A Foglift on the Sausalito Hills

By Harold French

In 1893 – the year of Sausalito’s incorporation -- a 15-year-old boy, Harold French, boarded the ferryboat San Rafael in San Francisco and came to Sausalito on a day trip hike. The adventure he recorded in his journal was reproduced in the Historical Society’s Fall 1993 Moments in Time newsletter, with the permission of Fred Sandrock of the Mt. Tam History Project, which had published the remarkably crafted narrative in honor of Sausalito’s Centennial:

The Ferry San Rafael, which was rammed and sunk in another heavy fog just eight years after Fred Sandrock’s account.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.

During the latter part of October 1893, the elegant steamer City of New York ran ashore in the fog on a reef of Point Bonita, Marin County. Many sightseers went on tugs to see the wreck, and I decided to go over the hills from Sausalito. Going over from the city on the steamer San Rafael on the morning of November 4th I met my old climbing mate Hess and a friend of his named Jackson, who were going over for the same purpose. As they had been to Point Bonita once before, I let them take the lead. We reached Sausalito about eight in the morning, after crossing the bay in a very thick fog, and immediately pushed up the hillside through the town which at the time still seemed to be asleep. I had never before been out in so a dense fog, and to add to that we found ourselves on a wrong road and were obliged to head up a canyon which we knew led to the summit of a ridge. We climbed upward, puffing out clouds of steam into the dull gray fog which wrapped us in its gloom on all sides, obscuring our way so that we were almost bewildered and could see ourselves plodding onward like spectres in the mist.

Now we knew we were getting near the top of the ridge as the gullies were narrowing visibly, and the whistling of locomotives on the North Pacific Coast track, which at first echoed with startling distinctness through the still fog, now could be faintly heard, and shortly we came to a corral on the summit of the Sausalito Hills, which at that point are about 1200 or 1500 feet in height. A narrow cattle trail wound along the crest of the ridge for a hundred yards or so, and it was while following this, that we were suddenly brought to a halt, for the sun was beginning to make his presence known by dissipating the thin stratum of fog that clung to the summit. In an instant, almost, we were in bright sunlight, breathing the crisp, clear morning air above the fog, which was denied to us below the dense, foggy air, in the gullies; and now I was feasting on the most glorious fog spectacle I had ever seen. While the highest point of the hills on which we stood was like a little island just above the sea of fog, only a few yards below the fog was sweeping in all its grandeur down a deep canyon which sloped towards the ocean, and on its southern slopes, which form a portion of the Lime Point, the fog had piled up several hundred feet higher in the form of a huge impending wave, poising itself on its crest before it swept over the rolling sea of clouds beneath. It was sublime: the sun’s power like the fable of the Sun and the Storm of the Traveler, was driving the clouds before him, giving it the often-fancied resemblance to a sea of foam. Gradually objects became more distinct, for above this vast screen that shut out the view of the harbor of San Francisco, its great city and many miles of populous land, the higher lands were beginning to appear like the peaks of Ararat after the Deluge. Suddenly a long mass reared itself from the flying clouds. It was Tamalpais, and the intervening ocean of fog scudding seaward caused its long back to resemble a huge leviathan sporting in its element.

As I stood bathed in the clear morning light and breathing the vivifying ozone, suddenly as though there had been a volcanic uprising, the wedge-shaped cone of Mt. Diablo, forty miles to the east, shot up above the fog sea.

How pure is the air on this hilltop! How bright is the new sunlight! All seems like a pristine world rising for the first time from the depths of the sea. Down m the canyons the air is close and heavily laden with moisture which rendered respiration difficult, but how different is it here on this islet above the clouds.

Gradually objects in the canyon below are becoming perceptible as the fog is fast sweeping out to sea. Gradually the outlines of numerous rounded hills loom out, and far off as the curtain of fog lifts lies the promontory of Point Bonita, which comes out in relief against the masses of fog in the Golden Gate.

Young Fred’s journal continues with his trek down to Point Bonita and back.  It is in the collection of the Sausalito Historical Society, which is open to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM. on the top floor of City Hall.