Nifty Ninety Peaks — off to Big Basin, Part 1

Ancient Redwoods

We missed a couple of weeks of ‘peak’ climbing the #Nifty Ninety because of other travels, so we were itching to make up for lost (not exactly lost, but focused elsewhere) time. Our hiking partner Patricia did the research and then planned an overnight trip to California’s first state park — Big Basin Redwood State Park, established in 1902. We knew that getting to and from the park was going to involve a longer drive than usual, so an overnight stay would allow us to do two peaks — Pine Mountain and Mount McAbee (1,730′).

Though Patricia and Tom had been there before, neither Ralph nor I had. Somehow, though I’d always known of its existence, I’d never followed through and visited there — too bad, it’s a great place for day or overnight visits by any age.

It’s a bit remote
It was about a ninety minute drive for us. There are options, but we traveled by freeway to just west of Los Gatos, took Bear Creek Road near the Lexington Reservoir, followed the curving road through Boulder Creek and then into the park.

After checking in at park headquarters, we found our site, and set out a bit of gear. We were very impressed with how clean and quiet the Bloom’s Creek campground was — especially considering it was at the end of summer. And because Patricia had managed to get the last reservation, we hadn’t known what we would find. Water faucets, trash containers, and food storage lockers were nearby as were the toilets (that flushed!).

We headed for the trailhead adjacent to our campground. We walked along the Bloom’s Creek Trail and turned onto Pine Mountain Trail. The trail was very well maintained, somewhat uneven, and a pleasure to follow — and pretty much up the entire way. A bit of scrambling up exposed rock along the way kept things interesting. That, and the fact that the canopy of trees offered beautiful specimens of redwood, madrone, fir, and pine.

We came to the turnoff to Pine Mountain’s peak. Only problem was, the narrow side trail to the peak was marked closed and tree branches had been piled up to  discourage hikers. We considered our options, but decided not to proceed because of our concern the closure might be to protect wildlife. Instead we continued on the main trail, went over the crest looking for another approach to Pine’s summit, and finding none, came back uphill and spent time climbing around nearby Buzzard’s Roost. This handsome large outcropping was a fine place for lunch before turning around and retracing our steps downhill for a total round trip of about four miles.
We were feeling rather discouraged about not getting to the top of Pine Mountain, but afterwards we discovered that the 2,150-ft. elevation given on the #NiftyNinety Peaks challenge for Pine Mountain is the elevation of Buzzard’s. According to the park’s map, Pine Mountain is 2,208 feet, and there is no longer a stub trail to the peak. We are, therefore, taking credit for this summit.

Father of the Forest
After we came back down to camp, we hopped in the car and took the very popular Redwood Trail through the main old growth forest near the Park Headquarters Center. This half-mile, self-guided walk took us to such wondrous specimens as the Father of the Forest, Mother of the Forest, and the Animal Tree. Don’t miss this collection!

Dinner was both easy and tasty because we had split up the tasks and kept things simple. We set the stage with our usual beer toasting and then Patricia put together Pad Thai while I made a salad of greens and fresh fruit. Chocolate bars provided just the right end to our al fresco meal.

In the next blog, I’ll cover our next morning’s hike to Mount McAbee in Big Basin. Click here. 

Note: The wildfires of 2020 swept through Big Basin SP. The trees will survive, but the campgrounds and historic buildings were destroyed. As of this date, the park is not yet open. 

More: PDF of the Bay Chapter’s ‘Nifty Ninety Peaks’ challenge, click here.

Trail hiked: Sep. 28, 2018

Loma Alta — More of a rise than a peak

Loma Alta, plus hints on fall prevention

We checked off another summit on the #NiftyNinety Peak Challenge list this week; this makes 57 for us. We made reaching the summit part of a 7-mile hike — once again in Marin County. Our destination, Loma Alta, was more of a rise than a peak, but we enjoyed discovering a new trail and having views from a different perspective. 

Marin County Parks’ website says “Rising to a height of 1,592, this ‘tall hill’ is actually one of the highest points in Marin.” There are four major watersheds divided by the ridgelines–the Corte Madera Creek, Miller Creek, Lagunitas Creek, and Nicasio Creek.

