Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waste in the Wilderness

One of the things I enjoy about the wilderness experience is that it causes us to think and reflect about things that we take for granted. When we are at home in the urban setting our waste seemingly disappears:

Go to the bathroom, flush the toilet and your worries are gone.

Just remember to take your trash to the curb once a week and everyone is happy.

But, in the wilderness our waste becomes something that we must take more of a conscious effort to dispose of because, of course, there is no sewer system or a trash service. In fact, the Wilderness Act defines a wilderness, in part, as a place that is undeveloped and is to be preserved as a place that is free from the work of mankind.

Lately, I’ve been noticing an issue with human waste disposal. That is to say, I’ve been finding exposed human and dog turds near campsites, creeks and trails. This is extremely disgusting, has the potential to be a public health issue and is completely unnecessary.

For example, the picture below is where I found an exposed turd the other week. Notice it’s proximity to the camping areas and creek? This is NOT acceptable.

Or check out these turds – on the trail:

The 4 goals with human waste disposal in the backcountry where there are no toilets available (i.e. all of the King Range wilderness) are:

1. Maximize decomposition

2. Minimize contact with animals/insects

3. Eliminate contact with drinking water sources

4. Minimize social impacts

So, how do we accomplish these goals?

BURY YOUR WASTE at least 200 feet (70 paces) from campsites, trails, and drinking water sources (creeks, lakes, etc).

However, when you are on the Lost Coast Trail in the King Range NCA you will not find a place to accomplish this on about 90% + of the trail because of the steep terrain that hugs the coast: 

For this reason we ask that you dispose of your solid human waste in the wet sand near the ocean (intertidal zone) or as close to the wet sand as you can safely get. Dig a hole at least 6-8 inches, make your deposit, and cover it up. (The ocean is not a drinking water source). 

Upon the next high tide your waste will be obliterated. Problem solved.

Now, many folks may be a bit bashful about squatting “out in the open” on the beach. But, in my years of doing just that I have found that privacy has not been an issue. If I’m camped near a creek all I need is a few minutes to walk north or south on the beach to find a corner I can go around and usually a rock, log, or a dip in the sand to crouch behind.

You can put your toilet paper in the hole too but if you can manage to pack it out then that is even better. ALL feminine hygiene products (e.g. tampons, etc.) must ALWAYS be packed out.

Wherever you are – on the coast or inland – you must dig a hole for your waste. Putting a rock on top is not burying it! Think about it this way: you should feel comfortable sitting on top of where you just made your deposit – it should be that well buried. Also, there is no need to leave toilet paper exposed (I’m not sure what the reasoning with this trend is). If it’s a warning you’d be much better off just BURYING your waste – all of it. No warning required.

Please keep in mind that you are not the only person visiting these remote areas. In fact, on the Lost Coast Trail, there will be people camping at many of the established sites nearly every night throughout the summer.

So please, respect the wilderness and respect everyone else that will be visiting after you.

There were people here before you and there will be people here after you.

If you have any questions send me an e-mail or give me a call:


Your Wilderness Ranger,

Paul Sever

Northern California Marine Protected Areas

There are two Marine Protected Areas off of the King Range that you should know about:

1. Sea Lion Gulch State Marine Preserve

Permitted/Prohibited Uses: Take of all living marine resources is prohibited.

Boundary: This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed except where noted:

40° 14.400' N. lat. 124° 19.983' W. long.;
40° 14.400' N. lat. 124° 25.943' W. long.; thence southward along the three nautical mile offshore boundary to
40° 12.800' N. lat. 124° 24.809' W. long.; and
40° 12.800' N. lat. 124° 18.155' W. long.
2. Big Flat State Marine Conservation Area
Permitted/Prohibited Uses: Take of all living marine resources is prohibited except:
  1. The recreational take of salmon by trolling; and Dungeness crab by trap, hoop net or hand is allowed.
  2. The commercial take of salmon with troll fishing gear; and Dungeness crab by trap is allowed.
  3. The following federally recognized tribes (listed alphabetically) are exempt from the area and take regulations for Big Flat State Marine Conservation Area (subsection 632(b)(15)) and shall comply with all other existing regulations and statutes:
    • Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria
    • Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians of the Big Valley Rancheria
    • Cahto Indian Tribe of the Laytonville Rancheria
    • Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians
    • Elem Indian Colony of Pomo Indians of the Sulphur Bank Rancheria
    • Guidiville Rancheria
    • Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake
    • Hopland Band of Pomo Indians of the Hopland Rancheria
    • Lower Lake Rancheria
    • Manchester Band of Pomo Indians of the Manchester-Point Arena Rancheria
    • Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians
    • Pinoleville Pomo Nation
    • Potter Valley Tribe
    • Redwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians
    • Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians
    • Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Reservation
    • Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians
    • Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians
Boundary: This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed except where noted:

40° 09.400' N. lat. 124° 12.671' W. long.;
40° 09.400' N. lat. 124° 19.366' W. long.; thence southward along the three nautical mile offshore boundary to
40° 07.500' N. lat. 124° 16.203' W. long.; and
40° 07.500' N. lat. 124° 10.313' W. long.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Campfire Restrictions in the King Range

As of Wednesday, June 11, due to dry fuels and increasing fire danger in the North Coast region, the King Range National Conservation Area has implemented campfire restrictions.

