Telegraph Hill NN
Russian Hill NN
Nob Hill NN
Rincon Hill

Mon, Jan 6, 2014

With: Jackie Burd
Pete Yamagata

Telegraph Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Out of the blue I got an email from Pete Yamagata asking if we might not do some hiking together in the Bay Area. I had never met Pete, but he is a well-known figure in peakbagging circles, having climbed extensively in the Tahoe and Nevada regions (and plenty of other places, too), primarily during the 1980s and 90s. Pete had been active in the Motherlode Chapter (Sacramento area) of the Sierra Club's Peak and Gorge Section and has compiled a detailed online guide covering peaks in the greater Tahoe area, including all the OGUL peaks and some additional bonus ones. As the Sierra Club started to de-emphasize "exploring" as one of their key tenets and concentrating more on the "protecting" aspect, climbing sections were one of the casualties. The Peak and Gorge Section either self-imploded or was driven into exile, depending on who you talk to. Pete found himself castigated by key members of the Sierra Club and eventually withdrew most of his participation with their activity chapters. This has been an ongoing source of frustration for him, quite evident in his online posts regarding the Sierra Club, in particular the Mother Lode Chapter (MLCSC). Matthew and I had tried in years past to get Pete to join us for a hike, one of his choosing and at his pace. However, Pete seemed mistrustful and would have one reason or another that it couldn't work out. He prefers to meet face to face before hiking or climbing with anyone but even then it might not work out. Pete even began to openly wonder if Bob Burd wasn't some sort of trick being played on him, perhaps a ficticious compilation put together by those who have continued to hound him over the years. While he was briefly active on SummitPost a few months earlier, I had once again offered to join him for an outing of his choosing, but nothing seemed to come of it and he left SummitPost once again. So it was with no little surprise that I received his email. I have to admit that I considered it might be a ruse being played on me, someone posing as Pete. After several exchanges I was convinced it was really him and we made plans to meet in San Francisco on a Monday morning following the Christmas Holidays. The plan was to hike four of the city's hills on the east side of town, a leisurely 5-mile stroll while taking in the sights of San Francisco. As my daughter had no school that day, I talked her into joining us for the outing.

It would probably have been easiest to drive to SF and seek out a parking spot for the day, but since Jackie hadn't been on BART before, I thought it would be fun to park in Daly City and take BART into downtown. Pete was arriving by bus from Sacramento around 10a and we planned to meet at a Starbucks on the corner of Embarcadero and Market at 10:30a. I worked our schedule backwards from there, leaving San Jose at 8a. But the traffic on I-280 was much better than I anticipated and we were at the Colma BART station in only 45 minutes (I somehow mistook the Colma station for the Daly City one, but it mattered little). The station is 1960s futuristic, a bit outdated, but clean and free of graffiti. The trains come through the station every ten minutes or so and we didn't even have to wait a whole minute before getting on. The ride to the Embarcadero station took less than 25 minutes and we were an hour ahead of schedule when we arrived at our destination and rode the escalator up to street level. In the middle of the financial district, there was the usual bustle of a busy populace on a workday. We killed an hour by taking a small tour through the area, walking out to the end of Pier 14 next to the Ferry Building and taking in the city views under cloudy skies. We had enough time to get back to Starbucks and have a peppermint hot chocolate before Pete arrived just ahead of schedule.

I must have done a good job of describing to Jackie what Pete looks like, because she picked him out from a distance when he walked into 1 Market Place. His camera held high in the air snapping pictures was a dead giveaway. Pete had warned me that he would probably take anywhere from 200-400 photos, plus video on our mini tour of the city which was fine by me since we weren't hiking very far. We shook hands and introduced ourselves and were quickly on our way. I'm not very familiar with San Francisco and can count the times I've been to the city on two hands even though I've lived in the Bay Area for more than half my life. The truth is the place scares me a little - too many people crammed into small spaces just doesn't suit a soul that savors open spaces and solitude. I had looked at maps beforehand only to roughly guage where the four summits were that we planned to visit. Pete had given a fairly detailed description of our route in one email, so I figured I could just let him guide us through the city, which is what I proposed as we started walking. Pete modestly claimed to know less than I would as a "native", but I quickly dispelled that idea. He had been here many, many times and would do just fine.

Our tour took in many of the notable sections of the City, including the Financial District, the Italian North Beach, the strip clubs along Broadway, the lively characters in the Tenderloin and elsewhere. To no great surprise, Jackie kept to the side, avoiding conversation with either of us, whispering in my ear if she had a question and generally playing the invisible teenager during our walk. Far more a conversationalist than myself, Pete did most of the talking, whether describing old adventures in the City, potential lunch spots, historical curiosities, photo ops or the nefarious Sierra Club. The latter was never far from his thoughts which I more or less expected since peakbagging was what we shared in common, not a taste for fine dining. He talked in a quiet voice which I found difficult to follow at times amid the city noises. I would ask him to repeat himself if it was something key to a point he was making or I was trying to understand, but it would have seemed rude to ask him to do so repeatedly and I had to let much of it go by uncomprehended.

