Dan and Hannah Climb the Bad, Bad Picacho Peak near Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro cactus in Phoenix

Saguaro cactus in Phoenix

Returning to the Valley of the Sun, Hannah and I come home to where we spent the first ten years of our married life – Tempe, Arizona.  It’s a nostalgia tour as we walk by our first home at 542 West 16th Street and our second home at 1206 East LaJolla Drive.  Our first house cost $21,000, fully furnished!

Strolling the campus of Arizona State University where we are both proud alums, Hannah and I think of Arizona as an excellent place for us to grow up as twenty-somethings, far from the shadows of our quite successful parents.

map of tempe 2


Our first night is with our longtime amiga Lorrie who cares for us like long lost friends.  Her hubby Lynn set in motion the writer I am and writing teacher that I became.  Our second night is with Nan, Hannah’s mentor for her Health Education Masters at ASU.  For dinner Nan brings her sister Susie and friend Shirley to what turns out to be a magical night of conversation and friendship, which helps me complete my mission of book sharing.

Morning Hannah with Saguaro cactus in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

Morning Hannah with Saguaro cactus in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

On a mission to give away five copies of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, on this nine day hiking vacation, I noted in last week’s blog that I gave one copy to Anahi, a Wildcat Willies waitress in Springdale, Utah, and a second one to Joan and Russell of Idaho whom we met on the Observation Point Trail at Zion.   Connecting with these three women tonight, I know right away that they are the ones for copies three, four, and five.

PP map of picacho peak 2 better

After 24 golden hours with my former teaching mate Diane and her hubby Targe in Phoenix , we drive south on I-10 to Picacho Peak State Park.  Known locally as the setting for the one battle of the Civil War in Arizona, Picacho Peak saw a Rebel scouting party get the best of Union soldiers.

Forty miles north of Tucson, Picacho Peak sits by the Interstate taunting me to give it one more try.  You see, I also have some history with this bad boy myself.  Eight years ago on a blistering hot day in March, we set out on the Sunset Vista Trail for the summit of Picacho Peak.

Earlier that day, I spent the morning catching up with the aforementioned Diane over coffee.  By the time I got to the base of the nearly vertical cables, I was wobbly and dizzy from five cups of high test coffee as well as the direct Arizona sunshine.  Eventually I sat down and could go no further; Hannah carried the torch and made it to the summit.

Now eight years later, and a veteran of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, I am ready to give Picacho Peak one more shot.

Picacho Peak in the distance

Picacho Peak in the distance

Parking at the Hunter’s Trail trailhead on this late February Monday, we stare up at a mountain wall of switchbacks.

Looking back down the Hunter Trail as the trail begins

Looking back down the Hunter Trail as the trail begins

After a few hundred yards of the gently rising trail, we now begin to take the steep, rocky steps in a direct assault.  Meeting an elderly couple who have turned back, we are reminded by them that gloves are recommended for the cables up the mountain.   We have heard that before, but Hannah made it without gloves the last time so we think we are fine.

Climbing the Hunter Trail

Climbing the Hunter Trail

Grabbing conveniently located cables along the Hunter Trail, I follow Hannah, breathing more heavily, in a steep climb.  We pass a young man who has turned back after reaching the Saddle of the mountain; he felt shaky.  His situation might have given us pause, but it doesn’t and we press on.

Fortunate on this cloudless mid-80s afternoon, we are soon shaded from the sun by the mountainside and hike on comfortably.  The first half of the climb of the Hunter Trail is a workout but not stressful at all.

Climbing down from the Saddle

Climbing down from the Saddle

Arriving at the Saddle of the mountain with a view of forever to the west, we are surprised and I am bummed to see that we now are to descend five hundred feet holding on to mountainside cables that steady our steps over the crumbly rock.  Going down to reach the summit is counter intuitive, but we grab the cables hand over hand to make our way down the sunny west side of the mountain.

PP 4 PP itself

Without hiking gloves, the cables, which might be hot in the summer, are comfortably cool but slick and require a strong grip.  Once to the bottom of the cabled descent, we have a hike up, grasping more cables on the sunny side of the mountain.  We stop regularly for water breaks knowing our muscles need the lubricating fuel of H2O in the unshaded 90 degree direct sunshine.

