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Mount Tamalpais

Mount Tamalpais State Park

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July 18th, 1998

10.9 miles
2700 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:50

Rating: 8/10

Directions: Take 101 north across the Golden Gate Bridge. Take the Stinson Beach exit west and drive about 4 miles to the Panoramic Highway. Turn right and continue uphill for 5.5 miles. Turn left at the parking area -- the Pantoll Ranger Station and Trailhead. A $5 parking fee is charged.   View Driving Map

Ivan, Jean, Joe, Kelly, Lan, Reza, Sam, and I went to Mt. Tamalpais State Park to hike up down to the beach and back up to Mt. Tam.

Eight months after I originally scheduled the hike, we finally did it.

The plan was to meet at Pantoll at 1pm and start hiking shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, seemingly everyone in the Bay Area was headed toward Stinson Beach in the midst of a heat wave, and traffic was horrible. By the time we reached Pantoll, the lot was full, and some of us had to park a half mile up the road. We ended up not starting the hike until about 2:50pm.

Rolling hills near the beginning of our hike along the Matt Davis Trail

The Matt Davis Trail starts just across the road from the Pantoll parking lot. The trail shortly enters a wooded area where the shade protected us from the harsh sun which baked the area to 97 degrees. After pausing at the edge of the shade, we continued along the trail, out into the open, rolling hills with views of the shimmering ocean. After about a mile, we re-entered the cooler forest and continued our descent. Parts of the trail are very narrow, with brush touching us on both sides. But the trail is generally well-maintained, with wooden railings in some sections. We made a brief stop at Table Rock, where we had great views of Stinson Beach below. Shortly thereafter, we came across an unmarked fork in the road. We guessed correctly and took the left fork. At the next unmarked fork, we took the obvious right fork and a few hundred yards emerged from the forest onto a road which led us past a fire house.

As we walked south along the Shoreline Highway, we saw a seemingly endless line of cars extending along the highway, headed to the beach. I thought that the hike would land us at the sands of Stinson Beach itself, but we were still some distance from the beach when we turned up the Panoramic Highway to the Dipsea Trailhead. I would have gone down to the beach, but because we'd started late, I was worried we wouldn't have time to make it to the top before sunset. In fact, I was worried even without going to the beach.

It'd taken us 4 miles and 1 hour, 50 minutes to get to Stinson. We had 3 miles to go back up to Pantoll, and then another 4 miles after that to get to the East Peak. Shortly after heading up the Dipsea trail, we stopped briefly to eat. At this point, Lan, Sam, and Joe decided to stay back and take their time -- they'd stop at Pantoll and drive to the top while Ivan, Jean, Reza, and I would continue hiking to the top. After eating, we emerged again from the shade into open, rolling hills. Then it was back into the forest, where we would stay all the way up to Pantoll. After 1.2 miles from Stinson, we reached the Steep Ravine Trail.

This is probably the nicest part of the hike. The Steep Ravine Trail heads up the hills beside Webb Creek. The shade kept the temperature to a bearable 80 degrees. There was lush green undergrowth (plenty of food for Lan!). Unfortunately, Jean was affected by the heat already, and we slowed partway up the trail. The rest of the group caught up to us, and Ivan, Reza, and I continued on. Time was becoming a factor, and Ivan literally started running up the trail (he was probably just trying to catch the woman who'd passed us). Reza and I tried to keep pace. So, while the rest of the group enjoyed a nice pool where they stopped and waded, I don't even remember noticing the pool.

We made it back to Pantoll about 1 hour, 30 minutes after leaving Stinson. That left us a little under 2 1/2 hours to hike the remaining 4 miles to the top. Kelly joined us at this point, but Ivan, suffering from muscle cramps, stayed behind. The Old Mine Trail starts along a paved road next to the Panoramic Highway, across from the ranger station. It climbs up to the Mountain Theater -- an impressive-looking outdoor amphitheater set in the middle of the park. At the far right of the theater we found the next trailhead, the Rock Spring Trail toward West Point Inn (do not go to Rock Spring itself!).

The Mountain Theater. Reza and Kelly refused to be in the picture!

Along the Rock Spring Trail, the area darkened considerably and we quickened our pace to avoid missing the sun set. Kelly, being fresh, took me too literally when I said to pick up the pace -- she started running along the trail. When we emerged from the trees, we were greeted with gorgeous views of San Francisco, the bay, and the ocean.

We soon found ourselves at the West Point Inn (one of the few structures you'll see along the trail, save a water tower). At this point, we had less than 2 miles to go, and it was about 7pm, so we relaxed as we realized we had plenty of time. We followed the Old Railroad Grade -- a fire road where we saw a few mountain bikers and some hikers. We ended up on the road just below the back of the East Peak parking lot, and found the rest of the group at the top, relaxing.

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge from East Peak

We did, as a group, the short hike up to the East Peak. There we took in the views of the entire area as we relaxed and waited for the sun to set. Several other people scattered themselves around the area as they waited, as well. To the east, we could see the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Mt. Diablo, and the East Bay. To the south, the Bay Bridge. To the north, rolling hills and Bon Tempe Lake. To the west, the sun setting into the fog and ocean.

Sitting on the edge of nowhere. That's San Francisco through the haze.

Because of the heat, the fog was slow to creep in. Thick fog surrounding the area is what is supposed to make the sun sets here so amazing, since the peak is above the fog line. Unfortunately, that was not the case for us, but it was still nice to see the sun set. The sun seemed to hang on forever, though. It sank to the horizon, which started to glow, and then slowly faded. It seemed to just sit in the fog, like an iceberg, a small portion of it visible above the fog for seemingly 10 minutes or more, before it finally sank completely.

Last rays of light hitting Bon Tempe Lake

Sunset from East Peak

Afterwards we made our way down in the dimming light. I'm disappointed in myself for failing to remember to bring a flashlight, but it was bright enough that we didn't need it. Then it was back in our cars and back down the winding road to civilization.

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