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.
The 4th highest summit in SF is located in a neighborhood by the same name.
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
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
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 , 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". is crowned with Monterey Pines and other trees, making for a
nice little forest park in an urban setting but weak on . 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 with
Pete, he was thinking we'd reached Hawk Hill. I showed him 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,
has the look and feel of . There are only a few trees and the
are in most , 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 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
afternoon it was less crowded, probably because the afternoon winds off the Pacific had
kicked up and it was considerably chillier.
This is the only named in , the centerpiece of
Stow Lake which encircles the hill. There are trails spiraling to the summit, but the
negates any chance for views. The lake is popular with
, and a collection of birds including seagulls,
, and coots, among others. There are nice trails to hike and ride
throughout the park.
Located in the on the Pacific side, this is the only legal
in all of San Francisco. there is located at
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 to the Golden Gate from nearby
Lincoln Blvd. There are a great many throughout the Presidio which is
now managed by the Presidio Trust, and a great many sights to see. I visited the historic
, the , and .
The highpoint of the Presidio is unfortunately hard to find and fenced off. It is
located at the edge of the Presidio , but can be reached via the
trail network to the north. There is a communcations tower and a few building located
just outside that surrounds the large water
. Though topped with spiraling razor wire, the fence can be
easily breached by slipping under near the tower.
The summit is located at 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 . Lots of students roaming
around a very beautiful campus setting. atop Ignatius Heights with
its 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.
Part of the UCSF campus, the summit is a wooded 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 and up
the hill. We took the 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 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 upon
which Pete did his now-famous as proof against detractors who
might doubt his ascents, while I took pictures of found in the
and the nearby .
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 ) 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 . 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.
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 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 and the Bay.
Buena Vista Heights
Just northeast of Mt. Olympus is that encompasses the
highpoint, Buena Vista Heights. There is a large at the top,
well-maintained and popular with dog owners. Surrounding trees block most views from
Between Buena Vista Park and The Castro is the Randall Museum and
. Though small, is open to
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
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.
South of Tank Hill and east of , is the 2nd
highest summit in SF.
Christmas Tree Point is a popular tourist attraction at the north end, offering fine
views overlooking . 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
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.