Forest Hill
Golden Gate Heights Park
Grand View Park
Strawberry Hill
Rob Hill
Presidio Hill
Pacific Heights
Lone Mountain
Ignatius Heights
Mt. Sutro
Mt. Olympus
Buena Vista Heights
Corona Heights
Tank Hill
Twin Peaks CC

Mon, Mar 17, 2014

With: Pete Yamagata

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Pete had contacted me a few weeks earlier to do a hike to the summit of Mt. Sutro, San Francisco's 3rd highest summit by most counts (counting SF hills is a bit subjective, more on that later). A few days before our Thursday date I had to cancel due to family obligations, so we rescheduled for Monday, St. Patrick's Day. It turned out to be a beautiful day in the city.

Pete wasn't due to arrive at our Starbuck's meeting place north of Mt. Sutro until 1:45p-2p in the afternoon. I decided to head to SF early, taking my bike to ride around and collect a number of hills across the center part of the city. I had biked to SF from San Jose once about 30 years ago, but it was a quick trip in an out to visit a friend. This was the first time I actually took the time to tour around the city on bike and I absolutely loved it. The hills are generally short but steep and it's easy to get a good workout. There are so many nooks and corners around the city to explore all packed into a dense urban layout. The city seems to be fairly bike-friendly and I had none of the anxiety I usually get when I drive a car there. I spent about three hours on the bike before we met and an hour and a half afterwards, our hike on foot taking about two and half hours in the middle. All in all, a wonderful way to spend a sunny day.

Collecting SF hills turns out to be less obvious than one might think. There is no official list and various online resources count anywhere from 23 to more than 50. The larger numbers take in places that have almost no prominence but perhaps have a hill-like name such as "heights". Some aren't really hills at all such as Hawk Hill Park which is on the southwest flank of Forest Hill. There are competing names for hills as well to add to the confusion. For instance, Grand View Park is also called Larsens Peak and Turtle Hill. Trying to get a comprehensive list becomes a difficult task and one may have to spend considerable time and effort in the process - all part of the fun. Below is a short summary of the hills I visited on the day. About 27 miles were on bike, about 3 miles on foot with Pete. Some confusion over names led to doubling up on some of the hills as I paid a second visit with Pete. In the end it was great fun and the exact routes and list of hills, official or otherwise were less important.

Forest Hill

The 4th highest summit in SF is located in a neighborhood by the same name. The summit is crowned by a small tower and a large water tank surrounded by a high fence. Not very visitor-friendly nor worth the visit. After leaving Mt. Sutro, Pete and I went in search of what I thought he was calling "Hog Hill". Turns out he was saying "Hawk Hill". But there is no Hawk Hill as I came to find later - there's just a park on the side of Forest Hill named Hawk Hill Park. It didn't help that the map Pete had brought was difficult to read for two guys over 50yrs of age with poor eyesight. Further, Pete was of the opinion that most maps, Google's included, are almost always incorrect whereas I confess a more religious faith in their accuracy. It was not the picture of two career hikers with more than 50 years of map-reading experience that you might have expected. We used a method of navigation resembling brownian motion to get us in the right direction, eventually asking a local jogger we ran into. It was while Pete was conversing with this gentleman that I realized on the GPS we were nearing the track I created when I went by the same area hours earlier. As the picture became clearer to me, Pete seemed to grow more confused, but eventually we got back on the same page and were saved the embarassment of an unplanned bivy due to being lost in the urban jungle.

Golden Gate Heights Park

Another hill named for the surrounding neighborhood, this one adds the designation "Park". The summit is crowned with Monterey Pines and other trees, making for a nice little forest park in an urban setting but weak on views. There are tennis courts, poorly maintained, and a kids' playground. The park appears to be most popular with dog owners. I made two visits to this one. On the second go around with Pete, he was thinking we'd reached Hawk Hill. I showed him the sign at the base of the hill that gives the proper name. We had to give up on Hawk Hill and it was only later that evening that I discovered the source of our confusion on that one.

Grand View Park

Located at the north end of the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood, this summit has the look and feel of a real hill. There are only a few trees and the views are wide open in most directions, thus the name. There is not much in the way of park facilities, just a few benches on the rocky summit. There is no handicap access to the park, just the stairs on the south and east sides. I had taken the longer stairway up from the bottom of Moraga St. the first time, carrying the bike up the whole way. A women passing me on her way down asked with a smile if I planned to ride down. We both laughed at that one. There were three hispanic guys at the top sharing some medicinal herbs, probably on a shared health plan, while some other folks were taking in the views and posing for pictures taken by friends. On the second visit in the afternoon it was less crowded, probably because the afternoon winds off the Pacific had kicked up and it was considerably chillier.

Strawberry Hill

This is the only named summit in Golden Gate Park, the centerpiece of Stow Lake which encircles the hill. There are trails spiraling to the summit, but the dense forest negates any chance for views. The lake is popular with families, boaters and a collection of birds including seagulls, geese, and coots, among others. There are nice trails to hike and ride throughout the park.

Rob Hill

Located in the Presidio on the Pacific side, this is the only legal campground in all of San Francisco. there is a benchmark located at the highpoint which is hard to find in the forest. It's located just above the large campfire circle. Though there are no views to be had from the summit, there are fine views to the Pacific and the entrance to the Golden Gate from nearby Lincoln Blvd. There are a great many trails throughout the Presidio which is now managed by the Presidio Trust, and a great many sights to see. I visited the historic residential buildings, the National Cemetery, and others.

