OGL Gear Adventure #1 - Hike Mt. Tam and Mountain Board down to free food

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This is the first OutdoorGearLab Gear Adventure, a monthly feature where we dream up a new adventure, test some gear, and hopefully inform and amuse.

Hiking Mt. Tam then Mountain Boarding Down

The Mission

Hike from my house, to the top of Mt Tam, then mountain board down to my parents' house for dinner.


Ten years ago I was an addicted trail runner. But trying to keep up with my late great friend Galen Rowell while training to run the John Muir Trail, I got horrible knee tendonitus. It took two years to recover, and since then I have quit running and have to be very careful about long descents.

Then I discovered wingsuit BASE jumping. I no longer had to walk down from things and could charge peaks all over Europe because uphills are no issue for my knees, just the downhills.

Ever since I quit BASE jumping, I have been looking for ways to descend mountains with out destroying my knees. I have a mini five-pound paraglider, but with that you are limited to very specific topography, you need a clean launch site and landing area, and you need the winds to cooperate. Those conditions don't come together as often as I would like. And definitely not within walking distance of my house.

My next thought was a version of the Razor scooter. But I have not been able to find one with inflatable wheels to handle a rocky fire road. And I am not sure I have the self-confidence to been seen in public on a Razor.

Then I came across this mountain board on Amazon. The promo video (scroll to bottom) got me psyched. And at only $150, how could I afford not to try it? Before this descent, I had taken a few practice runs behind my house. But this was the true maiden voyage.

Trip Report

First thing I did was cheat. I got a ride with my wife in her car from my house to the trailhead. Mountain boards, unlike mountain bikes, are not much fun on flat and uphill paved roads.

The second thing was noticing how uncomfortable it is to carry a board. It weighs 15 pounds and in the few days before this trip I could not find a comfortable way to attach it to a backpack. My dog Boogie was supposed to pull me up the mountain. But her 15 pounds of fury were just not enough. Luckily I was able to use Boogie's leash, tie it to the board's front truck, and then connect it to the ice axe holder on the my REI Trail 25 backpack. This works great on fire roads. Not at all on thin trails.

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Awesome part of Tam is one minute you are on a dry hillside in manzanita. Then two minutes later, you turn into a redwood Ewok forest with little waterfalls.

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Looking down at Mill Valley from the summit with the MBS Atom 95X mountainboard.

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Bon Tempe Lake and Marin County Open Space. Where else in the world can you find terrain this undeveloped so close to a major city?

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Boogie collects herself for the descent. Side mesh on the Trail 25 saved me when I couldn't find my hydration pack.

Boogie and I got to the summit in a little over an hour. I thought the descent would be even faster. However, because our trail on Mt. Tam, The Old Railroad Grade, was such a minor grade it took over two hours to go seven miles. I had to keep getting off the board and walking it. This was good news for Boogie as she was able to keep up.

Lesson Learned: Either I need a mountain board with bigger wheels, trucks that vibrate less, or a steeper grade. Or all three.

I almost went the entire descent without injury. But just before the end, of course, I stacked.

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Fat right hand from a violent spill at very low speeds. I was probably going 5 MPH. People should be afraid about spilling at higher speeds.

I showed up at my parents' house 3.5 hours after starting. Below are the stats from MotionX GPS.

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Stats on the adventure from MotionX GPS

And the map of the route I took.

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Map of route I took starting at Crown Rd in Kentfield and ending up in downtown Mill Valley.

What I Learned

  • Boogie (my dog) has endurance!
  • Mountain boarding is really fun. However, you need just the right conditions. My fire road was too low angle for that board. I need to find a steep one or get a faster board (see below).
  • Wrist guards are essential.
  • Hiking holding the board is brutal. You want to ascend terrain where you can drag the board behind you.

Gear I Used

MBS Atom 95X - Love this thing. It is the lightest mountain board I could find online. And on a 2000-plus feet climb straight up, you don't want anything much heavier. However, since this trip, I have found that if you upgrade to the MBS Comp 95X Mountainboard , you go much faster on lower angle terrain and have much more fun on bumps. I would have probably gone more than twice as fast on the Comp 95X.

La Sportiva Vertical K - The tread is about as aggressive as it gets. This came in handy on the steep ridge climb right below Mt. Tam's summit. The dirt was pretty soft from the recent rain but these never slipped.

SmartWool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks - These are our current Editors' Choice hiking socks.

Patagonia Rock Guide Pant - I loved that they are thin enough that you can roll up the cuff and still get air flow. Pants that are thicker or more tapered, when you roll them up, create a tight seal around your calf. I just wish I had remembered to bring a belt. These pants slip down if you have anything in the pockets because there is not much elastic in the waist and no built-in tightening mechanism.

Smartwool Microweight Zip T - This layer is one of the first base layers to get the thumbs up from my wife for style. I literally opened it from the box and put it on minutes before the hike. The Merino wool felt pretty itchy at first but I got used to it. The zipper and loose fit made it breathe reasonably well. Best of all, it did not stink much by the end of the descent.

Patagonia Capilene 1 Crew I switched off wearing this and the Smartwool (above). The Capilene does a great job of keeping you cool when you start to sweat. It also held in a lot more odor than the SmartWool. Euwwww.

REI Trail 25 - I could not find my hydration bladder so I was thankful that the Trail 25 had mesh side pockets for my bike water bottle. I never had to stop hiking. I could just reach to the side and grab the bottle. Also, the little ice axe loop came in handy for attaching the dog leash to the pack to pull the mountain board (see video). And the front pocket was the perfect size and convenience for the video camera.

Marmot Helium 2 - When I left the house, it looked like it might rain. So I brought the Helium 2 just in case. I never ended up using it, but at only six ounces and a really small compressed size, it was cheap insurance.

Wild Alpine Shield - I seem to use this helmet for everything BUT climbing. Not rated for mountain boarding, but it worked great.

Check out What is a Mountainboard? And other Frequently asked questions

Chris McNamara
About the Author
Chris is the founder of OutdoorGearLab and serves as Editor-in-Chief. Climbing Magazine once computed that three percent of Chris McNamara's life on earth has been spent on the face of El Capitan—an accomplishment that has left friends and family pondering Chris' sanity. He's climbed El Capitan over 70 times and holds nine big wall speed climbing records. In 1998 Chris did the first Girdle Traverse of El Capitan, an epic 75-pitch route that begs the question, "Why?" Outside Magazine has called Chris one of "the world's finest aid climbers." He's the winner of the 1999 Bates Award from the American Alpine Club and founder of the American Safe Climbing Association, a nonprofit group that has replaced over 14,000 dangerous anchor bolts. Chris is also the founder and lead author of the rock climbing guidebooks publisher, SuperTopo. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or ChrisMcNamara.com. He also has two Lake Tahoe Vacation Rentals here and here.
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