Dipsea Trail

Dipsea Trail

Dipsea Trail, the most storied of all the trails on Mount Tamalpais, earned its renown with an annual foot race featuring participants from throughout the running community, indeed throughout the world. Begun over one hundred years ago, the Dipsea, second only to the Boston Marathon in age, is a grueling 7.1 mile endurance test encompassing a vertical rise of over 1300 feet and drawing 1500 runners.

Over its course, the Dipsea mounts three stairways at the race start in Mill Valley, CA. At the top of these participants cross over Windy Gap on their way to Muir Woods. Once through the wood runners pick up the Dipsea Trail and follow it up and over the previously described open space at Pantoll, before dropping down to Stinson Beach. The aforementioned steps are heart stopping enough without taking into account the long course itself.

The Dipsea is a daunting trek even for walkers yet the sheer beauty of the walk is reason enough for tackling it. As the path wanders up and out of Muir Woods, it passes through some extremely picturesque wood, mixing tall redwoods with graceful black oak groves in an amalgam of florid beauty quite possibly unmatched in the oftentimes urbanized world of foot racing.

The only urbanization in evidence along the Dipsea is the unparalleled views of San Francisco seen from the clearings near Pantoll. These, when not obscured by the ubiquitous fog, are unsurpassed in scope and panoramic encompassment. From the downtown area next to the Bay Bridge westward past the Golden Gate Bridge and out past the headlands to Ocean Beach on its western shore, the view encompasses nearly the entire urban landscape.

Once over the open area near Pantoll, the Dipsea begins its precipitous drop to the sea. Over time, Dipsea race participants have eroded the trail, sometimes markedly. Evidence of runners leaving the established trail is rife. Portions of the trail show marks of runners going around competitors, leaving parts of the trail widened without thought to escarpment.

Fortunately, most participants remain consistently wary of any marks left upon the terrain. This is of course most gratifying to anyone using this trail strictly recreationally, for the grandeur of the area cries out for conservation. The stands, here, of smallish redwoods give way to brush but not before displaying the idiosyncratic effects for which they are most noted. The clusters of trees offer a cool respite for sun-scorched bodies fresh from the open grasslands. As the sunlight plays through the tops, it presents a pleasing display of light and shadow dappled onto the forest floor.

As the trail continues its descent, it twists and turns along a myriad of switchbacks and small stairways. Eventually the path exits this comforting wood and enters another open area known simply as the “Moors.”

The Stinson Beach environs enhance the view here. Even the addition of the surrounding beach community seems somehow to add rather than subtract from the overall effect. Small cottages adorn the hillside, their colorful gardens gaily contributing to the setting. Bougainvilleas draped over nearby trellises blend wonderfully with the wild red berry bearing trees along the trail. The vista of the beach below gives a sense of the coolness borne on the breeze that drifts up from the coast.

Soon the smell of fried foods wafts up from the beachside eateries, completing the transition from wilderness trail to tourist Mecca. A short walk away, the parking lots crammed with the conveyances of day-trippers from around the general area and beyond belie the late left behind wild places. Surely, it will take more than a few gas-driven vehicles to disperse the memories of such a wonder-filled experience.

© Stephen Alexander 2008

Dipsea Trail

stephen hewitt

Lanexa, United States

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Artist's Description

Final installment of my Mt Tam series

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mt tam trails

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