A foggy view worth seeing
Sweeney Ridge
Neil Wiley

As I headed up Highway 280 to San Bruno on a dark and rainy morning, I thought this hike would be a bust, but I decided to give it a try.

When I parked at the gate at the end of Sneath Lane, I helped two women lift a baby stroller over the high fence. I was rewarded by a little conversation in a charming Irish brogue. When I apologized for the rainy weather, they laughed. “Oh, this weather is perfect. It’s much better than Ireland.”

I asked them how things were at home. “Terrible, terrible. Times are hard. We aren’t living; we are just existing.” They said it all with big smiles. As with so many Irish, they seemed to enjoy pain. My grandfather would have added, “If we are very lucky, it will get worse.”

As I walked almost two miles up a continuing grade of 558 feet, I began to wonder if it could get worse, but I was too busy bagging my camera from the rain when I met an elderly lady (perhaps almost as old as me) who said, “Isn’t this beautiful. So soft, quiet, and green.” I wondered if it was this green in Ireland, and I began to appreciate the wet, cold fog, the rain, and the misty views of a distant lake.

There was much to appreciate. The narrow black road continued uphill, but it wasn’t too steep. Even with fog, the views were spectacular. The road was bordered by green brush, deep grass, and a bevy of spring wildflowers, including natural bouquets of my favorite, the wild Douglas iris. I also saw California poppy, sticky monkeyflower, lupine, buttercups, sunflowers, many berries, and flowering brush. Even the flowering poison oak looked good.

Near the top, I passed through a shady grove of eucalyptus, pretty but better appreciated on a hot day. A yellow line marked the center of the road to keep cyclists, runners, and hikers from hitting each other or dropping off the edge, especially during persistent fog.

When I reached the 1,213-foot ridge, I turned left on the dirt of the Sweeney Ridge Trail that took me to the Portola Discovery site. A stone slab and an interpretive sign mark the location where, in 1769, the first Europeans saw San Francisco Bay. They were lucky. By the time I got there, the fog was so thick, I could barely see the markers, much less the bay.

Portola wasn’t that excited by his discovery. He was lost at the time, but he noted that he saw “a large arm of the sea…some sort of harbor there within the mountains.” Ironically, a land expedition had found what seafaring explorers had missed—the San Francisco Bay.

I retraced my steps to the top of Sneath Lane, and walked north along the ridge to a newer bit of history, a Nike missile-control site. Built in the 1950s to protect against Soviet Bear bombers, the Nike Hercules missiles became obsolete, and the site was abandoned in 1974. Only a few graffiti-covered buildings remain from this cold-war relic. Let’s hope we won’t need to use missiles again.

If the fog had lifted, I would have walked further along the Sweeney Ridge Trail or Mori Ridge Trail. They promised views of Pacifica and the ocean, but not on this day. Instead, I walked down the paved road back to the car, but I promised myself that I would return when I would suffer from more sun, but see more views.

To visit Sweeney Ridge, take Highway 280 north. Go beyond Highway 92 and Crystal Springs Reservoir on Highway 280. Follow Highway 35 left when it separates from Highway 280. Turn left on Sneath Lane. Follow Sneath Lane to the end of the road. Roadside parking is available for about 15 cars.

An excellent color map is available at www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/upload/sb-sweeney-2008.pdf.

A compostable pit toilet is located at the top of Sneath Lane. No water is available. Dogs are permitted on leash. Trails are multi-use. (Watch for bicyclists and runners.)