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Marin County 100 mile loop, April 6-13, 2014
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Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Marin County 100 mile loop, April 6-13, 2014 on 05/04/2014 13:36:18 MDT Print View

From April 6-13 2014, I backpacked a 100 mile loop through Marin County, California.

Overall, I had a great time, though some parts were challenging. I started and ended at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge where my wife dropped me off and picked me up. The general route stayed inland for the first half, heading north to Point Reyes National Seashore, then followed the coast heading south for the second half. I stayed in legal camp sites each night, since back country camping is prohibited everywhere. The trip passed through Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, Mount Tamalpais State Park, Samuel P Taylor State Park, and Marin Municipal Water District watershed lands.

I had awesome views of the San Francisco Bay area, Olema Valley & Tomales Bay, and the Pacific Ocean coastline. Much of the hiking in Point Reyes and the watershed lands is wilderness or looks like wilderness. I saw or heard lots of wildlife including coyotes, bobcats, snakes, quail, osprey, and whales. I was surprised to walk a couple of miles through a juniper forest that looked just like many parts of the southwestern USA.

But this trip is not a get-away-from-it-all wilderness experience. For a couple of days I was within view or earshot of freeways or well-traveled roads; the Golden Gate Bridge and Muir Woods were tourist mob scenes; and on one night I was camped in busy, noisy campground (Pantoll). For millions of people, this area is a few train, bus or ferry rides away. I met many people who were backpacking or bicycling in the area thanks to public transit.

The camp sites I used were:

Hawk Camp, GGNRA, backpacking camp, reservation required, no water
Bootjack Camp, Mount Tam, walk-in car camp, first come, first serve
Hike & Bike Camp, SP Taylor, first come, first serve
Sky Camp, Point Reyes, backpacking camp, reservation required
Wildcat Camp, Point Reyes, backpacking camp, reservation required
Pantoll Camp, Mount Tam, walk-in car camp, first come, first serve
Hawk Camp, GGNRA, backpacking camp, reservation required, no water

For this trip, my base pack weight was 13.6 pounds; my starting pack weight was 33.5 pounds, with 8 days of food and 3.5 liters of water. Despite abundant rainfall and redwood forests in this area, water sources can be scarce and unreliable, even in the spring. But I never had to treat water; most campsites had piped, treated water.

I took a voice recorder on this trip, and didn't take any photos. I'm still transcribing eight hours of notes and sounds I recorded during the trip. I may update this trip report when I finish.

I passed through one very small town on this trip, Olema, CA, with a small deli not appropriate for resupply. I considered mailing supplies to the part-time Olema post office, but chose not to.

Marin County has many micro climates, so I was chilled in the fog under redwood trees one hour, and sweating in bright sunlight on a ridge top the next hour. The lowest overnight temperature recorded in camp was 42 F; I estimated the highest temperature during one day in the mid 80s F. Mostly the weather was perfect for hiking and sleeping. Most of the nights were relatively warm and dry; one night I got significant condensation just above the fog line at Sky Camp.

Daily mileage varied from 4 miles to 20 miles, most days were about 15 miles. I had hiked or mountain biked about 15 miles of these trails before this trip, so most of the trails were new to me. I hiked 4.5 miles total along paved roads scattered across several days and sections; most of the hiking was on dirt roads in parks, or single track trails. Mount Tam has a well-deserved reputation for steep trails. I don't plan to carry a backpack up Bootjack Trail again anytime soon!

You could hike many shorter and longer variations on this loop. For trip planning, I used Google Maps, the Trails Illustrated map "Mount Tamalpais - Point Reyes", and downloaded PDF maps from the parks and water district.

Google Maps was quite useful for overall trip planning. When you zoom in, Google Maps has good tracks and so-so mileage for all of the official trails, and many unofficial trails that were not on any other maps. Unfortunately, a saved Google Map link might give you a different route in the future! The Trails Illustrated map had both too much information (too many topo lines, too many points of interest, too small font size), and too little information (missing some official trails, missing most of the watershed lands). The PDF maps from the parks were mostly fantastic; the Mount Tam map doesn't have trail miles, so I got those from other maps. Many times different maps disagreed on the mileage between two points (and disagreed with the signs on the trails), so my "104 mile loop" is a rough estimate. I didn't have any major surprises on trail mileage.

For hiking, I took the Trails Illustrated map, but never used it. I printed the PDF maps from the parks onto double-sided 11x17 paper, sometimes cropping the parts I didn't need. These maps were perfect for daily hiking. I also printed daily trail/mile lists and cut those down to pocket size. Since most of the trails and junctions were well marked, I could hike most of the day using those lists without a map.

