It's a Circle of Trust & Beer tradition that predates Meetup: Hiking Muir Beach on the luckiest day of the year: 7-21.
This year, the fates have handed us some mixed luck: July 21 falls on a Sunday, which is good. But the geniuses at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area have closed the Muir Beach parking area during the busiest season of the year. That's bad (unless you're a chinook salmon, whose expanded habitat will soon include the former parking lot).
But the Circle of Trust & Beer is all about solutions -- and beer -- so we've come up with this: We're still going to hike the mind-melting gorgeous trails above and behind Muir Beach (which are still open), we're just going to attack 'em from a different direction: Tennessee Valley.
LENGTH: 7.7 miles (round trip)
VERTICAL GAIN: 2,017 feet, broken up into three fairly steep ascents
TYPE OF HIKE: Hike begins and ends on same 1.3-mile fire road, but the rest is a loop, varying between single-track and fire road.
PLANNED STOPS: 15-minute rest stop/stroll among the organic gardens at Green Gulch Zen Center (90 minutes into hike) ... plus a 20-minute lunch stop on bluff overlooking SF in final hour of hike.
TIME ESTIMATE (with stops): 4.5 hours
* Exit 101 at Stinson Beach/Highway 1 -- the exit is midway between the Golden Gate and Richmond-San Rafael bridges, Note: If you're coming anywhere in the East Bay, the Richmond-San Rafael option is MUCH quicker than the Bay Bridge-Golden Gate combo.
* Within a quarter-mile of exiting, turn LEFT at Tennessee Valley Road (they just installed a traffic light at the intersection -- it's scheduled to be operational by this weekend).
* Follow Tennessee Valley Road for 1.7 miles, where it ends in a parking area for the Tennessee Valley Trailhead and Miwok Stables. (There's another trailhead and parking area midway down the road, but that's not ours). It's an ample parking lot, but it often overflows on weekends. No worries -- you can park anywhere on Tennessee Valley Road leading into the lot.
We'll meet at the trail gate just to the south of the restrooms.
Right out of the gate, everybody gets a circulatory wake-up call with a steep 800-foot climb from the Tennessee Valley trailhead up to Coastal Trail, where our loop of Muir Beach begins.
After a tantalizing view of the ocean, we'll head up some gently rolling hills toward the highest point in what are considered the foothills to Mount Tamalpais -- then corkscrew down stunning Middle Gulch Trail, descending on a hidden lake and the world-class organic gardens of the Green Gulch Zen Center.
Having climbed and descended sharp ridges, your legs (and soul - assuming you have one) will welcome the sea-level serenity of Green Gulch, where monks and retreat attendees walk silently among the ponds, gardens, horse pastures and other amenities that give Green Gulch all of its zen-nishness. It is truly one of my favorite pieces of real estate on the planet.
Linger. Take pictures. Recover.
Because on this hike, our usual motto of "Climb. Descend. Drink." gets twisted to something like this: "Climb. Descend. Glide. Climb. Descend. Drink."
Fortunately, the ass-kicking 400-foot ascent from Muir Beach which follows comes with a postcard view of the beach and the violent coast below. Once we reach the Coastal Trail, we'll glide above the Pacific as the trail falls and rises for more than a mile. Big Sur has nothing on this stretch of the coast, where the waves crash dramatically against rocky outcroppings. The trail then drops as it follows a horseshoe lagoon through a neck-high Eden of flora -- including horsetail, lupine, sticky monkey-finger ... and gobs of poison oak (Go TechNu!).
Then we'll hit our third -- and final -- nasty ascent of the day, using the infamous "Steps" above Pirates Cove to climb back up to the Tennessee Valley access trail. Before descending, however, we'll break for lunch on a magnificent bluff overlooking San Francisco, Ocean Beach and the vast Pacific.
Unfortunately, our original plan to frolic on the lawn of the Pelican Inn -- a right of passage for every Bay Area hiker -- had been undermined by the closure of the Muir Beach parking area. The Pelican Inn now comes at the bottom of our ambirious hike, and experience has taught me that getting your pint on when there is still trail to be climbed is a recipe for disaster.
In the Circle, the work is done before we seek the reward. Which means that our newly intensified hike will conclude at the Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur Landing, right across from the Larkspur Ferry. The beers are prolific, the food is abundant, and we get to bond as a Circle on the heat-lamp intensive patio -- because the folks at the Marin Brewing Company love us,
So, given the reconfigured hike -- who's still in?