The summits we visited were mostly unremarkable, not surprising since they were among the lowest in the city. We first visited Telegraph Hill upon which sits the famous Coit Tower, erected during the depression using socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit's bequest following her death. The tower, nearly as tall as the hill itself, was closed for remodeling and the best we could do was to visit the parking lot on the north side. Pete described what seemed like bizarre summiting rules used by the Sierra Club back in the day, requiring one to climb any building or tree atop a summit to "claim" it. I had never heard of such a rule though I freely admit to enjoying a climb of more than one summit tower in my time, but never had I considered climbing a tree. Pete had his own rule requiring circumnavigation of any fenced summit so we did this to keep things copesetic. We set up a self-timer to take a photo of the three of us near the PLAZA benchmark, the only group photo we took on the day.

After circling the fenced area, we headed west for Russian Hill, passing by Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church among other landmarks. We paused at the base of Lombard Street to take a few photos with the other tourists who were milling about or driving down the "Crookedest Street in the World." We hiked to the top where Stirling Park is found atop the north summit of Russian Hill. The top has been bulldozed about as flat as possible to accomodate tennis and handball courts. We rested here on a bench, having a snack we'd brought in our pack with us. Pete had brought no water or food with him, preferring to patronize the local businesses along the way. I offered him one of the Gatorades we had with us, but he chose to wait for a store where he could purchase a Diet Coke. There are two summits to Russian Hill and it's not clear from the topo map which is the highest, but my GPS was showing the southern one as the highpoint. So we next headed southeast, finding a cul-de-sac near the corner of Jones and Vallejo Streets that appeared to be the highest. The homes surrounding it looked well cared for, a fine neighborhood with nicely manicured streets. An exceedingly small park is found at the end of the cul-de-sac where a gardener was busy tiding up the already tidy area. The only view from the street level is towards the southeast where one can see the Bay Bridge and Financial District.

We continued south off Russian Hill, stopping at a corner market where Pete was able to slake his thirst with a Diet Coke. Here we took a longer break of 20 minutes or so, chatting about peakbaggers we knew in common. Very few have actually hiked with both of us, Adam Jantz being the only one that comes to mind, but I recognized many of the old-timer names that Pete had hiked with in the Sierra Club from their entries in summit registers and online TRs. We continued south on Jones St. to the top of Nob Hill less a third of a mile away. The highpoint here seemed more obvious, at the intersection of Jones and Sacramento. The Grace Cathedral happens to lie at the southeast corner of this junction, with its French Gothic architecture, complete with gargoyles watching from the tallest spire. We continued south on Jones street, strolling through the Tenderloin where homelessness intermixes with joints being openly passed around and 24oz beer can without the bother of a paper bag. The eccentric characters who populated the area were as much a product of their surroundings as a cause of their existence. I asked my daughter if she felt uncomfortable to which she replied "No, not really" though I know only a year ago I would have gotten a different answer. She's getting more used to the wide spectrum that makes up the human populace.

It was 1p by the time we passed the trolley turnaround on Powell Street, watching the workers manually turn a car at the end of the line and get it going in the opposite direction. For some time now Pete had been dropping not-so-subtle hints about lunch at various locations, hoping perhaps that something would grab my attention and I'd show some enthusiasm. The truth is, eating isn't one of my favorite ways to spend time, so I didn't really care whether we had lunch or not. When Pete asked if I liked dim sum, I replied "No, not really, but I enjoy Chinese, Thai and Indian food," thinking I might steer him in one of those related directions. But Pete had his eye on dim sum at the Yank Sing restaurant, a place he had tried twice before to visit but had found closed. He said it was given a 5-star rating by Yelp which was as good as it could get, it seemed. So dim sum it was, and delicious, too. Pete picked out a few items from the cart and I picked out a few others. It wasn't a gorge-fest by any means, but a light and satisfying meal. Pete arranged the selections on his plate, topped them with appropriate sauces for taste and presentation, then took a few photos of his meal as has become his habit. Always after the meta photo, I took one of Pete photographing his plate, which seemed to startle him a bit. But he was a good sport and didn't give me a hard time for it.

After lunch we headed towards the Bay Bridge in search of Rincon Hill. We found what appears to be the highpoint at the south end of 1st Street at 1 Rincon Hill. We took a few photos and returned to the Embaradero BART station not long after 2:30p. I had told Pete I had to leave some time around 3-4p in order to get back for a Scout meeting that same evening, so we bid goodbye a little early and left Pete to enjoy his remaining time in the city by himself (his bus didn't leave until 7p). I bought Jackie a Frappuccino at the Starbucks before boarding the train, a reward for being a good sport in following Pete and I around all day. She even admitted to enjoying herself some, not easy to do when you're accompanying a couple of old peakbaggers around San Francisco...

Anonymous comments on 01/10/14:
Bob Burd and Pete Yamagata, 2 legends of California hiking, finally meet! I'm sure the mountains of Sierra shook in anticipation. But "hike" in SF? oh what a letdown! :(
Anonymous comments on 01/10/14:
.Hope you two had a rope for the more difficult parts!
Anonymous comments on 01/13/14:
No Skype pre-meeting?

Anonymous comments on 01/13/14:
"I have to admit that I considered it might be a ruse being played on me, someone posing as Pete."

Why did I not think of this, lol? I am slipping in my old age.

Sharperblue comments on 01/13/14:
No summit on Rincon Hill, gentlemen! Looking at the drawings in front of me, I'd say you turned back (due to high winds and/or avalanche danger, no doubt) some 780 feet shy of the true summit

a bold attempt, though (drop me a line on Summitpost if you want that summit ;)
Gary comments on 01/30/14:
PLAZA is not a benchmark, but a triangulation station. This is vitally important.
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