Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter in the King Range

Expect and prepare to be wet and cold.

Leave No Trace principle #1 is to Plan Ahead and Prepare:

“Poor planning often results in miserable campers and damage to natural and cultural resources. Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who, because of poor planning and unexpected conditions, degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk.”

Watch the weather closely for the days and weeks leading up to your trip. We can receive 100+ inches of rain in the King Range during the winter months. I recommend having full waterproof/breathable rain gear for upper and lower body and several pairs of socks. Practice setting up your tent so you can do it quickly in the rain (easier with more than one person). The problem I’ve found with a traditional style tent is that you first set up the tent body while it fills with rain and then put your rain fly on last – welcome to your new wet home. You may be able to develop a system to avoid this problem but after much time spent camping in the rain on the Lost Coast I have discovered that I prefer a floorless shelter system. This allows me to avoid the problem stated above as the floor of the tent (I use a small, light tarp) is set up last so that it stays dry. You'll want to keep your wet rainfly/tent seperate from the rest of your gear. I recommend bringing heavy duty trash bags for your wet and dry gear. A pack cover is also a good idea (you can modify a trash bag for that too).

With heavy rains the creeks in the King Range can rise rapidly and there is the possibility that they will be impassable within a day or several hours of an intense down pour. However, streams may recede to a safe crossing level within a day or several hours after it has stopped raining. Of course, this depends on how long and heavy it has been raining for. Have a backup plan to turn back, wait it out, or take an upland trail (which will add considerable mileage and time to your trip).

General rule of thumb says not to attempt a creek crossing if it is deeper than your knees. It’s usually easier to cross at a wide spot, where the creek tends to be shallower, rather than where it is narrow and deeper. On the Lost Coast, at low tide, this means that it is often (but not always) easier to find a place to cross closer to the ocean where the creeks tend to widen. However, the closer you go towards the ocean the more you need to keep a close eye on wave behavior. Large waves with high energy can race far up the beach without warning. Unsuspecting hikers can be washed out to sea in an instant from these occurrences. Watch this short video I took about 45 minutes after low tide at Black Sands Beach last winter.

Follow these links for information on tides, local weather conditions and local coastal waters forecast.

Also, there are very neat and informative graphical models of percipitation:

Know that there 4 “impassable during high tide” sections on the trail:

1. Punta Gorda (I personally have not had trouble passing this spot unless it is a very high tide and/or swell)
2. Sea Lion Gulch to Randall Creek
3. Miller Flat to about one mile south of Buck Creek

4. South of Shelter Cove is Point No Pass. This is impassable at ALL tide levels. Do Not Attempt. If you plan to hike from Shelter Cove to the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park catch the Lost Coast Trail at Hidden Valley. The trailhead is on Chemise Mountain Road, off of Shelter Cove Road.

How high of a tide is too high to pass? It’s difficult to say exactly but, all other factors aside, somewhere between 3.5 to 4.5 feet. Watch the ocean condition predictions, especially during the winter months, because large waves can impede and make travel potentially dangerous - even during low tides.

Also, know that during high tide you can be camped at the major creeks (named on the map) that are in the middle of the “impassable at high tide” zones because the creek mouths give you plenty of space to move up off the beach.

With all of this, even though we still have warm weather predicted for the next week or so, you should be prepared for wet and cold conditions and have a backup plan.

As of now the creeks and trails are still very much passable since we have had very little rain. But, keep an eye on the weather and as conditions change I will post updated information on this blog. You can also call our office at 707-986-5400, which is open M-F 8:00-4:30.

There are still nice days in winter if you can plan between storms! Photo by Cornelius Graubner.

Drop me a line if you have any questions

Your Wilderness Ranger,


1 comment:

  1. I love that last photo and the information. I added you to my blog reader. Also I sent you the info on who to contact about the No Pass Point rescue.