My Latest Article – Hiking The John Muir Trail

The Mountain Journals

270 Media – Local Getaways

March 8, 2023

I’m pleased to be able to share this latest article I wrote for Local Getaways (270 Media). This is the same group that publishes Marin Magazine, so given my past collaborations with them, I knew they would do a fantastic job with the layout and editing. The above image is a screenshot of the opening spread of the eight-page article.

Garnet Lake, Banner Peak & Mt. Ritter at sunrise

It truly was a collaborate effort as I worked with their designer and editor to finalize the details and they were very open to some of the suggestions I offered. I think the end result speaks for itself. Below is an embedded copy of the magazine. My article begins on page 42, but the entire issue is excellent. Enjoy!

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My Latest Article – Hiking The John Muir Trail

270 Media – Local Getaways

March 8, 2023

I’m pleased to be able to share this latest article I wrote for Local Getaways (270 Media). This is the same group that publishes Marin Magazine, so given my past collaborations with them, I knew they would do a fantastic job with the layout and editing. The above image is a screenshot of the opening spread of the eight-page article.

Garnet Lake, Banner Peak & Mt. Ritter at sunrise

It truly was a collaborate effort as I worked with their designer and editor to finalize the details and they were very open to some of the suggestions I offered. I think the end result speaks for itself. Below is an embedded copy of the magazine. My article begins on page 42, but the entire issue is excellent. Enjoy!

An Exquisite View from Tam (and a pretty decent photo)

November 9, 2022

A quick post to highlight an image I’m especially proud of. I took it last Friday morning at Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais (Calif.) as some most welcome rain visited our drought-plague state. As always, all my images are for sale as fine art prints.

I was able to get in a nice vigorous hike in cool autumn weather in between storms. The next rain was forecast to arrive later on Friday, although the clouds did start spitting on me while I took my mid-hike break at Alpine Dam and lake. As for the details of the image: I shot it with my Nikon from a bluff near Pantoll and Ridgecrest Roads. This is the view south with the layered Marin County hills, San Francisco Bay and the skyline in the distance. And further still, the hills of the East Bay. I did try a few post-production edits that were a little out of my own norm, but I like the way these edits rendered the image. Below is another wider view of the scene with the Pacific Ocean at right. As for print prices, they vary depending on size. But 20″ x 24″ goes for $350 (unmounted and not including shipping). I ship my prints in mailing tubes. Given the cost of shipping a large mounted and framed print, it’s more cost effective to send the print and have the buyer mount and print locally.

Temelpa Trail (& others) to the East Peak Summit – Mount Tamalpais

October 30, 2022

I start this post with a moving and somber inscription from the plaque that is mounted on Sitting Bull Rock, a monument on the Hoo Koo e-Koo Trail on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County (CA). At first I was going to apologize for the reflection of myself in the image, but it’s fitting because reading Sitting Bull’s words should force one to assess his or her relationship with not only Earth, our Mother, but with our fellow man. I’d known about this somewhat hidden monument (it doesn’t appear on the official Mount Tamalpais State Park map) for some time, but this was my first visit. It’s not on my usual route to the summit or any of the rota of loops or other trips that I normally hike. If you Google it or type it into a search engine it should appear and you can find your own way if you feel the need to make a pilgrimage. I rather like the fact that it’s not all that easy to reach and it’s not on one of the more well-traveled trails.

I read the words and found the first two sentences over the first seven line to be wonderfully loving and full of hope. But while Sitting Bull doesn’t mention the white man specifically, it is apparent who he is referring to in his lament. Sadly, these words could’ve been written today, not 145 years ago. After reading them, I closed my eyes and pressed my palms and forehead against the rock, much as I would embrace or touch a tree.