PP google cables

And then my Waterloo appears.  The parallel cables rise along the mountainside at an 80 degree angle.  I am ready.  Without a second thought, I follow Hannah up the steep climb, squeezing the cables and occasionally pausing to calm my heavy panting.

The western slope

The western slope


More cables protect us from an untimely descent and we are soon within a few hundred yards of the rocky summit.  Taking off our boots and socks, we have taken 80 minutes to climb two miles to the top.   We have no idea it will take even longer on the way down.  With the sun filling the western sky at 4P, we still have two plus hours until sunset.

PP 4B h on cabled trail

The descent is a bitch.  At my Waterloo, an 80 degree double cable descent, I decide to go backwards pressing my feet against the mountain rock as Hannah does.  And then there is an eight foot section that I can’t feel any footholds with either foot.  With muscles weakening and five seconds from panicking, I pull myself back up and reassess.  Facing forward to the sky, I slide on my butt grabbing on to the cables for dear life.   Hiking gloves would have really helped me from slipping so.

PP 5 D and H at top

Second time is the charm for the Ithaca Bomber

On the way down one of my water bottles is dislodged from my fanny pack and goes bouncing down the steep incline into the mountainside as had one of Hannah’s minutes before.

The mountains of Tucson in the distance from Picacho Peak

The mountains of Tucson in the distance from Picacho Peak

The sun is bright on the western side of the mountain and Hannah’s rock scrambling skills keep us on track.  Hannah agrees that the descent, grasping cables and bracing each step with our knees, is far more difficult than climbing up.  Finding the proper toe hold while holding on to the cables while descending backwards is a challenge for both of us.

Climbing back up to the Saddle

Climbing back up to the Saddle

Approaching the final assent to the Saddle, we muster all the strength we have to pull ourselves up the mountain side set of cables.  Seated at the Saddle bench, we survey the eastern sky with the final rocky switchbacks still ahead of us.  With thirty minutes of knee bracing descent to the trailhead below, we both agree that we will NEVER do this climb again.

PP 7 mountain itself

The Bad Boy Himself

We are hikers not climbers.  Any trail that recommends hiking gloves is not for us.  Picacho Peak is a tough, mean, nasty climb.  It tested our strength, spirit, and creativity to find the correct footholds.

No doubt Picacho Peak has its advocates, but I am not one of them.  The park guide calls it a “difficult but rewarding hike!”  Be forewarned that this is one Tough Mudder who takes no prisoners.  I escape with Hannah to Tucson with the jailer of a mountain having just missed nabbing one more victim.

Dan and Hannah Take on the Hidden Canyon and Observation Point at Zion National Park

Don't miss breakfast at Wildcat Willies in Springdale, UT

Don’t miss breakfast at Wildcat Willies in Springdale, UT

There is no better way to start a day of hiking at Zion National Park than with a Wildcat Willies breakfast in Springdale, Utah.  As a part of our stay at the Bumbleberry Inn, we get a free breakfast at Willies.  For the second day in a row we have Anahi, the $10 waitress from yesterday, who is just so upbeat and attentive, serving Hannah chicken fried steak with home fries, eggs and wheat toast and me bumbleberry pancakes.  Married for a hundred amazing years (actually nearly 44) Hannah and I split the breakfasts and we won’t need much lunch on the trail today.

Zion mountains behind our Bumbleberry Inn

Zion mountains behind our Bumbleberry Inn

Having brought five copies of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, to give away to people who we connect with on our hiking vacation to Utah and Arizona, we give the first one to Anahi.  When Hannah delivers it to her later as we head to Zion, she taps her chest and smiles thankfully.

AL map of zion

Driving down the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive the last week in February, we pull into Weeping Rocks, which is the trailhead for both the Hidden Canyon and Observation Point Trails.  In the past I have been spooked by hikes that required holding on to chains above this canyon floor like we will have today at Hidden Canyon.  That all changed now that I am Daniel, Le Conquerant of Angel’s Landing.

The icy trail begins

The icy trail begins

Today’s combination Hidden Canyon/Observation Point Trails rises steeply on switchbacks and we are soon well above the parking lot where our no frills rented Nissan Versa sits.  Highly motivated to climb both these “strenuous rated” hikes on this red sandstone paved trail today, we step purposefully on a mid-50s late February morning that is going to 70F.  Fifteen minutes on the trail, we see the sign to the left to Observation Point, while we go right on the Hidden Canyon Trail.

