Richardson East BM P900
Shroyer Mountain P900
Hicks Mountain P900

Mon, Apr 14, 2014
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3

A full moon was approaching along with another opportunity for some night hiking. Even better, a total lunar eclipse was on tap, visible over all of North America. This seemed like a fine opportunity to tag three remaining P900's in Marin County, two of them on private ranchlands. The weather wasn't fully coopertative as there was fog scheduled over much of the area, but it was only a minor inconvenience. I found myself cruising through San Francisco traffic before 8p, across the Golden Gate Bridge and then to the first stop of the night as it was growing dark.

Richardson East BM

This is the highest summit in the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It lies just west of US101 and the community of Sausalito. I had looked at visiting it once before via Wolfback Ridge Rd, but the private drive signs shown in the Google StreetView dissuaded me because it is a private driveway. A better perusal of the maps showed that Richardson lies within the GGNRA and there is a network of trails available to bypass the problem associated with Wolfback Ridge Rd. I found my way to the TH for the Morning Star Trail at a Park-N-Ride lot on the west side of the highway. It's not at all obvious how to get there from the northbound side, so a good study of the map is essential. Even then, once you pass under the freeway to the west side you must make an immediate right turn into the parking lot, otherwise it's back onto the southbound freeway you go. I went past the turn without realizing this, and it was only because I got lucky with no traffic behind me that I could back up 30yds and avoid the freeway merry-go-round. There were only two other cars in the lot when I arrived - commuters, not hikers - and both would be gone when I returned. I was a little concerned leaving my car here, but the hike was a short one and I did not expect to be long.

The trail starts off through a dense redwood understory, climbing steeply up a switchbacking trail augmented with wooden steps to lessen erosion. Though the moon was only slightly obscured by thin clouds at this time, it was too dark to see safely without a headlamp until I reached the top of the trail in about 10 minutes. In contrast to the Diablo hills I'd been in recently, the area here is lush with ferns and many varieties of flowering plants. Fog is almost as good as rain, maybe better. At the junction with the Alta Trail, a dirt road that traverses along the ridge, I turned left to continue on a few more minutes. This led to the intersection with the top of Wolfback Ridge Rd and the access road to Richardson. Five minutes up this gravel road brought me to the summit and its collection of communications towers. There was a rather beefy fence around the top with signs indicating possible death by electromagnetic radiation awaiting on the other side. As with most security fences, the weakness is found at the gate where breeching is easiest. I found the highest point amid a collection of brush with a small, lonely antennae in the heart of it. I walked around the tower area, finding the best nighttime views to the southeast overlooking the Bay, the GG and Bay bridges, and the lights of San Francisco. To the west were just a few lights towards the Pacific, overlooking the Marin Headlands, the moon barely able to provide enough light to illuminate the soft features of these rolling hills. After a quick visit at the breezy and quite chilly summit, I headed back via the same route.

Shroyer Mountain

Shroyer Mtn is located adjacent to the famous Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas' film ranch in the secluded Marin hills along Lucas Valley Rd (the road is not named for George, but a turn-of-the-century homesteading family). It's not clear if Shroyer is part of the vast 3,000-acre ranch, but I knew that approaching it from Lucas Valley Rd was inviting trouble, so instead I elected to start from Old Rancheria Rd in Nicasio on the west side. At the end of the publicly accessible portion of this road is a small clearing to turn around (or park, in this case), just out of sight from a few lighted homes to the west. It took about 35 minutes to drive north on US101 and then west on Lucas Valley Rd to the very small town of Nicasio.

I slipped through an aging fence to start up a steep, grass slope at the top of which I intersected a ranch road I had identified previously. The road climbs about 1,300ft over two miles to the summit, crossing two property boundaries. Fog was coming in thicker now, obscuring the upper slopes and bringing damp, chilly air over the landscape. Frogs on the lower slopes kept up a noisy chorus as I hiked up the road, watching the few lights of Nicasio dim and then fade as I rose higher into the fog layer. In the thickest part of the fog I crossed onto a vineyard property, whose vines were had just recently begun to sprout new shoots. Even with the route marked on my GPS, I managed to wander off the wrong side of the mountain before realizing my error and correcting it. After exiting the vineyard property some minutes later, I continued along the more easily followed road that continues rising more gently up the south side of the ridge. Eventually the moon came back into hazy view and then I broke above the fog layer with several hundred feet of elevation still remaining to the summit. This made for some rather sublime nighttime scenery with the Bay Area lights glowing up through the fog in the distance. The one picture I took of Mt. Tamalpais to the south hardly did justice to this wonderful scene. Above, the eclipse had started as the earth's shadow could just be noticed on the left edge of the moon. Sadly, the fog would make enjoying the full extent of the eclipse impossible.

The road bypasses the actual summit of Shroyer, necessitating some cross-country travel through pine forest understory, heavy with duff and carpeted with patches of poison oak disguised as ground cover. I danced around this stuff in a meandering route that led to the very uninteresting summit heavily covered in trees and devoid of any view. I found the highest point around a medium-sized tree and satisfied, beat a retreat. Back on the road, I reversed my route, looking up at the moon periodically to watch the eclipse until I was once again back in the fog and the accompanying chill. Jogging much of the route, I was back down in little more than 30 minutes.

Hicks Mountain

Located about five miles northwest of Shroyer, the drive between the two starting points takes less than ten minutes. A little-used ranch road runs up to the summit along the SE Ridge starting from the pavement at Point Reyes-Petaluma Rd. There is a small turnout that barely holds a vehicle at the locked gate where I parked. Even at this late hour there were cars coming by at regular intervals. It is not the best of places to leave a vehicle. Like on Shroyer, I hoped to be able to get above the cloud layer in order to take in the eclipse, but alas this was not to be. Though slightly higher than Shroyer, the fog layer had thickened and I would not be able to get above it. I was close however, and for fleeting moments near the top I could see the moon and eclipse near full before the fog would once again sweep the view away. The hike was not particularly interesting thanks to the fog. A stronger wind was sweeping across the ridgeline as I climbed higher on the rocky road, forcing me into all the clothing I had brought with me in my pack. The road makes no appologies as it climbs directly up the ridgeline, climbing 1,100ft in a mile and a half. The summit is a rounded, grassy knoll with views possible in all directions without the bother of fog. I was back down shortly after midnight, jogging the entire way as much to keep warm as to get down more quickly.

Back at the van, I pulled a jug of hot water from the cooler I had kept it in during the night (it did an excellent job of maintaining the heat, btw) and took a quick rinse with the chilly breeze cooling me almost as quickly as the water would warm me. Under such motivation, it takes only about 90 seconds to shower, dry and dress. I drove to Novato where I parked in a quiet neighborhood for the night, spending what remained of it comfortably ensconced in my sleeping bag in the back of the van. Overall, not a bad way to spend a Monday night...

Continued...


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