As for the rest of my hike:

View towards Muir Woods from the lot across from Mountain Home Inn

I hiked this route last Friday morning. It started off cool/crisp, perfect autumn hiking weather. I parked at the lot across from Mountain Home Inn on Panoramic Highway, planning a trip to the summit via a route I’d taken many times before: Hogback to Old Railroad Grade to Upper Fern Creek, which would take me to the parking lot at the East Peak Visitor Center. But for the longest time, I’ve told myself that with so many trails that I have yet to explore, I really felt that I needed to make a conscious effort to try new trails, and new parks. It’s hard to believe that for all of my visits to Mount Tamalpais, especially the trailheads along Panoramic Highway, that there are trails that I haven’t hiked.

Although I like to think of myself as a semi-adventurous type, being comfortable in the wilderness, backpacking the John Muir Trail and Desolation Wilderness, I’m also a creature of habit and at times, I like to inhabit a comfort zone and sometimes it can become too comfortable, a rut almost. I have certain trails that I love to hike, enjoying the familiarity of the forest. I justify it by the fact that I always observe something new even on trails I’ve hiked dozens of times. I further justify it by telling myself that I’m different each time I hike it. Hiking these familiar spots throughout the year, over the various seasons, I see the changes that each season brings: the early rains filling the creeks and starting the mushrooms to push forth. Then eventually the wildflowers that begin to bloom as the days warm and get longer. The hillsides turning green, then the summer browning and the quieting of the creeks. And each year brings new surprises: a rare snowfall, a rattlesnake or two, an old tree dying and falling across a trail. That being said, I used the word “rut” earlier, and I guess there are worse ruts to be in, but I’ve felt that I’m missing out on so many other gifts that nature has to offer me, and even more surprises by not treading on new trails, on different dirt. Lately, I’ve been better about “breaking free” a bit more and it does feel great.

Coast Live Oak leaf, Northern California’s subdued approach
to fall colors

As I started up towards the Throckmorton firehouse up the Hogback Fire Road, I still had plans to do my tried and true route, but I soon decided to explore the Hoo Koo e-Koo Trail a ways. At first I planned to go down that trail for maybe half a mile then backtrack and resume my trip to the summit. But I was so thoroughly enjoying the new views and landscape that I stopped to check my Strava map to find out how to reach the Temelpa Trail, which I knew to be an alternate way to the summit. As I mentioned, it started out crisp, but I took advantage of my stop to shed some clothing. One thing I did know about the route to the summit on the way I was choosing is that it would be climbing the southern slope of Mount Tam, which meant it would be less shaded and much warmer than the Upper Fern Creek Trail.

I call these next three images from the Hoo Koo e Koo Trail the “Halloween” section of the trail. The manzanita was growing in impressive stands on both sides of the trail, the branches like ancient gnarled hands reaching out. And in one spot (the dark forest photo) it was eerily dark, even more so than it appears in the image.

Hoo Koo e Koo Trail through the manzanita
More manzanita
Dark Forest

As for the provenance of the name Hoo Koo e Koo, while I can’t find verification, the one source I found states that it was the name of an Indian tribe, a band of Coast Miwoks that lived in the foothills of Mount Tamalpais. The phrase translates roughly to “this is us: people.”

As the single track portion of the Hoo Koo e Koo ended at the Old Railroad Grade Fire Road, I emerged into more open landscape and followed the road to the next junction a few hundred yards further.

Old Railroad Grade Fire Road
Three way junction: Hoo Koo e Koo to the right, Old Railroad Grade to the left, the single track Vic Haun in the middle (up the steps)

From the junction in the image above, I took the Vic Haun Trail up the steps past the signpost up toward the summit (the high point in the photo) to the Temelpa Trail. I suppose I’m a little rusty at reading topo maps because I was thinking it wouldn’t be much elevation gain to reach the next junction at the Temelpa. I was wrong. The footing was also quite a bit dodger than I’m accustomed to on other parts of the mountain. A mini-confession: probably a decade ago, I’m guessing, I did descend from the summit on the Temelpa and the Vic Haun Trails. This was however, my first climb up the trails. The one thing I did recall from the previous time through, was the bad footing, the narrowness of the trail and the brush and trees in need of some trimming. It doesn’t help that at 6’2″, 200 lbs., I don’t function as well on these trails that are seemingly built with hobbits in mind. Nevertheless, although I was constantly whacking my head on low twigs, I made it to the Temelpa Trail relatively unscathed. I rechecked my whereabouts on Strava, my fitness app, and finding how close I was to the Sitting Bull Rock monument, I turned down the trail in search of the rock. It was less than a minute down a steep slippery section, but I was so glad I found it. I spent a few minutes communing with the indigenous spirits before I resumed my climb to the summit.

