Monday, July 9, 2012

10 Things I've Learned as a Seasonal Wilderness Ranger

Hello fellow hikers and explorers of the King Range! In case we haven't met yet, I'm Jamie - the seasonal Wilderness Ranger for the summer. So far I've been lucky enough to meet up with over 300 visitors and it's been such a pleasure to hear all of your questions, comments, and stories.

During my time in the King Range I've started to notice some patterns. Certain questions that keep popping up and events that tend to reoccur. So my intention for this post was to address some of those issues and questions. While I could provide you with an endless list of things I've learned this season, I've decided to narrow it down to 10 (for now!)

#10 - Pooping Confuses People
Do you ever find yourself in the King Range wondering where to go to the bathroom? I know I do... And so do about 5,000 other visitors each year. The simplest way to answer that question is "Bury it, bury it, bury it!" No matter what trail you're on, always bury it! On the Lost Coast Trail, we ask that you use the intertidal zone (the sand below the high tide line). In the upland trails, please be sure to do your business at least 70 steps away from any fresh water source or trail. Please remember: covering it with a rock doesn't count! Always dig a 6-8 inch hole and cover when you're done. 

#9 - King Range Sunsets Are Better Than Any Book
Sunset at Cooskie Creek

Most visitors that I talk to bring some sort of entertainment with them - books, cards, portable chess boards, and the like. While those are great when you're waiting out the tides, or settling in for the night, in my opinion they should always go away at the same time every night... Sunset! Sunset (along with sunrise) is my favorite time of day in the wilderness. I've been lucky enough to watch the sunset with quite a few visitors and they all seem to only have one word to describe it, "Amazing".

Sunset at Big Flat Creek

When you're backpacking it's easy to get set on a goal (like, reach Big Flat before high tide) and get caught up in hiking. Sitting out on the beach at sunset is a great way to wrap up any busy day in the King Range. The quite nature of night setting in really gives you the true feeling of being in the wilderness.


Tin foil from a fire pit near Buck Creek
#8 - Some Things Just Don't Burn! 
It's dinner time and you're SO excited for the meal you've been dreaming of all day... And all it needs is to be wrapped up in some tin foil and thrown in the fire before it's ready! After devouring your tasty treat, what do you do with the tin foil? Just burn it, right? Wrong! Tin foil is the #1 piece of trash that I find in the King Range fire pits. Broken glass is also a frequent find - so when you're out and about (and when fire restrictions aren't in place) please be conscious of what you're burning and always pack out your trash! 

Bear print near Shipman Creek
#7 - Are You Hungry? The Critters Are Too!
If you've spoken to a ranger lately (or if you've read the blog post below) you know that the bears in the King Range are out and active this time of year. But there are also a whole slew of other animals out there that would love to eat your food!

The pesky pelican in Cooskie Creek
While the required canisters are great for keeping the bears away, they also help deter raccoons, brown pelicans, and any other animal looking for a free feast. Recently a pelican tried to ambush me and chase me away from my bear can during lunch! Please remember to close your bear can whenever you're not using it and store all scented items in it at night. Help keep the King Range wildlife wild! 

My first tick of the season - a female American dog tick
#6 - Poison-Oak Doesn't Move, But Ticks Do
People often worry about poison-oak in the King Range, and they do for a good reason - it's everywhere! The one good thing about poison-oak is that it doesn't crawl up your pants or into your tent at night. Ticks, however, will do just that! Always check yourself for ticks during and after hikes in the grassy parts of the King Range. It's not uncommon for me to find one or multiple ticks on me throughout the day, especially when I'm hiking in between the Lighthouse and Big Flat (lots of dry grass in those areas.)

For more information, please see the post below, entitled "Spring: Season of the Tick" (or click here).

A self-timer photo near Sea Lion Gulch 

#5 - Time Alone in the Wilderness is Invaluable 
Many visitors I encounter are surprised (some are even shocked) to see a female ranger hiking solo in the wilderness. While I admit that spending time alone outdoors isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, I would highly recommend that all adventurous people give it a try at least once. I see quite a few solo backpackers (men and women) and we all seem to agree that it's a very positive experience. If you ever have questions about backpacking solo in the King Range feel free to ask when you see me on the trail!

#4 - We Want to Keep the Lost Coast "Lost"
People often ask me why I dismantle driftwood shelters, and my answer is simple. Last time I checked most people come to the wilderness to get a break from "the world" - whether it's work, school, the in-laws, or a number of other things. We come to the Lost Coast because of its alluring reputation - one of the last sections of undeveloped coastline in the lower 48. Even its name screams "Wilderness!" 
So hopefully following that train of thought you can see why I get rid of these structures - how can you ever feel like you're at the Lost Coast if someone else clearly found it before you, AND set up a home while they were at it? If you must build a shelter to escape from the wind, please dismantle it before you leave and return the wood and other items to their original locations.  

An intern proudly displaying a map of the LCT
after she hiked all 24.6 miles with me.

