Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands

Yesterday I took a brisk ride from San Francisco up and around Mount Tamalpais.

I've had lots of time off recently, and I was looking for something a little out of the ordinary for me. Mount Tamalpais sounded interesting, and I've only been there once, two years ago.

Starting off, looking at the road ahead.
Armed with only vague memories of the route from 2012 and an almost complete lack of any other planning, I set off early in the car. I was headed for the Vista Point just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. As I drove through thick fog on 280 (so thick that the sparse traffic slowed a bit), I remembered that the Golden Gate Bridge no longer has cash toll booths. I don't have FasTrak, and I couldn't remember whether that would be a problem (answer: no, not a problem) and couldn't easily check. I decided to find parking in San Francisco and cross the bridge on the bike. And having made that decision, it was obviously better in every respect.

As I neared the bridge a search for parking brought up Inspiration Point, a scenic spot in the Presidio. When I got there it was literally empty, so I thought I must be violating some rule. Nonetheless I parked and started riding in the cold morning air, just after 8:30.

Somebody has placed French-style markers on
hills in the area. This one was on Corte Madiera Road.
Everything's so much easier in the morning. I crossed the bridge, passed through Sausalito to the Mill Valley/Sausalito bike path, and made my way up to Mill Valley with little traffic, whether car, bike or pedestrian. From Mill Valley I took roads up through the little towns that surround the mountain (Corte Madeira, Larkspur, Ross, and San Anselmo). Finally in Fairfax I turned onto Bolinas Road (passing an inviting coffee shop already packed with cyclists) and began the climb.

Alpine Lake
The first part of the climb goes past a golf course, after which car traffic decreases noticeably. It climbs a little more until descending to the beautiful and quite full Alpine Lake reservoir.

After a snack on the dam in the warming sun, I began the climb up away from the lake. Cars were parked all along the narrow shoulder of the road here, but few people were in sight. I guess there are hiking trails around there?

After a beautiful section of thick, dark woods, the path continues on Ridgecrest Boulevard. On this section the trees give way to grassy hills, currently a gratifying green. It offers the first views of the Pacific, and eventually Bolinas and Stinson Beach.

Bolinas Bay, as seen from Ridgecrest Boulevard.

The Lookout Tower on Mount Tamalpais
After this section the road turns toward the north-east and heads up to the nondescript West Peak, and finally the East Peak. I enjoyed the views while eating my remaining food, then hiked up to the observation tower. I could do that because I wear "mountain bike" shoes with SPD clips, not enfeebling road bike shoes. I can't imagine why anyone would choose the latter.

After that I headed downhill... very briefly, because one must immediately climb back to the West Peak. But then it's all downhill into Mill Valley, and from there the bike trail takes you back into Sausalito.

Instead of heading directly back across the bridge, I stayed on the road (Conzelman Road, apparently) to enjoy the views west of the bridge. I hadn't been up here before. It was now mid-afternoon, and appeared to be a nightmare for many cars seeking few parking spaces. It was nice on the bike, although a little steep in sections.

Looking back on the bridge and San Francisco from Hawk Hill.
I crossed the now-busy bridge, and found that the once-quiet roads in the Presidio were now backed up with cars waiting to cross the bridge. The Inspiration Point parking lot was now overflowing and crowded, partly due to people taking up spots while on long bike rides, I suppose. Things look a lot different in the afternoon -- the lesson is that if you get a reasonably early start, everything's easy, and later it becomes a huge hassle.

Elevation profile
Yesterday's ride was a little over 62 miles, with 5457 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the final climb up toward the East Peak of Tamalpais, at 8.1%. That's it for the holiday rides; now back to work!


  1. Happy new year! I love reading your reports, and am surprised we haven't crossed paths in the Sierra Azu's yet. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks! And who knows, we probably have crossed paths at some point. If we were passing I'd be the old slow guy, probably offering a wave, and if we were going in the same direction I'd be the old slow guy you passed :)