Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spring Break on the Lost Coast: What to Know

Spring break will soon be upon us and if you’re reading this you may be thinking about visiting the King Range for your break. I’m here with fellow backpackers Sam and Rudolph who are hounding me with questions that you will also find useful.

1. What’s the weather usually like this time of year?

Well, March of 2012 was very wet but it looks like things may be a bit on the dryer side this year. Continue to check the local forecast and be prepared for any kind of weather conditions as events can change frequently and rapidly here on the coast.

Above is a snapshot of the 14 day precipitation model on March 11.

Also, the creeks are quite low and easily passible as of this moment. Expect that if current conditions (low rainfall) continue that these conditions will persist –unless/until we get seriously dumped on.  

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

That's correct. You need to have a map, a tide chart and know where the  4 “impassable during high tide” sections of trail are. Pass through these areas at low tide. It is a good idea to start passing through 1-3 hours before the time that low tide is indicated on the chart as this is the low point and the tide will start to come back up after this.

Above, a backpacker times the waves and attempts to pass arond a rocky cliff.

The impassable at high tide sections of trail are:

Punta Gorda 

Sea Lion Gulch to Randall Creek

Miller Flat to about one mile south of Buck Creek

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.

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.

3. Do I need to get some kind of a permit? What is this for?

Yes.  The permit serves multiple purposes. It serves as a way to get essential information to you and to ultimately reduce impacts to the wilderness environment. 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.”

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.

4. Are there bears in the King Range? Do I need a bear canister to store food and scented items?

Yes and yes. The number ONE thing you can do to respect wildlife in the King Range is to have a bear canister and to use it properly. 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.

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.

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). 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 (same hours and prices as the Whitethorn 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 are two other critters that the bear can is good for: the raccoon and the mouse. These little animals are a nuisance as far as your food is concerned. They are very active and also want your food.

Do yourself a favor AND help protect the animals in the king range by getting a bear can.

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

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 (while on the coastal trail).

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. On all other inland trails please go about 70 paces (200’) from campsites, trails, and water sources to help protect the streams we get our water from and to keep the campsites sanitary. AND Nobody wants to camp next to your turd. C’mon.

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).

What about the TP?

Good question. You can go ahead and toss that into the hole with the waste. But, if you want to be a true LNT guru you can bring a good solid plastic bag and pack it out. Some folks that do this line the outside of the bag with duct tape to help reinforcement and for visual purposes.

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

Campfires are permitted right now (March) We ask that you use existing fire rings and keep the fire small by using only small pieces of wood that you can break by hand. 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.

A campfire ring in a state of dissaray - lets do our best to avoid this

Also, please pack out your trash. This is general knowledge and backcountry etiquette but am surprised about the amount of trash I sometimes find and pack out of the wilderness.

FYI, glass, cans and foil don’t burn.  

6. Hey, Paul do you think it’s cool if I blast out the good vibes with my handheld radio?

Keep in mind that many folks that come out here would like to experience the sights and sounds of nature, not whatever music you may be listening to. So, maybe not “blast” but if you want to listen to music I encourage you to keep it low and/or use headphones to respect other visitors.

Well, I think that just about covers it unless you two have any other questions?

Actually, yeah, I’m curious what do you eat when you’re out on the trail?

Hmm. Ok. Well, I’ve been really into burritos lately. I get dehydrated black and pinto bean flakes from the bulk bins at the grocery store, cook those up and toss ‘em on a large tortilla with cheese and avocado (pack out remains) and hot sauce. This really hits the spot.
For breakfast I usually have oatmeal or granola and two hardboiled eggs (I prep the eggs before my trip). Lunch usually consists of a variety of nuts, dried fruit and beef jerky. Maybe some cheese and an energy bar of some sort.

Ok, well you guys have a good time out there. You should definitely check out the Leave No Trace web page before you’re trip.

Give me a call if you have any questions
Your Wilderness Ranger,





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