Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tennessee 3 Beaches Hike

Marin’s Henry Coe ?

View north toward Mt Tamalpias
 There have been a lot of marine layers coming in lately, but Saturday was supposed to be clear without being too hot. Trusting that report; not that I really ever trust weather reports; I began craving the cool breezes and salty air of a coastal hike. Not that some soothing fog wouldn’t provide the advantage of protection from the heat, but too much visual obstruction would really spoil the spectacular views available from many of the high places near the ocean. It’s been way too long since I’ve been back to the Marin Headlands, so I committed to heading there, hoping for the right weather. On pervious visits to the headlands I have always used the trailheads at the southern end of the GGNRA. These trails have been favorites of mine for their interesting historical sights, and many fantastic view opportunities. But perusing the map, I realized that there was a whole interior section of the GGNRA between there and the Muir Woods/Mt Tam area that I really had not explored before. So the prospect of unfamiliar trails had me interested. I decided to head for the Tennessee Valley trailhead and planned to hike the Coastal Trail from Wolf Ridge to Muir Beach looping back to the trailhead by way of Green Gulch.

Heavy low lying fog
 I left fairly early, reaching the trailhead by about 8:30. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge it was all too obvious that the fog was back again, despite the reports, and it was thick enough to maybe hang around all day. A low lying layer was in over the ocean and bay, but from a distance the towers of the bridge were sticking out. It was anybody’s guess whether it would dissipate. The stables at Tennessee Valley were all but deserted at this hour. There were only a few early morning trail runners. That would change by the time I got back. I was a little concerned that there would be a lot of horse traffic, but it didn't turn out that way. I began by finding my way to the Old Springs Trail to take me up toward Wolf Ridge. The trail is well graded making it an easy climb, and soon I could see the fog had drifted up into Tennessee Valley and all the little gullies, but the peaks were already in the sun. Lots of quail and wild rabbits were scurrying around, and I spent some time enjoying the little calls the quail were making. A little bit of trail music. My route used a short section of the Miwok Trail which was high enough to provide the first views of all the fog down at the ocean. When I reached the top of hill 88 on Wolf Ridge (960 feet), I began to realize that I maybe should have done this route the other way around. This would probably be the best long range views of the day, but it was being wasted by the fog. I was standing in the still rising sun feeling toasted, but could hear fog horns down below in the mire.

Beach at Pirate’s Cove
 After admiring the fog, a concert of fog horns, and the abandoned, crumbling, Nike missile site on hill 88, I headed steeply downhill on the Coastal Trail down to Tennessee Cove. By the time I reached the trail junction at the bottom I was back in the fog, and I was quite chilly in the slight wind out by the beach. Luckily, I had my rain layer to use as a windbreaker and a light warmth layer. In the fog, the beach area seemed unremarkable. I could just barely see the rocky cliffs around the area, so I ignored the little overlook trail. I didn’t hang around because even in foggy weather this little beach has people around. Plus perspiration from the Wolf Ridge climb was still clinging to my shirt, and was beginning to evaporate inside the windbreaker. I found my way back to the Coastal Trail and headed north, climbing back up into the sun. The trail topped out at about 600 feet, and by then I could finally begin to see clearing. I was getting pretty good views of the ocean. I turned off on the Pirates Cove Trail to stick closer to the views, fragrant sea air, and the sounds of the surf on the rock far below. This trail is a single track and I was enjoying myself as it snaked along the coast. It soon began descending toward Pirate’s Cove. In the gully, there is a rocky, well used, trail down to the beach, if you could call that a trail. Very steep and rocky, I negotiated my way down with trekking poles. There was no one there except for one man lying around in the nude behind some rocks. I didn’t see him at first, and he seemed to pretty much ignore me. He went for what must have been a very chilly swim as I was leaving.

Rocky Bluffs
 Back to the trail again, and my third climb up to a ridge top from sea level. These trails were beginning to remind me of Henry Coe except that the ridges are not as high. A good workout for the quads. The day was getting warmer now, and the views were clearing up even more. I made my way along further north until I was looking down to Muir Beach. The trail provides a nice view down to the beach, and to Bolinas on the other side. The parking lot was full, and the beach was occupied, although I wouldn’t quite say crowded. Not that I had planned on sticking around here. I paused for a quick little trail lunch before hiking down to the beach area to find my connection.

Middle Green Gulch Trail begins just inland from the beach. There’s some kind of little farm there with rows of organic vegetables growing. I spotted some pumpkins, squashes, and what looked like red chard, but the rest I did not recognize. You have to remember to close the gates here to keep the deer out of the veggies. After hiking through the farm the trail begins a nice long, winding, graded, climb back up to the Coyote Trail at the top, with a high point of just over 1000 feet. Bikers use this trail a lot, uphill only if they heed the trail signs. This was the last climb of the day on this route, but I still needed to make my way back down to the trailhead at Tennessee Valley. I used the Fox Trail to get down, and was back at my car by about 3pm. By this time the parking lot was full, and cars were parked up and down the road. Early is recommended for visiting here. The route was a little over 10 miles with about 3000 feet of elevation gain. There are stables at the trailhead, but I did not see any horses all day.

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