In 2021, while training to hike the Camino de Santiago, I discovered that on October 22, 1965, Beat Generation poets Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg and Philip Whalen did a circumnavigation of Mt. Tamalpais. Snyder, who had studied Zen Buddhism in Japan, brought home this prayerful way of walking around a mountain that the monks in Japan had taught him, and he and his two friends replicated that technique around Mt. Tamalpais, stopping 10 times to offer prayers. Snyder later wrote a poem about this experience titled "The Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais."
It was strange that I didn't know anything about this history or poem. I had grown up at the foot of the mountain. I knew Gary Snyder's work, had read The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, but somehow I had missed the 50-year history of this poem and of the thousands of people who had walked this route, or even of the route itself.
I went online to find out the trails and route description, but although there were maps and articles about the route, I couldn't find an adequate, up-to-date description. Finally, with the help of Marin County artist Tom Killion, a friend of Snyder's, I was able to get the complete route and description, and I planned my adventure. In fact, I would up hiking the route three times in the year I was training: once with my older daughter, once with my nephew, and once by myself. I wrote an article for my local paper about that first circumnavigation with my daughter.
For those of you who are interested in the route, here it is. It is about 15 miles, involves roughly 3,000 feet of ascent, and will take you most of the day at an average pace.
1) Start in the Muir Woods Parking Lot (don't forget to buy both the parking permit and the park entry ahead of time online)
2) Take the Dipsea Trail (walk away from the park entrance by the creek)
3) As you come to the peak of the Dipsea before it heads down to Stinson Beach, pick up the Old Mine Trail toward Pan Toll
4) At Pan Toll, cross the road and pick up the Rock Springs trail to the Mountain Theater
5) At the Mountain Theater, go to to trail at the top of the theater, which will lead you north, out to a dirt parking lot.
6) Cross the road, turn left and go a little bit down the road, and pick up the walking section of the Benstein Trail
7) Follow the Benstein Trail to Rifle Camp
8) Go down and below Rifle Camp, pick up the North Side trail
9) Where the North Side Trail tees into the Eldridge Grade, pick up the Eldridge Grade and follow it up to the fire road (turn right), which leads to the East Peak summit parking lot.
10) Ascend the East Peak
11) Descend the East Peak back to the parking lot and take the paved road to the left/south side of the parking lot until you see the sign for Fern Creek trail
12) Descend the Fern Creek Trail until it tees into Railroad Grade and turn left
13) Follow Railroad Grade until you come to Hogback Fire Road and turn down Hogback (beware, it's steep and easy to slip in the gravel)
14) Follow Hogback to Mountain Home and cross the road carefully (it's busy)
15) Pick up the Canopy Trail and follow it back to Muir Woods parking lot