Burdell Mountain P1K NN
Big Rock Ridge P1K
Loma Alta P900 NN

Tue, Mar 12, 2013
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


The second day of my Marin County tour was fairly mellow - no private property, no bushwhacking, just nice green hills and sunshine. I woke up an hour later than I had planned, fearing I might run into SF traffic on my way through the city from San Jose. But even at 6:30a the traffic on 19th St and Hwy 1 was reasonable and easily managed. The folks were starting to wake up, but were not yet out in force. I drove across the Golden Gate bridge into Marin County and then north through Novato to San Marin Dr off US101. My destination was Burdell Mountain, as close as I can find in the country to a namesake peak. It also happens to be a P1K which was my real reason for visiting.

There are two ways to reach Burdell Mtn's summit. The cultural way is to approach from the east via Olompali State Historic Park on the northern and eastern flanks of the mountain. The park is home to the oldest adobe house built north of San Francisco. The property has changed hands many times, from the original Olompali chieftan to the weathly dentist Burdell, to the University of San Francisco and for a short time by the Grateful Dead. In 1977 the State of California purchased the property and created the state park. The second way to the summit is from the southwest through Mt. Burdell Open Space Preserve. This is the shortest route, about 2.5 miles one-way. I chose this one.

I started at the TH found at the end of San Andreas Rd, north of San Marin Dr. Unlike the previous day, fog covered much of the SF Bay and the surrounding lowlands. There was fog at the TH when I started shortly after 7:30a, but I would soon get above it. I hiked the fire road to Van Note Meadow, then east towards a grassy marsh shown as a lake on the topo map. A series of such fire roads leads to just below the west side of the summit. Along the way I climbed above the fog layer and met a handful of the area's bovine population. Even the younger ones are inured to the presence of humans. They didn't budge from the road as I passed them and hardly bothered to look up while munching grass. The early morning sunlight shown brightly on the undersides of the majestic oaks that pepper the park along the roads. A very pretty scene is presented to the south with the soft layer of fog pushing gently upon the green hills of the countryside, Mt. Tamalpais rising in the background.

Burdell Mtn has three summits with the same number of contours shown on the topo map, so it seemed prudent to visit all of them. They are connected by shallow saddles with easy walking between, so there was little added burden to the effort. I reached the middle summit first, around 8:20a. Rock walls built from the loose field rocks run across the summit ridgeline. It was hard to imagine the number of hours it must have taken for humans to manually stack and place all these rocks that form several miles of wall. I measured the elevation with my GPS then hiked over to the north summit about five minutes away. The north summit proved to be about 8-9ft higher than the middle summit and the highest of the three. A communications facility is located here inside a beefy, but not insurmountable security fence. The fence was no more successful at keeping me at bay as were the many cautionary signs found outside the fence. Some rock-climbing skills like toe and foot jams can help with this one. The highpoint is located at the north end of the enclosure at the base of an oak tree. I climbed the stairs to a small platform outside a locked door leading to the roof of the building to get a view that is otherwise lacking because of the trees.

After returning to the outside world, I hiked back along the ridge over the middle summit and then paid a visit to the southernmost one. It's a pleasant enough hike under the oaks through grass, but it's important to watch out for poison oak that seems to grow all over the place at low concentrations. I paused to watch a newt that was traveling through the grass, seemingly well out of his element without water anywhere to be found. Somehow he does Ok. I found the southern summit to be the lowest of the lot, but some 20ft or more. The southwest side of the summit drops off in a surprising cliff. Later I learned this had been an old excavation site.

I returned to the network of trails on the southwest side of Burdell Mtn and then back through the fog layer to the trailhead I had started at. I saved some time by straightening the return route, connecting the meandering roads with some cross-country downhill jogging. In all I spent about an hour and 40 minutes on the outing.

I spent the next 30 minutes driving back to US101, south a short distance and the west up Lucas Valley Rd to Big Rock. As the name suggests, there is a really big rock looking very much out of place right there alongside the road. The rock itself lies inside the property of Big Rock Ranch which is owned by George Lucas through Lucasfilm. There are floodlights set up around the base of the rock with light sensors, perhaps to light up the rock at night. A security camera is located on a nearby fencepost. At first I thought this was to discourage rock climbers, but I suspect it may be more to discourage grafitti "artists." Perhaps it's both. The rock appears to be at least class 4 by its easiest route, possibly harder. If I was more of a rock climber I think I might have risked possible trouble to investigate, but alas I was not here for a tricky bouldering problem.

There are open space preserves on either side of the road, both of which I intended to visit to reach their highpoints. On the north side of the road to which I turned my attention first is Big Rock Ridge. The highpoint has 1,300ft of prominence though its height doesn't exceed 1,900ft. A nicely built and maintained trail climbs 1,200ft in about 3.5 miles to reach the summit. Wildflowers including poppies and wild irises can be found along the trails. To the south rises the lower Loma Alta across Lucas Valley Rd with Mt. Tamalpais much higher behind it. There are few trees along the route and none along the top of Big Rock Ridge which provides open views for several miles. It was along the road at the top that I found a small gopher snake sunning itself in the roadway. It hardly moved at all when I picked it up, only long enough to get a picture and then send it on its way in the grass. The route to the top goes through at least one section of private property with easement rights. There are plenty of signs helping to identify private property and redirect visitors to the public routes. It all seems so friendly.

There are two radio installations located at the summit of Big Rock Ridge. The eastern one is the highest. Three service technicians were working on the tall tower built directly over the highpoint. I sat on a grassy part of the ridge nearby to have a snack and take in the views, watching the technician halfway up the tower at work. He came down after about ten minutes and I commented that he had a pretty nice office. He laughed and said, "Yeah, but don't tell anyone or they'll all want it!" The fence surrounding the tower and highpoint would not be hard to scale, but since they had both gates open during the servicing, it was easy to pay a close visit and take a shot of the tower looking up from the bottom.

I cut some significant distance and time off the descent by heading directly down one of the ridgelines that is criss-crossed several times by the switchbacking trail. A mountain biker came huffing up the difficult trail during my descent. Most of the open space areas around Marin appear to be friendly to mountain bikers and they must certainly appreciate the unique scenic character this county lends to their sport.

Back around 11:40a, I crossed the road and started up the south side of the highway in the Loma Alta Open Space. This isn't actually correct - the open space preserve is located on the south side of Loma Alta starting along Sir Francis Drake Blvd. The route I was taking from Big Rock goes along an easement through private property, another chunk of Marin owned by George Lucas known as the Loma Alta Ranch. The ranch road has a very consistent gradient, easy for hiking and probably not too bad for biking as well. It rises about 1,000ft in 2 miles, going directly over the summit of Loma Alta. There is a good view of Big Rock Ridge during most of the ascent. I noted another surveillance camera on the north side of the easement at a gate - perhaps George has a problem with over-zealous Star Wars fans visiting his property.

Besides the view north overlooking Lucas Valley Rd and Big Rock Ridge, the summit offers a good view to the south of Mt. Tamalpais. I went over the grassy summit and down the other side into a portion of the Loma Alta Preserve before circling back around to the west and north to regain the road I had taken up. I was back at Big Rock shortly after 1p to finish up the day. Had I spent more time researching other peaks in the area I would have had more places to visit before heading home (White Hill, Bald Hill, Hicks Peak, China Camp SP, O'Hair Park, and some others which I'll visit in the future). Getting back through the Bay Area before rush hour was a breeze and I was home by 2:30p. Not a bad way to spend a day...

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This page last updated: Thu Mar 14 20:28:41 2013
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