On to Hidden Canyon

On to Hidden Canyon

Soon the first of the chains attached to the mountain wall appear.  The chains are useful, but in no way does the canyon fall off 1500 feet as it does at Angel’s Landing across the valley.  Immediately I think this is the perfect “pilot trail” if one wonders whether they may be up for the Angel’s Landing hike.

Some of the chains of Hidden Canyon

Some of the chains of Hidden Canyon

Three to four times we grab stretches of chains but never does it feel scary or intimidating.   This trail goes into the interior and ends at a sandy, shallow mountain pool.   There, a sign notes that the park service no longer maintains the trail after this point; we head back to the main trail since we have no interest in bushwhacking this fine morning.

OP 4 OP trail snow

On to Observation Point

In fifteen minutes we are back on the trail to Observation Point.  Once at the top, we will have the Virgin River Valley to our west and even look down on Angel’s Landing across the valley floor.  On this north side of the valley we run into snow on the trail.  Much of it has been covered by sand and we step easily through and around it.

OP 4C closeup D in canyon

Finally hiking into the sunlight, we climb and climb some more.   Last year we hiked this same trail (see to the left of this blog under Utah for the blog describing last year’s initial assent of Observation Point).  The climb is steady and relentless with 2100′ of elevation gain as we hike on the exposed cliffs of the mountainside facing the Virgin River Valley.  Last year I hugged the mountainside in fear, leaning into the mountain at a 75 degree angle for reassurance.

Valley side of the Observation Point Trail

Valley side of the Observation Point Trail

Today I wonder what the big deal was.  These trails at Zion are for folks who have a respectful fear of heights not the “severely debilitating fearful” kind.  And always, as the sign at Zion says, Your safety is your responsibility.

The Virgin River Valley from Observation Point

The Virgin River Valley from Observation Point

The final half mile to Observation Point is basically a level walk on the high plateau.   For the third day in a row in southern Utah, the sky is bright blue without a cloud within 500 miles.  At the summit, ten others, mostly couples are lunching and enjoying the view and the sunshine.

Unfortunately, sunshine is no friend for mid-day picture taking, especially looking down the Virgin River Valley into the afternoon sun.  We ask Joan, who we will learn is a farmer with her husband Russell in Pocatello, Idaho, to snap our picture.

Atop Observation Point

Atop Observation Point

Talking for twenty minutes about potato farming, travels, and children with her, I feel the connection that makes me want to make them the second recipients of a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn.  Alas, we have not packed a copy for the trail and the ones we do have are in our rental car four miles down below at the trailhead.

Descending on the Observation Point Trail

Descending on the Observation Point Trail

Packing up to leave, we don’t see Joan and Russell and guess that they must have left five to ten minutes before us.  On a mission to get them a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn, we rocket down the trail and know we will easily catch them.  Cruising along at three miles per hour down the mountainside, we don’t see them after 20 minutes or even 30 or 40.  What the hey?  They must be some super hikers.  And then it hits me – they never left the summit and are still exploring above us.

Coming down the mountain

Coming down the mountain

So we on to Plan B – we’ll just look for the car with the Idaho plates and leave a book on their windshield.  Easy Peezy.

Once at the trailhead parking area, we begin to scour the lot with a mere 25 cars, which should make it easy pickens to find their Idaho car.   Returning with news, that unbelievably, there are three vehicles with Idaho plates, Hannah is not dismayed.   We’ll do some sleuthing to figure which is their vehicle.  The first Idaho vehicle is a Subaru Outback that has a rear sticker indicating it was bought in Florida.  Not likely theirs, though farmers might like its all-wheel capability.

The second is a Lexus with a Go Irish Notre Dame vanity plate.  Dubious.   The third is a pickup truck.  Nothing says farming like a double cab pickup truck.  Checking the license plate holder it says Hirning but nothing about Pocatello, Idaho.

OP 6C looking up to mountains

Figuring I’ll just google Hirning on my iPhone to see if Hirning is a Pocatello car dealer, I am quickly aware that deep in Zion with mountains 2000’ above us, I have no cell service.  Giving it our best shot, we guess that theirs is the pickup and leave a note and a business card with a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn under their windshield wiper.  Once back in town within cell phone range, I’ll google Hirning to confirm our suspicion.