#3 - Everyone Has a Part in Keeping the King Range Beautiful 
Every time I see a visitor packing out garbage, I can't help but give them a high-five! Unfortunately, picking up trash takes up quite a bit of my days in the wilderness, so I'm always excited to see that people are helping keep our wilderness clean by packing out their own garbage and then some. The intern you see in this photo helped me pack out three bags of trash this weekend, most of which had washed up on the beach.  

Do your part by packing out all of your trash, and pick up some extra if you can! And don't hesitate to ask the ranger for a trash bag - we always have extra on hand.

Please let me know when I see you on the trail if you're packing out some garbage so I can give you the high-five you deserve!

An area in the "impassible zone" near high tide
#2 - Planning Ahead Pays Off
How many times have you been angry with yourself for planning a trip too well? Probably not very many. Just as you would for any other trip, you should always plan ahead before visiting the King Range. That means paying particular attention to a few things before you arrive, including:

- Weather. Is it going to be sunny? If it is, you should be sure to have the right clothing and sun protection. You might also want to prepare for wind, since sunny days and windy days seem to go hand in hand here. Summer also brings fog and occasional rain. 

Another important thing to look at are the tides! If you've already had the chance to look at a map of the Lost Coast Trail, you know that there are certain sections of the coast that are impassible during high tide. Always check the tides in advance so you know when you can hike and when you're going to want to break out that deck of cards. Free tide books are available at the BLM office in Whitethorn, and rangers usually have a few extras on the trail.

#1 - Seasonal Rangers Come and Go, But We All Want the Same Thing

A lot of people ask what my job entails, and frankly that's a hard question to answer! Of course there is the usual stuff - checking permits, burying poop, and cleaning fire rings. But isn't there something else in there, more important than shoveling turds?

Well to me, the job title of "Wilderness Ranger" fundamentally implies two things - that I am here to protect both the wilderness and the visitors. And that first one (protecting the wilderness) is something that people often forget about. It's important to remember that the King Range isn't just a campground, so we shouldn't treat it like one. 

It's easy to do: pack out your garbage, and camp out of sight if you can. Keep the noise down and enjoy the view.
Let the Lost Coast be the Lost Coast.

Your Seasonal Wilderness Ranger,

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." 
- John Muir

Active Bears and Current Fire Restrictions

BREAKING NEWS: The bears in the King Range are active and hungry. This past week we have had numerous bear incidences involving food.

In one case it was reported that a bear came into a camp while the occupants were awake and was able to obtain some amount of food because the canisters were not fully secured. In another case this past week a camper put his canister inside of his backpack and hung it in a tree – the backpack was damaged in the bears attempt to reach the food. It’s safe to store your items just inside of your backpack while you are actively using them – during the day as you are traveling. However, when you reach camp or are away from your items for any amount of time you need to securely store them in your canister.

Today I’m talking with a fellow hiker, Mike, who has some questions and comments regarding bears and proper food storage here in the King Range.

What kind of items need to be stored in the canister? A bear can’t smell my freeze dried food, right?

You need to store all of your food and scented items in the bear canister. This includes cans and freeze dried foods as well as your toiletries such as toothpaste and sunscreen. Your trash still carries scent so put that back in the can too (the cans we rent come with a small trash bag). Hanging your food is not an option in the King Range and on the Lost Coast Trail.

Bears have an extremely heightened sense of smell. According to the American Black Bear Association:

There is perhaps no other animal with a keener sense of smell. Bears rely on their sense of smell to locate mates, detect and avoid danger in the form of other bears and humans, identify cubs, and FIND FOOD. Although the region of the brain devoted to the sense of smell is average in size, the area of nasal mucous membrane in a bear's head is one hundred times larger than in a human's. This gives a bear a sense of smell that is 7 times greater than a bloodhound's.

I mean, I don’t mind if I lose some food to a bear. Besides, I can just cut my trip early…

The bear can is for protecting the bear from your food not for protecting your food from the bear. 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.


Let me rephrase that,


Where can I get a bear can?

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. If your trip ends after our closing hours you can drop your can off in the afterhours bear can return box next to our building. 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.

You can also rent from:

Shelter Cove General Store
7272 Shelter Cove Rd. Whitethorn

Petrolia General Store

HSU Center Activities

Additionally, we will be going into full campfire restrictions in the King Range starting July 1st. The news release reads:

Effective July 1, the Bureau of Land Management is implementing fire restrictions for lands managed by the Arcata Field Office in Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Mendocino counties.  The restrictions will remain in effect until further notice.
                Field Office Manager Lynda Roush said the restrictions are needed because of dry fuels and increasing fire danger in the North Coast region.  She said wildfires under these conditions can pose threats to public land visitors, natural resources and adjacent private lands and communities.
                Under the restrictions, all campfires and barbecues are prohibited except in specifically posted campgrounds and recreation sites.  Portable stoves and lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel are allowed outside of posted recreation sites, with a valid California campfire permit.  The public is asked to be extremely careful with their use and to carry a shovel and water at all times.

So, please refrain from having a campfire in the King Range due to the extremely dry conditions. Also, please be very careful with your portable stoves. Last year we had over 400 acres burn near Spanish Flat due to a portable stove catching the grass on fire.