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I was up before 3a and had the kids bundled in the Accord and off around 3:15a. Not surprisingly, I made good time up Interstate 880 on the East Bay, then over the Richmond Bridge to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. This windy byroad goes through a handful of small towns in Marin, including Greenbrae, San Anselmo, and Fairfax. The latter was where I wanted to find the Fairfax-Bolinas Rd, but I drove right past it for several miles before realizing my mistake. I stopped the car in a right turn lane on Sir Francis Drake and got the map out of my pack in the trunk to recheck my directions. Ryan woke up around here and grew concerned we were lost. I ended up asking the guy at the 7-11 for directions - it turns out that Bolinas Rd doesn't intersect Sir Francis Drake and there were some short connecting streets that had to be negotiated to find it. From there it was easy to find the Pine Mtn TH 3.8 miles up the road. This isn't the only way to reach Pine Mtn, but it seems to be the shortest with the least elevation gain - both pluses with the kids.
And so it was just after 5a, almost an hour before sunrise by the time we started off. The sky was just starting to lighten and it turned out we didn't need headlamps at all, despite no moon. This was just as well since it made it seem dark for a little while, which Jackie was most looking forward to. Technically we were parked illegally since the TH is signed for No Parking from sunset to sunrise, but I figured our chances of being ticketed an hour before sunrise were minimal.
The air temperatures were cool but above average for this time of morning. The fog had been blown out of the area by a nice breeze. Ryan and Jackie started with jackets on, but were down to T-shirts in less than five minutes. It was a great time to be hiking on this ridgeline trail as we were treated to fine views of the dawning day with an orange and yellow eastern horizon. Though both San Francisco and Oakland lay under fog, we could see the lights of the various smaller towns around the North Bay that were free of cloud cover.
The hills here are an interesting transition from the chaparral-covered central coast ranges to the pine, fir, and redwood forests of the northern coast ranges. The Marin hills have all of these in a pleasant mix along with large grassy stretches over some of the ridges and hillsides. Poison oak is present but scant along the ridgelines, far more abundant in the gulches and canyons.
We took our first break after 40 minutes, at the main junction about half a mile from the summit. Sunrise came just after 6a as we paused on the trail to take in the sight. Jackie pointed out this was her second sunrise hike with me, and loved it just as much the second time. We reached the summit of Pine Mtn via a narrow use trail about ten minutes later. The summit was a small conglomeration of rock on two sides of which long rock walls had been piled up, perhaps to mark a property boundary in some distant past. Whoever had done it must have put much work into the effort. Our views included Mt. Tamalpais which dominated the view south, the Bolinas Ridge to the west, Barnabe Peak to the northwest, Mt. St. Helena to the northeast, and Mt. Diablo far to the southeast.
By 7:15a we were back at the car, having put in about five miles and 800ft of gain. The kids ate breakfast in the car as I drove back down to Fairfax, then continued west to Samuel P Taylor State Park. The highpoint of the park is Barnabe Peak, our next destination. I chose the Devils Gulch entrance for the hike, parking just outside on the west side of Sir Francis Drake. This isn't the shortest way to the summit, but it has two trail options which would allow us to make a small loop of the hike.
The half mile portion into Devils Gulch was green and lush, very pleasant. The creek was not much more than a trickle, but apparently in season salmon can be found spawning. The kids were bummed that the season was October through March. Not much salmon to be found in mid-July. We hiked up the Barnabe Fire Rd, the shorter but steeper of the two options. It's probably the better of the two for the reason explained later. After traversing from Devils Gulch into and out of the next canyon, Deadman Gulch, a junction is reached with the fire road that climbs the NW Ridge of Barnabe. The road is exposed and steep and Jackie wasn't enjoying this part at all. We took half a dozen breaks to mollify her along the way. Ryan picked up a large stick with a lizard on it that provided much amusement. We let it climb onto Ryan's shirt, around his back and eventually down his leg before escaping. The poison oak along this route was only sporadic and easily avoided. We spent about an hour and ten minutes to reach the summit from the start. The trail signs indicate about 3.5 miles total, but it must be about a mile shorter than that based on our pace and the stops we took.
The summit of Barnabe is crowned by a modern Fire Lookout, maintained by the county fire department. A communication tower lies alongside it. The tower was closed during our visit, so we were unable to reach the observation deck. The topo map shows the summit as lying about a hundred yards to the north, but from the summit rocks just west of the tower it was clear we were on the highest point. We had lunch and played around at the tower for about half an hour or so before heading back down.
We took Bill's Trail on the descent, about a mile longer but much less steep as it makes a series of long switchbacks down the north side of Barnabe. We soon realized the problem with this trail is an abundance of poison oak. We spent far too much time and concentration avoiding the stuff than the pleasant surroundings were worth. Ryan in particular was tasked with being extra cautious as he was the only one wearing shorts. The last mile of the trail was in better shape, wide and easy to avoid contact with the encroaching flora.
It was 11:30a by the time we returned to the car and both Ryan and Jackie were quite certain they were done for the day. We ended up with more than 10 miles and 2,000ft of gain, so I was happy to let them off the hook. I still wanted to hike to Mt. Wittenberg, so they were left to fend for themselves while I took an hour to do that one. We parked at the Bear Valley TH near the Visitor Center which the kids checked out while I was off hiking. They reported finding it quite interesting and far better than another hike. While they were doing that, I was making good time up the Mt. Wittenberg Trail. It is open to both hikers and equestrians and quite popular with both. The trail was pleasant and moderately steep, climbing about 1,200ft in two miles. The summit is decidedly non-plussed, with absolutely no views. There is a battered benchmark at the top and several small use trails heading off in different directions, but none to places with views, as far as I could tell. I think the Sky Trail coming from the northwest may be a better way to approach the summit with views off towards the coast.
After leaving park HQ, we drove south on SR1 and then up to Mt. Tamalpais. With the kids now fast asleep in the car, I made an effort to reach West Peak (also a CC-listed peak), but found it surrounded by two barbed-wire-topped fences. I was not prepared for the assault this might entail, so I went back down to save it for another time. We drove to the road's end at the East Peak parking lot, but Ryan was not interested in hiking the 1/2 mile it would take to reach the Marin County highpoint (I had mistakenly thought it was a drive-up). So we left that, too, for another day.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Pine Mountain - Barnabe Mountain - Mt. Wittenberg
This page last updated: Tue Aug 24 11:01:33 2010
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