Alamere Falls – Hike

Type of hike: Out and back
Difficulty: 5
Trail grade: 9
Trail use: Extremely crowded!
Highest elevation: ~570′
Total climbing: 2000′
Round trip distance: 11.5 miles but this includes side trips
How long: About 8 hours but that also included side trips, and lunch
Quality of views: 8+

Weather conditions when we did it: Clear and warmish
Red tape: None
Maps we used: Mostly Tom Harrison and the Hiking Marin book
Water: None – bring all that you need
Restrooms: Outhouses in parking lot but no water
Parking: Yes – however VERY crowded – go early to get parking in the lot otherwise parking is alongside road with the additional hiking required to get to and from your car.

How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take 17 to 85 then 85 to 280…  and finally 280 to San Francisco.  Proceed through the city however you like to get to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Cross the bridge and a mile or so after the Rainbow Tunnel, exit 101 onto Highway 1 where it exits at the bottom of the hill.  Take Highway 1 for what seems like forever on a hyper curvy road to Stinson Beach.  And then go another 4.5 miles beyond Stinson and take a left onto the possibly unmarked turnoff into Bolinas.  Continue 1.7 miles and then turn right onto Mesa Road.  Follow Mesa Road all the way to where it ends at the Palomarin Trailhead.  The road turns to gravel at some point.  Beware of super huge potholes.  Oh and special note… when we were leaving for the day, we saw that cars were parked all the way out from the parking lot, along the road to just about where the road turned to gravel!  Maybe a mile… If you ended up parking there, this would add significantly to your hike… so GO EARLY.  We arrived at the parking lot at 9:30 AM and the main lot near the bathrooms was already full.  I guess from there, cars just kept parking along the road as they arrived.

Pt Reyes Map
Where the trails fit in the grand scheme of things…
Alamere Falls
Our hike

Hike description: Additional pictures

It’s almost exactly 4 miles from the Palomarin parking lot to the trail branching off that goes to Alamere Falls… Then this trail goes toward the beach for about a half mile or so before you arrive at the falls… that means that if you’re just going to the falls then this is about a nine mile day round trip… plus whatever you end up hiking to get to and from your car.

However… the mileage on our junket was longer… first we kinda overshot our exit off the main trail (“Coast Trail”) to the beach and the falls and didn’t figure it out until we had gone an additional half mile or so extra.  And then besides going to the falls, we also included an excursion up to Double Point.  This turned out to be my favorite part of the trip but it did add to our total mileage.  So by our GPSs, our final mileage was about 11.5 miles round trip.  A good 2.5 miles further than you would go if you did everything right.

Now then… I just can’t go any further without carrying on a bit about how crowded it was.  When Donna and I hike, we mostly go to places where there aren’t many people.  Not by design necessarily, it just kinda happens that way.  And, not gonna lie, I guess I kinda prefer it that way too.  But it’s never been much of an issue.  But from that you can imagine my shock when upon arriving at the parking lot, at what I thought was pretty damn early (we left our house in Scotts Valley around seven and arrived at the Palomarin trailhead parking lot at 9:30 or so), the lot was already completely full?!  We ended up among the last people to get to park in the lot.  After that folks were being directed to park along the road.  An already harried National Park Service employee indicated a spot for us to leave the mini-van.  She was very friendly but didn’t have a lot of time to chit chat.  Turns out that we were among the lucky ones.  When we drove out that night, cars were parked on the side of the road all the way to where the gravel road ended… that must have been at least a mile.  That’s adding another two miles (round trip) to the hike for the folks who had to park out there.  Anyway… I’m getting carried away about the parking… So to cut to the chase… GO EARLY!

All day we were buffeted by this mass of humanity.  It was UNBELIEVABLE!  I was stricken.  I guess it kinda makes sense though… I mean we’re less than an hour of drive time from San Francisco, on a lovely day… and the falls are kind of a phenomenal natural feature.  But the teeming hordes was a bit of a shock to my fragile little system… took me awhile to adjust, get my legs under me and figure out how to enjoy the day.  So the moral of the story is… like I said… GO EARLY!