The route we took was mostly on wide fire roads and the climb was moderate. The descent was also moderate, but as I do most of the time when going downhill, I did a little self-talk to calm my fear of falling, Falling at my age, 77, carries some risk.

However, I use several strategies to prevent falls — and with the exception of my short fall on Mt. Diablo’s very steep Burma Trail a couple of weeks back, they have worked for me and for many other hikers. 

Preventing Falls when Hiking
1. Keep your knees soft. Locking your knees or stiffening your body prevents the very agility that you want to maintain in case you slip on loose ground.
2. Keep your center of gravity low. Related to #1, bend your knees and flow downhill.
3. Take shorter steps. Don’t pound down the slope out of control!
4. Watch where you step. This is no time to trip yourself with a root that is jutting out of the ground.
5. Walk alongside the worn trail. Sometimes it is less slippery alongside a trail on short grass instead on a trail where loose rock has created a ball-bearing like surface. 
6. Zigzag across the trail. This will lessen the downhill force and help you stay in control of your speed. 
7. Use hiking poles. We have all observed that most four-footed animals can make it safely down most inclines. 
8. Adjust your shoelaces. Tighten your shoelaces if necessary so that your toes are not being painfully pushed into the front of your shoes. 
9. Tighten your pack’s hipbelt. Any weight that you are carrying may change your center of balance. You don’t want your pack’s weight flopping around.
10. Likewise, eliminate distractions before you start downhill. Tend to such things as a loose shoelace, or a hat ready to fly off with a gust of wind, that might startle you.  

Hiking at any ages has risk, but according to Public Health England,At an individual level, falls are the number one precipitating factor for a person losing independence and going into long term care.” 

Our route

From the parking area alongside Sir Francis Drake Blvd. (Brown Bridge, Fairfax), we walked a short distance uphill alongside the west side of the highway to where we could cross under the graffiti-ed overpass/bridge to the east side on the White Hill Trail. Then, onto Old Railroad Grade, to Sunrise Fire Road, until the intersection where we turned right onto the 680 Trail (where the rescue box was), worked counter-clockwise onto the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which looped around and turned back on the Loma Alta Fire Road again where we headed downhill to retrace our steps back to our vehicle.  

The #NiftyNinety Peak Challenge was developed by the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter. Click here for the PDF. Another good resource is where you can record your own climbs and get more information on the peaks. 

The Peak of Barnabe

 Hiking in Samuel P Taylor Park

When planning to hike with friends to do one of the Nifty Ninety Peaks, we take turns deciding which peak to climb. This week it was my turn, and I was worried. I felt responsible — maybe more responsible than necessary. I had chosen Barnabe Peak in Samuel P Taylor State Park. This was to be the 54th peak for Ralph and me.

Barnabe had several things going for it. The weather forecast looked promising. I didn’t expect it would be too hot because we wouldn’t be far from the coast and the fog would probably keep the heat down. There were a couple of trail options — ranging between 5 and 8 miles. The summit was only 1,466 ft. And finally, we could reach the trailhead within an 1-1/2 hour drive time.

However, there were some things I found worrisome. Most online reviewers called the route we wanted to follow, primarily on the Barnabe Fire Road, “difficult” and the ascent as “steep.”

California Redwood

Having recently slipped and fallen on the Burma Trail on Mount Diablo (requiring a visit to the Emergency Room), I felt some concern about just how steep, “steep,” was. (In case you are wondering, Triple-Crown hiker Scott Williams says of the Burma, “This is a very strenuous hike….” By summer, every little pebble begins to act like a ball bearing….”)

Another in our small group, Patricia, had also fallen recently. Her ribs still hurt and I knew she didn’t want to repeat that kind of mishap. And our friend Tom had just undergone a procedure on his knee — a cortisone injection to alleviate pain, and I was certain he didn’t want to slow the healing process.

But, I told myself, we have all completed dozens of steep climbs. I tried to put aside my concerns for the time being. “Difficult” and “steep” can be very subjective terms. One person’s perception of what is difficult can be very different from another’s. It depends on the level of fitness of the hiker, their hiking experiences, the weather, and the trail’s condition. I decided that we should just go to the park and then assess for ourselves how challenging this particular hike would be. 

