We live near the base of Montara Mountain. The 1,900-foot peak impacts our weather, our sunrise and our TV reception. It protects us from the urban sprawl of the San Francisco Peninsula. We decided to climb it.
Turns out, you can see quite a bit from North Peak, the very tippy top of our community’s namesake mountain at the northern edge of the Santa Cruz range. The 360-degree view stretches from Point Reyes to San Jose, from Mount Diablo to Pescadero State Beach. We spotted the Golden Gate Bridge, the Port of Oakland and the top floors of downtown skyscrapers just beyond San Bruno Mountain.
The hike passes through McNee Ranch State Park and The Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Rancho Corral de Tierra. The views are amazing, but at least half the fun of any adventure is getting there. Here’s a Fitbit-worthy step-by-step* account of our roughly five-mile climb to North Peak from Montara on a recent sunny afternoon. We leave the downhill trek home to your imagination.
Step 1: We begin our trek at the Pedro Mountain Road trail head in Montara. The road carried coastal traffic to and from Pacifica via a series of narrow switchbacks from 1914 to 1937. Now it carries hikers, bikers and horses. Trail-head amenities include dog poop bags and a small metal trash can.
Step 164: The weather-beaten pavement on the old road is in reasonable shape for walking. Monterey cypress and eucalyptus trees offer shade at random intervals. A banana slug oozes past. The foliage is blooming. We are walking downhill. Life is good.
Step 312: We encounter stumps from at least 20 non-native Monterey Cypress trees – some 100 years old — recently felled to protect the habitat of Hickman’s potentilla. While we’re sure the tiny yellow flower with heart-shaped pedals is lovely, we miss the shade.
Step 424: A dense crop of non-native English ivy that certainly dates to the origins of Pedro Mountain Road and provides no shade grows unchecked on the opposite side of the path, a bit of recurring trail-side irony.
Step 601: A battalion of tiny multi-colored flags mark plantings of young native plants on a hillside to the east. No trees appear to have been harmed in replanting this particular hillside. Thumbs up.
Step 1,106: A grove of non-native eucalyptus and Monterey cypress trees, presumably out of range of the Hickman’s potentilla habitat, provide a nice stretch of shade.
Step 1,451: We are closing in on Ocean View Farms. Horse riders are not required to clean up after their animals. Watch your step.
Step 1,805: We cross the bridge at Martini Creek in the cool shade of more non-native trees and encounter a crossroads. Familiar with the steep alternative that saves steps and adds heartbeats, we stick to Pedro Mountain Road. It runs to the left of the ranger house. Choose wisely.
Step 1,921: The last roadside amenities include a shiny steel porta-potty and, 200 steps later, a sunny picnic ground with a decided lack of non-native trees. The rest of the hike is pretty much uphill.
Step 3,224: The increasingly battered road bed is peeling away, leaving only loose gravel and heavily rutted packed dirt in spots. Non-native English ivy helps hold together the shoulder to the right.
Step 3,889: To the southwest we can see the entire Coastside from Half Moon Bay to the Devil’s Slide bunker just south of the Tom Lantos Tunnels. A red-faced mountain biker headed uphill huffs and puffs past. MontaraManDan resolves to stick to riding his bike on the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail.
Step 4,104: We pass a curving vertical stretch of crushed brush above and below us that not too many weeks ago was a rushing waterfall. We are thankful for the sunshine, even as we appear to be running out of non-native shade trees.
Step 4,835: We ponder aloud whether the well-paved trail rising below us will eventually connect with Pedro Mountain Road, then realize it’s all the same trail. Duh.
Step. 6,010: We crest a low peak on the mountain and say goodbye to the the old road as it continues winding its way to Pacifica and step onto North Peak Access Road, a packed dirt fire road and trail that will take us to the top.
Step 6,148: The trail steepens and leans in toward the mountain. The sun feels hotter. We have seen the last of the non-native shade trees so break open a bottle of water and sip lightly, remembering the nearest trail amenities are roughly 4,000 steps downhill.
Step 6,369: We are walking slower and taking tinier steps. The Geek laughs and likens the journey to one of Zeno’s Paradoxes. MontaraManDan surreptitiously consults Google before nodding knowingly. Cell reception is stronger on the mountain than in town.
Step 7,100: We carefully navigate deep, ankle-breaking furrows that crisscross the fire road. A downhill cyclist whizzes by and doesn’t die. Remarkable.
Step 8,174: We enjoy a breather as the trail levels and crosses over to the north face of Montara Mountain. The view is entirely different. We can see the bridges on the north side of the Tom Lantos Tunnels and all the way from Pacifica to Daly City to Point Reyes. Whoa.
Step 9,052: MontaraManDan spots our first glimpse of Golden Gate Bridge by standing on tippy toe and peering over a tall stand of coastal scrub, which includes plenty of very native Montara Manzanita.
Step 10,412: Views of the East Bay emerge. We can see Mount Diablo and the Port of Oakland. The trail begins to alternate between packed dirt and rock. The rock is the skid-proof variety, doubtless mandated by a safety-conscious parks bureaucrat.
Step 10,859: We are immersed entirely in afternoon shade and no longer have need for non-native shade trees. In fact, it’s a bit chilly. Wear layers.
Step. 11,219: We past the intersection with the Alta Vista Trail, a steep and rocky alternate route up the mountain. The Geek scrambled up that trail solo a few weeks back but took the old road home. She has no plans to reprise that brutal climb.
Step 11,219: We begin the final assault on North Peak as the ascent steepens. A phalanx of non-native antenna and outbuildings come into view.
Step 11,861: The trail makes a final twist toward the east end of the antenna farm. We are alone. A stray piece of metal clangs ominously from a satellite dish. MontaraManDan wonders who fills the propane tanks. The installation could have doubled as a set for the old TV show “Lost.”
Step 12,062: We made it. North Peak. The entire San Francisco Bay region is laid out below us in a panoramic circle from the Pacific Ocean to the North and East Bay suburbs and down the Peninsula all the way to San Jose inland and Pescadero on the Coast, with the Santa Cruz Mountains in between. And we’re pretty proud of ourselves for enduring the 1,900-foot climb. Not bad for a couple of non-native Montarans.
*All step notations are very rough estimates based on our chronological experience. Just follow the signs to North Peak.
Below find shots of The Geek’s solo assault on North Peak via the Alta Vista Trail on a foggy day earlier in the winter.