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605. Marin Headlands Loop (02/16/08)

Hikers (17): David, Diane, Eric F, Eugene M, George, Helen, James S, James W, Jeff, JP, Paul, Peter, Ross, Sarah, Steve, Terra, Walter
Distance: 22 miles
Rating: 5 difficulty, 10 beauty
Park info: Golden Gate National Recreation Area near Sausalito

Write-up by Diane -- Pictures by Steve and George

The hike's early start (9 a.m.) appeared threatened when 50+ "Team-in-Training" trainees swarmed the parking lot for their own Marin Headlands outing. Fortunately, they were headed down a different trail, so Steve okayed an on-time departure and INCHers' early rise was not in vain.

1 … 2 … 3 … INCH

The warm-up sections along Miwok and County Ridge trail were pleasantly uneventful, with the group spreading out fairly quickly as the leaders knew beer awaited at Pelican Inn. Jeff began handing out chocolate by the time we reached Green Gulch, and kept handing out chocolate throughout the rest of the hike. Turns out he had purchased massive bags of Xmas candy on sale for 25 cents a bag at Trader Joe's, so figured he'd share the joy and calories with the rest of us. Jeff, Paul, Walter, David, and I were enjoying Green Gulch so much, we ended up going an extra section to Highway 1. Since Steve had advised we'd need to wing it during this poorly labeled section of the hike, an extra 10 minutes seemed pretty respectable as only a minor detour.

After wandering through the Zen Center--where people pay for the privilege of not speaking or reading for 10 days, and learn to subsist on two spare meals a day--we arrived at Muir Beach, where we found none of the leaders in sight. Given our Highway 1 side trip, we assumed they'd had plenty of time to have a beer or two and were well on their way to Hill 88. As it turned out, Steve was enjoying his third round before 10 a.m. at Pelican Inn. I guess that's the INCH breakfast of champions! David, Ross, Peter, and Terra were in on the Pelican action as well, while everyone else headed directly to the beach.

Quiet Please

At Muir Beach, we were thankfully not assailed by the smell of decomposing seal as we had been last year. Jeff, Walter, Paul and I headed up Coastal Trail for the trek to Hill 88. This year the full Coastal Trail was open right by the sea, so we had great views of the surf as we walked along the seaside cliff. We could see George up ahead, taking tons of pictures along the way. As a side note, I think George should be christened as INCH's official photographer for all the stunning pictures he gets for us, which spares me from having to tote a camera on all these Level 5 hikes. Jeff took a detour to Pirate's Cove--possibly a spot to formally add to the hike next year?--and we lost Paul somewhere along the way as well, but arrived at Hill 88 in time to see Sarah, Eric, and James W take off. Over the next 20 minutes, the Hill 88 lunch crowd grew to pretty much everyone else on the hike except for Peter and David, whom we guessed were still at Pelican Inn starting round five.

Although hazier than last year, Hill 88 still offered beautiful panoramic views of the ocean and SF. We couldn't see quite to the Farallons this year, so will have have to look out for them next year. The defensive installations had notably deteriorated since last year's visit, so much so that one of the structures was listing heavily to one side. Chances are we'll find it completely wrecked and pieces strewn about the ground on our next visit. Despite the decrepit condition of the buildings and completely unexpected graffiti, Hill 88 is still pretty impressive from a historical perspective: it was one of the key defense posts during WW II in case invaders attacked the Golden Gate, and the height and visibility make it clear why this spot was chosen over all the other (87?) hills.

Jeff and Paul survey the damage they wrought

The group, largely intact now, wound its way along the Coastal Trail (where some of us took an alternate path to explore some gun emplacements in the side of the hill), past Fort Cronkhite, on the beach side of Rodeo Lagoon, past the Visitor Center (with the requisite restroom and water fountain break), all the way to Black Sand Beach. Once again, we arrived just in time to see Sarah, Eric, and James W heading off. After descending 500 steps to the actual beach, we were rewarded with the spectacular black sands--truth in advertising!--and giant charcoal-black boulders along the beach, the result of ancient volcanic activity. The beach was fairly protected but the tide was strong enough to dump a large jellyfish out on the sand. Although there's a parking lot on the road above, few people seem to stop and descend to the beach, so it's an uncrowded, unusual, peaceful spot. If we weren't INCHers with another 8-10 miles to go, this would have been a great spot for a late afternoon picnic. However, we did have miles to go so, after preventing Eugene from torturing the jellyfish and checking around for nudists, we headed back up the 500+ steps for the last third of the hike.

Nude bather on Black Sand Beach

The Coastal Trail took us another 2-3 miles across McCullough Road to the final highlight of this hike: Slacker Hill. As usual, we arrived as Sarah, Eric and James W were leaving. Slacker Hill directly overlooks the Golden Gate, with aerial-like views of the Golden Gate Bridge as well as Angel Island, Alcatraz, SF itself (whose landmarks such as the TransAmerica Building are distinctly visible), and cities farther down the Bay Area. Even with the haze, it's obviously the spot from which postcard pictures are taken and many ads are situated. On a clear day, as we had last year, Steve claims one can see straight to LA, so we'll see if he can back that up on a future hike. Given the scenery and pleasant temperature, we waited for most of the group on Slacker Hill while JP used the time to work on his tan. Eventually only Peter, David, and James S were missing. Since Walter and I had seen James S coming up Coastal Trail just before McCullough Road, we weren't too concerned about him. Peter and David, however, hadn't been seen since Pelican Inn, leading to speculation that they were still there drinking themselves under the table.

Requisite City Shot

In any case, we headed back down SCA Trail, Alta Trail, Bobcat, Miwok and finally Old Springs Trail to arrive back at the parking lot uneventfully. I actually ran into a colleague who was jogging along Alta Trail in the opposite direction from us, and then again when we were on Miwok Trail. Looking at the map, I'd guess he had run a 6-mile loop to meet up with us from the other side after we had hiked only 2 miles. Pretty humbling, as before that point I had been feeling pretty intrepid for doing a 20+ mile hike at what I thought was a respectable pace. Oh well ...

Back at the lot, things were pretty low-key: no injuries, plenty of snacks and (thanks to Jeff) chocolate, and still an hour+ of sunlight to enjoy. Sarah, Eric F. and James W had already taken off, so we were mostly waiting for Peter, David and James S. As typical with INCH carpools, the passengers all arrive long before the driver, so Jeff, Paul and Steve were locked out and Steve was even threatening to black leaf Peter, although I'm not sure on what grounds. Eugene had heard Steve earlier talking about going to the Buena Vista and was ready to go, but oddly no one was interested ... probably because Ross had already brought beer, so no need to drive anywhere. Finally someone spotted Peter and David just as the temperature started dropping to chilly levels. James S would later be found and retrieved by Walter on the way out, so we can call this trip to the Marin Headlands a resounding success; it definitely lacked the drama and loss of hikers from last year's visit while offering all the views and sites.

From Steve: I don't recall the Black Leaf suggestion from above, but it would certainly be valid for the crime of "Greatly reducing the probability of going to the BV while in the vicinity of San Fran"! Peter and David got lost just past the Lagoon and ended up near Pt. Bonita. So they took the road all the way to the beach turn-off. Getting lost is OK, although (as fellow carpoolers Paul and Jeff kept asking) maybe next time we should get the keys. Kudos to Terra for buying a round at the Pelican Inn, and Eugene for encouraging the BV. There has been a disturbance in the force lately--INCH has been tending dry, contrary to its founding principles!

JP's 30th leaf
Steve's 470th leaf

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