Most of the trails were in very good condition. Some sections were overgrown with stinging nettle, but I avoided both poison oak and tick bites. Some sections were mud bogs, but my hike was just a few days after a couple of major storms. One 30 yard section went through an ankle-deep swamp - my shoes and socks didn't dry out for two days after that.

I could have easily skipped Hawk Camp, but that turned out to be one of the best camp sites on the trip. Hawk camp has great views of the Marin Headlands, San Francisco, and parts of the Golden Gate and Bay area. Other hikers and campers I met loved Hawk Camp, too. Pantoll camp is extremely popular and first-come, first-serve; I got the next-to-last camp site, but many nights it's full early.

Detailed Itinerary:

Sun 4/6/14 start at Golden Gate Bridge north end
2.1 Coastal Trail & SCA Trail
0.5 Alta Trail
0.4 Bobcat Trail
0.7 Hawk Camp Road
Sun 4/6/14 3.7 miles to Hawk Camp
0.7 Hawk Camp Road
0.3 Bobcat Trail
1.5 Marincello Trail
5.5 Miwok Trail (mud bog in a few places)
0.3 Redwood Creek Trail
0.6 Muir Woods Road (paved)
0.7 Main Trail
1.5 Bootjack Trail (steep!)
Mon 4/7/14 11.1 miles to Bootjack Camp
0.7 Bootjack Trail (steep!)
1.6 Lagunitas Rock Springs Road
2.4 Rocky Ridge Road
0.3 Bon Tempe Dam Road
0.4 Bull Frog Road
0.9 Azalea Hill Trail (steep!)
1.4 Pine Mountain Road
5.8 San Geronimo Ridge Road
0.2 Lower Peters Dam Road
2.0 Cross Marin Trail
Tue 4/8/14 15.7 miles to SP Taylor SP
2.0 Cross Marin Trail
1.4 Shafter Grade
6.6 Bolinas Ridge Trail
1.1 Sir Francis Drake Blvd (paved)
0.2 Highway 1 (paved)
0.1 Vedanta Retreat Road
0.8 Rift Zone Trail
0.8 Bear Valley Trail
1.6 Meadow Trail
0.5 Sky Trail
Wed 4/9/14 15.1 miles to Sky Camp
2.5 Sky Trail
2.1 Bayview Trail
0.1 Muddy Hollow Trail
0.2 Hostel Road
10.7 Coast Trail (hiked about 1 mile of that on the beach instead)
Thu 4/10/14 15.6 miles to Wildcat Camp
0.7 Coast Trail
1.7 Stewart Trail
4.6 Ridge Trail (mud bog in a few places)
1.2 Teixeira Trail
0.5 Olema Valley Trail (swamp!)
2.4 McCurdy Trail
3.6 Bolinas Ridge Road
4.5 Coastal Trail
1.2 Matt Davis Trail
Fri 4/11/14 20.4 miles to Pantoll Camp
0.7 Old Mine Trail
2.4 Coast View Trail
1.2 Heather Cutoff Trail
0.2 Heather Cutoff Spur
0.7 Redwood Creek Trail (trail closed for construction, hiked Muir Woods road instead)
0.2 Highway 1 (paved)
0.2 Pacific Way (paved)
0.5 Coastal Fire Road
1.4 Pirates Cove Trail (steep in places!)
3.7 Coastal Trail
0.7 Bunker Road (paved) to Visitor Center for permit and water
0.2 Bunker Road (paved)
0.5 Miwok Trail
2.3 Bobcat Trail
0.7 Hawk Camp Road
Sat 4/12/14 15.6 miles to Hawk Camp
0.7 Hawk Camp Road
2.3 Bobcat Trail
0.2 Rodeo Valley Trail
0.2 Bunker Road (paved)
3.0 Coastal Trail
Sun 4/13/14 6.4 miles to Golden Gate north end
103.6 miles total

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Marin County 100 mile loop, April 6-13, 2014 on 05/04/2014 20:17:31 MDT Print View

Thanks for your detailed itinerary Rex. It will definitely help as well as your descriptions on the crowds.

Edited by hknewman on 05/04/2014 20:57:47 MDT.

Jacob D
(JacobD) - F

Locale: North Bay
Re: Marin County 100 mile loop, April 6-13, 2014 on 05/05/2014 08:30:19 MDT Print View

Nice hike, Rex.

I've hiked most of those trails and stayed at all of the camps other than Bootjack on Mt. Tam, though never linked them all together into a longer trip. Neat idea.