At the Zion Visitor Center, Hannah looks for animal post cards for our grandsons Owen and Max while I google Hirning.  Immediately our dear friends at Google come up with the electronic information that Hirning is indeed a Buick dealership in Pocatello.   Bingo!

Post script Anahi, the Wildcat Waitress.  One month later she met our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip who had come to Utah to hike Angel’s Landing.  Molly mentioned her parents and Anahi beamed with a reminder of our visit.

Springdale Neighborhood B and B

Springdale Neighborhood B and B

Post script Joan and Russell, the Idaho farmers.  It was their car.  Joan emailed two days later that she had read parts of Sweet Dreams, Robyn to Russell while they were driving.  It seems they themselves have a daughter who beat childhood cancer and next year is off to college.

Son of a gun, small world!  Now just three more copies of Sweet Dreams, Robyn to give away!  Who’s next?

Dan and Hannah Take Another Crack at Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing – It looks daunting from below.

Presence is not about winning.  It’s about approaching your biggest challenges without dread, executing them without anxiety, and leaving them without regret.  – Amy Cuddy, TED superstar

Amy has thrown down the gauntlet.

We love us some Angel’s Landing hiking.  In fact, it is our #1 all-time hike.  Grabbing on to chains 1500’ above the Virgin River Valley floor last year, I had an Outward Bound experience that challenged my own limiting, self-defining behavior.   Last year, I hiked to the 25’x25’ perch of Angel’s Landing hanging on for dear life, throttling the chains, and squeezing any joy out of the experience.   Today we are back to see if I can enjoy this thrill ride.

Angel's chains above the valley floor

Angel’s chains above the valley floor

Flying from Boston to Las Vegas in the last week of February, Hannah and I have six hours snuggled into our Jet Blue seats.  Speaking of air travel, I will not use the airlines as my punching bag.  People belly ache about the cramped seating, extra charges for bags, and the few chocolate chip cookies or pretzels they throw our way.  True, true, and true.

Zion National Park in southern Utah

Zion National Park in southern Utah

But …  today, we leave Maine at 530A for the Boston airport for our 10A Jet Blue flight.  Six hours later we are in renting a car in Las Vegas for our three hour drive to Springdale, Utah.

Voila, we are at Zion National Park 16 hours after leaving home on Chases Pond Road.  Where would we be if we were driving?  Let me see, maybe western Pennsylvania?  Maybe the Buckeye State?  And still with three or four or five days of driving ahead!  Thank you Jet Blue, Delta, and Southwest.

The red sandstone trail to the summit begins

The red sandstone trail to the summit begins

Preparing to hike to Angel’s Landing this morning, we wake early due to the two hour time change from Maine.  After a little meditating to calm the soul for the challenge ahead, we walk the quiet predawn streets of Springdale bundled up against the 32F morning chill before our breakfast at Wildcat Willies.

A wily friend at Wildcat Willies

A wily friend at Wildcat Willies

By staying at the Bumbleberry Inn ($61 per night for a couple of seniors here in the off-season), we get a full breakfast at Wildcat Willies as part of the deal.  It’s a triple egg omelet with home fries and sour dough bread for $9.95 each.  With coffee and tea, our bill is $25+, all included in our $61 per night motel charge.   We royally tip our upbeat and attentive waitress Anahi and then head down route 9 to Zion National Park not two miles away.

The Angel's Landing perch itself

The Angel’s Landing perch itself

From November to March 15, private cars have access to all parts of the park, especially the popular Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which goes to the Zion Lodge and the trailheads of the major hikes.  Other times of the year, visitors and hikers are shuttled to the various Zion venues.  Being here in late February unimpeded, we cruise into the park but never talk about our hike ahead to Angel’s Landing.

In 1995, clueless as parents, we took our 8, 10, and 12 year old kids on this trail.  In 2006, I got to the brink of the chains and turned back.  Then in 2009, I didn’t even think about trying Angel’s Landing seemed so daunting.

The canyon to her left

The canyon to her left

But then last year (2015), I got the courage to try Angel’s Landing with Hannah.  By the way, Hannah was always up for this hike.   Last year I choked the chains with both hands as I leaned in at a 75 degree angle to the mountainside wondering what the hell I was doing, muttering to myself; gripped by fear, I never looked down and went hand over fist until…until I made it to the rocky top and felt like the king of the world.  (See the categories on the left side of the blog, click on Utah to see about this triumph on Angel’s Landing last year.)

