About the Author, Susan Alcorn: Susan is an Oakland, CA resident who has lived in the Bay Area most of her life. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley, raised two sons, returned to school to get a teaching credential, and taught 3rd-5th grades for 15 years until her retirement. She began backpacking at age 48 with the goal of climbing Mt. Whitney – at 14,505 feet, the highest mountain in the lower 48. In spite of a bear raiding her backpack the first night out, the trip was a great success. Susan’s latest hiking book is Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo

The title, “Bag the Bay Area’s Nifty Ninety Peaks!” grabbed my attention. I tore the pages out of our Sierra Club San Francisco Bay chapter’s December 2017 newsletter and glanced at the list of peaks. Some were high points that I had already climbed, others were ones I was familiar with but never visited, but most were ones I had never heard of. I handed it to my husband Ralph to look at, and said that we should do some of them someday. Then I added the pages to the stack of paperwork on my desk – that could well have been the kiss of death. 
Being a travel writer and hiker, I have file folders full of articles about places to go and see, most where there is some good hiking available. The Nifty Ninety pages could easily have been buried, but for some reason, the list and the challenge it represented kept calling me. With the year coming to an end, and a new year dawning, trying some new trails as a way of working off some of the holiday indulgences and get back outdoors was appealing.
So the next time we wanted to go out for a hike, we decided that we should climb Round Top, a peak in nearby Sibley Regional Park in Oakland, CA. We often hiked in the park and adding the ascent to our normal route required only a short detour. We took the paved road that utility companies used to reach their transmission towers – a very gradual climb that circled around the hill to reach the top. The gain was only 455 feet, but the view from the high point was amazing – and as a bonus, I was able to check a peak off the list.
The next day, we headed for another nearby park, Tilden, and again took a short detour to reach Vollmer Peak, which was a 1,325′ ascent. This involved a longer hike to reach, and more of an ascent but was still well within our comfort zone. The following day, we did a ten-mile loop through Redwood Regional Park and took the short off-trail path to Redwood Peak – only 389 feet higher than our trail, but nevertheless a third peak we could check off the list.
View of Mt. Diablo from Round Top, Sibley Regional Park, Oakland, CA
I started telling our friends what we were up to – and quickly gained a couple of hiking partners. After the first hike with us, they were as enthusiastic as we were and we started talking about how we could make this a regular thing. Since none of us were planning extended vacations or other long trips for a while, we were able to come up with the plan to save Thursday for Nifty Ninety.
We soon learned that none of the peaks’ ascents involved mountaineering skills – they were all either walk up or scramble up. At first we continued to do the easier hikes and peaks – we figured we could tackle the harder ones as we got stronger, and braver. The Sierra Club list didn’t have any information on the peaks other than their elevation, so there was a fair amount of research to do. We discovered a useful site, peakbagger.com, where we could record our progress. Though sometimes we found helpful information on Peakbaggers, AllTrails, and other sites, it was rarely straightforward to put together all the information we wanted. 
We took turns planning where to hike, how to get there, and which trail to take if there were options. We had to consider driving distances, weather, and varied trail conditions. Because our hiking partners lived 30 miles from us, they worked on the trails to the south and we took on the planning of the ones north of us.

Every hike has been an adventure and unique. Choosing favorites isn’t easy, but there are some that stand out:

Open Space: We are on a well-graded and maintained trail. Springtime, we set out for a five-mile loop hike in Olompali State Park, under a dark ceiling of clouds – Boo, our friend’s rescue dog, gets to be off leash so he is bounding through the fields covered with emerald-colored grass. We reach the high point, Mt. Burdell, and look out over the valley beyond. There’s a freeway off in the distance – hundreds of cars zip by, windshield wipers on – while we, with the exception of two other hikers – have the park to ourselves, and are looking out at a rainbow while staying perfectly dry. 
Totally Urban: The four of us take off for a day playing tourists to San Francisco. We take the local transit system (BART). This is going to be a three-peak day – Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill. Telegraph Hill is home of the historic Coit Tower and the area became even better known after the movie “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” came out. Some people climb the hill by going up the 500 steps of Filbert Street, but we worked our way through various city streets to do some other sightseeing on the way. The views as we climbed and when we reached the base of the tower were wonderful, but it was a sunny clear day, so we elected to pay the $6 entry fee to take the elevator to the top of the tower. From there we took in the spectacular panoramic views – to Alcatraz, Mt. Tamalpais, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, and many of the city’s neighborhoods. We hadn’t seen the murals inside the tower in many years, so we spent about a half hour viewing the frescoes that were painted on the tower’s inner walls during the 1930s – the first of the US Government Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). 
View from Coit Tower, Russian Hill, San Francisco, CA
Next we headed toward Russian Hill. This is an upscale residental community, probably best known to visitors for its winding Lombard Street. However, our interest was finding the high point. When we reached the top of Taylor Street, we thought we had found the high point in Ina Coolbrith Park (a much beloved local poet and librarian). Indeed, the views were again outstanding – but our GPS indicated we weren’t yet at the highest point. There was no tall monument to mark the spot, and mostly we saw condos and other residences. We did a bit of walking back and forth, circle a couple of blocks, stumbled onto a great ice cream shop, and finally located our destination – marked with a street sign and a brass plaque – at the intersection of Vallejo Street where it hit a small park between Jones and Taylor. 
And onward to Nob Hill, directly to the south and slightly uphill. As the name suggests, this is a pricey neighborhood – long time home to many upscale hotels, historic mansions, Huntington Park, and the Gothic Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church. We wandered into the cathedral to see the stained glass and bronze doors. There are two labyrinths to walk in a meditative manner – the one inside made of woolen tapestry, and the outdoor one made of terrazzo stone. From there, we hopped on the California Street Cable Car and made our way back to the transit stop.
Labyrinth, Grace Cathedral, on Nob Hill, San Francisco
It’s now a year later and I continue to be amazed that we have come as far as have on our challenge. We have completed 68 of the peaks and are determined to finish all of them. As we move into 2019, we will have to make some adjustments to our schedules – several of the remaining peaks are too far away for a day hike; we figure about six will involve overnight stays. Some of the hikes ahead will be more than 12 miles round trip. We are capable of this, but we will need a few more hours of daylight than we have in mid-January when you factor in the long driving times involved. 
As our list grows shorter, our options for our hikes are narrowing – and we are challenged to do some of the trails we have postponed for one reason or another. Finally, this last December, Ralph and I decided it was time to scout out the trails to two peaks in Mount Diablo State Park. I had worried about climbing to North Peak and Mount Olympia for the entire year because they were described as being difficult – the first because of the loose rock, the second because of the narrowness of the trail. But it was time for me to face my fears. The trail to North Peak (elevation 3,557′) was up and down – often slow going because of the steepness and rocky conditions, but I was able to make it to the top. I was elated!
However, it was an out-and-back hike and we had to go retrace our steps back out. I was scared to go back down the very first part. It was a wide fire road that sometime in the past had been partially paved. It had deteriorated to the point where it was a long stretch of broken concrete with loose rock interspersed with dirt with deep ruts. Ralph, whose balance is much better than mine, made his way carefully downhill.
I decided that rather than taking my chances falling (even though I use hiking poles), I would descend crablike. I alternately sat and lifted myself to my hands and feet. It was slow going, and not glamorous, but I emerged unscathed and I was very proud of myself. The second of the challenging peaks, Olympia, involved a bit longer hike, but the number of steep and rocky trails was fewer. “A piece of cake,” I told myself when we made it back to the car!
Labyrinth, Table Rock Trail, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Calistoga, CA
Finding hiking challenges isn’t new to us – Ralph and I have hiked many long trails – including the Pacific Crest Trail and thousands of miles on various Camino pilgrimage trails in Europe. We’ve also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. However, when we hike around home, we rarely have made peaks our destinations – and it has been fun to reach these high points with their incredible views. It has been thoroughly motivating to head for new parks and new trails. Even though I have lived in the SF Bay Area for more than 70 years, I can always find new places to explore. 
We’ve been rewarded by having the opportunity to spend more time with our friends working toward a mutual goal. In our normal life, we never seem to find enough time to slow down and be in the present. What better way to slow down and be in the moment than when slogging along a trail! And finally, we’ve made a ritual of stopping at a local brewpub on our way home – a chance to toast our achievements and talk about the hike – what better way to savor a perfect day!
Others may not have the playground that we have in the SF Bay Area, but there are still ways to make hikes fun, fresh, and fulfilling. The keys are: add variety, don’t be afraid of a little weather, and keep track of your accomplishments and celebrate them.