Through the manzanita and chamise up the mountain on the Vic Haun Trail (this was one of the wider sections of the trail
Coast live oak acorn
The view east from the Temelpa Trail
The stunning view to the south – lower Marin, SF Bay, SF Skyline in the middle

As I mentioned earlier, ascending this part of the mountain has a relentless southern exposure. In the summer, it must be unceasingly hot to climb, not a remote temptation for me. As is apparent in the photos, there was enough cloud cover to temper the sun. By the 10:00 hour when I was on the hardest part of my climb, the temperatures probably were in the mid-60’s, but I was still laboring over the final half mile. I might’ve been guilty of overestimating my fitness level.

Toyon berries (not edible)

Shortly before 11:00, I finally reached the Verna Dunshee Trail, a very flat easy paved trail that circles the summit. I was pretty adequately gassed by the time I reached the Visitor Center and I was supremely glad I brought along a sandwich and some electrolytes. Near the visitor center, I found a secluded picnic table in a well shaded area and took a twenty minute break to regain my energy.

For the descent, had I been feeling friskier, I would’ve opted for a longer route down Old Railroad Grade Trail to the wonderful Miller Trail. Instead I took the shorter option, Upper Fern Creek down to Old Railroad Grade and the final stretch down Hogback. I felt great coming down, but was supremely glad it was all downhill.

Rabbitbrush near the East Peak Visitor Center

Dipsea/Steep Ravine Trail – Mount Tamalpais

(and a shameless plug for selling prints)

Steep Ravine Trail’s Iconic 10′ bridge

August 30, 2022

Summer in the Bay Area is quite unlike most other areas in the United States. While most of the country is broiling, sweltering with mind numbing humidity, or flooding from monsoons, I’m taking several layers of clothing in my day pack to make sure I stay warm and/or dry. This is the phenomenon of our coastal fog and it’s a big reason that many of us out here don’t have or need air conditioning, even with global warming. I even turned my heater on one night last month. Granted, while there may be a few days each summer or early fall when having AC would be a welcome luxury, those heat waves are typically short lived.

Dipsea Trail – Ghostly forest leading down to Muir Woods

The images from this post are from my five-mile loop starting at Pan Toll campground a few weeks ago. Even on the drive up from Mill Valley, the weather changed on me several times. Cool and overcast in town, then getting blasted by the wind and fog as I turned onto Panoramic Highway as the breeze blew in from the Pacific. Then clearing and warm bright sunshine from Mountain Home Inn & the Throckmorton fire house, past Bootjack Campground and then arrival at Pan Toll. But thankfully, being a seasoned pro, I wasn’t fooled by the warm weather at the trailhead and I smartly packed my Patagonia fleece jacket and my Marmot rain shell (both of which I’d eventually need).

I chose to take a clockwise loop which would allow me a descent of Dipsea and ascent up Steep Ravine along Webb Creek instead of the opposite. I’m not quite sure why I prefer this route since it’s the same elevation gain and loss. I suppose that I just find Steep Ravine more spectacular and scenic from bottom to top and I like leaving it for last. Kind of like dessert.

And now for my previous mentioned shameless sales pitch. Although I’m happy to share these images online, I’m also a professional and I do offer all the images for sale as fine art prints. I don’t have an online ordering system in place so if you’re interested please contact me directly at I use a local San Francisco printer (Photoworks) and they do fantastic work. I only use their high end, amazing quality Hahnemuhle papers. I can give a more accurate price quote upon request, but the average price is around $250 for an 14″ x 20″ flat, unmounted print. Given the difficulty and cost of shipping framed or even just mounted prints, I don’t offer that. I figure it’s more cost effective for customers and clients to take a print to their local frame shop. That way there’s less chance of damage to the print or breakage. Below are a few favorite images that I feel would look wonderful printed and hanging on a wall. But as I said, any image you might see on this blog, on my website ( or my Instagram (victorvoltaphoto) are generally available as prints.

