little longer, but were more scenic as we wound our way along the clearly off-season wine country.

The site of Stevenson’s borrowed cabin is located a mile in on the memorial trail in the state park. The trail continues approximately another five miles to the top of Mount Saint Helena. At 4200 feet (1280 meters), her east peak constitutes the highest point in Napa county, allowing me to complete my third of 58 county high points. The north peak is technically higher, but resides in Sonoma county, which has a higher elevation peak on Cobb Mountain.

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The hike follows a fairly level fire road almost the entire distance, which could be seen as boring and monotonous, but was exactly the style of hike that appealed to me at the moment, having been a little tired and slightly under-the-weather lately. As we crisscrossed the switchbacks, gaining elevation, we noticed the park is popular with rock climbers who are entertained by the impressive volcanic structures interspersed throughout the trees on the mountainside.

Overall, the hike itself is easy as long as an 11 mile trek is in your domain, and the views of the surrounding countryside on a clear winter day are unbeatable. We could even see Mount Tamalpais, the high point in Marin county, off in the distance to the south west.

After reaching the top of the east peak to officially cross Napa county off my list, we summited the higher north peak, where we stopped for a lunch break and reveled in the sunshine. Matt and I contrasted this feeling of peace with the descriptions we’ve read by those who scale crazy heights like Everest, and in the exhaustion feel little to nothing about their accomplishment.

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I understood on some dim, detached level that the sweep of earth beneath my feet was a spectacular sight. I’d been fantasizing about this moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. But now that I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mount Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care. –Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer.

My physical limitations are such that I would never scale a peak like Everest. But, surely I could climb something that would leave me feeling so exhausted I wouldn’t have the peace of mind I attained on the top of Mount Saint Helena. (Mount Whitney, I’m warily looking at you.)

As I make my way through 2014, I want to be conscious of the fact that my hiking the 58 project is meant to inspire happiness and joy at the beauty of my home state and not just to reach a peak to say I did so. I tell myself on each journey, it’s okay not to make it to the top, I just want to be present, and enjoy the view.

Click here for the route map generated by our GPS.

View of Mount Tamalpais from Mount Saint Helena

View of Mount Tamalpais from Mount Saint Helena

Panoramic view from the North Peak of Mount Saint Helena

Panoramic view from the North Peak of Mount Saint Helena

2 Comments

  1. helly
    February 4, 2014

    i like your approach to this whole thing….also was it scandalous that RLS “squatted’ on his honeymoon ???

  2. Sonya B
    February 4, 2014

    Haha, I know, right. Well, he took his wife to Tahiti and Samoa later on, so we’ll let him off the hook for this one.

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