Downtown Mill Valley to the Summit of Mount Tamalpais: 18 July 2004

A hike of 11 miles in distance; 7 hours in time plus 3,000 feet of climbing

Latitude: North 37° 53.742’

Longitude: West 122° 34.666’

Photos by Neil Mishalov

"... Tamalpais can be seen as the climax of this incomparable landscape at the continent's edge, this place where the Pacific breaches the thousand-mile mountain barrier along the western rim of America." ---Harold Gilliam

On the 18th of July, I led a group of 26 people on a Stanford University Outing Club hike from downtown Mill Valley, California, (elevation 64 feet) to the summit of Mount Tamalpais (elevation 2,571 feet).

The Temelpa Trail was the route we used for the majority of the ascent to the summit. It is the major segment of the most direct method of climbing to the summit from downtown Mill Valley. The Temelpa Trail is very old, appearing on maps dating back to 1875; it is also quite steep. If you are willing to submit to the steep and gnarly terrain of the Temelpa Trail, you will be rewarded with exceptional views.

During our ascent of the Temelpa Trail, we took a short side trip to view the crash site of a U.S. Navy seaplane that slammed into Mount Tamalpais in November, 1944. The seaplane was flying from Alameda Naval Air Station, Alameda, California, to Kaneohe Naval Air Station, Oahu, Hawaii, when it crashed into fog shrouded Mount Tamalpais within 20 minutes of its take-off from San Francisco Bay at 11:05 p.m. All 8 crew members were killed. Please remember, if you visit the plane crash site, it is unlawful to remove any historical artifacts from the Mountain.

On our descent, we used the upper section of the Eldridge Grade Trail, the Indian Fire Road Trail and the lower section of the Old Railroad Grade Trail.

The Eldridge Grade Trail is also quite old, it opened on 13 December 1884; it is the oldest road to the summit of Mount Tamalpais. It was built as a toll road for horse-drawn wagons; construction took five months and cost $8,000. In the early 1900's, when horse-drawn carriages became obsolete, Eldridge Grade fell into disrepair and plans were advanced to pave the route for auto use. Thankfully, that plan was not put into effect! Eldridge Grade remains the principal summit route on the Mountain's north side

The Old Railroad Grade is probably the most important route on Mount Tamalpais. It was built in 1896, and it took 6 months to complete the construction. From 1896 to 1930 it was covered with the railroad tracks of the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway, "the world's crookedest railroad." The railroad carried millions of people to the summit in its 34 years of existence. In 1928, the construction of the Panoramic Highway allowed motorists to drive their automobiles, or take a tourist bus, to the summit, and the construction of the Panoramic Highway was the beginning of the end of the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway. Two years after the Panoramic Highway opened to automotive traffic, the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway shut down.

The railroad started in Lytton Square in downtown Mill Valley, the start of this hike, and continued up the mountain for 8.4 miles to what is now known as the East Peak parking lot. The 8.4 miles of track rounded a total of 281 curves, and the grade never exceeded a modest 7 degrees. There were originally 22 trestles. The trestles are now long gone, replaced with culverts encased in tons of dirt fill. At the top of the railroad line was the famous Tavern of Tamalpais. The tavern, which offered overnight accommodations, was built as part of the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway construction project. The original tavern burned to the ground in 1923, it was rebuilt in 1924 with a different architectural design, and the new structure survived a massive fire on the Mountain in 1929. The Tavern of Tamalpais continued as a commercial enterprise until 1942, 12 years after the railroad's demise. The building was then leased to the U.S. Army as a military barracks. The structure fell into disrepair after World War II; it was deliberately destroyed in a controlled fire during 1950. You can still see the foundation of the famous Tavern of Tamalpais, it is just east of the summit parking lot.

At the conclusion of the hike some of the participants stayed in downtown Mill Valley for a pleasant dinner at Jennie Low's Chinese Restaurant.

Some hike factoids and statistics

Time on the trail: 10:20 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. Number of hikers: 26. Distance covered: 10.61 miles. Total ascent: 3,070 feet. Maximum elevation: 2,571 feet. Weather: Warm, sunny and clear Route: Lytton Square, Downtown Mill Valley (elevation 64 feet) => Bernard Street => Foot Path => Tamalpais Avenue => Summit Avenue => Temelpa Trail => Plane Crash Site => Temelpa Trail => Verna Dunshee Trail => Summit Trail => East Peak Summit (2,571 feet) => Summit Trail => Eldridge Grade Trail => Indian Fire Road Trail => Blithdale Ridge Trail => Horseshoe Fire Road => Old Railroad Grade Trail => West Blithdale Avenue => Corte Madera Avenue => Lytton Square, Downtown Mill Valley

MILL VALLEY and Mount Tamalpais are approximately 20 miles west from my home in Berkeley, California.

All Images and Text Copyright © by Neil Mishalov


Topographic Map with Route Superimposed:

Hike data gathered with a Garmin 60C GPS RECEIVER

Topographic mapping program for Macintosh OSX by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Satellite Photo Map with Route Superimposed:

TerraBrowser satellite mapping program for Macintosh OSX by CHIMOOSOFT

GPS track converter by GPSBABEL

Click on an image to see the full size picture

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We are about one mile into the hike and at 1,100 feet above sea level. This is the intersection of the Temelpa Trail and the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Trail A group portrait Lucie retying her shoe on the gnarly Temelpa Trail
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The site of the November, 1944 U.S. Navy plane crash Plane crash site Lunch. We are now about 250 feet from the summit
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Before ascending to the summit we decided to take a lunch break After spending some "quality-time" on the summit of Mount Tamalpais (2,571 feet) we descended the Eldridge Grade Trail San Francisco from the Indian Road Trail
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Amy, with San Francisco in the background We are almost at the end of the hike. Lucie and Neil strike a pose at a lovely Japanese style gate on Corte Madera Avenue After the hike concluded, we gathered in downtown Mill Valley to regroup and decide who was going to have dinner in Mill Valley and who was going to head home. This is Renee
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Cedric is a visiting M.D. and Ph.D. from France Alan and Julio Lili
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Mohammed Cedric and Lucie discussing the dinner menu Ioan having fun with his camera
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Dinner in Mill Valley Lucie Toby
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Renee Amrish Dan
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At the dinner table Amy and Neil, with Poorna on the left and Ioan on the right Poorna and Jan

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This page created on 21 July 2004. All photographs copyright 2004 by Neil Mishalov