Sunday, March 30, 2014

Matt Davis-Dipsea-Steep Ravine Loop

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I've been wanting to get around to this ever since a friend at work told me this is her favorite hike. I'd never hiked it before today, and in fact had never hiked down from Bolinas Ridge to Stinson Beach. It seemed insane, really -- too far and too steep. But I left the Jeep near Pantoll Campground at 7:30 in the morning and was back by 11:50 even though I stopped for a few photo ops. It didn't take much longer than a hike to High Marsh. 

If I was going to do this hike, I figured I'd better get to it while there was still some water running in the canyons. I found this little cascade not too far down the trail. While I worked I was passed by the first of several groups of trail runners I'd encounter.

After about a mile of fairly dark forest, the trail emerges into the open along Bolinas Ridge. I doubt it will get more beautiful than this until maybe next year. Everything is green and fresh, the grass is still short enough that the California poppies and other wildflowers aren't overpowered, and the ugly, spiky bull thistle that will soon cover much of the hillsides is only just getting started. It had been a chilly 44 degrees in the forest when I started, but it warmed up to 50 as soon as I reached the sunshine.

I recently tried jogging again but quit before a year was out. My route took me along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, out past Pac Bell Park to Mission Bay and back. It wasn't a bad route, but it was all on concrete and surrounded by motor vehicle traffic. I'll bet I could have lasted longer if my route had been more like this.

Eventually, the Matt Davis Trail makes good on its promise to get you on your way down to Stinson Beach. It leaves the open ridge and switchbacks like crazy down the hill, passing through some interesting parts of the mountain. I enjoyed the park-like feel of this area where the Douglas firs were spread out, with some gnarled old grandfather firs mixed in.


In another spot along the steep trail down, the vista opened up across a stream canyon. I just love the way the woods look here. If I ever get a lightweight large-format camera, I'll make a point of returning to this spot to photograph these woods in a way to capture the incredible detail.

There were several nice patches of Slim Solomon along the trail.

I finally reached Table Rock, which was being guarded by a superb California buckeye that was freshly leafed out. I know some hikers pass right by this spot, unaware of the nearby vista point.

Once you duck through the vegetation and come out the other side, you're taking in the views from Table Rock. This is the top of the huge rock formation that's cut by the stream canyon. Off to the right is a vertiginous drop-off to the stream far below.

I found this nice little waterfall just below the vista point. I hadn't run into anyone on the way down the trail until I reached Table Rock. I think a lot of people hike up from Stinson Beach, but a couple of ladies who'd done so were unaware of Table Rock's existence. I hiked the rest of the way down to the small town of Stinson Beach and easily found my way onto the Dipsea Trail after a very short walk along the Shoreline Highway. The trail crossed the bottom of Panoramic Highway and rose through an open area of coyote brush chaparral with nice views back along the coast and up the steep flanks of Mt. Tam.

As I hiked up the Dipsea Trail I thought about the incredible runners who race from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach every year. I knew a guy at work who runs it, and when he gets to Stinson Beach, he often turns around and runs back to Mill Valley -- a Double Dipsea. 

In any event, that little stretch of the Dipsea Trail was okay, but it wasn't until I reached Steep Ravine that I fully understood why this loop was someone's favorite route. You enter the redwood forest with the sweet little creek and all the fresh wildflowers, from fairy bells to Clintonia to redwood violets, plus five-finger ferns, coast elderberry, you name it. It's like Shangri-La.

The name "Steep Ravine" is not a misnomer, but I don't believe it's as steep as the steepest parts of the Matt Davis Trail. My knees were glad to finally be heading uphill after that long descent.

Yesterday's rain probably didn't add much to the flow of Mt. Tam's creeks, but there's still enough water to make for some pretty falls.

There'd been a sign at the bottom of the trail warning of this ladder eight-tenths of a mile farther up. This family was just coming down from Pantoll. The little girl was completely fearless, but she wasn't rushing anything either, as you can tell by this eight-second exposure.

P.S. A nice alternative would be to hike the Matt Davis to Stinson Beach, do some exploring in town and at the beach, have a picnic or get some late lunch at a local eatery, then take the $2 shuttle back up to Pantoll.

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