Barnabee Peak

After paying the $8 day-use fee at the park’s kiosk, we drove further in and parked near the picnic tables and restrooms. The initial stage of our route took us through Redwoods and alongside Lagunitas Creek. In the winter, we might have seen salmon in the river because Lagunitas Creek, which joins the ocean at Tomales Bay, and its tributaries are considered important spawning and rearing grounds for the endangered coho.

We crossed Sir Francis Drake Road, passed the Madrone Group Camp, and started up the Riding and Hiking Trail until we reached the start of the Barnabe Fire Road. As we ascended, we found that it was somewhat steep — but we thought more accurately rated as “moderately difficult,” not “difficult.”  It was reassuring that it was not nearly as hard as many of the Nifty Ninety trails we had already done. 

We made good progress on the climb and I was relieved and excited to spot Barnabe Peak, a grassy summit partially covered with transmission towers and the Marin County Fire Department’s Dickson Lookout. As we approached, we could hear a couple of firemen chatting while they ate their lunches. After talking with them, we found a quiet spot to sit and enjoy our own trail snacks. 

The views went in all directions, but what I enjoyed most was following the “peep peeping” of a covey of California Quail. The adult female adult perched atop a small outcropping of rock, but herded the dozen chicks into the brush whenever we got too close. 
 The descent took us along the ridgeline as we continued on the Barnabe Fire Road. The trail conditions were fair. In most places, the road wasn’t very rocky, but when it was both rocky and steep, we were able to walk on the short, dry grass on the side — a safer way to descend. 

Though the uphill part of the hike had been mostly out in the open, we had enjoyed coming upon a few trees offering shade. On the descent, we found even more shaded stretches. By early afternoon, the temperature was in high 70s to low 80s. Because of the rising temperature and our exertion, we welcomed places to cool off under the shelter of oak, bay, fir, and buckeye. At the bottom of the hill, we turned onto the Cross Marin Trail, which paralleled Sir Francis Drake highway — this time on the other side of the road.  

I had worried for naught—no one fell, we had a beautiful hike (5.8 miles)—and the stop at the Iron Springs Pub in Fairfax was a perfect end to our outing. 

Hiked: Aug. 16, 2018 (our #54)

White Hill on the Nifty Ninety

We Hit Peak #50 on the Nifty Ninety

(8/2/18) With all of the huge fires raging in California, lately we’ve not known what kind of views and air quality we will encounter when setting off for a new summit on the ‘Nifty Ninety’ Peak challenge. Last week’s destination was White Hill in the North Bay in the aptly named White Hill Open Space Preserve, Marin County Parks. We were with our good friends Patricia and Tom — and Boo, Patricia’s sweet dog.  White Hill is at 1434-ft. in elevation; its prominence is 308 ft. We had about 5.4 miles round trip to hike.    

We started from home in the east bay a bit after 9:00 a.m., hoping to avoid the worst of the morning commuter traffic, and being mildly successful considering our route, I-80 W and 101 N, part of one of the most crowded highway systems in the country. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the small parking area alongside Sir Francis Drake Blvd., near Fairfax, about 0.1 mile before the Brown Bridge. 

We had all brought along jackets, hats, and gloves in case of fog or wind, but the skies looked clear when we arrived so we left the extra layers in the car. 

We followed the sign which said “Welcome to White’s Hill” and set out straight up the Martha McCormack Trail, a dirt trail that quickly became rather steep. That trail joined the White Hill Fire Road, which we followed most of the way. For a little bit we were on Porcupine Trail, which paralleled the road.

I had been concerned about coming back down the beginning part, but Ralph assured me that we would follow White Hill Trail coming back for a more gradual descent. The trails and the hill were clearly labeled on the app, which Ralph had on his phone. Also, we had printed out the Marin County Parks map , but this map does not show the McCormack trail.

The fog stayed offshore. It was a beautiful day, a bit on the warm side, and I appreciated the shade of the forest with its redwoods, fir, bay, madrone, and oak. After climbing through the band of trees, we reached open grasslands and turned onto the wide fireroad. Unlike some of the other fire roads we’d been on recently, this one took a gradual approach to the highpoint. 

                                                       We had a couple of sightings of interest — a gopher snake and its trail, spider webs of unusual design, and a large, flat billboard-like structure that left us puzzled as to its function. 



