Point Reyes Hill
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2 3||GPXs: 1 2 3||Profiles: 1 2|
East Peak previously climbed Fri, Apr 30, 2004|
I was worried about traffic driving through San Francisco, so I got an early start, making it through the city and over the Golden Gate bridge shortly after 5a. There was no fog over the bay at the moment which gave me a rare opportunity for some nighttime photos of the bridge. At the normally overflowing vista point on the north side of the bridge, I was the only visitor along with a wayward coyote that had wandered out of the Marin Headlands and was looking very out of place. He was not having a good morning, it appeared. After a few chilly minutes taking pictures, I continued driving north, making my way north and east along US101 and SR1, eventually ending up at the locked gate leading to Mt. Tamalpais. I had gotten too early a start it seems, as the gate isn't opened until 7a, leaving me more than an hour of waiting. I debated hiking up the road or one of the trails leading to the summit, but in the end settled for an hour's additional rest in the cramped confines of the Miata off to the side of the road. I managed some sleep, waking at 6:45a, changing my clothes and then heading up the road which I found opened even before 7a.
I found the gate open to the road leading to the top of West Peak. There is a path through the brush on the south side of the peak across the road from a small turnout, but this morning I wouldn't have to make even this modest climb. The gates to the facility itself were closed. Breaching it would be one of the more difficult ones I'd come across. I spotted a truck parked inside which discouraged me from attempting it. It's also not really necessary as the top has been bulldozed virtually flat and there was no point I could see inside that was obviously higher than the perimeter fence. I walked around the facility (the brush has been mercifully clipped back to make this rather easy) to be sure and to take in the various views. The best I found were from the southeast corner where one can see east to Mt. Diablo across the Bay and southeast to San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. East Peak was nicely silhouetted against the coming dawn. A picnic bench is located just inside the facility at this corner - nice place for workers to take their lunch when the weather cooperates. I took a GPS reading to compare to one on East Peak.
I found the road leading to Middle summit (the junction is at the saddle east of the peak) gated. Unlike West Peak, there are few restrictions to hiking to the summit of Middle Peak. I followed the road as it lead around the north side of the summit. Where some volcanic talus breaks up the vegetated slopes found on that side, I decided to take the quick cross-country route up to top. This led to the east summit of Middle Peak which I found with the GPS to be lower than the western point. There is an odd sort of structure found on the east point along with some random antennae. I could not figure out what this structure was - some sort of bunker from WWII? It seems to be kept in condition with periodic coats of paint, but no signs give a clue to what's inside. A fence is found leading to the publicly accessible points to the west. I had inadvertently climbed into a restricted area and had to breach the fence to get out. There are other tower structures at the west summit, but the highpoint of Middle Peak is found at a summit rock located at the southwest corner. There is a decent view of West Peak from here and a great one overlooking the Bay to the south. I hiked back along the road to the start.
Mine was the only car in the lot at East Peak. Signs warned of heavy fines for not paying the $7 parking fee. But the box holding the envelopes was locked up. The paystation was stuffed with envelopes from the previous day - it was easy to imagine the large crowds that must have been here Sunday afternoon. The metal tube was stuffed with hundreds of envelopes each containing $7. I wonder if anyone has tried stealing it by hooking a tow chain around the thing. Rather than trying such a stunt, I did the easy hike to the top instead. The summit was much as I remembered it nine years earlier. The tower was still locked tight but the paint was fresher. A plaque on one corner memorialized a forest ranger who had manned the tower for nearly 20 years until his death in 1935. The sun had come up shortly before I reached East Peak and washed out all the views to the east. To the north I spied some of the higher ridges I planned to visit around Novato. These were the ones I would get to on Tuesday. When checking the GPS, I was surprised to find highest rock to be 2ft lower than West Peak. The differential elevation readings are fairly good, but over that distance and time, not good enough to distinguish two so closely matched summits. I'm surprised I haven't read of a highpointer making a more scientific survey to ascertain the highest point - it certainly seems warranted.
Heading west, I followed the scenic road along Bolinas Ridge towards the coast. Driving the convertible on this gorgeous route more than made up for the discomfort of its poor sleeping capabilities. I stopped at several locations to take in the views. The fog covered much of the ocean right up to the coast, but in places such as Bolinas the fog had retreated some and offered up its splendid scenery. The route switches from grassy hilltops to redwood byway almost abruptly. There is so much beauty in Marin its hard to pick favorites. Once down from the ridge and back on Hwy 1, I drove to the Olema Valley Trailhead along the highway and parked the car.