Okay… I’ll quit carrying on about the crowds… on to the reason all those people were there…

It’s just an absolutely AWESOME place to be… simple as that.  From the parking lot, after passing through a grove of some seriously fragrant eucalyptus trees, the trail starts off roughly paralleling the ocean.  So fairly quickly you get views of The Farallons off on the horizon.  I’m always pleased when I get to see these islands, because conditions don’t often permit it.  But there they were…

DSC00707
The Farallon Islands about thirty miles away. This photo tested the limits of the telephoto lens on my humble ‘point and shoot’ camera.
DSC00704
Takin’ in the view

After say a mile or so, the trail turns abruptly inland and begins to gain some elevation reaching around 570 feet.  This is the highest we got including our climb up to Double Point.

DSC00711  The trail is mostly under tree cover.  Which was welcome because you’re climbing.  It’s so lush in places… the greens almost hurt to look at.

After awhile we started passing some small coastal lakes, followed by the larger Bass Lake…

DSC00708
Bass Lake

And then Pelican Lake…

DSC00723
Pelican Lake

This is where the wheels started wobbling… Somewhere amongst the mass of people was this seriously graffitied sign that identified the trail to Alamere Falls…

DSC00734

So we missed it… and instead of stopping and turning down this trail to Alamere Falls, we kept rolling down the Coast Trail until we came to a fork in the trail… Ocean Lake Loop goes left and the trail to Wildcat right… Hmmmm… we didn’t expect this fork.  It was then that we remembered a clump of people about a half mile back that was probably the Alamere Falls exit that we were looking for… We (well actually ‘I’) thought, what the Hell, we’ll just go down this Ocean Lake Loop trail, maybe find a way to the beach and walk back along the beach to the falls.   Well, I guess that wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.  Our access to the beach was blocked by this cliff down to the beach that just seemed to sketchy to negotiate… Eventually we turned around and made our way back to the actual trail.  Sigh… I don’t think I was doing very well in the popularity polls at that point.

Finally we arrived back at the trail down to Alamere Falls.  Of course the trail was crowded and weaved it’s way down to the beach through masses of bushes, vines and way too much poison oak.  We’re so screwed… I hate getting poison oak and now we’ve all got it for sure.  Eventually we came out to the overlook above the falls… we made it!… we were here!   Hmmm…  we still had to get down to the falls though.  Seems like that part would be trivial… but here was the same kind of cliff we had already encountered further down the trail.  There WAS a trail though.  But it was still gonna be an ordeal to get down there.

Just to orient you… There are three levels: the level that we had just come out onto, then there’s the next level down to where the pools were, and then down to the beach level where the big falls came down.  These levels were connected by steep gullies that the mass of hikers would descend through.  Each one was narrow, allowing only one hiker through at a time.  So sometimes a bit of negotiation was required.

DSC00748
Gettin’ down to the beach is kinda crazy….

However, once you’re down on the beach, it’s pretty cool.  And here we were at the famous falls…

DSC00758

DSC00765
Jack and Donna in front of the falls

We hung out on the beach for a while… it was a gorgeous day, there was lots to look at, but it was a complete circus… there were folks rappelling and then rock climbing back up the falls, there were women doing their mysterious duck faces (does anyone know what that’s all about?) while standing under the falls with their over indulgent boyfriends taking pictures of them, there was a drone flying around, kids playing in the creek, guys doing yoga on the beach (really?!)… but mostly there were folks … lots and lotsa folks just standing around doing what we were doing, i.e. taking photos and looking at the falls… it was difficult to tear ourselves away from all this.

However, we still had a lot of hiking to do before headin’ home so better not dilly dally too long… time to get a move on….

However, when we turned to move toward the crevice in the cliff, that’s when we saw what we had to do to get back up off the beach… besides climbing back up the cliff, there was actually a line… a long line… to climb up to the next level.  Seriously!?  This was getting to be a bit like Disneyland.  I wondered where the ‘2 hours to go’ sign was.

