Field Notes: The Seven Summits of San Francisco

Adventure |

Words and photos by Teva Explorer Peter Amend.

Most of my hiking miles are spent on narrow granite high Sierra Mountain trails, so when my friend Paulina suggested a “hike” through urban San Francisco to summit some of the city’s most famous hills, I was intrigued. A full day of hiking with full access to some of the best food and drink around? Way better than carrying a backpack full of dehydrated meals.

The Arrowood family of boots in San Fransisco

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As we assembled a crew of our “yes friends” — the ones who are always up for our weird ideas — we started to tackle a list of pastry shops and cafes we could fuel ourselves at along our walkabout in The Golden City. If we’re honest, that’s the real reason we exercise anyway, right?

The sky opened up as we started our Thursday morning with espresso at Blue Bottle Coffee in SOMA.  Waiting for the rain to subside (it never did) we made a game plan for the day: summit each peak by hiking from one to the next in a big loop around the city. We estimated around 18 miles in distance, and roughly half a mile of elevation gain.  We had no idea how the urban landscape would affect our average three-mile-per-hour walking speed while dodging taxis, waiting at crosswalks and, most importantly, hourly coffee stops.

We laced up our waterproof Arrowood boots (seriously would have been out of luck without these),  pulled on our rain parkas, and started puddle jumping our way across the city.

City homes in San Francisco

Girl sitting on tree in San Francisco

Group urban hiking in San Francisco.

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Rincon was quickly the first stop, and with a slightly underwhelming view (though we could see the Bay Bridge peeking out under the cloud layer) we moved onward and up a very, very steep hill to Telegraph.  Feeling good about quickly knocking out the first few peaks, we continued on to Russian Hill via Lombard, sprinting up the “crookedest street in the world,” a one-way road with eight hairpin turns spanning only a block’s length.

A breakfast pit-stop at Nook fueled our next summit at a slightly less exciting Nob Hill, while it continued to pour harder and harder. This would open a five-mile stretch until the next summit, and on our way across town we couldn’t go without ‘getting baked in San Francisco’ and snagging a handful of pastries at the legendary Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. I had a beer-frosting filled donut, getting a well-needed sugar rush before another caffeine refuel at Verve Coffee.

A couple kisses next to love sign in San Francisco

Paulina jumps in mud puddle.

Feet splashing in puddle.

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Not knowing what to expect at Sutro, we found ourselves at the end of a neighborhood, jumping onto a steep muddy piece of hiking trail and quickly disappearing into the trees. It was probably my favorite section, as we immediately found ourselves in a lush garden of ferns and old-growth forest. The juxtaposition was intense, viewing a huge part of the city while standing in what felt like a secluded rainforest.

After bagging the fog-covered peak, and with five summits down, our next destination was Twin Peaks, a familiar destination for many people looking for a city overlook. If it wasn’t for Carl (the name given to the persistent Bay-area fog) we would have been able to see a lot more, so after a quick morale-boosting break of Reese’s Pieces and gummy bears (and convincing one teammate to not call an Uber), we set our sights on the last peak of the day.

A group of hikers giving high fives.

Woman hiking in forest near San Francisco.

Boots urban hiking San Francisco.

Davidson loomed in the distance, at almost 1,000-feet in height.  Our legs screamed as we climbed the muddy section and wondered why we left the steepest section for last. As we climbed up to the cross signaling the finish, it felt good finishing the hike on what I’m used to having under my feet: dirt.

As it neared dusk and the rain continued, we found ourselves sitting at a fancy bar, covered in mud. After tasty cocktails we headed home, with soggy hair, soggy bottoms, soggy fingers, and cozy, dry feet.

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