My First Backpacking Trip (on Mt. Tam)!

Hello fellow hikers! A couple weeks ago I decided to take my Osprey Aether 60 backpack for a spin up in Mt. Tamalpais State Park alone. My plan, based off of the trail map was to go from the Stinson Beach trailhead up the Matt Davis trail to Bootjack campground to set up camp, then continue on to the Middle and East summits on Mt. Tam, camp at Bootjack for the night and head back down the Dipsea trail to my car the next morning. I didn’t have any idea of the mileage I was embarking upon, but figured it was worth a shot!

In terms of my gear, footwear has been my latest obsession. The heel blisters on my Achilles tendon have had me changing boots so often, I’m sure that the REI employees are frustrated with me to no end. Then again, I’m the one giving them the money, and they’re passionate about what they do, so I think I’m good!

The week before my trip, I returned my Salewa boots and picked up some Lowa Mountain Expert GTX EVO mountaineering boots. They have heel and toe welts for crampons and were fairly comfortable. Plus, I liked the more aggressive sole and the lacing system. The laces across the toe lock with a latching lace hole, which allow me to have different tightness across my toes and ankles. I did notice some heel lift and the plastic shank was intimidating, but I decided to try them out. I was sold by the cushioned Achilles region.

Moving on to Friday evening, I loaded up my pack with my two person Eureka Apex 2XT standard-weight tent, four liters of water and all my other gear to simulate a fully-weighted pack, like I would be using on my JMT trip. I went to REI before I left to ensure I had adjusted my pack straps appropriately and the weight was a little more than 30 pounds! I was in the pocket 🙂

After my REI excursion, and socializing with fellow outdoors people, who I love, I decided to drive up to Mt. Tam that night. Heavy metal, inclimate weather, and windy roads kept me awake. The drive took longer than I had hoped, but I found parking (I hoped it was legal parking!) by the trailhead and started on the trail at about 4:45 AM. My hope was to see the sunrise from the summit 🙂

A quick aside. On the drive, I noticed sharp pain in the outside of my left foot. The toe liner socks and new boots were pulling my midget pinky toe out from its claw-like grasp! I hoped this wouldn’t be a problem, and charged forward.

Starting the trail, I heard a beautiful babbling creek and the trail was sloshy, forested, and flat. I was here! Soon after that, the incline started! It was a tough, relentless climb, but I kept charging. As I pushed, I passed by a couple quaint waterfalls and started coming out of tree cover. Then, I noticed that the sky was getting brighter. “Crap!” I thought to myself. I was nowhere near the summit and was already getting tired (work all day Friday plus a six hour drive plus no sleep wasn’t the best choice).


I saw the Bolinas Ridge Trail intersection on my map, and the other side of the ridge appeared to overlook the bay, and the sunrise. So I started charging up it, racing against the sun. My heels were already hurting (I’ll get to this later), but I was determined. As I started along this diversion, I was stopped in my tracks by what I thought was a coyote (there were warnings at the trailhead). I stamped my feet and banged by trekking poles to scare the creature off. As it ran, I noticed that it was probably just a deer. My bad!

I saw a faint trail going straight up a hill and thought I might be able to see the sun that way, but it didn’t appear to connect anywhere, so I continued along the winding west side of the ridge (stupid mountains blocking the sun). Eventually, I got to a knoll that overlooked the beautiful Stinson Beach. Seeing as the sun was already up. I took in the views and continued on to the road intersection that would take me up the Cataract Trail next to Cataract Creek.


At the road, I stopped for breakfast and to tend to my wounds above my Achilles tendon. The skin was raw, the fog was rolling in, I was cold, and I thought about turning back. But I pressed on, trying to tap into my higher power and my inner strength. It worked!

As I continued up Cataract Trail, making slow progress, I appreciated the views and the peacefulness of a sheltered trail. Eventually, I got to another clearing with a few roads, and I made my way past the amphitheater to Bootjack Trail. Luckily, this was downhill 🙂

Eventually, I made it to Bootjack campground by 11 AM or so. There were a couple campers already there and I made small talk. They were very helpful with registration information, and even offered me food! I’m on a specific eating regiment, so I declined, but they were pleasant enough.