Presidio Hill

The highpoint of the Presidio is unfortunately hard to find and fenced off. It is located at the edge of the Presidio Golf Course, but can be reached via the trail network to the north. There is a communcations tower and a few building located just outside the main fence that surrounds the large water storage facility. Though topped with spiraling razor wire, the fence can be easily breached by slipping under the gate near the tower.

Pacific Heights

The summit is located at the intersection of Lyon St. and Pacific Ave at the SE corner of the Presidio. Not very interesting.

Lone Mountain/Ignatius Heights

These two summits are covered by the USF campus. Lots of students roaming around a very beautiful campus setting. The library atop Ignatius Heights with its beautiful pool is particularly striking.

Following my visit of the above summits, I met up with Pete at the Starbucks at the edge of the UCSSF campus on Parnassus. It was 1:55p when I pulled up, just within the agreed upon time window. Pete had gotten there early and had been waiting some 40 minutes. I was about to lock my bike to a parking meter as others had done nearby, but Pete warned I might be cited by overzealous SF police who don't take kindly to inappropriate use of city facilities. I decided to then lock it to the railing along the sidewalk in front of Starbucks. Pete suggested I should probably go inside to get permission, otherwise it might get reported to the police and removed. Luckily it's a very old bike that I don't have strong attachments to and I decided to take my chances. Off we went.

Mt. Sutro

Part of the UCSF campus, the summit is a wooded open space reserve with various trails leading to the summit, the third highest in SF. I was surprised to find that Sutro Tower is not located on Mt. Sutro, but a nearby, lower hill to the east. We started up Medical Center Way which runs behind the UCSF Medical Center and up the hill. We took the first stairway off this road leading to a parking lot and eventually the trail network. Pete had planned to take us on a loop up the North Ridge Trail and down the East Ridge Trail, but we missed the former and headed up the latter. This caused a small amount of confusion after we'd reached the summit in less than half an hour. Though views were lacking, we found the highest rock upon which Pete did his now-famous summit twirl as proof against detractors who might doubt his ascents, while I took pictures of some flowers found in the summit clearing and the nearby Sutro Tower. Some confusion ensued over how to get off the summit, and it was only after we'd passed back and forth a few times over the summit that I realized Pete's confusion was due to his thinking we'd ascended the North Ridge Trail when in fact we had not. This had him turned around until we reoriented at the kiosk map found near the summit. We went down off the South Trail (watch for poison oak) and began our search for Hog Hill (my confusion). There were many trail junctions as we descended, and numerous street corners enroute, Pete photographing all of them to aid others who might want to make a similar adventure. The rest of this journey on foot was chronicled earlier.

Following our ascent of Grand View Park, we returned to our meeting place on Parnassus Ave near the UCSF Medical Center. We found my bike neither impounded, stolen, nor vandalized. Our faith in our fellow man was temporarily restored. Pete had a bus to catch in a few hours' time and wanted to catch dinner downtown before his departure, so I bid him goodbye as I went off to tour a few more hills on the bike.

Mt. Olympus

Northeast of Mt. Sutro is Mt. Olympus, though this one appears poorly named. Really just a small hill, it's found just south of Ashbury Heights, the summit located in the middle of a small neighborhood where a small monument stands. On land donated by Adolph Sutro in 1887 once stood the Triumph Light Statue. The Light Statue is now gone and all that remains is the stone base, but the small park is a quaint nod to the past and makes for a contemplative environ. Though mostly surrounded by trees and homes, there is a nice view looking east across downtown and the Bay.

Buena Vista Heights

Just northeast of Mt. Olympus is Buena Vista Park that encompasses the highpoint, Buena Vista Heights. There is a large grassy clearing at the top, well-maintained and popular with dog owners. Surrounding trees block most views from the summit.

Corona Heights

Between Buena Vista Park and The Castro is the Randall Museum and Corona Heights Park. Though small, the park is open to fine views of downtown and the east side of the city. The rocky summit was once quarried for brick materials.

Tank Hill Park

This tiny park is located just southeast of Mt. Olympus. There are several trails that can be used to access it, the shortest is a wooden stairway off Twin Peak Blvd. There is a rocky outcrop near the highpoint that is prominent from the surrounding neighborhood and makes for a good view spot. There were three other parties when I visited. The man in the orange shirt had been seated on the rock outcrop for the past half hour as I was touring the previous summits.

Twin Peaks

South of Tank Hill and east of Mt. Sutro, Twin Peaks is the 2nd highest summit in SF. Christmas Tree Point is a popular tourist attraction at the north end, offering fine views overlooking the city. The twin summits have been given two names, Eureka Peak to the north and Noe Peak, the higher summit to the south. There is only about 100ft of prominence between them, so it seems more proper to consider them one peak, but if you're trying to ratchet up the number of SF summits, Eureka and Noe it is.

I had considered visiting Mt. Davidson, SF's highest, a short distance to the south, but it was growing chillier and the sun was getting lower in the sky. I watched a handful of ravens doing aerial manuevers off the west side of Twin Peaks before heading back down to where I'd left the van on 19th street. A great way to spend the day in the city.


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