Comet Neowise over Marin County (July 2020)

Crescent Moon in Death Valley
Diamond Mesa and the John Muir Trail, Sequoia National Park

A couple of final notes: for the prints, I do remove my watermark and copyright text. For payment, I accept check, Venmo, Apple Pay and Zelle. (Sorry, no PayPal). If you have any questions, I’m happy to respond to either email or to your comments on this blog. Thank you.

The John Muir Trail Project – Sunrise Camp, Yosemite National Park

July 25, 2022

Ink drawing of my camp at Sunrise Backpackers Camp, Yosemite

The second drawing (ink) of my John Muir Trail project. As mentioned in my previous post with the Nevada Fall piece, as I continue to work on my abilities as a drawer/painter, I hope to show steady improvement. My goal isn’t necessarily to have each image look like a photograph. Otherwise, what’s the point. I’ve only been drawing for a few months now (started in March). Or at least that’s how long I’ve been doing it on a semi-regular basis. For the most part, I draw every day now. Sometimes it might just be a few minutes of work on my little sketch books, Other times, especially when I’m working on very detailed drawings, I put in longer stretches of time. Not all of the pieces from this project are going to be in ink. The current one I’m working on is another Little Yosemite Valley piece that’ll be ink and watercolor.

The Sunrise Camp drawing is based on a photo I took on the morning after my second day of backpacking. On Day 2 I left my Little Yosemite Valley camp and made my way almost 9 miles to Sunrise Backpacker’s Camp (9300′ elev.). It was a rough second day on the trail with a steep afternoon climb under an unforgiving sun. But the reward was a beautiful site on the edge of Long Meadow and the knowledge that my next several days would be relatively easy. And by that I mean easy compared to Day 2. The hardest peaks and passes on the JMT are in the southern half of the trail through Kings Canyon National Park. So on Day 3, up before the sun, as I made ready to break camp, I had my stove going to boil water for my daily ration of instant oatmeal and some coffee. I snapped this photo just before 6:00 on July 18 (2015). Below are the original photo and some early progress on the drawing. For the sake of composition, I omitted some of the foreground clutter of my “kitchen”.

I start my drawings by sketching in soft pencil (B or 5B) then when I’m satisfied with the outlines, filling in with Micron pens
Doing the trees in ink is the most challenging part of my drawings. Getting the textures right isn’t easy for me yet.

In all, it took me ten days from start to finish on this drawing. The Nevada Fall drawing took me about twice that long. If I pressed, I could probably do them faster, but I also still draw some Mount Tam nature pieces, and as always, I do my photography, too.

Trying New Things – An Expanded Visual Vocabulary

Nevada Fall & Liberty Cap, Yosemite National Park

July 5, 2022

The opening image of this post is the beginning of a new project I’ve undertaken to interpret my time on the John Muir Trail in 2014 & 2015. Those of you who’ve followed my work since I started this blog know me as a photographer and writer. But I’ve long wanted to try my hand at drawing and painting. I showed a decent amount of promise in a basic drawing course I took way back in my college days in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but it had been decades since I tried my hand at it in any meaningful way. Over the years I did an occasional sketch, but quickly lost interest.

Pencil study of lepiota magnispora – Mount Tamalpais

But over recent months, coming out of a lengthy down period, a depression really, I’ve applied myself more rigorously to improving and mainly just to keep drawing. Most of what I’ve drawn since early March have been sketches and quick drawings in a couple of small notepads, trying to get comfortable with my pens and pencils, and honing my skills and powers of observation. But I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t really doing any finished works, just drafts. To counter that feeling, I decided to start a project of drawings based on images I took on the JMT. Given that it took me nearly a month to do the Nevada Fall/Yosemite drawing, I see this as a long term project. However, I don’t plan on doing each drawing in that project in the same style. I envision some as watercolors, others in charcoal and eventually I might even try some new mediums like gouache, colored pencils or oils.

