Chalk Mountain on the Nifty Ninety

Chalk Mountain on the Nifty Ninety Peak Challenge!

Chalk Mountain was the last stop of an exciting and rewarding weekend on the San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties’ coastlines. Saturday was an 8-hour cruise out and around the Farallones Islands beyond the Golden Gate on the ‘Salty Lady’ for whale watching.
Sunday was the climb to number 74 — Montara Mountain’s North Peak — and Monday took us to Chalk Mountain. For Ralph and me, this was peak #75 on the Nifty Ninety Peaks challenge.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel

So that we didn’t have to make the long drive down the coast twice, we had stayed overnight Sunday night at Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel near Pescadero. Our friend Tom had made the reservations, which is highly advisable. (Click here to reach them). Although there is a functioning lighthouse, the building has long been in need of restoration and is not open to the public.

The hostel is composed of several small buildings with various kinds of accommodations — dorms, family, and private rooms. There’s a hot tub (which you should reserve as early as possible) and, because this is a dark sky preserve, it’s a perfect place to stargaze. After preparing breakfast the next morning in the hostels’ adequately equipped kitchen, we continued our journey south along the coast and into Santa Cruz County.

Choosing a trail head

I was quite happy to learn that my ‘always prepared’ husband Ralph and our friend Patricia had conferred and found that we could reach a trail head closer than those along Hwy. 1 (the Coast Highway) that are usually suggested. We drove 3 miles in on Whitehorse Canyon Road off of highway 1. This was an unmarked, but wide, not too awful, dirt road. We parked in a pullout just before the public road became marked with signs indicating it was turning into a private one.

The hike

We started with a steep ascent, about 1,300 feet in a mile with 25-35% grades, on dirt trail through redwood forest. No problem with the climb, we could adjust our pace accordingly, but I did wonder how difficult our descent would go. There were two short turnoffs to reach viewpoint with outstanding views of Año Nuevo State Park and other beaches along the coastline.
As we progressed, the trail became somewhat less steep; vegetation became scrubbier. I enjoyed the thick mosses hanging from the host pine trees. When we neared the top, we came to Chalk Truck Trail, a dirt/gravel road that made for much easier going. We turned left and continued on to the summit.
Looking for the survey marker

The summit itself wasn’t terribly exciting — but the views were wonderful and the old abandoned fire lookout had some graffiti that had been scratched with the chunks of chalk rock liberally surrounding us — no ‘Kilroy was here!’ but some artsy ones.

Coming back down the hill was not nearly as difficult as I had feared. We didn’t find much in the way of loose rock or slippery vegetation, so footing was good. I was glad I had hiking poles because of the incline.

Although the high point was only 1,609′ and the out-and-back hike totaled only about 5 miles, I’d say, as Ralph claimed, that this was “a real butt-kicker.” However, his comment skipped over the fact that he was carrying a 20-25 lb. backpack as part of his always trail-ready conditioning plan. Various reports rate the hike as difficult, others as moderate — subjective as usual!

Although the high point was only 1,609′ and the hike an out-and-back totaling only about 5 miles, I’d say, as Ralph claimed, that this was “a real butt-kicker.” However, his comment doesn’t include the fact that he was carrying a 20-25 lb. backpack as part of his continual trail-ready conditioning plan. Various reports rate the hike as difficult, others as moderate — subjective of course!

On the way back home, we stopped at the San Gregorio General Store and Post Office, which is just off Hwy. 84 (and a few miles off Highway 1.) This funky old store has been around since 1889 with all kinds of practical and quirky things for sale. They have a bar, bookstore, and variety store — as well as live music on weekends. A great way to end a fun-filled weekend!

More info? Click here for an account from Summit Post that gives alternate routes.

hike: July 29, 2019.


Getaway to Montara Mountain, North Peak

Encompassing Views of Montara Mountain, North Peak

Looking west at Pacifica and the Pacific Ocean

Our little team has been wanting to do some more #Nifty Ninety Peaks, but we were in agreement that we didn’t want to do them in the 90+ degree conditions of the inland valleys. Since the weather pattern of the S.F. Bay Area brings fog to  San Francisco and nearby coastal areas during the summer, we just had to wait for our opportunity. That happened the last weekend of July.  

There were two peaks down the S.F. Peninsula that were reasonably close together — Montara Mountain (North Peak) and Chalk Mountain. These would be peaks #74 and #75 for us. And since driving to either one involved a long drive from where we live, we decided to do the two peaks on one trip. That necessitated finding a place to stay overnight. Our hiking partner Tom, made reservations for all of us at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, near Pescadero. 
We elected to hike Montara Mountain along the San Mateo coast first. Another friend, Patricia, had researched various roads into the hills and had selected the trails that we would follow.
Finding the trail head wasn’t difficult — from Highway I, the Coast Highway, we turned east onto Linda Mar Blvd. As we drove up the hill to San Pedro Valley County Park, we appreciated that starting from the park would save us about 400 feet of the climb to the 1,898′ summit.
We paid our $6 parking fee (free weekdays for seniors) and parked. We had a two trails to choose from initially. The Trout Farm and the Brooks Creek were basically parallel and about the same length, so we decided to start of the Trout Farm and end on the Brooks Creek. Most of our route, however, was an out and back one. 

A bit of history 

The Trout Farm Trail took us past a few picnic table and benches. We found some informational signs that described what the Trout Farm had been — a place where visitors could come to picnic and fish. John and Mary Gay ran the farm. John built several round tanks for raising fish, and a fishing pond. Families rented poles, then stood or sat on logs alongside a pond, and would be charged according to the size of any fish caught. The trout farm was operated by John Gay until 1962, when storm rains washed out the operation; today, only a few pieces of the breeding ponds remain.

Back on the trail

The trail ascended alongside the south fork of San Pedro Creek for a while. We could hear, but rarely see the water, but assume it would be roaring during the rainy season. The seasonal water is part of Pacifica’s water supply and is a major steelhead trout habitat.  

At 0.5 miles along, our trail met the Brook Creek Trail. Turning left, we continued uphill. I was impressed at how well maintained the trail was and appreciated the fact that we had switchbacks to make it easy. Another 0.7 miles uphill, we met the Montara Mountain Trail, and turned left, uphill again.

The Montara Mtn. Trail took us out of the county park and into McNee Ranch State Park. The trail was still fairly good and it took us up to Montara Mountain Road. We turned left on the wide fire road to ascend the final mile to Montara Mountain North Peak. As has frequently been the case, the very top of the mountain was surrounded by a chain link fence keeping visitors from a cell tower. Nevertheless, we were stop for a break and eat our lunches. 

Views from the peak and along the way, had been great — depending where we were standing, we could see down into Pacifica, out to sea, miles of wild open space, across the the channel to Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, and across San Francisco Bay to Mount Diablo. 

Back downhill

The descent was easy — we retraced our steps until we came to the intersection of Brooks Creek and Trout Farm where we kept left to stay on Brooks Creek. Total distance was 8-8.5 miles. 

Then we headed for our accommodations for the night — the Pigeon Point Hostel & Lighthouse. The following day we were set to go on Peak #75— Chalk Mountain, a bit further south on Highway 1. Link is here

hiked: 7/28/2019 Peak #74 for us