Friday, November 30, 2012

Winter Conditions: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

Are you prepared for deep stream crossings, heavy rains, gale force winds, and hazardous sea conditions?

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.”

Before you go know:

1. The streams in the King Range can rise rapidly following heavy and persistent rains. 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. It is not advised to attempt a stream crossing that is deeper than knee height. If this is the case you may need to wait for the stream to subside to a safer level or turn around and go back. 

                                         Shipman Creek, Winter 2012

I am occasionally asked if one can take an overland route around the creeks if they are too high to cross. In theory this is possible. Yet, to get up high enough to actually find a place to avoid the stream crossing would add considerable time and energy to your trip. Are you prepared for an extra day or two of hiking? This isn’t a quick fix and most likely this is not something you would want to attempt.

2. Large waves with high energy can race far up the beach – sometimes without warning. This can make the sections of trail that are “impassable at high tide” (check a BLM King Range map) increasingly difficult to pass. It is tough to say exactly that at a sea condition of X and a tide level of X the trail becomes impassable.

However, expect that if there are hazardous sea conditions reported you will want to pass these sections of trail at the lowest tide possible and they will become increasingly hazardous. Also, sections of trail that are not marked as “impassable at high tide” can also be hazardous. The picture below is Telegraph Creek meeting a surge of ocean water at Black Sands Beach (not marked as impassable at high tide). Use your best judgment. Pay attention. 

Possible Situations: 

I’ve either witnessed or heard of all of the below scenarios happening to people.

1. You’re hiking along the Lost Coast Trail in light rains and the streams are high but still passable. On Day one of your hike heavy rains set in and persist through the night. On day two you realize that you’re unable to go north or south because the creeks are impassable. This adds an extra day to your journey that you didn’t plan for as you wait for the streams to lower. 
2. The creek is pretty high but you decide to attempt the crossing. Half way across you slip and are soaked head to toe – along with most of your gear.
3. A wave with intense energy races much farther up the beach than you expect and you jump up onto a small rock ledge at the last moment and cling on to whatever you can grab. The wave hits and knocks your feet off the rock but you’re still holding on. You’re now soaked and have a badly bruised knee.
4. You’re crossing a creek when a large wave surges up the beach and into the creek - You’re knocked down and get tumbled around between the two forces of water.  
5. Gale force gusts of wind wreck your tent leaving you out in the rain and forcing you to hike out in the night wet and miserable – if the tides permit.

With all this being said, you may have a great and wonderful trip and you may find exceptionally nice weather between winter storms. But, this is a rugged and wild place and you should prepare accordingly.

Plan to get yourself out of the situations you put yourself into.

I know what the conditions may have been yesterday or a week ago – but things change, sometimes quickly and drastically for better or worse. You’ll need to use your best judgment based on the conditions and the skills/abilities of your group. Look up, look around, pay attention, study the waves and the behavior of the ocean.

Use the following links to help plan your trip:

14 day precipitation forecast – one of my favorites but changes often so check back frequently leading up to your trip. Tip: let the model run all the way through then you can stop it and click through step by step. Look up at the top for the date and hour.

Give me a call or send me an e-mail if you have any questions. 


Your Wilderness Ranger, 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Summer Wrap

We had another great summer here in the King Range National Conservation Area with over 4,800 visitors this year – the majority of which travel on the Lost Coast Trail for at least a portion of their trip. It’s been a while since I’ve posted and there are a few things to update you about:

1. Fire Restrictions
2. LNT – specifically, Dispose of Waste Properly
3. Bears

With the onset of the rainy season we are no longer in campfire restrictions. Burn as you will but if you decide to have a campfire please help maintain clean campfire rings and fire safety. 

Use existing fire rings when possible and keep your campfire small. Building large fire rings encourages the burning of larger pieces of wood and this tends to break down the ring and spread ash outside it's perimeter. This leads to an eye sore for other visitors and encourages them to build another fire ring - multiplying the impacts.

Please pack out your trash and do not burn it 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 (e.g. orange peels, egg shells). 

Be sure to always have someone present to watch over/tend the fire and have plenty of water nearby to extinguish any rogue flames. To extinguish your campfire soak it with plenty of water and stir. Smothering with sand doesn’t put the fire out completely and when the wind picks up it blows the sand off leaving a potentially hazardous situation. Also, this fills the ring with sand which in time makes the ring undesirable/unusable and encourages others to build new campfire rings – spreading the impact (see picture above). 

