The Squishy Trail to Windy Hill

January 2019 Hiking


The tale

On a clear day, the view from Windy Hill overlooks the Bay Area from San Jose to San Francisco. Prior weeks of cold, steady rain promised such a view — if you didn’t mind a little mud.

I stopped at the trailhead to pick up a paper map and evaluate options. A fellow hiker aiming for the same destination paused as well. Consulting the map, we agreed that the Spring Ridge Trail was the best option going uphill, then downhill in a loop along Lost Trail and Hamms Gulch Trail.

If you’re going to face a 1300-foot climb up muddy slopes and windswept grasslands, it’s best to go with a companion. So what started as “maybe see you around” turned into wandering the whole loop together, squishing through mud, and taking in the scenery.

Mud on the Spring Ridge Trail
Mud on the Spring Ridge Trail.

Did I mention the mud? This was my muddiest hike in the South Bay since starting this blog. It was sticky, it was slippery, it had standing pools of water in other hikers’ bootprints.

Amphibian on the trail
A slick amphibian ambled across the trail. No hurry. No hurry at all.

The view was worth a little effort, though, and two hours later we’d reached the summit of Windy Hill itself. Other summits have views of the South Bay, but here we could see almost 360° around.

Bay Area view
Bay Area view, looking north towards Palo Alto on a brisk January day.

Even after we left, the trail revealed expansive scenery. Severe drop-offs on narrow tracks made for great views — and let Windy Hill live up to its name.

Jill takes in the scenery
My new hiking buddy was kind enough to wait as I snapped photos along the way.

Dense trees enclosed our return trek along Hamms Gulch Trail. We met a would-be trail runner who was hoping higher elevations would be a bit drier. She was right. Trail conditions worsened the lower we went. Trickling water joined pools on the trail. At some points, my boots tended to get mired in the much if I held still too long. Other places were so slippery that only my trekking poles kept me upright.

Parasitical fungi across a tree branch
Parasitical fungi attacked many trees in the moist parts of Hamms Gulch Trail.

The trail was popular with hikers, many of whom had dogs. You know those fluffy, ankle-high dogs that seem best used to dust floors? We saw a few of those. Most were caked chest-deep in sticky brown mud. None of them looked happy about it.

Mud on my boots
In the end, my boots didn’t get as muddy as I expected.