The switchbacks leading to the staging area for the final half mile assault to Angel's Landing

The switchbacks leading to the staging area for the final half mile assault to Angel’s Landing

Today my goal is to enjoy, not just endure, the hike to Angel’s Landing; leave behind the fear, trepidation, and self-doubt of last year.  Still with a kernel of wondering how I would do on this climb, neither of us bring up the subject as we ride into the park.

Paved red sandstone path to the summit

Paved red sandstone path to the summit

The trail to the summit of Angel’s Landing is paved with red stone quarried from the nearby hillsides.  With few on the trail this Wednesday late in February before the season begins, we continue to sidestep the conversation about the chain-hanging part of the hike.

AL 2H H on sandstone steps of trail

The trail climbs steadily and the switchbacks make the climb comfortably doable.  Soon the switchbacks get steeper, and we take off our sweatshirts and long sleeve tee shirts to accommodate our rising body temperatures.

Hannah Banana with her costumed namesake on the trail

Hannah Banana with her costumed namesake on the trail

After two miles of hiking over 40 minutes we arrive at the staging area where all the hikers make the decision whether to go on or this is quite enough thank you.  By a pine tree just off the trail, we stow most of our clothes and fanny packs to prepare for summiting of Angel’s Landing.  Surprisingly, all I feel is excitement of the possibility that this will be a fantastic experience.

The chains begin

The chains begin.  It’s a long way down.

Rather than choking the chains with two hands, I grab with one hand and balance with the other.  Of course, I never look to the canyon floor below, but there is a growing confidence that this is my day to release my quasi-fear of heights.  If it was a debilitating fear, I would never have even started, and I empathize for those with such fear.

Here are 7 seconds more video of the trail

With Hannah in the lead, I follow closely.  Stopping to take pictures and videos this time, I start to think this is so cool!  It is really not the big deal that I made it out to be in the past and am cruising along.  Last year, I didn’t want Hannah to even talk to me while we were holding on to the chains; I needed every ounce of attention to move forward.

Seated in the same position on the trail but shot from a slightly different angle

Seated in the same position on the trail but shot from a slightly different angle

Warned of ice on the trail, we see that it has been sanded and is between stones and easy to navigate.  This time I can be the chivalrous one to allow others to pass back down the mountain as I wait, not worried about what’s ahead.  To all the ones returning from Angel’s Landing, I congratulate them on a job well done.  It could be that they just may have conquered a fear and this will be one of the highlights of their year.  Nay, their life!



There are no chains over the last 200 yards as we walk easily on the wide sandstone ridge to the 25’x25’ rectangle of Angel’s Landing.  Only five others are there to witness my personal triumph.   Taking pictures from every angle, I shoot this video to commemorate the moment.

I can’t believe I am saying this, but the hike was a joy without end, amen.  I’d do it again tomorrow!  I have been able to take it in all the beauty of this spectacular aerie 1500’ above the canyon floor.



The half mile return to where our clothes and fanny packs are stowed is a celebration as we are now passing folks choking the chain themselves, with the same fear of heights I once had.  To everyone we meet, I do not joke but congratulate them on their success so far.  Nearly all say thank you for they may be in the challenge of their lives.

AL 6 H against sandstone wall

Hundreds make this hike every day. Why not me?  Why not you?   Hundreds more get to the staging area and say they just don’t want to go any further.   As the trail sign says, Your safety is your responsibility.  I have been on both sides on this mountain of fear and applaud everyone who steps up and congratulate all those who step back.  Know thyself.

So with this victory, what lies ahead for me?   The cables of Picacho Peak near Tucson, Arizona with its 1500′ of elevation gain over two miles that we will hike this coming Monday.   It’s another mountain I’ve tried and stepped back from eight years ago.

Two for two?


AL Molly and Tip

And by the way,  one month later our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip climbed Angel’s Landing.