DSC00767
Here we are taking our place at the end of the line

Unbelievable!

As we moved forward in the line, we had a lot of time to watch the process.  It was pretty cool how it was working out.  Imagine a one lane road.  Only cars going one direction can proceed at a given time. Then the flow mysteriously reverses and cars start going the other way.  But in this case there was no sign guy.  There was only our senses of fair play that governed.  So here folks would make their way down, then some negotiation would take place and the flow would switch to allow people going up.  This would go on for a while then more negotiations… the flow would then switch to go the opposite way.  It was amazing to see this ad hoc ‘system’ actually work.  Donald Trump notwithstanding, who says that we in the United States are a bunch of selfish, boneheads?  My faith in humanity got a big shot in the arm as I watched this.  Finally, I had to break away from being fascinated though… It was our turn.  Must focus or risk embarrassing myself…

DSC00770

Turns out that I’m pretty reasonable I guess… When Jack and I got to the point where the line turned right in the picture above, we stopped and left a gap so the folks going down could get down… they had been waiting pretty long… and the flow reversed.  Aren’t we just the nicest guys?

Eventually we made it through the labyrinth to the overlook above the falls (top level), and back through the tunnel of poison oak to the main trail.  Next stop… Double Point.

Double Point is an overlook about 500 feet above the ocean.  We never did decide what the name ‘Double Point’ referred to.  Was it the point we were climbing?  Or was it the one further south?Was it both?  Or was it the cove in between?  No idea… But getting up there was a bit of an adventure… The start of the trail was about 100 (or maybe 150) feet back (south… toward the parking lot) along the Coast Trail.  The opening to the trail is pretty easy to find… but the trail itself is something else.  Right away we (‘I’) lost sight of it (such as it was).  The trail was there.  It just wasn’t easy to distinguish from the other animal trails and channels through the bushes.  So we just made our way as best we could.  We found the trail again later but only after some serious scrambling through the bushes and poison oak.  Somehow everyone in our little group was able to remain polite to me even though I’m sure they weren’t too happy about the bush whacking.  I was expecting a mutiny at every step.  But everyone seemed as stoked as I was so I kept on.  The scramble up to the top of Double Point was wonderful in one aspect though because we were finally away from mass of humanity that had surrounded us all day.  A welcome respite… And because of that (and the views) it really was my favorite part of this whole junket.

After some determined scrambling…

…we ended up at the top.  And the views were astounding… Better than I imagined them to be.  The Farallon Islands, the end of Point Reyes, the beach below, the cove below us next to Double Point… Photos are better than words… so I included a few of them here.  I have lots more.

None of us wanted to leave… but after a while, it was time… we still had a long way to go to get home… four miles of hiking then at least three hours of driving through Sunday night traffic… oy!  Better get a move on.

An hour and half of pretty fast hiking brought us back to the parking lot… which now was relatively empty.

I had been kicking myself all day for not taking a photo of the parking lot when we first got there in the morning…. I thought the full parking lot early in the day was crazy for this outing… but that was before I saw that there were cars parked along the side of the road for something like a mile from the trailhead.  Absolutely nuts… but I guess, considering how near this wonder was to the San Francisco metropolitan area, to be expected.  Clearly, this destination is not for those who are troubled with crowds.

Another thing that I found to be pretty amazing was that here I am, a Bay Area dweller of more than 30 years (hmmmm…. make that 34 years), and I had never heard of Alamere Falls?!  Meanwhile it’s this huge attraction with easily more than a thousand people visiting it on some random Saturday in February?!  It’s been here all along and I just never knew it.  And I call myself a local?!  All I can say is WOW!  What else am I overlooking?

My New Senior Pass!

This is one of those “Hurray For Me!”… or “Don’t You Just Wish You Were Me?” kinda posts that you see on Facebook all the time.  Yeah… they’re super annoying, right?

BUT!… Besides the ‘Hurray For Me’ aspect of this post, I feel okay about putting it up because this is just that awesome… and… anyone in my age group can partake of this for themselves.  So besides bragging, I’m posting this as a public service.