With all that being said let the smell of the campfire saturate into your jackets this winter. 

To switch gears a bit, what kind of waste do you produce in the backcountry? To name a few, human waste, food scraps from cooking and wrappers and other garbage associated with food items. The picture below is the average amount of trash that I pick up along the Lost Coast Trail as well as in and around campsites/fire rings. Is this really necessary? 

After I stop for a snack I walk a few feet and look back where I was just sitting to make sure I didn’t forget anything – including small pieces of trash. This is a good method to help forgetful people (myself included). Unfortunately, there’s a high percentage of trash that I can tell is left behind intentionally – often stuffed in a campfire ring or scattered around a campsite. I fail to understand how one would visit such a beautiful place as the King Range and leave their trash here for others to “enjoy.”  One may think, “hey, this can burn, I’ll just leave it here for the next person.” But, you’re not doing anyone any favors leaving your trash behind, really. This becomes an unsightly mess for the next person. The best we can do is to leave an area as pristine as possible. Or, as I learned as a Tiger Scout: Leave a campsite better than how you found it.

Another kind of waste is toothpaste. I’ve seen several different methods to dispose of this after brushing. Some like to take a mouth full of water, swish it around a bit then blow it out in a wide spray/spit to disperse it. I’m not the biggest fan of this method. When I’m out on the Lost Coast Trail I spit my toothpaste into the ocean. Not into the creek that will soon go into the ocean, but directly on the sand where the waves are breaking.

In fact, I also go down to the ocean to wash my dishes. I will get some water from the creek, grab a handful of sand and walk at least 15-30 feet away while I scour my cook wear with the sand. I’ll then dig a small hole in the wet sand and bury the waste or toss it directly into the crashing waves. I always plan my meals carefully to minimize food waste as much as possible. If there’s a good portion of food left that I can’t eat I will pack it out (plastic bags and back into the bear canister).

What about human waste? 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.

I was talking to these nice campers one night this summer then noticed the toilet paper and waste behind them. They apparently set up camp and started cooking before they noticed the mess - I promptly cleaned it up as I pondered to myself how someone could leave a mess like this for their fellow backpackers.

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! Every so often I find that people bury their turds but then leave their toilet paper on top of the soil and then put a rock on top. Please completely bury your toilet paper or pack it out. There’s no need to leave it sticking out from under a rock like a little flag. Is this some kind of a warning? I’m not sure. 

Now, about the bears. 

The bears in the King Range are active all winter and they DO come down to the beach – OFTEN! You must have an approved hard-sided bear canister (see below) to store all food and scented items. This includes canned food, dehydrated food, dog food, sunscreen, toothpaste, deodorant, soaps, all trash associated with such items, etc. This picture below is a bottle of sunscreen I found this summer – obviously ravaged by a curious bear. 

Please use a bear canister for the health and safety of the bears and other wildlife (such as raccoons, which can be very aggressive).

Approved Bear Canisters:

Backpacker Model 812 (Garcia) 

BearVault 110b, 200, 250, 300, 350, 400, 450, and 500 

Bearikade Weekender MKII (1766 and higher) and Expedition MKII (1766 and higher) 

The Bear Keg (Counter Assault) 

You will NOT find a sufficient tree to hang your food from on the Lost Coast Trail. 

If you do not have a bear canister you will receive a fine.

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

You can also rent from the BLM Field Office in Arcata: Monday-Friday 7:45-4:30.

You can also rent from:

Shelter Cove General Store
7272 Shelter Cove Rd. Whitethorn

Petrolia General Store

HSU Center Activities

REI stores

Check out for additional information about black bears and the use of bear canisters.

I know that you know this is a special place – please treat it as such.

I recently went to Olympic National Park to check out the coastal trail, which was beautiful. At the trailhead I came across this sign which I really liked the message of. 

You can apply the same basic message for the Lost Coast and every public land you visit. 

Give me a call or send me an e-mail if you have any questions about the King Range NCA or any backpacking or Leave No Trace questions. 

Your Wilderness Ranger, 
Paul Sever