Above the clouds…and fog: East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais (Photos)

A guest post BY VICTOR VOLTA

Victor is a professional photographer and writer, living in Alameda, CA. He has a degree in Journalism from San José State University. He is an avid hiker, loves road trips to the Sierras and the desert.

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East Peak, Mt. Tamalpais

There are various ways to get to the East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais (directions from Mill Valley). At 2,571’, it’s the highest point in the park . The easiest way is to cheat and drive up East Ridgecrest Boulevard, park in the lot and wander around the summit, taking in the panoramic views.

But as with most things worth savoring, a little hard work is more beneficial to the soul, not to mention the heart, lungs and legs. The southern approach from Fern Creek Trail is one of the most challenging stretches of climbing in the entire park. The best starting point for this option is to park at the lot across from Mountain Home Inn on the Panoramic Highway. On mid-week mornings, parking is ample, but it can fill up on weekends, especially during the late spring and summer. There are two chemical toilets and a stunning view of Muir Woods below and to the west.

One caveat: From the parking lot, the starting point isn’t apparent or obvious. First the hiker must cross the street (look both ways for cars being driven by awestruck tourists, speeding cyclists, or deer) then walk up the driveway of the Throckmorton Fire House. You might feel like a trespasser, but continue to the left of the station and you’ll see a wide fire road (Hogback Fire Road).

The terrain starts off with a moderate incline, but once past the water tower and the Matt Davis trailhead, the real workout begins and it’s a steep climb of several hundred yards to the intersection of Old Railroad Grade Fire Trail. Unless the hiker is out to really punish their legs, an occasional stop to catch one’s breath and to take in the view to the south is recommended. While a magnificent scene of the forest peeking through a fog bank like the above photo isn’t guaranteed, the view is always something to be marveled at. Depending on visibility and the fog bank, stretching to the horizon are views of Sausalito, San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge, and countless other landmarks.

The T-intersection of Old Railroad Grade (1400’) is a good place to stop and rest, drink some water and perhaps shed a layer of clothing. This fire road is a popular thoroughfare for mountain bikers on their way from Mill Valley to either West Point Inn or the East Peak. Continuing to the left, it’s an easy amble of less than half a mile on the wide fire road to the Fern Creek trailhead.

Nestled against the mountainside in the crease formed by Fern Creek, the trail to the summit is single track (no bikes allowed) that takes the hiker up varied terrain up the southern slope towards the summit. This trail section is roughly a mile in length, gaining about 1,000′ in elevation, making it one of the steepest one-mile stretches in the park.

It’s starts steeply up switchbacks and steps in the shade of bay laurel, oak and a smattering of evergreens. This time of year (early April) finds blooms of wild iris. A quarter mile up, the trail flattens, crosses Fern Creek, and then reaches the intersection of the short Tavern Pump trail. From here it’s a hard, steady climb. Once past a long wooden staircase, the underbrush becomes mainly chamise and manzanita and the path turns rockier and more uneven. On the way down, this rocky terrain will test the treads on one’s hiking shoes and help determine if a trip to REI to buy new ones is needed.

There’s a final steep chute through a tunnel of manzanita branches that takes the hiker to the end of the trail. One more caveat: This isn’t the summit. The summit is a short climb away from the Visitor Center, which is to the right about two hundred yards up an access road. In addition to the visitor center (open only on weekends) there are bathrooms, picnic tables and the views become expansive once again.

For those who want to experience the true summit of the East Peak, it’s another quarter mile and 200’ climb up a wooden walkway that eventually gives way to a rockier trail. At the end of this short section is a lookout tower that’s inaccessible to the public, but from just below it, finally gives the hiker a panoramic view in all directions. Lunch can be enjoyed here above the clouds and fog (hopefully), back down near the Visitor Center, or some other spot of the hiker’s choosing.

For the return trip, the hiker can either backtrack to Mountain Home Inn or, using a trail map, pick a new route back down the mountain.

This article originally appeared on Examiner.com.

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