Okay buckle up… like I keep saying, this is pretty damn cool!

How much does it cost you to drive into Yosemite or Yellowstone NP each time you go?  Or even just to drive through Yosemite NP on Highway 120 to get over the pass to Owen’s Valley… Right now it’s $30… just to drive over the pass?!… but it’s far shorter than taking 108 and 395, so you just bite the bullet and pay the money right?  Lassen, Death Valley and Joshua Tree NPs are all $20.  And even our humble little local Pinnacles NP is $15.  But Yosemite is the worst, cuz you gotta pay it just to drive to the other side of the hill!?

What if there was another way?  Sigh… just think about it.  Well if you’re over 62 years of age, there actually is another way.  For a measly $10, you can get yourself a lifetime pass to ALL the national parks in the United States.  That’s right, LIFETIME.  We visit the national parks quite a bit so this feels like we won the lottery.  But there’s got to be a trick right?  It’s just too good to be true.  Well there is no trick… it IS true.  Here are the rules taken directly from http://www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm

Senior Pass

  • $10 Lifetime pass
  • For U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over.
  • May be obtained in person at a federal recreation site or through the mail using this application form. The cost of obtaining a Senior Pass through the mail or online is twenty dollars ($20). Ten ($10) for the Senior Pass and ten ($10) for processing the application. Applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship.
  • May provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services.
  • Generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.

After waiting for what seemed like forever (that is until I turned 62), I got mine this last summer before a backpacking trip that started in Kings Canyon National Park.  And it was EASY.  I did it from my car through my open car window.  No muss, no fuss…

Here’s my pass…

Senior Pass

And now I can’t wait till my next visit to a national park to use it.

The State of California has something similar.  It’s called the Golden Bear Pass.  But it’s much more restrictive because it has to be renewed yearly and has an income restriction (you have to submit your state income tax returns).   But there’s another California Parks pass that’s almost as good which has no income restriction.  It’s the Limited Use Golden Bear Pass.  It costs $20, has to be renewed yearly and doesn’t work from the weekend before Memorial Day until after Labor Day (and just the opposite for the desert state parks).  But that’s still 9 months of access for $20.   I just applied for mine.  There’s a 4 to 6 week processing time therefore I’m waiting.  But in a few weeks, expect me to be bragging about that here too.

So… Hurray For Me!  Mostly becoming older pretty much sucks.  But there are one or two things that are more than just okay about it.

 

Chalk Mountain Climb

This is the first of the local peaks in our “Parade of Peaks” challenge that we climbed.  It’s 1609 feet high on the map.  But on the GPS we got 1643 or so.  Pretty much the same I guess.  I think we will definitely include this peak in our final list.

Type of climb: Out and back
Difficulty: 5
Trail grade: 7
Trail use: moderate on a weekend
Elevation gain: 1200′
Total climbing: 1440′
Round trip distance: 5.8 mi
How long: 2 hours 10 minutes RT
Quality of views: 8

Weather conditions when we did it: Clear
Red tape: None
Maps we used:
Water: None
Parking: Yes

How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take Highway One for something like 22 miles, pass Waddell Beach and Ano Nuevo, then start looking to your left for an unmarked road called Whitehouse Road.  The road junction is across from a turnout off of the main highway.  Proceed up Whitehouse Road for 2.3 miles until you reach a small parking area and signs warning not to drive further along road as it is now private.  Park… Trail is obvious and heads directly up hill from road.

Hike description: Additional pictures
Redwood shaded trail climb with two viewpoints, to junction with ridge road.  Then road takes you to two more lookout points; the final being the top of Chalk Mountain.