Going to register for my campsite, there was no option for backpackers! I was floored because I came all this way for nothing! Luckily, I had cell service and called the ranger station. They told me I could only camp at Pantoll campground :/

So, I packed my stuff and trekked uphill through a beautiful wooded trail. I tried to absorb the beauty, especially in noticing that moss is actually very leafy! It’s not just a spongy substance growing in the forest. How cool! That realization quickly subsided, however, since the blisters above my heel were killing me with each driving step. Also, i started hunching over to carry my pack instead of letting my hips do the work. That strained my lower back, but i made it! By the time I got to camp and set up my tent, I was exhausted. I ate lunch and proceeded to pass out for five hours. Boy, did I need it!


When I woke up, I contemplated summiting the mountain, but I was too tired and the cold was getting to me. I saw a few social groups of people and thought it would be nice to be included, but I didn’t want to make the effort. Once again, I thought how nice it would be to have a girlfriend who could join me on these journeys. The beauty of being alone though, is that I can just be. Be with myself, my thoughts, and God.

A bike backpacker set up camp next to me and we got to talking. He was biking from Oregon to San Francisco to meet his sister. How cool! We exchanged pleasantries, he applauded me on my JMT training, I complimented him on his bike journey, then I packed my dinner in my summit pack, and set off to see what remained of the sunset overlooking the San Francisco bay.

I took the Stapelveldt Trail a short half mile for the opportunity to see the sunset from a vista point. It was nice and peaceful, albeit chilly and not the summit. The woods up near Mt. Tam are awesome, though, and it makes sense that John Muir would have a park named after him in the same region.

After the spur hike, I read some of my JMT guidebook and knocked out to sleep. My REI Igneo mummy sleeping bag was a little challenging to get used to. I rolled off my sleeping pad a couple times, but managed to get some good rest. Plus, my puffy REI Revelcloud Hoodie packed into its own pocket, making a nice pillow that massaged the base of my skull just right :-p

The next morning, I packed up, worried I had woken my neighbors (stop worrying what others think, Doug!), had a breakfast of Lara Bars and Chia Squeeze juices, and set off back down Stapelveldt to catch the Dipsea Trail. The rolling brown trail meandering across the green knolls was very peaceful. The clouds were making great works of art for me, and God was showing off.


As I started descending through the woods and creeks, frustration struck. The trail maintainers had installed steps that were very off pace for my walking style. I could never catch a rhythm! The selfish side of me wanted to file a complaint, but luckily, someone else had made a dirt trail next to the steps most of the way. Woo-hoo!


Nearing my car, I kept passing groups of people going out for a Sunday hike. I’m sure I looked ridiculous in full backpacking gear, coming down around 8:00 AM, but I made my pleasantries and was on my way.

Finally, I made it back to my car. It was still there!! I didn’t get towed 🙂 I cleaned up, rested, changed shoes, and made my way up the coast and inland to meet with friends in Sacramento.


All in all, it was a successful journey. I pushed myself, camped solo, and was able to be with me and my thoughts. I’ll make it to the summit. Hopefully soon! One cool thing I noticed was that my heels healed overnight and the morning hike wasn’t nearly as bad. Granted it was all downhill, but the body is an amazing entity.

Thank you all for reading and joining me on my journey. Take it easy and remember: Take a hike and spice up your life!


P.S. I’ll go into more detail about the heel blisters, my findings, and a bonus video of friends trying devilish hot sauces I enjoy tomorrow. Until then!

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  1. February 11, 2016

    Nice TR! Get ready for a steep learning curve the first few years and welcome to the wonderful world of mountain exploration!

    • Doug Busack
      February 11, 2016

      Thank you! It’s been a journey already! It’s funny. Despite the pain, the passion carries me on to push on! I appreciate your support.

  2. February 16, 2016

    Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to protect against hackers?
    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on. Any recommendations?

    • Doug Busack
      February 16, 2016

      I use Sucuri. Thank you for checking out my blog! If you enjoy it, follow to stay in the loop with my adventures!

    • sally
      April 29, 2016

      make sure you update your wordpress, your currently installed plugins, and neve log into your hosting / server space on an open wifi

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