Black Mountain P500
Peak 460ft
Peak 624ft P300
Dancing Star Peak P300
Roys Redwoods Peak P300
French Ranch Peak
Deer Point P300
Peak 1,066ft P300
Peak 620ft

Mar 10, 2018
Black Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Profiles: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

I found myself alone on a Friday night and Saturday as my wife was down in Southern California reffing a volleyball tournament. I'd have made a longer outing of it, but I needed to be home when my son arrived for Spring Break on Sunday. The weather reports had rain in the south and less so in the north, opposite of the usual pattern, so I decided to head to Marin County to tag some summits there. They were roughly located around the periphery of Nicasio Reservoir in the middle of the county, a mix of pastures and ranchlands, redwood forests and rural developments. Heavy fog hung over much of the landscape during the evening and morning, but higher clouds persisted the whole time. The subdued lighting made for mostly poor photographs. Poison oak is ubiquitous in the area, so sticking to roads and trails as much as possible is imperative. Ticks, too, as I came to find - one had made itself at home before I got back to San Jose and would be the source of much discomfort for the next few days - such is the cost of this hobby...

Black Mountain

Not the highest, but easily the most prominent of the peaks I visited today. Because it lies on private property and quite exposed to observation, I decided to visit this one first thing in the morning. I had driven the two hours through SF the night before and spent the night parked in a large dirt lot on the east side of Black Mtn, adjacent to Pt Reyes-Petaluma Rd and the reservoir. Not the quietest of places, but it worked. There was even another nearby car with the same idea when I awoke in the morning. After waking, I drove a short distance to a smaller turnout and started from there. I hadn't realized how steep this was beforehand, more than 1,000ft in 3/4mi, mostly up interminable grass slopes. The route partially followed a defunct electric fence running up the slope. The morning light was still weak when I reached the summit at 6:30a. The peak was high enough to allow me to climb above the fog layer, making for interesting views looking around. Mt. Tamalpais, the county highpoint, was easy to spot about 17mi to the southeast. I was surprised on the decent to find the grass had pretty good purchase and not as slippery as I expected, despite it being saturated. My boots would end up saturated as well and became the norm for the day. I would go through four pairs of socks in the hopeless effort to dry my feet.

Peak 460ft

This diminutive summit is shown as an island on the topo map, but there is a a land bridge connecting it on the north side. I drove around to that side to start at a public access gate I had gotten from David Sanger off PB. I roughly followed his route from the gate along an old ranch road (now trail) to the edge of the lake and then across the land bridge. On the other side is a large rock that makes for a convenient landmark on the way back. From here I sort of made my way cross-country through the waist-high brush lower down, eventually slipping into thick forest with a prodigious amount of poison oak. The understory here was very cool and eerie-looking, like something from the Lord of the Rings trilogy but the darn poison oak keeps one vigilant and on edge. I found the summit with no views and took a modified way back hoping for less of the poison oak (it was no better).

Peak 624ft

I drove a few miles further east to park along Nicasio Valley Rd at a ranch gate signed for No Trepassing. I made a quick dash across the open field on the other side of the gate to get away from the road and hide myself in the fog and brush further afield. A steep climb leads to the summit overlooking the reservoir, only no views this morning, just a handful of cattle grazing the open top.

Dancing Star Peak

I continued further east on Nicasio Valley Rd through the small town of Nicasio, then onto Lucas Valley Rd to a small hillside development. Camino Margarita winds steeply up through the housing tracts. I turned right on El Mirador Rd and drove to its end at a residence called Dancing Star. A makeshift roadblock was found here, leading me to believe the residence up the hill was still under construction. I parked just down the road and walked up to take a look, finding the owner walking down the road (possibly to see what was up from his video surveillance). I said hello and apologized for interrupting him and told him what my mission was. He was a quiet, kindly fella about my age and didn't seem to find my request strange at all. We walked together up his long driveway, introducing ourselves. Risto then told me the story of the name, Dancing Star, which refers to an incident that happened soon after he'd moved in seven years ealier (the home is not under construction, btw, the roadblock was because he was doing improvements to the driveway). He and his wife had seen a bright light atop the peak just above their home and went out to see who was up there. The light then took off in the air, made its way east towards US101, then shot off into space at warp speed. There was no doubt in their minds that they had seen a UFO and gave the fanciful name to their property (I then added it to the peak). Their vehicle license plates suggested UFO fans, though I didn't ask if they were a result of the encounter or had them beforehand. That would have been interesting information, me thinks. The summit is actually on an undeveloped adjacent parcel and would make for a superb viewhome, were one inclined. I was happy to find it unoccupied with sweeping views.