The trail is a steep (at times over 20% grade), redwood shaded climb of 1.3 miles climb that gains almost 1000′ before joining a road. There are two view points along the trail during the climb up to the road.  First is at 0.5 miles, 900 feet.  The second is at 1.0 miles, 1200 feet.   Viewpoints are westward facing with views of the coast from Pidgeon Point to Ano Nuevo.   The trail intersects with the road at 1.3 miles and 1360 feet of elevation.  At mile point 2.0 (1570′ of elevation) there is a large turnout along road connected to a parking lot.  These are the best views of the hike looking south overlooking Ano Nuevo.   From here you can see the top of the climb to Chalk Mountain proper by looking carefully about a mile eastward along the ridge road to see an antenna nestled in the trees.  This is the summit of Chalk Mountain and is at 2.9 miles into the hike.  From here you can see into Big Basin and Mt McCabe (see write up) to the east.

After enjoying the views and using the outhouse (yes, there’s an actual outhouse at the top of Chalk Mountain) simply turn around and proceed back along the road, being careful not to miss where the trail leaves the road again at 4.4 miles.

Notes:

  • The first time you do this hike, you’ll probably want to go all the way to the actual top of Chalk Mountain (especially if you need to use the outhouse).  However after seeing it once, I think you can safely stop at the first lookout and get the majority of the value out of this climb.
  • There are other ways to the top of Chalk Mountain.  For instance, you can get there from Waddell Beach.  But this is something like a 14 miler with lots of up and down.  However I’ve heard that it’s gorgeous.  If you’re looking for an ordeal, try that route.
  • For those of you who are training for say hiking in the Sierra, this climb could be used as one of those ‘workout’ type climbs. In that case you could turn around at say the trail junction with the road and have your steep 1000 feet or so of climbing… or maybe jam up to the first parking lot (1570′) along the road before turning around.   There is a negligible amount of climbing after that.

 

More detail… To get there, we drove up the coast through Davenport, by Greyhound Rock, etc. until we get to Ano Nuevo Park.  Just before you get to Costa Noa there’s a no name road across from a highway turn out that turns inland.  Actually it has a name… it’s just not labeled except in very tiny letters on a transformer or whatever that is, on the side of Highway 1 is the name Whitehouse Road.

We drove pretty far along the road.  Not sure how far cuz I wasn’t paying attention.  But eventually you get to the trailhead.

DSC00686
The parking area for the Chalk Mountain hike

The climb starts rather abruptly… you get out of the car, put on our hiking stuff… and right out of the gun barrel, the trail starts going up.  You start out at about 400 feet of elevation and in the next mile or so, you climb about a thousand feet… then in the half mile or so remaining,  you climb an additional say 200 feet to get to the first lookout.  I think this lookout is the best because you have a view of Ano Nuevo, Pigeon Point and out into the ocean.  As you climb you’re in lush, deep redwoods so it’s cool, and there are two vista points to pause at and take pictures.

Once you break out into the sunshine.  The trail starts to look a bit like the Sierras.  The redwood trees turn into shrubs and pine trees.

Then you come to a road.  It’s probably obvious but don’t go right onto the road.  According to the map, the road ends… go left, that’s where the top of the mountain is.  Oh and be sure to take note of the sign next to where the trail meets the road.  That will be your marker on the way back.  It’s easy to be talking as you walk along the road and miss the trail.   No idea what the sign says.  The writing is all sun bleached away.

DSC00648
Now we’re out on the roads. This is the intersection of Chalk Mountain Road (which runs along the ridge top) and Whitehouse Road

We followed the road for a little while until coming to a structure at a hairpin curve that was obviously carved out.  No idea what all these solar panels were about but the view was tremendous.

DSC00639
Not sure what this place was. It had lots of solar panels, a little building and a pole for Jack to climb

And Jack did a little climbing to get an even better view…

We could see the antenna at the real top of Chalk Mountain about a mile away so after some more gazing off at the view, we struck out down the road again.  Seemed like it took forever to get to the next antenna but it was a pleasant walk which followed the ridge.  Once we got there, the views were still tremendous ‘cept now we were looking inland.  Of course my preference is looking out over the ocean.

It was a very pleasant day… sunny, warmish, clear… kinda perfect. We all had things to do when we got there.  We ate, I changed my clothes into something cooler, Jack climbed another tower (this one was sturdier and higher), Donna examined the wildflowers and Kalika took a nap… oh and the outhouse at the top unexpectedly became a big attraction.

