Heading up to Mount Tam's West Peak.

I’ve hiked up mountains and I’ve run in races. I’ve seen people combine the two in various endurance events, but I can’t say I’ve really wanted to.

Part of hiking, for me, is the chance to occasionally stop and take in the view, smell the flowers and plants (and whatever else there is to be smelled), marvel at how far I’ve climbed or how far there is yet to go, chat with fellow hikers, eat, drink, pray, love, and everything else that can be done on the trail. That said, every hiker has a pace, and mine is a fast one. I have long legs, I’m an impatient native New Englander, and I’m in very good shape, so even when I meander, it can be brisk.

So, when I came across a hiking group that I had never hiked with that had planned to do a “fast-paced” hike up and over Mount Tam, I was interested. I’ve hiked on a couple of the trails alongside Mount Tamalpais before but never to the mountain’s peaks and hadn’t really fully explored it. It’s nearby and I love seeing it, but I had really wanted to do a solid Tam hike.

We started at a trailhead (with facilities) on the Panoramic Highway across the street from the Mountain Home Inn, which looks to be a terrific spot to enjoy brunch on the balcony and a great view. If I had known what I was getting into that day, I would have considered heading for a table instead. Our group first headed up to the West Point Inn, a cool gathering spot on the way up to West Peak. From there, the peak itself, and then an assortment of trails leading out to the Pacific Ocean and back. On the way, we included some of the area favorites – the Steep Ravine and Dipsea trails, the Pantoll station, the mountainside amphitheater and a few other trails.

But the great views in all directions, the challenging climbs, and the wonderful experience of criss-crossing creeks in the shade all were obscured by one key detail – we were going really, really fast. Not flat-out running but not exactly walking either. Kind of a light jog at times, which was difficult, especially when headed uphill in the 90-plus degree weather. The group leader, who was a terrific guy (and very open and up-front about the difficult pace, which I appreciated), had hoped for a speed of around 3 miles per hour, which may seem pretty easy but try doing it up and over a mountain on a hot, sunny day carrying a backpack and it’s a different story. It was doable, and I never felt that I was about to collapse, but these weekend hikes are usually part-leisure for me, which kind of connotes leisurely mixed in with a good workout.

As early as 10 minutes into the hike, one member of our group had already peeled off, or maybe he just got lost. In any case, we never saw him again. A few more followed suit later on. I and a couple of fellow stalwarts stayed on track nearly the whole way, doing a short detour near to the end so we could all stay together. Plus, for much of the hike, as we were grumbling about the pace, we were talking about post-hike plans involving beer and the Giants, so that motivated us. Our final tally was nearly 13 miles, about 3,000 foot elevation gain, and five-plus hours of actual hiking. [nggallery id=25]