Thursday, March 8, 2012

Plan To Visit The Lost Coast This Spring Break?

A few things to know and FAQ:

1. Although this winter is quite dry, are we likely to get soaked all week at the end of March? What is the weather like?

Being on the coast the weather can change rapidly. It’s not uncommon for it to go from clear and sunny to windy and rainy in a matter of hours. Be prepared for any and all types of weather conditions. I suggest checking the 14 day precipitation outlook several times leading up to your planned trip dates to get an idea of what may be coming our way.

The picture above is a clip for March 14 from the 14 day precipitation model from NOAA. As of now it is forecasted to be rainy all next week. This is unfortunate for you first wave of spring breakers but keep checking the forecast because you never know - something may change. This brings us to our second FAQ:

2. I heard that streams can become impassable in the spring months, what should I expect?

As of this moment, the streams are very much passable since we have had very little rain this year. However, if these new weather systems move through and dump several inches over the next few weeks you should be ready for difficult stream crossings. 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, this also means that 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. You’ll need to assess your own skills/level of confidence and that of your group when it comes to deep and swift moving creeks.

3. There are sections of trail that are impassible at high tide, right?

That's correct. 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.

Click here for a tide chart.

3. Is there a permit process? Why?

Currently, we have free self-service permits that you can pick up at any of the trailheads or at our office in Whitethorn (768 Shelter Cove Road). Please take a few moments before your trip to fill one out AND read it over front to back with ALL members of your party. The backcountry permit serves multiple purposes. On one hand, it is a way for us to keep records of how many people are out there recreating so we can better manage the King Range. It is also a tool to locate lost/missing hikers. For example, if we notice a vehicle has been sitting at a trailhead for an unusual amount of time we can try to find a permit with a matching licensed plate number. Based on what they indicated on their permit we can determine how many people are in their group, where they planned to go, and when they planned to come out of the backcountry (this information also helps to calm worried family members who occasionally call our office – it’s a good practice to tell someone where you’re going and the details of your plans).

For the King Range, this backcountry permit also serves as your campfire permit. When you sign the permit you,

“…agree to follow the guidelines for overnight camping in the King Range backcountry, especially regarding the use of bear-proof canisters, backcountry sanitation, and the use of fire.”

The permit serves as a way to get essential information to you and to ultimately reduce impacts to the fragile backcountry environment. Which brings us to our next topic:

4. I heard there are bears in the King Range. Can I hang my food or do I need a bear canister?

Bears are very real here in the King Range. People are often surprised that bears will come all the way down to the beach. But indeed, just about every morning I’m out on the trail I see bear tracks in the sand.

All overnight visitors must store all of their food, toiletries and scented items (Including trash!) in a hard-sided bear-proof container approved by the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG). Hanging your food is not an option in the King Range and on the Lost Coast Trail. You may be experienced with hanging food but there is a serious lack of sufficient trees on the LCT. Requirements for hanging food vary from place to place but generally 10’ high and 4’ from the base of the tree would be sufficient. You are not going to be able to achieve this on the LCT.

The bear can is to protect the bears from your food and the extra bonus is that you also protect your food from the bears. You will notice on top of the Garcia Backpackers’ Cache it says, “Save the bears” (it does not say, “Save your food”). 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.

We are really lucky here at the King Range that we don’t have any habituated bears. In large part because we initiated the bear can requirement early enough and people have been abiding by the regulation.

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 drivers licensed (if you don’t return the bear can you will buy it). We are open Monday-Friday 8-4:30.

Other places to rent cans (call for availability, hours and prices):

BLM Arcata Field Office
1695 Heindon Rd. Arcata

Shelter Cove General Store
7272 Shelter Cove Rd. Whitethorn

HSU Center Activities

Petrolia General Store

REI also rents bear cans but the pricing varies from store to store so I won’t list it here. They did tell me that it is substantially less expensive for members, however.

Lastly, there is one other animal that the bear can is good for: the raccoon. These little animals are a nuisance as far as your food is concerned. They are very active and will literately tear apart your backpack to get to your food. Do yourself a favor and help protect the animals in the king range by getting a bear can.

5. Can I have a camp fire this time of year?

Campfires are permitted right now. We ask that you use existing fire rings and keep the fire small by using only small pieces of wood no bigger in diameter than the size of your wrist. This helps contain the fire in the ring, helps to keep the campsites clean and reduces fire danger. Larger pieces of wood tend to spread ash outside of the ring and breaks down its perimeter. In turn, this leads to an eye sore for other visitors and encourages them to build another fire ring - multiplying the impacts.Please put your fire out with plenty of water with the soak and stir method. It should be cool to the touch by the time you’re done.

I haven't taken much pictures of campfire rings in perfect condition but we would like to avoid campfire rings that are in the conditions below:

6. I heard there was a unique method of human waste disposal on the LCT, what is that?

When you need to dispose of solid human waste on the LCT dig a hole 6-8 inches deep in the wet sand below the high tide line (or as close to the wet sand as safely possible), make your deposit, and then cover the hole with sand.

There are 4 goals with human waste disposal in the backcountry:

1. Minimize contact with water sources

2. Minimize contact with insects and wildlife

3. Minimize social impacts. This is the disgusting factor when you see a pile of waste right next to where you are camping.

4. Maximize decomposition (when we bury it 6-8 inches it maximizes decomposition by mixing with the soil and microbiological organisms. Putting a 6-8 inch rock on top of it is not burying it).

The steep and rocky cliffs along the trail and at the major drainages/camping areas make finding a place to go 200 feet away from campsites, trails, and drinking water sources (standard Leave No Trace practice) nearly impossible – therefore, we have found that the ocean is the most ideal place to dispose of human waste. If for some reason you absolutely can’t go down to the beach to take care of business PLEASE go at least 200 feet from campsites, trails, and drinking water sources and BURY your waste!

Lastly, to wrap up, please pack out your trash and do not burn trash in your campfire unless it can be completely burned in one sitting and you plan to do so. Examples of things that often do not burn completely in one sitting: Anything lined in foil (e.g. Mountain House packaging), metal cans, plastics, and food scraps.

Trash I pulled out of a campfire ring

I encourage you to visit the Leave-No-Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics website become familiar with their 7 principles.

There are many people that come to enjoy the King Range and the Lost Coast. Help keep the Lost Coast clean and enjoyable for your future visits and for everyone that comes to enjoy this special landscape.

Send me a message or give me a call if you have any questions

Your Wilderness Ranger,



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