Then it was time to head back down.  Of course we took more pictures along the way.  The views continued to be pretty dialed ‘cept now we didn’t have to turn around to take it all in.

Found the junction with the trail and descended back into the redwoods.

Before this outing, I always thought of Chalk Mountain as an epic local climb.  But now I think of it more as one of the local “workout” climbs… sorta like Fall Creek has become.  It’s got this sustained, steep 1000 foot climb right from the parking lot and you’re rewarded with some awesome views so that makes it worth getting up there.  Up and back it’s about 4 miles then if you add in the trail/road over to the top of Chalk Mountain proper, it’s about 6 miles round trip.  But in the future, unless I simply gotta use the outhouse, I think I can miss the extension.

 

 

Peak Baggin’

Donna and I are getting kinda tired of being homebound over this winter.  But what to do?  Not gonna lie, most of MY interest is in the Sierra.  Everything else I do is mostly about getting and staying in shape for the all too short Sierra season.  Yeah, I know, that’s pretty one dimensional.  And it’s kind of a problem… Unfortunately (or if you ask the farmers in the Central Valley, ‘Fortunately’) this year has had a lot precipitation… read SNOW in the Sierra.  So the Sierra is off limits until… well for a long time.  So now what do I do?  Well Donna has a little broader view, which I’m grateful for… And so together we came up with a new hiking undertaking that has my interest a little bit.  We’re making a list of peaks in the region… The Bay Area, the Big Sur region, the Ventana Wilderness, Marin County, the East Bay and then some other peaks of interest. Then we’re gonna start climbing em… one by one and as we do, we’ll cross em off our list.  They’re mostly local so there’s no snow issue… no excuse.  But I do want to climb White Mountain in the White Mountain Range east of the Sierra Nevada. Not sure if it should be on this list but I don’t want to forget it.  At 14,246′, it’s the second highest mountain in California so interesting from that aspect.

Right now our list includes:

  • Pinion Peak near Garland Ranch – 2249′
  • Montera – 865′ (near Pacifica)
  • Chalk Mountain – 1609′ (near Big Basin) – done 2/6/16 (see post)
  • Mission Peak – 2516′ (East of Fremont)
  • Black Mountain (Toro Park) – 2243′
  • Mount El Sombroso – 2999′ (NW of Mt Umunhum)
  • Mt Umunhum – 3486′ (area closed)
  • Cone Peak – 5155′ (Ventana area)
  • Mount Carmel – 4417′ (most northerly peak in Ventana Wilderness)
  • Manual Peak – 3379′ (due north of Big Sur Station)
  • Mt Tamalpias – 2571′ (Marin)
  • Anderson/Marble Peak – 4090’/4031′ (just inland from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park)
  • White Mountain – 14,246′ (White Mountain Range)
  • Loma Prieta – 3786′ (highest in Santa Cruz range – also on private property)
  • Mt. Defiance (2657′) in Pinnacles NP
  • Mt Wittenberg (1407′) tallest point in Pt Reyes

  • Timber Top – done 3/26/16 (see post)
  • South Chalone Peak (3269′) 2nd highest point in Pinnacles NP

  • North Chalone Peak (3304′) highest point in Pinnacles NP

  • Garrapata Doud Peak (1977′) – done but need to do again and document

  • McAbee Mountain (1837′) in Big Basin

  • Buzzard’s Roost (2100′) in Big Basin – might be highest point in Big Basin – also called Pine Mountain – done 3/13/16 (see post)

  • Eagle Rock (2488′) in Big Basin

  • Rose Peak
  • Ventana Double Cone (4853′)

But this isn’t all… just the first ones we came up with over the weekend.  I’ll add more as we go along.  However what I’d like to do is narrow the list down a bit   But it’s early in this process.  We’ll figure out what to do as we start climbing some of them.

Oh and this might be fun to do for specific local trails too… but that’s material for another post.