There are at least three THs that can be used to reach the trail running across Peak 1,380ft to Pablo Point. Several are located at the north end, Olema Valley to the south. I chose the latter since it would allow me to easily tag Pablo Point as a bonus. The TH is marked by a simple sign, but there is no warning ahead of time along the road - you have to know where you're going. Parking is available along the road for 4-5 cars, no fees are required. The Olema Valley Trail runs through the valley formed by the rift zone on the west side of the highway. Shortly after starting north, the junction with the Teixeira Trail is reached. This trail climbs 1.2 miles to the Ridge Trail. I crossed the creek and followed the trail up through temperate rain forest to the main ridge where another junction is reached. Turning right, I followed along the ridge for half an hour. There are no views to be had from anywhere along any portion of the trails I followed - there is simply too much vegetation in this wet environment. The Ridge Trail must be regularly cut back or it would be quickly reclaimed in its entirety in a few short years. Poison oak is abundant along the trail and one needs to watch out for the stuff constantly. Despite the abundant trees, the undergrowth is thick and uninviting, unlike the Sierra forests. At its closest, the Ridge Trail comes within about 350ft of the summit of Peak 1,380ft. Some bushwhacking is necessary to reach the highpoint.
I was hoping for some lucky stroke such as a clearing or use trail to the summit. There was no evidence I could find for either, despite careful attention to the side of the trail as I followed it well past the summit. I eventually backtracked to the best location I could find and plunged in, though not without some trepidation due to the poison oak. It turns out most of the PO is found near the trail where it gets semi-regular maintainance to keep the trail open. More than a few yards from the trail the jungle growth is well over head level and apparently too uninviting for poison oak to grow. I looked at everything I touched, but found very little of the evil bush away from the trail. This made things more palatable, but it was still a big effort. I would spend 40 minutes traveling about 700ft. I climbed over, through, and under many forms of vegetable matter in various stages of growth and decay. Dust and pollen rained down as I moved spasmodically through it. This is not a place for an asthmatic. The summit itself was virtually indistinguishable from its surroundings - one has to more or less trust a GPS coordinate and the lack of any visually higher points anywhere around. And of course there are no views or anything else for the trouble. I would have been highly embarassed if I had to explain what I was doing to a passerby or Park Ranger. There really is no way to justify such ridiculous behavior, but at least I was providing myself with some amusement.
Back on the trail, I returned south along the ridge to the junction, then another mile south to Pablo Point. I had thought this might be a view spot along the ridge where one might look south to Bolinas and the coastal waters outside the Golden Gate bridge. It was nothing of the sort. A sign announces your approach within 900ft. Some time later, maybe 300-400ft you reach a grassy clearing completely surrounded by trees and dense brush. More like the eye of a hurricane than a view spot. I followed the weakening trail further south as it started to drop down the ridge for another 1000ft, but it eventually gave out to increasingly dense brush. There was no real way down this side and there was no view spot. Perhaps Pablo Point is 900ft north of the sign, in which case the trail goes right over the highpoint on the way through the forest. In any event, it was a bogus bonus and I left feeling cheated and disappointed.
I got back to the TH by 12:20p. It had taken 3 1/2 hours to cover about 10 miles, not bad considering the bushwhacking involved. Still, it was about this time I realized I would never reach all the peaks I had come prepared to hike and started to scale back my expectations. Back in the car, I headed north once again.
I parked at the end of the road where a chain bars further vehicular access to the paved road leading to Pt. Reyes Hill. An FAA VOR facility is located atop the highpoint. The directional navigation instruments are arrayed in a circle atop the bulldozed summit. I found a reference mark outside the cirle but was unable to locate the actual benchmark. Several buildings that power/control the station are found just below the highpoint to the east. A nearby trail junction give directions for a number of the trails that criss-cross the national seashore for many miles. The summit area is large and makes for poor views. There are better ones to be had by walking to the edges or along the road taken to reach it.
As I was leaving Pt. Reyes Hill I spotted a thin trail leading into the chest-high brush that characterizes most of the summit area. Following this instead of the road, I found it traces a route along the ridgeline (the road follows to the west of this) back to the TH and then continues through dense forest cover to Mt. Vision. Without this trail, reaching Mt. Vision might be every bit as hard as Peak 1,380ft. The trail goes through the trees slightly west of Mt. Vision's highpoint, but the latter is easily reached with about 40ft of ducking through tree branches. There are no views at all - another poor bonus peak. I continued to follow the trail north over the summit area and out to a clearing where another TH is found just off the Mt. Vision Road. I followed the pavement back to my car somewhere in the middle of the route I traced out.
I had considered driving the extra 10 or 11 miles further west out to Pt. Reyes to visit the highpoint of that tip of land on the edge of the continent, but the fog had risen in the past hour obscuring the point - I didn't want to spend the time for no views once again. But I will definitely make more trips out here - this is beautiful country and I would love to spend more time hiking its many trails. By now it was almost 2:30p and I decided to head home in order to avoid the worst of the Bay Area traffic. My return would take me over the Richmond Bridge and down the East Bay, getting me home around 4:30p. Not a bad way to spend a Monday...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: East Peak - Point Reyes Hill
This page last updated: Thu Oct 2 08:57:57 2014
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