The first time I ran up Mt. Diablo, I was new to running, and especially to trail running. A friend invited me and told me it would be fun. Not only was my virgin ascent the longest I had ever run, it was by far the most elevation I had ever traversed in a single run. I was such a “running newb” I think I was wearing board shorts and cotton boxer-briefs (needless to say, my inner-thighs were not happy by the time our journey was over). Other trips to Devil’s Mountain have been similarly epic and miserable, mostly due to starting out too hard, or more often due to the summer heat. And after a fire blazed through in May of 2014 and scorched much of the south side of the mountain, those areas (the hottest places) have felt particularly desolate and forsaken, making Mt. Diablo seem all the more appropriate of a name.
As the plaque at the top of the mountain will tell you, it probably acquired it’s name due to “a linguistic accident” mistaking monte to mean “mountain” when Monte Diablo was originally referring to a “thicket.” Whatever the reason for Mount Diablo’s naming, given my early experiences with the mountain, I could easily understand how one might associate the place with some sort of malevolent force or spirit, particularly on a hot day.
But if those early spanish soldiers would have just simply consulted Wikipedia, they would have known that some of the surrounding tribal groups called the mountain Tuyshtak, meaning, “at the dawn of time,” potentially among some other names also referring to creation/birth/newness. According to the mythology, when Mt Tam and Mt Diablo were surrounded by water, and just two islands poking out of the ocean, “the creator Coyote and his assistant eagle-man made Indian people and the world” (wikipedia).
Just like those Spaniards of old, I was pretty quick to assign a label to this mountain based on only a few experiences, and have only recently begun to appreciate the beauty and life that those Miwok and Ohlone namers of the mountain saw.
Probably the first differing character I saw of the mountain was discovering snow on it in winter, and having fun sliding around on a large ice-puddle. But I think my favorite season on Diablo is spring, when the wildflowers are out, and the morning temperatures are perfect running weather.
This past spring I have seen more wildflowers out than ever before, particularly on the south-side of the mountain, where the flowering vines are crawling up the blackened skeletons of old manzanita bushes. It is not a new idea, but I find this image a particularly striking example of how a wildfire can precede flowering, how destruction can lead to new life. The mountain has reminded me that any moment in time is only that, a moment, and the richness and complexity of many things that can only come out over time.