After referring to my map I settled on a loop hike that I had not done since 1998. The loop includes a trip to the top of Mt. Wittenberg and a journey to Arch Rock. This time I decided to hike the loop in the opposite direction as before because I imagined Arch Rock gets popular around mid day. My plan was to get to Arch Rock early and beat the crowds and then climb Mt. Wittenberg before returning to the trailhead. Most people would probably choose to get the uphill out of the way first and then come back on the mellow Bear Valley Trail, so by going the opposite direction I’d likely miss most of the other hikers.
The Bear Valley Trail is quite possibly the most heavily used and hectic trail in all of Point Reyes. It is a well maintained multi-use fire road open to hikers bikers and equestrians (no horses on weekends or holidays). For this reason, as well as the attraction at the end of the trail at Arch Rock, this trail sees a lot of action.
From the parking lot I set off along the Bear Valley Trail hiking briskly as the valley acted like a cold sink, trapping the frigid air. At .2 miles I passed the junction with the Mt. Wittenberg trail which I would be returning on roughly 12 miles later.
The trail parallels a year round creek, winding through a dense forest of Douglas firs choked by a lush carpet of ferns. At around 1.6 miles, after a slight incline, the trail opened up as I arrived at the Divide Meadow. I contemplated taking a break and watching for wildlife, but I knew hoards of hikers would be approaching soon and any rest would sacrifice my solitude. I continued hiking, soon crossing paths with a father and son carrying large packs who said they had spent a cold night up at the Glen Camp.
Coast Creek soon comes into view, paralleling the trail all the way to the coast. About a mile and a half from Divide Meadow I came to a large junction and the end of the road for any bicycles. There is a rack provided to lock up bikes which Sarah and I have taken advantage of in the past. Riding out early is a good way to beat the crowds as well, but it is no fun winding your way through the masses of hikers on your way back.
After passing the bike rack the path narrows to an actual trail for the final mile before reaching Arch Rock. I arrived at the overlook at Arch Rock which affords great views of the Point Reyes coastline.
Picking my footing carefully I scrambled down a rough use trail leading to a small beach and the Arch of Arch Rock.
I was happy to see that the tide was low enough for me to cross Coast Creek and pass through the arch to the south side of Kelham Beach. Every other time I’ve been here the tide has prohibited such an exploration. I took off my shoes and stashed them up against the cliffs then took a stroll north along the sandy stretch of beach.
A magnificent sea stack juts out of the ocean just off shore which held my attention for a while, trying to capture the right image.
The serenity was surreal while it lasted, but before long the first of many hikers were starting to arrive at the overlook above. With several more miles of hiking in front of me I decided to head back through the Arch and continue on my way.
From the Arch Rock Overlook I backtracked a short distance before breaking off and heading north on the Coast Trail.
The Coast Trail remained flat for a half mile before reaching the junction with the Sky Trail where I began climbing in earnest. I followed the switchbacks up the ridge enjoying views of the ocean and various trail side wildflowers.
The Sky Trail takes one through a variety of different ecosystems from open sunny hillsides covered with coyote brush and other shrubs, to the deep shade of the forest with swaths of sword ferns lining the hillside and delicate pink petals emerging from the many flowering currants.
I greatly enjoyed this section of the Sky Trail as I still had the trail to myself, and it gave me the feeling of really being out there. About a mile and a half from the Coast Trail the Baldy Trail appears on your right leading back down to the Bear Valley Trail. Continuing on the Sky Trail, the climbing eases up and the terrain levels a bit while following a ridge line to the next junction with the Old Pine Trail.
By this time my stomach was growling and I contemplated stopping for lunch, but the sight of Mt. Wittenberg not far off kept me moving.
I soon arrived at another junction, this one with the Woodward Valley Trail leading back down to the coast near Coast Camp. The junction is in the middle of a small grassy clearing with the perfect balance of sunlight and tree cover, making it a good resting spot. The summit was calling however and so I left the picturesque setting for more hiking and elevation gain.
Resuming my summit march I soon passed the Meadow Trail and arrived at an open area with the short but steep path leading to the peak of Mt. Wittenberg. From my past hike I recall the summit not being all that interesting, lacking views and any sense of a summit at all. I made a quick jaunt to the peak nonetheless just to say I did it, and then returned to the open dry meadow-like area just below the summit.
I sat and enjoyed lunch while taking in views of Point Reyes to the west, though barely visible through the hazy skies.
After lunch I made a quick decent on the Mt. Wittenberg Trail which drops steeply 1.8 miles to the valley floor below. Although steep, the trail is outfitted with many switchbacks and I can happily say I was glad to be going down as opposed to up. At the same time I was nearing the end of my hike and my knees were starting to get soar; the downhill greatly adding to the pain. The switchbacks came to an end and the path let back out onto the Bear Valley Trail where I strolled back to the parking lot among the other intrepid hikers returning from their explorations.