This Mill Valley Resident Has Summited Mt. Tam More Than 7,000 Times

Courtesy of Jeff Jungsten

For Mill Valley’s Jeff Jungsten, every morning for more than 35 years has started in almost the same glorious way — watching the sunrise atop Mount Tamalpais with a cup of warm coffee in hand alongside a small group of like-minded souls.

But how did the “dawn patrol” leader get his start? He says it all began as a late night/early morning adventure with some childhood friends who skipped bedtime and instead biked to the top of the mountain. “We were probably 12 or 13, the sun came up and it was magic up there, warm. It was awesome,” says Jungsten, who grew up in Marin and now owns San Rafael–based Jungsten Construction. “We ended up riding back down the way we came up and it was one of those aha moments: wow, I can end up someplace like this.”

Jungsten was hooked and began going up any chance he got, wanting to know every place and every trail on Mount Tam. As he continued the early morning cycle — he says it is much less crowded and more enjoyable for sunrises than for sunsets — he began to notice a pretty regular group and asked if anybody wanted to make it a regular once-a-week thing. They did.

But Jungsten was going much more often than that and so he found a way to encourage people to join him there up to three times (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) a week: add freshly brewed coffee to the mix. “I got a little Jetboil pour-over coffee maker and the next day texted the group and said, ‘We’re having coffee at the top of the mountain,’ ” Jungsten says. “Sure enough, a lot of people showed up.”

Since the group meets at Equator Coffees at about an hour and 10 minutes before sunrise, it wasn’t long until Equator co-founder Helen Russell caught wind. She offered to make the group a custom “Dawn Patrol” blend to replace what they had been drinking, coffee created by infamous Tour de France cyclist Floyd Landis. “We were drinking coffee made by a guy who was a cyclist and didn’t know anything about coffee. She said, ‘Oh, that can’t happen,’ ” Jungsten says with a laugh.

As for what makes him crawl out of bed in the dark each morning, Jungsten gives all the credit to the mountain. “There really is nothing like the temperature inversion or the cloud layers or the different lighting effects; it’s just such a unique place,” he says. “What if the sun came up once every 10,000 years? The entire world would go see it. But we get up there, we have it all to ourselves, and it happens every day.”

About two years ago a big group came up to celebrate Jungsten’s 7,000th summit (yes, he keeps track on a spreadsheet) and it made for a special moment after nearly four decades of effort. “You look across a cloud layer to this epic view and there’s other people that you realize have come up from all sorts of different places to share a sunrise,” Jungsten says. “I’ve done it since I was a kid and it never, ever gets old.”