Up and Over!


For nearly two weeks I had lobbied for another burly session of questionable ‘riding’. The ride that I had in mind was another crossing of the formidable Palisades, the high rocks that look down on the Napa Valley from two thousand feet. I had done this ride one time a couple of years ago after learning of the possibility from Mark Stoppel. He is a person of unbounded energy who is likely to break out into push-ups if the conversation tends toward boring.

Concerned about trespassing I called a resident living at the bottom of the hill. He said he had no say in the matter, and please don’t use his name in the case of having to explain why we were there. It mattered little as our intent was merely to get across the very remote and uninhabited land to the Palisades hiking trail.

Jim Korte was the only other bikin’ fool available for the event. Slightly before noon the two plus dogs Belle and Swift began the massive climb towards the towering cliffs. The road has been ridden many times from top to bottom. On a raging downhill the scenery flies past. On this ride we had the chance to observe the surrounding terrain. There was serene beauty in the riverbed. Waterfalls tumbled over mossy green rocks. Ferns and wild flowers festooned the banks. The gray day gave a soft warm light to the entire view.

The ride/walk to the Palisades trail was relatively easy. It took no longer than it takes to ride the Oat to the top. At the bottom of the towering cliffs, we took a break to eat snacks and regroup for the push to the top of the ridge. The spot that we selected required mild bouldering to reach. Belle, without hesitation, scrambled up the not-so-tall rock. Swift was not so quick. She is a rookie without the experience and I finally had to grab her by the scruff of her back and hoist her to the upper level. We ate trail mix and Emergen-C.

Refreshed we began to ascend the tricky terrain. The ground was soft and accommodating but the rocks were slippery and sometimes loose. We had to skirt around the base of a very tall face. We could see the Palisades Trail below us and realized after a while that our route, although OK, was also more work than had we stayed on the trail for a while. At any rate we found one of the few chutes that slices through the shear faces of the Palisades. It was here that the work began in earnest. Although the climbing was relatively easy, with a bike it became very difficult. It took an enormous amount of energy to scale this particular chute. Eventually we topped the chute to easier going only to find that we had climbed to an impassible drop. My spirit sank. We were both getting tired. I was willing to quit and go back However, Jim refused to be deterred and scouted around and found a narrow shelf that could be safely transited to another area of steep climbing.

At this point I remembered that we should come out to an open, grassy area. Yet as we continued to make progress only more high rocks appeared. We could not see the ridge from our vantage point and worried that we would be marooned on a high spire. It would be impossible to down climb what we had just ascended. Unsure, we continued. We had to climb up another long, narrow chute that held no promise. We were starting to run on adrenalin. We had passed the point of no return.


Finally we began to see the tops of trees. We knew that this was good news. We struggled over more rocks and finally came to the vast, grassy area above the high rocks that can be seen from the valley. Now we began to have a sense of relief, though there were still many miles left in this adventure. We took another break when we at last reached the ridge and could see the attendant views towards Cub and Bear Valleys.

The descent into Cub valley was OK. It was not entirely easy. At one point there was some discussion about the direction. Most of the area was open for the first part of the descent. Then there was a vast area of brush. An old trail exists here, but it is hard to find if one doesn’t know about it. Without the trail, the hapless biker is relegated to merciless thrash through the buck brush. We found a cairn marker and ferreted out the trail. It was overgrown and hard to follow in places. Near the bottom the brush got so thick it required extraordinary methods to move the bike. Growing very tired, we began to use methods not normally recommended. Eventually we burst out into Cub Valley. From that point we could actually ride the bikes for extended distances.

We left Cub Valley and traveled to the spot of the Moonlight Madness birthday party. The fire that we had left was burned almost completely. We had a choice at that point whether to ride the ‘bypass’ route or descend on the road. As time was a factor, we chose the road hoping not to upset anyone in this remote wilderness area. We journeyed quickly to the Wild Lilac trail and began our last climb of the day. We were now fatigued. The dogs were not dashing about. They simply followed with their tongues hanging low.

At the top of the W.L. we traveled the Table Rock trail for a short distance then cut off on the 420 route. It was all downhill from there. The passage off the mountain was easy and quick. We both seemed to be riding the downhill strong and daring. Finally we hit the pavement and descended to the next trail which put us back on the Palisades Mine road.

Six hours after starting the adventure we rolled up to the car. All that was left was to drive to Cal Mart for beer and chips. We spent the next half hour rehashing the highlights of the journey. The dogs curled up and went to sleep. The trip was much more effort than I had anticipated. There was a point near the top when it seemed fruitless. But we carried on. Now we have only to wait for the next opportunity to sally forth and contact the high adventure zone once again.