Pine Mountain in Fairfax

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Pine Mountain in Fairfax/Woodacre

A 13.8-mile hike on Pine Mountain in Fairfax/Woodacre is for those who enjoy out-of-the-way places. Although most of it is on well-marked fire roads, the trail to the Mailliard cabin is not marked and involves some scrambling. Given that, and the length, I’m rating the hike difficult on the scale of hikes in this column.

Start by climbing Pine Mountain Fire Road, which is quite rocky as it passes through chaparral. Looking back, there are stunning views of Mount Tamalpais. After about a mile, you will see the first sargent cypress trees. Because of the serpentinite soils, many of the cypress trees are dwarfed here, reaching maturity and bearing cones when they are only 2 feet tall. On the northwest slopes of Mount Tamalpais this same species of cypress can be 50 feet tall.

You will pass Oat Hill Fire Road on your left, and then Pine Mountain Fire Road veers left. Going straight puts you on San Geronimo Valley Fire Road. Cascade Canyon Road on your right heads down to Fairfax. At 2.9 miles an unmarked fire road goes left. Stay right on San Geronimo Valley Fire Road, which is clearly the more main road. You’ll pass Whitehill Fire Road on your right, heading to White’s Hill Open Space Preserve, and then Conifer Fire Road, which goes to Woodacre.

At 4.5 miles, San Geronimo Ridge Fire Road intersects Pine Mountain Fire Road. Take Pine Mountain Fire Road as it descends toward Kent Lake. The Mailliard cabin site is on the Olmstead & Brothers’ “Rambler’s Guide to the Trails of Mount Tamalpais and Marin Headlands,” but not on the National Geographic Mount Tamalpais Point Reyes or on Google maps. Look for a sharp bend in the fire road and a flowing creek with redwoods. Just before the creek there is an unsigned trail heading uphill, going southeast along an old road cut. This is where the hike becomes more difficult. At places where there are slides, you have to look around to pick up the trail again. The side creek crossings would be difficult in a rainy winter, but are almost dry as of this writing. At some you can see boards that are evidence there once was a bridge.

 

This is the moistest part of the hike, and accordingly there are more mushrooms here. I saw the delicate white fairy fingers (also called white worm coral, which is a bit less poetic), slimy spike-cap, Douglas-fir suillus and many other species.

In about a mile you come to the clearing that was the site of the Mailliard Camp. The “cabin” has three cinderblock walls, and the front is open. The rusted coils of an old bedstead and an old stove, both now outside the cabin, are the only remains of furnishing. Any illusions I might have had about feeling like a discoverer were dashed by graffiti — evidence of previous visitors — but I did not pass another soul on the trail.

Adolph Mailliard, an illegitimate great-nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and grandson of Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain, was born in France. He traveled to New York and bought the 10,000-acre Rancho San Geronimo for $50,000 using money from the jewels his father had managed to retrieve after they were exiled from Spain. Arriving in California, Adolph lived in San Rafael while building an 18-room house in what is now Woodacre that was completed in 1873. The camp was probably built by Adolph’s son Joseph who lived in the Woodacre house until it was sold in 1912, but may have used the cabin as a hunting camp.

To return, retrace your steps for a 13.8-mile hike, or continue along Pine Mountain Fire Road for a slightly longer hike of about 14.5 miles. While the San Geronimo Ridge Road, less than a mile away going cross-country, may look tempting on the map, I do not recommend such a short cut. Especially when hiking on little used trails, it’s a good idea to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to get back, and not to rely on cell phone service, which is patchy or nonexistent on parts of this hike and many other hikes in Marin. Hike safely and have fun.

As you enter Fairfax on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard jog left on Pacheco when you see the movie theater and make an immediate right. This puts you on Broadway, the street that parallels Sir Francis Drake but is on the other side of the parkade. Make the first left, which is Bolinas Avenue. Follow the Bolinas-Fairfax Road for about four miles to a dirt parking lot on your left.

Wendy Dreskin has led the College of Marin nature/hiking class Meandering in Marin since 1998, and teaches other nature classes for adults and children. To contact her, go to wendydreskin.com.

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