I will continue to do my photography and writing of course. And a reminder that my book about the John Muir Trail, “As I Was Walking” is still for sale on Apple Books

Return to “Action” – Off the DL

California lilac in bloom

February, 18, 2022

Another long layoff from an ailment. It seems that for way too much of the past few years, I seem to perpetually be getting over something. I use the quotation marks regarding a hike I took this morning (Mount Tamalpais, of course) because it was a decidedly not very action-filled hike. After more than a month of being on the shelf, I simply wanted to get outside and make it over the trail without keeling over. In that respect, it was a success and I made it nearly three miles under a cloudless, springlike winter day.

Indian paintbrush in bloom along the Matt Davis Trail

But it did feel wonderful to get outside. Trite and cliche as it is, you do appreciate it all the more when it’s taken away for a spell. Although triple-vaccinated, I did test positive for the Covid at the end of December and my symptoms were very, very mild. Just a tinge of a sore throat and an even smaller tinge of nausea. I quipped to several friends that I suffered worse nausea watching Jimmy G quarterback the Niners. But a week later, I did come down with a sinus and chest cold that required antibiotics. My sinuses improved, but the chest/lung inflammation lingered for weeks longer and I eventually had to get more pharma – steroids and an albuterol inhalant. It finally started getting better over the past half dozen days. Of course, being a bit – sometimes more than a bit – of a hypochondriac, as the symptoms dragged on, I started envisioning dire scenarios. But now, I’m hopeful as today is the best I’ve felt in 2022 and I’m hoping to finally head out on a Death Valley road trip sometime in the next week.

Here are a few more images from today’s 2.8 mile hike from Bootjack Campground to the Nora Trail junction. We’re back in a dry pattern here in California so mushroom season ended early and now some traditional early wildflowers are blooming along the southern slopes.

To a Hopeful New Year

January 2, 2022

The highlight of my first day of 2022 (yesterday), for good or bad, was testing negative for the coronavirus after a positive test on Wednesday laid me low. Since I was triple-vaxxed, my symptoms were mild for a couple of days, just a bit of nausea, not much else. Hell, I get worse nausea watching the Giants or 49ers lose.

But, nevertheless, I was forced to take some time off from work and to self-isolate. Not exactly how I wanted 2021 to end or the new year to begin. However, there were some other highlights: French toast for breakfast, some rib-eye steak for a midday meal and a leisurely cigar in my backyard in the afternoon as I sipped coffee and pecked away on my laptop, doing some long overdue editing on “The Mount Whitney Journals”, the prequel to my John Muir Trail book.

I do foresee some significant changes in the coming weeks. Sounds a bit enigmatic, but I’ll keep you all posted. I’ve never been one for a list of resolutions, but I’ll admit that I’ve allowed myself to stagnate over recent months and it doesn’t sit well with me.

For now, since I did mention my JMT book “As I Was Walking”, here’s a link should any of you readers be interested in buying it on Amazon or Apple Books. My hope is that I’ll have “The Mount Whitney Journals” available later this year.

Mushrooms! Mushrooms! – Mount Tamalpais

Hygrocybe (Witch’s hat)

December 17, 2021

It’s already been a good year so far for wild mushrooms and fungus here in the Bay Area. Each winter, finding these wonderful specimens to photograph is dependent on moisture and temperature. We had some early fruiting because of a drenching more than a month ago from the much hyped and ballyhooed ‘atmospheric river’.

Over the recent weeks, even with a dry pattern reestablished, there were still a surprising number of mushrooms to be found. With the rains over the recent days, I’m looking forward to a renewed crop of mushrooms and fungus all over the mountain. But for now, please enjoy these images from my past couple of hikes on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County (CA, of course).

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