The “peak” was more of a small patch of rock than a monumental outcropping, but it was a great place to sit and enjoy our snacks and take in the vast views. Mount Tamalpais was to the south, Pine Mountain, which we had climbed previously was to the west, the Richmond-San Rafael bridge and other points east were spread out before us. This was not a difficult hike, but it certainly had taken us to top-notch views. 

After retracing our steps most of the way, we turned onto the signed Sherwood Forest Fire Road, which quickly led to the the White Hill Trail, which allowed us to switchback easily through the lovely stretch of forest again and we came out near the bridge and the highway. A narrow dirt trail, separated from the highway by a length of barriers, lead us the .01 mile back to our car. 

We made our usual brew pub stop in Fairfax at Iron Springs. A perfect end to a perfect peak day — and hitting our 50th peak was worth celebrating! 

A bit of history from Mt. Tamalpais Place NamesWhite Hill is named after “Lorenzo E. White, an argonaut, arrived in San Francisco in 1849 after a 95 day voyage from Panama. Illness forced him to quit the gold fields so he repaired to the San Geronimo Valley where he raised cattle.”

Aug. 2, 2018 (Peak 50 for us) 

Wildflowers in July on San Bruno Mountain

Late wildflower bloom on San Bruno Mountain


Our hiking destination last week was San Bruno Mountain, which is a San Mateo County Park. For us, this was peak #46 of the Bay Chapter Sierra Club’s Nifty Ninety Peak challenge.

San Bruno’s summit, at 1,314 feet, is accessible by car (on Radio Road) or on foot, but of course we wanted not only a successful summit, but also a good hike.

We drove in on the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway and parked in the main paved parking area at the San Bruno Mountain Park entrance. Fees were collected through self-registration ($6), but we were happy to see that seniors had free admission on weekdays. Nearby were picnic tables, barbecue pits, restrooms, a drinking fountain, and a grassy area where one could enjoy a game of tag or volleyball.

The trail
We picked up a trail map (link here) at the trailhead and crossed under Guadalupe Canyon Road to get onto the Summit Loop Trail (passing a smaller parking area along the way). At Point 14 on the map, one can turn right onto the Summit Loop Trail, but we decided to go left and do the climb to the peak first, thereby doing the trail clockwise. Near the top, we turned right at Point 18 onto the Ridge Trail, which took us past a couple of clusters of transmission towers surrounded by chain link fence.

We walked through the parking lot and took a photo of the survey mark. Although we were at the designated point, there was a rise that was a bit higher than the parking lot. We tried to find a way to get higher, but passage  was blocked and the enclosed area sported signs that reminded us that there were  materials inside that exceeded safe levels.

Looking west at Colma’s cemeteries


Do this one for the views

We had panoramic views—to the ocean, to San Francisco, across the bay to Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais, Contra Costa’s Mount Diablo, down the peninsula, and into Colma’s backyard. Other than a couple of cars with tourists and an employee at the installation, we had the place to ourselves (it helps when you can go on a weekday!).
Whereas our climb on the Summit Loop Trail had been fairly direct and moderately steep, our descent was longer and more gradual. We had about 2.5 miles of narrow, dirt paths on which to linger and enjoy the coastal scrub, oak and eucalyptus trees as well as the wildflowers that arrived with summer.

Watch for Poison Oak 

All told, with our extra wandering around, we hiked about 4.5 miles. The trails were well-maintained — undoubtedly much due to the efforts of the volunteers of SSF Weed Warriors. Even so, there was a good amount of poison oak that we needed to dodge.

For me, San Bruno Mountain was an unexpected treat–most of the time the temperature was in the 60s and 70s with clear skies, but we also watched the fog roll in over the towers after we had passed them—a reminder that this area can be quite foggy and windy.

Although I expected the mountain to be in summer ‘mode’ with dry grass, the blooms and blossoms we found were amazing. When you go, be sure to also look for some of the endangered species of butterflies that live here—the San Bruno Elfin, Mission Blue, Callippe Silverspot and Bay Checkstop.

More info:

No dogs allowed.
Hiking poles came in handy on this moderate hike. 
Trail map of Summit Loop Trail only, going counter-clockwise.
Schedule of fees, click here.