Those are some nice trails and views. The Headlands area is one of my favorites... good running and hiking trails out there. The Point Reyes area is simply great. We've been hiking there for years. I've been wanting to put a similar (but different) trip like this together in the area for a while, maybe this will be the inspiration I need to make it happen this summer.

brian H
(B14) - M

Locale: Siskiyou Mtns
kudos on 05/07/2014 11:18:53 MDT Print View

very nice Rex
thanx 4 posting

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Correction: dwarf Sargent Cypress forest, not a "juniper forest" on 05/08/2014 23:09:38 MDT Print View

I was surprised to walk a couple of miles through a juniper forest that looked just like many parts of the southwestern USA.

Turns out that I was walking through a forest of dwarf Sargent Cypress, which look a lot like junipers, but grow in the coastal mountains of California. These trees are much shorter than usual due to the serpentine soils, which are depleted in key nutrients.

Sargent Cypress, Wikipedia
Sargent Cypress, CNPS info at College of Marin
Google Maps: Sargent Cypress Forest

-- Rex

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Google Earth track and profile from DeLorme inReach SE on 07/06/2014 22:43:18 MDT Print View

Still exploring what the DeLorme inReach SE can do.

Logged into, used custom date/time range to select this trip, exported to GPX (not KML), used TextWrangler to collapse each track point to one line and custom sort to put the times in ascending order, imported to Google Earth and selected "Create KML Line Strings", then Show Elevation Profile, then Save Image ...
Google Earth track and profile from DeLorme inReach SE
There are a few gaps where I forgot tracking, or turned off tracking to save battery, but overall, the results were pretty good.

The first long steep climb to the highest point is the Bootjack Trail, about 2000 feet gained in 2 miles, split over two days on this trip.


-- Rex

Edited by Rex on 07/06/2014 22:58:37 MDT.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Gear notes: Windrider, Sidewinder, inReach SE, Moment, Big Sky pillow, Photon light, more on 07/07/2014 00:12:19 MDT Print View

Gear I used and loved (or not) on this trip.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider pack (now Windrider 2400)
Rode well and comfortably, even at 33.5 pounds starting weight, with gear plus 8 days of food and 3.5 liters of water. When the load got below 20 pounds, I could comfortably carry on just shoulder straps. I removed several straps before this trip, and will trim more soon (e.g. hydration sleeve I never use). I would never need a larger pack. Highly recommended.

Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri stove
Using Gram Cracker, ESBIT, Tinder Quik, and Evernew 900 ml non-stick pot.
I am still in awe of the design and engineering of this cooking system. On one 14 gram ESBIT cube, I can make a cup of hot tea, and boil water for dinner, every time, even in conditions so windy that flames are shooting out the vents. The only difficulty was lighting ESBIT in windy conditions. Often I used Tinder Quik to prime the ESBIT after several unsuccessful attempts to light the ESBIT directly with a mini-BIC lighter. Highly recommended.

DeLorme inReach SE
I really like the inReach SE, but I can get only 6 days of tracking and messages out of a single charge. Details in this thread. Recommended if you want tracking and two-way comms.

Tarptent Moment (original single-wall)
Quick to setup, light enough, roomy enough (I'm 188 cm tall), stable in high winds if you have good stakes, keeps the bugs out. Recommended, but no longer made.

Big Sky DreamSleeper pillow with cover
After I figured out the trick to using this pillow (top up before going to sleep), it worked great for me. Recommended if you need a pillow.

Doug Ritter Special Edition MkII Photon Freedom Micro light
You won't night hike with one, but for everything else on a typical trip, works great. Well made in USA, yellow case, clip for your hat. When my cheap knockoff was DOA on this trip, the Photon came through. Highly recommended.

Permaware "Lexan" spoon
Broke on this trip, but it was over 10 years old, and I muddled through. Barely recommended.

Acurite Digital Window Thermometer
Once again I was amazed at the difference between measured overnight low temperature, and my subjective temperature experience. Recommended.

Patagonia Houdini wind shirt (early 2013)
The perfect wind shirt for me, though it didn't get much of a workout on this trip because the weather was so mild. I even found the chest pocket useful. Highly recommended.

Sawyer Permethrin Pump Spray
Just before this trip, I treated shoes, socks, hiking shorts, hiking t-shirt, wind pants, wind shirt, and hat. Despite wading through miles of overgrown trails during prime tick season, I didn't get a single tick bite, and didn't see any ticks crawling on me. Highly recommended.

-- Rex

Edited by Rex on 07/07/2014 00:12:57 MDT.