Dan and Hannah Hike the Matt Davis Trail at Mount Tamalpais

Serendipity.  We were supposed to be 175 miles north of San Francisco today hanging out with our friends Tree and Scott, but El Nino flooded the Pacific Coast Highway blocking our way north two days ago.  Since most of life is Plan B anyway, we instead hiked at Point Reyes National Seashore two days ago where we met Craig.

tam stinson beach map

Telling us of a shuttle that takes hikers from Stinson Beach up the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trail, he mentioned climbing through the forest of waterfalls at Mount Tamalpais State Park.  We are all in!tam 2a d closer up at waterfall

Leaving Petaluma today, CA, we head south on the Pacific Coast Highway to the lagoon by Stinson Beach.  About a 35-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, Stinson Beach is below the Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tam.

Stinson Beach, like Point Reyes Station, its sister town fifteen miles to the north on Route One, has a tiny downtown catering to all those wanting to escape suburban Marin County and urban San Francisco.  Never finding the Shuttle that Craig spoke of, we instead drive up the switchbacks of Mount Tam looking to find the Matt Davis Trail or any trail to hike before we head to San Francisco for the night.

tam 1c parking signs

Arriving at the Pantoll Ranger Station Park Headquarters, lo and behold we see a sign for the Matt Davis Trail across from the parking lot.  Though there is no ranger on duty, we self-register and pay the $7 for seniors for parking.  Having been told by rangers that the fine for not purchasing the parking pass is $71, we see a sign here suggesting it might be even more.

tam mt tam map

Looking at the trail map, surprisingly we see that most of the hiking we did in previous years at the Muir Woods National Monument was, in fact, here in the Mount Tamalpais State Park.  Pronounced tam-al-pie-us, Tamalpais roughly translates to “bay mountain.”

tam 1A h at md trail sign

Across the Panoramic Highway, we take stone steps leading to the Matt Davis Trail.  Rather than taking the Matt Davis all the way down the mountain to Stinson Beach, we opt to take it 1.7 miles to the Bolinas Ridge Trail, a part of the Pacific Coastal Trail.

Matt Davis Trail

Matt Davis Trail

Immediately, we enter the forest of oaks hiking on packed moist dirt softened by the rain of the previous week.  Water pools on the trail, but nothing that we can’t easily step around them.  Within minutes we are calling this our favorite trail of the ten we’ve hiked this January 2016 in California.  We are known to jump to conclusions, but this conclusion was right on.

tam 3c h at waterfall

Winding by mossy logs and trees to one waterfall after another, we have mountain streams crossing the trail where stones have been placed by trail makers to let us step easily across.

tam 4 h on bolinas ridge trail

Every so often we come out into a field of grass above and below us on the mountainside that would cause Julie Andrews of the Sound of Music to break out in song how the hills are alive.   Though the trails in the forest are not steep, these hillsides have grassy meadows that would have us sliding hundreds of feet if we misstep.  It never feels dangerous, but I think it will be a few years before we take our grandsons Owen and Max on this hike.

tam 4f h on hillside

Forty minutes into our hike we take the Bolinas Ridge Trail along the mountainside while the Matt Davis Trail descends to the ocean below.  The exposed trail remains easy on the feet with hard packed dirt now dried by the sun.  Below, the fog shrouds the bay and works its way up the mountain to us.

tam 5 h with wrecked car

Hiking above the Pacific, we come across a rusted, overturned truck blocking the trail.  Looking up the mountain some 100 yards above us on, we see a car driving on to the Fire Lookout at the top of the mountain.  Having driven four miles on the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trailhead ourselves, we know that the shoulders of the mountain roads are often non-existent.  Putting two and two together, we can gather what might have happened to the wreck on our trail.

tam 4b d on bolinas

Comfortable in a tee shirt on this mid-January day, we have a mellow ridge vibe for what will be eight miles of hiking.  The video below shows part of the Matt Davis Trail as we approach one of the many waterfalls.

tam mt tam map

Three hours later we return to the trailhead to desock and deboot and head for the airport.  Still deep in the Mount Tamalpais State Park, we have ten miles of switchbacks on the Panoramic Highway before we hit Route 101, the main artery to San Francisco.  At the top of the mountain we approach a seasoned cyclist going 30 miles an hour in descent.   With no shoulder for him to move over to, we follow him for three miles down the hill; thirty mph is plenty fast enough on this road for cars and bikes alike going down these hairpin turns.