Roys Redwoods Peak

Technically this one's on private property, though all but 1/3mi can be navigated through Roys Redwoods OSP, found at the junction of Nicasio Valley Rd and Sir Francis Drake Blvd. An old ranch road winds steeply up the the north side of the OSP. I found a ranger and his truck at the top of the road here. He was looking for a cow that was said to have gotten through a gap in the fence, but found nothing. Fog had obliterated the views from the top of the preserve here, so I told the ranger I'd wait five or ten minutes to see if it cleared. Really, of course, I needed him to leave before I could duck through the fence onto the private lands. He enthusiastically showed me pictures of the views he'd had just a few minutes earlier, so my excuse was highly plausible - it really might just clear (it didn't). After he drove off, I went through the fence and along the continuing road to the highpoint. Just as I was cresting the last rise I was surprised by a figure sitting in a low beach chair staring off to the west, 90 degrees from my southern approach. I backed off down the road out of sight and pondered what to do. It occurred to me that if his eyes were open he surely would have seen me in his periphery, so I guessed he was probably asleep. What was he doing there? Waiting for the weather to clear? Waiting to catch trespassers? I had no idea if he was a landowner or trespasser like me and finding out seemed unwise. I very stealthily circled around to the highpoint from behind him. I was probably only 10ft from him at my closest point and could have given him quite a fright. He never moved a muscle the whole time I observed him. I decided to leave sleeping men sleep and quietly tip-toed my way back to the preserve.

French Ranch Peak

To the west, across Nicasio Valley Rd from Roys Redwoods is French Ranch OSP whose highpoint I was after. I used an access trail off Sir Francis Drake Blvd at the western edge of a golf course found there. The public trail passes through some equestrian property before rising above this and the golf course into the OSP. This had no private property and made for a pleasant hike through open country until reaching the forested ridgetop. Here the views disappear as redwoods and other conifers take over, the old road winding along the crest. The highpoint is found a short distance off the roadway with poison oak making things tricky. There was a use trail of sorts stomped through the underbrush to get me near the highpoint with minimal PO exposure, then some gingerly prancing to find the highest clump of nothing in particular - silly hobby. This was the most relaxing of the hikes.

Deer Point/Peak 1,066ft

I drove west into Samuel P Taylor State Park, parking just outside the entrance to Devils Gulch. The paved road leading into Devils Gulch has no day use parking, just access for the group campsites found up the road a bit. I walked the road that follows a picturesque creek to the pavement's end, then along the gravel continuation for a short distance before selecting an open, grassy slope on the left to head up. Although steep, reaching the first of these two, Deer Point, is pretty straightfoward up grassy slopes. The second is located less than a mile to the northwest and another 100ft higher, but getting between the two is no easy feat. I followed the connecting ridgeline that drops to a low saddle, but the northeast side of Deer Point is a brushy, forested mess with the worst of the day's poison oak waiting underfoot and overhead (as vines), some newly leafed, some still cloaked as simple brown branches. Awful mess this one, and probably going to lead to some PO outbreaks in the next day or two. Once at the saddle things get easier as more grass slopes then lead up to the summit of Peak 1,066ft. It lies at the northernmost tip of the park, the surrounding areas part of the Golden Gate NRA not open to the public (grazing lands). I returned to Devils Gulch and the park road via a more direct descent off Peak 1,066ft. I still had to negotiate some poison oak understory at the bottom, but an animal trail I stumbled upon made this considerably easier. Once back on the road, it was a simple walk back to the car in about a mile.

Peak 620ft

This last summit lies along Bolinas Ridge in the northern part of GGNRA that appears to be open to grazing but not the public. If it weren't for the hundreds of cattle grazing along the ridge and the effort expended not to disturb them, this would make for a very scenic hike along a pleasant, grassy ridgeline with nice views to Tomales Bay and along the San Andreas Rift Zone. I parked outside an unsigned, but locked gate, jumped over, and spent the next hour plus hoping I wasn't going to get in trouble. After gaining the low ridgeline, I kept mostly to the west side out of view from the roads and ranch buildings. There seems to be little vehicle traffic up on the ridge, but I was still nervous most of the time because of the exposure to view. Crossing multiple fencelines along the way, I eventually made it to the grassy knoll marking the highpoint, took a few pics, and returned. The cows seemed to pay me far more attention during the return, walking towards me, lowing, almost tripping over each other to be the first in line for handouts they now suspected I had for them. They got nothing of course, but the noise they made got the next batch of cows along the ridge interested in what I was about and the cycle continued even after crossing a fenceline. Silly cows. I finished up the day around 4p, pretty tired. Though no particular hike was very difficult, the sum total of all eight made for more than 5,000ft of gain and 18mi - kinda like doing a day of the Sierra Challenge...

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