Friday, June 17, 2011

Leave No Trace, Hungry Bears, and Out of Control Camp Fires

I’ve been gone from the blog for awhile and a lot has been going on here in the King Range that I would like to share with you. I just got back from a 5 day Leave No Trace (LNT) Master Educator course on the Lost Coast Trail. This is, in short, a course that thoroughly teaches the 7 LNT principles and how to effectively communicate them. It is, “designed for people who are actively teaching others backcountry skills or providing recreation information to the public.” In light of this, each week for the next 7 weeks I will be posting about one of the 7 LNT principles and how it directly applies to the Lost Coast – so stay tuned for stories, pictures, and information that will improve your skills/knowledge, entertain you and ultimately increase your enjoyment and safety in the backcountry.

First of all, the notorious fog of the Lost Coast has been hanging off shore leaving the weather sunny and beautiful (as seen above) – but often times hot and windy. Plan accordingly and make sure to bring sun block and a hat but also bring a jacket in case that fog does roll in.
1. The bears are out and about: We have had several reports of bears around the Big/Miller Flat area terrorizing campers looking for an easy meal. The Leave No Trace group and I camped at Miller Flat one night this past week and indeed, we were woken up in the night by a bear knocking around our bear cans. It would pick up each can with its front paws and slam it down hoping to knock one of the lids loose. This might frighten you but the truth is that you don’t need to be overly worried about bears during your visit as long as you have a bear can and use it properly.

PLEASE get a bear can if you are going to be backpacking in the King Range/Lost Coast. All overnight visitors are required by law ($150 fine for non compliance) to store all of their food and scented items in a hard-sided bear-proof container approved by the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG). Traveling on the Lost Coast Trail you WILL NOT find a tree to hang food adequately!

We rent out the Garcia bear can here at the BLM Project Office in Whitethorn for $5 for your entire journey. You will need a credit card and a valid drivers license (if you don’t return the bear can you will buy it). We are open Monday-Friday 8-4:30. If your trip ends after our closing hours you can drop your can off in the after hours bear can return box next to our building on the front deck. Keep in mind that our front gate will be closed but you can still walk in. You can also rent from the BLM Field Office in Arcata which has the same hours as the Project office here in Whitethorn: Monday-Friday 8-4:30.
The Petrolia General Store on the northern end of the King Range also rents cans for $5. Their hours are Monday-Saturday 9-5:30 and Sunday from 11-5:00. You will also need a credit card but they take cash only. Their number is 707-629-3455 if you want to verify the hours or have other questions.

The bear can is for protecting the bear from your food as much as it is for protecting your food from the bear. You will notice on top of the Garcia Backpackers’ Cache it says, “Save the bears." So, what does this mean? When a bear starts to eat human food and learns that humans can be associated with an easy meal they will lose their fear of humans, come around campsites more often, and become increasingly aggressive. This is what you would call a “habituated” or “food conditioned” bear and they could eventually need to be put down if the aggression gets out of hand.

When you get your bear can, make sure that ALL of your food and scented items such as toothpaste and sunscreen fit into it. When you leave camp for a day hike and when you go to sleep at night make sure that the lids are closed and secured correctly. The last thing you want is for a bear to break into your food and ruin your trip that you planned so much for. Please, get a can to protect your food and most of all Respect the Wildlife of the King Range. If you find the can a bit heavy and cumbersome, think of all the multiple uses a bear can has: A seat, percussion instrument, cutting board and a water container. If you think of any other creative uses of a bear can let me know, I’d be glad to hear it!

2. There was an out of control campfire this week on the Lost Coast near Spanish Creek.
I was asleep in my tent when I was awoken by one of my coworkers telling me that there was a fire. Adrenaline immediately kicked in as I jumped to my feet, grabbed a bear can and ran to the scene as I had no details of the situation. Seven of us spent the next 3 hours trying to contain the fire that had consumed a driftwood shelter. Our only tool was to dump the equivalent of roughly 150 to 200 bear cans full of water on the blaze (yet another multiple use of the bear can). Thankfully, we were able to contain the fire and stop it from spreading but we were unable to fully extinguish it with out the necessary firefighting tools – Thank you to all those that helped. The next day we called in the professionals to finish the job. How did this happen and what can we learn from this situation?

Heavy winds, dry and dense fuels and fire are a recipe for disaster. We are not currently in fire restrictions in the King Range (we will be soon) but the danger for an out of control situation is ever present. The situation described above started in a driftwood structure that was built by people as a makeshift wind break. The heavy wind blew an ember amongst the jumble of logs and very quickly lit the whole mess into a blaze. The individual responsible for the fire had little to no time to react.

You don’t want this to happen to you so before you have a campfire:

  • Know if we are in any campfire restrictions. This will be posted on our website, at the trailheads, on your permit, and on this blog. You can always call us and ask at 707-986-5400.

  • If campfires are permitted assess the scene and decide if it is safe. Is it windy? Are there dry grasses or piles of driftwood near by? If so, it is a good idea to not have a campfire that night. Please don’t try to make the scene “safe” by destroying vegetation or digging into the ground. This will most likely make the camp unsightly for other visitors.

  • If the scene is safe, be sure to always have someone present to watch over/tend the fire and have plenty of water nearby to extinguish any rogue flames.

  • Keep the fire small by using only dead and down wood no bigger around than your wrist and no longer than the diameter of your fire ring (this doesn’t mean build a huge ring). This will help keep everything contained and manageable.

  • When you are done with the fire put it out using the soak and stir method: Soak with lots of water and stir around the mess to make sure everything is cool to the touch.

  • Sleep peacefully knowing that you didn’t accidentally burn down the Lost Coast.

These may seem like obvious steps but we can always use a reminder. Camp fires can be fun but it only takes one careless moment or poor decision to turn it into a disaster (it snowballs and happens faster than you might think).

Be safe out there
And remember, there were people here before you and there will be people here after you so please help keep the Lost Coast enjoyable for everyone.

Call me if you have any questions at 707-986-5405 or e-mail me at If I don’t answer I may be out on the trail so try our front desk at 707-986-5400.

Your Wilderness Ranger,


Monday, June 6, 2011

Water, water, everywhere

Ocean and creeks shape the landscape

Water is a very powerful force that shapes parts of the Lost Coast all year round. This was especially evident after this weekend’s storm. Creeks swell with water during rainstorms, giving them extra power to shift the sands. Here at Gitchell Creek, when the tide went out, the creek made its own path through the sand to reach the ocean any way possible. The raging creek can blast a new path through the sand or just seep through the sand and come out just below the water line (above).

Be sure to take a tide chart out on the trail with you. I recommend hiking the “impassible during high tide zones” when the tide is a) 3.5 feet or lower and b) on a receding tide (after a high tide has passed). To approximate the height of a current tide some math is needed but stay with me. First, find out how many hours are between the low and high tide, or vice versa, then subtract the height of the high tide from the low tide. Take those two numbers and divide difference in feet by difference in hours. That gives you the amount of change in the tide height per hour. For example: If a low tide of 0 feet is at noon and it will be high tide at 6 P.M. up to 6 feet, that’s 6 feet divided 6 hours then you can estimate that the tide level will increase one foot every hour until it is 6 PM. Another factor that contributes to high water level, and no beach to hike on, is swell. You can check wave height at the NOAA’s National Weather Service website: and click on the region around Cape Mendocino.

Plan ahead and take care of yourselfs,

Backcountry Ranger Brianna