Rather than take the redeye home tonight to Boston, we opt for a night at Quality Inn at the San Francisco International Airport to toast our fortnight on the trail.  Red-eying flights turn me into Zombie Dan.  Sleeping on planes, that’s for the gifted like Hannah, not for the poor sleepers among us.

Though we rise at 4A for our 7A flight to Logan International Airport, that is all a small sacrifice in exchange for living our California Dreamin’ adventure on the trails of the Pacific.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Coastal Trail at Point Reyes


Though the rain pours throughout the morning at our Quality Inn in Petaluma, CA, 23 miles to our southwest on the Pacific Ocean the forecast is for clear skies at Point Reyes National Seashore.  By 11A, we take to the winding Point Reyes/Petaluma Road through farm country so green are the valleys that you would think we are Hanny and Danny O’Rothermel of the Old Sod.

CT 1 D at sisn

The San Andreas Fault bisects Point Reyes National Park; the floating molten crusts of the North American Plate rumble west against the Pacific Plate which is moving and grooving north.  That collision caused the Big One in San Francisco in 1906 when the ground lurched 20’ in less than one minute.  The Big Two is acoming.  100 years?  1oo days?

cam map of park

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend in our rearview mirrors, we have the park to ourselves this Tuesday.  The winter is the quiet off-season here as we drive, passing just a car or two down Limantour Road, to the Coastal Trail trailhead at the Point Reyes Hostel.  On their website they explain their no Wi-Fi decision.  “We are a small, intimate hostel in a quiet natural setting where we try to encourage interaction between our guests in the common spaces we have. It is the perfect place to truly “unplug” (there is also no cell phone service around the hostel).”

CT 1A H at C

Selecting the five mile hiking loop beginning at the Coastal Trail, we have a wide soggy fire road to the ocean.   By choosing shorter five mile hikes when we hike, we have the opportunity to freelance; we can explore the beach further or take an alternate trail up a nearby cliff or linger with folks we meet on the trail without a time or mileage deadline calling us.

CT 1B H on wet trail CT

Level and wide enough for mountain bikers and hikers, the Coastal Trail, thanks to El Nino, has puddles and more puddles due to last night’s soaking rain.  At times we slop into the trail side grass and brush to avoid the swamped trail.  My low cut hiking shoes get soaked immediately while Hannah’s high cut boots keep her dry.  Fortunately, I am wearing wool blend socks that wick dry quickly.

CT 1C H on sandy trail to beach

Nearly two miles of hiking with very little elevation gain, we take an unmarked side trail to the beach.  Here, the wide beach stretches for miles and we don’t see a soul.  Usually, we are not fans of beach walking – you know, the slopiness of the beach to the water and the mushy sand of taking two steps to move one step forward.  Ah, but this California beach is different, being relatively level with hard packed sand near the water.


CT 2A H at beachJust this morning I see on the local news a man being rescued after he came to a beach to take a picture and all of sudden the water cut him off from behind.  That could be me as I search for the right picture to complement my hiking blog.


CT 2B sandy beachAs we walk south on the beach, the waves crash to our right as the tide pushes inland.  Looking behind us, we see nearly impregnable walls of what looks like calcified sandstone.  The beach is wide at this point and we are always aware where we could exit if the tide threatened.

CT 3 river divides beach

Due to El Nino, streams of water from the mountains bisect the beach making it nearly impassable, without slogging through a foot of water or more, to continue our beach walk.  Heading inland along the river bed, we eventually find the bridge across the storm-driven stream.

CT 4 D at end of beach

Hiking back to the beach, we have an afternoon of sandy nirvana.   Eventually, we bushwhack along a narrow trail of grass up to the bluffs above the beach.  Taking to the Fire Lane back to the trailhead, we have streams of water flowing down the trail as we easily step to the right or the left to avoid them.

CT 6E lake on trail

After a mile of the Fire Lane (really a trail), we head for the trailhead on the more level Laguna Trail.  More level means the rains of the past month pool in many spots on the trail; that includes 50 foot stretches where the thick gorse on either side of the trail means we have no choice but to slop through the water.

CT 5A H above the beach

Another sweet hiking day in California.  With one more day on the trail, we are off to the Matt Davis Trail 15 miles to our south at the Mount Tamalpais State Park tomorrow, all just 35 minutes from the City by the Bay.   Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but mine is here with Hannah on the trails of the Pacific coast.