Monday, April 14, 2008

Steep Ravine-Matt Davis Loop

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sign
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Locale: Matt Davis-Steep Ravine Loop, Stinson Beach, Marin County, CA
Date: Sunday, April 13, 2008
Duration: 7.5 miles (took us 5 hours due to our car parking situation and a brief backtrack)
Price: Free if starting at Stinson Beach, if at Pantroll ($6)
All in All: A great way to spend a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon.

Rating: ****
Maps & More Info:
Amongst the small but lively city of Stinson Beach lies many famous weekend explorations. Stinson Beach has many shops, restaurants and inns that fall alongside Hwy 1 just yards away from the beautiful Pacific Ocean and miles of trails that cover Mt. Tam State Park. Across Hwy 1 is the fire station on Belvedere Ave where parking is sparse for trail hikers. Our adventure was delayed in starting due to two reasons, however. First of all, coming from Hwy 101 then onto Hwy 1, we missed the first mention of Panoramic Hwy. Instead, the first time we saw Panoramic was when we were just a block away from the trailhead and ended up going up Panoramic when it was unnecessary. For those of you who are heading to Matt Davis trail, I find it simpler and much more scenic to just follow Hwy 1 until you get to Stinson Beach. You'll see the fire station (Belvedere Ave) on your right, take this right and the trailhead begins at the do not enter sign post. As we pulled into Belvedere it was already about one o'clock on a hot and sunny Spring day. The beach was packed and parking was almost impossible. We decided to park at the community center which was not open along with other cars. Just as we got out of our car, a man and his very soon to be wife pulled up and stated, "Do you know this is a tow away zone?" Cripes. In fact, he and his fiance' were to be married that afternoon. Fellow hikers and us were forced to repark. We parked a few blocks away in the confusing one way streets of cramped but lucky tenants overlooking the area. We found a tight spot and finally headed on our way.

Please let it be known that there are in fact 2 starting points and ending points of this loop. You may choose to start at Stinson which this blog is based (which we found to be more difficult then the other start/end) and try to find a parking spot (but not pay a fee) OR you may start at Pantroll station which is actually on Panoramic Hwy. If you choose to start at Stinson, you will reach the Pantroll station halfway through the hike which is a nice pit stop if you have a packed lunch, need some guidance from the ranger, need a bathroom break and water, etc.
Matt Davis-Steep Ravine contains numerous bridges that cross Webb creek like the one above. In fact, as soon as you start out on Matt Davis you will cross one. Sadly due to the heat in the afternoon, I was already partially winded (walking on pavement uphill from the car) once we got to the trail, I figure this along with my long work week added to the strenuous nature of the first half of the hike. What is good about starting at Stinson is you get the hardest part of the hike out of the way first. Matt Davis climbs upwards 1500 feet. As the trail zigzags up the small mountain, we crossed the creek, admired the firs and redwoods and said hello to many other hikers. The trail uses many series of steps so if steps are not your thing, I do not recommend this hike as it can be tiring in the sun and heat. Luckily, this harder part of the hike was in the shaded woods though there was little breeze. We had purchased a pair of blu bandoos which you soak in cold water and wear around your neck to keep cool. I was so glad we got these as they came in handy. We often soaked them in the cool creeks.

We did notice many families (with small babies and children) coming from the Pantroll Station way (which made sense due to it being downhill and not uphill). Never the less, we trekked onwards up to the top of the hill. We stopped at one location where we saw a family eating lunch. It's flat gray rock overlooking the beach. Standing towards the far right we notices a small memorial to a woman who passed away in 2005, though it did not mention why the plaque was placed here, I did not need to question. Shortly after this, we stopped at a small waterfall to get some cold water to splash on our face and saw an angel someone had placed there.

After you get to the top of climbing, you find yourself out of the woods and on a grassy plain. There are three trails. One small dirt trail goes back into the woods, another small trail goes higher up still, and the main trail continues straight on into the sunny plains. Continue on Matt Davis (the sunny straight path). I was actually thankful for getting out of the woods into the hot sun. Call me crazy but I needed a break from climbing up stairs as much of an achievement as it was. The trail continues all the way in and out of wooded areas for about 2 miles where you have to cross Panoramic to the Pantroll Station. But along the much easier 2 miles, be sure to admire the views. Stinson Beach is to your right and San Francisco is straight ahead.

Matt Davis Trail as it finishes the ascent and through grass and wildflowers.

A view of the city from Matt Davis.

Shortly before reaching the Panoramic/Pantroll Station crossing, you will see the following sign:

Toward the beginning of Matt Davis, you will also come across this tree:
Gladly but unfortunately at the same time, we did not encounter rattlers or any wildcats, but we did see the below gardener snake.

There is a bench towards the crossing as well, just a matter of yards later you must cross the hwy to the station. Be careful! At Pantroll station, you have many options. You can stop and eat, fill up with water, ask the rangers questions, use the restrooms or continue on to many different trails. For the purpose of this blog and our trip, continue on to Steep Ravine Trail. This is the most famous section of the loop. It contains a trip into the darkly shaded forest where waterfalls, more bridges, fallen redwoods, and a 10 foot ladder climb awaits you. .8 miles through the trail you find yourself along side a small waterfall and the top of 10 foot ladder.
The ladder may be a bit uneasy for those scared of heights (I am included) but is fairly sturdy and safe as long as you hang on. My only pet peeve for those of us climbing DOWN the ladder is there is only one hand rail, I would feel safer knowing there was two. I did not even use the rail, I simply climbed downwards like a regular ladder as the use of one rail was not enough. Admire the falls, take a few pictures and onwards you go, you are now a bit over halfway through the loop.

The redwoods resemble those at Muir Woods throughout this section and you may feel both admiration and sadness for those trees who are fallen over each other on the flank of the trails.

Soon though, you will junction with Dipsea trail. Dipsea is a well known trail that contains miles upon miles of trail. We also hiked it at Muir Woods. Dipsea is not contiguous however. You will see a "Caution: High Voltage" section (bummer! I thought this was supposed to be nature!), continue to your right - this is Dipsea. Dipsea ascends for a short ways and then flattens. Dipsea continues and you must cross the Hwy once again. The last mile or so is either downhill or flat on crushed rocks with bushes on both sides. Directly in front is the Pacific - what a view, if it wasn't for the noise of the nearby Hwys, it would be damn perfect. The trail dips back into the woods before ending back on the other side of the fire station. Hopefully the trail was worth it. I know it was despite the breeze-less heat and dehydration (I actually drank more all of my 2 liter camelbak bladder bag shortly before the end of the trail). Enjoy the beautiful sunset on the curvy cliffside roads of Hwy 1 as you drive back toward the city.

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