The conditions in the King Range are not conducive for campfires during the summer.
That is, it is very DRY and often very windy.
Even if it’s foggy the vegetation is still very dry. Also, conditions change frequently and rapidly here on the coast. I very often see the weather change from calm and foggy to hot and windy in an hour or less.

Under the restrictions, all campfires and charcoal barbecues are prohibited except in specifically posted campgrounds and recreation sites. In other words, in the King Range, campfires are only allowed in designated campfire rings at our developed recreation sites/campgrounds: Mattole, Tolkan, Honeydew, Nadelos, and Wailaki campgrounds (these are sites that you drive to).

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. In the King Range, the Wilderness Permit that you are required to obtain and sign serves this purpose.

Please be extremely careful with the use of portable camp stoves, especially stoves that require priming.

There have been numerous fires in the past several years due to camp stoves, usually in the priming stage. Anytime you use a stove be sure it is in a safe location away from dry fuels. In the instructions for the Whisperlite stove Mountain Safety Research says to, “keep combustibles 4 feet away from all sides.” MORE than 4 feet would be a VERY good idea, especially in the extremely dry and windy conditions of the Lost Coast.

The North Coast Journal published an article on February of 2013 by a backpacker who accidentally started a fire on the Lost Coast. The article is well written, eye-opening and very educational. Here is an excerpt:

“Right then, a gust of wind hit, and this ball of flame took on a life of its own, jumping maybe 10 feet to my right and landing on a steep bank of dry grass. In seconds, the entire hillside was a crackling wall of fire. And that's all it took. It was out of control.”

                                          Photo courtesy of Barry Evans and Louisa Rogers 

Also in the North Coast Journal:

Advice for Backpackers (Novice and Veteran)

I started backpacking and camping when I was 13, and I'm now 70. I'm a 57-year wilderness veteran, Queen Scout (U.K. equivalent of an Eagle Scout), Sierra Club member, champion of outdoor ethics, and I don't like open wood fires (too dangerous).

So how do I explain the fact that I burned down almost a square mile of wild grassland? And what can I say that might help prevent this from happening to anyone else?

1. Think "fire." When we picked our campsite, I was thinking flat area, water, beautiful view. In my over-confidence, I barely gave a thought to what should have been my No. 1 priority: a safe area for a fire, clear of any vegetation.

2. Think "wind." The wind blows down the Lost Coast hard, which is why everyone hikes north-to-south. We'd been seduced by the previous half-hour lull, instead of assuming that the next big gust might be seconds away.

3. Think "stove safety." Hundreds of safe, non-eventful lightings of our stove led to a sense of complacency. Stoves are not foolproof. They can leak. Fuel left in the bowl does evaporate -- fast, as we found out. A Coleman-fuel stove like ours sometimes blows out in wind. If it does, it should be allowed to cool before re-lighting, to prevent flare-ups.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Conditions and Other Updates

Trash pickup on the Lost Coast:

Recently I was joined by a group of volunteers who helped me pickup 26 pounds of trash off the coast. This mainly consisted of foam and plastics that drifted in from the sea.

Thanks for your help!

Would you like to help keep the Lost Coast clean of trash and marine debris? Bring a few heavy duty trash bags with you on your next visit and pick up trash along the way. Snap a picture of your efforts at the end of your trip and e-mail it to me so I can post the picture to this blog. Also send me any other information about your trip you would like to share. I’m sure you’ll feel great about helping to keep your public lands trash free!

Speaking of trash, I would like to remind everyone that campfire rings are not trash cans. If you would like to burn trash please pack out anything that has not burned completely when you leave. Please, pack out your trash. Leaving trash in a campfire ring is littering.

                                                          What's wrong with this picture?

This is littering. 

Winter Conditions

California’s North Coast has had quite a bit of rain the past several weeks and the creeks on the Lost Coast have risen considerably. The creeks are generally passable but there’s a good chance you will be getting your feet (or legs) wet in the process and they may be a considerable challenge to cross.

It may be tempting to cross a creek closer to the ocean where it is often wider and a bit shallower rather than farther up the creek where often it is narrower and deeper. This may not be a bad option for some of the creeks however, I advise you to watch the ocean for several minutes before you decide to cross. Look to see how big the waves are and how far they are pushing water up the creek. There will be periods of small-medium sized waves and periods of large waves. Consider the scene I witnessed this past weekend:

A group was crossing a creek that was just below knee level – seemed safe enough. Then suddenly, a larger set of waves pushed a mound of water up the creek and the folks were then in water waste deep that was threatening to push them off their feet. Luckily everything turned out alright but there were several moments of panic as people began to lose their balance in the torrent.

Use caution. Watch, Look and Listen. Be patient and take your time.

Winter backpacking tips for the King Range

Stay dry and stay warm:

Bring a few large heavy-duty trash bags with you to separate your gear and line your backpack with. I find it especially beneficial to put my wet tent into its own trash bag to keep the moisture separated from the rest of my gear. You can also use a trash bag as an inexpensive pack cover.

Bring a small bag of dry kindling from home if you think you’ll want a campfire.

Dry socks are great. Bring plenty.

I personally like a floorless shelter system for rainy conditions. I’ve found that traditional style tents - which you must set up first and then put on the rain fly - have the potential to get very wet on the inside in the process of setting it up in the rain.

Check the weather reports/forecasts when planning your trip. If you pick a date several weeks in advance, know that the forecast can - and probably will - change. From what I’ve noticed, the forecasts are not incredibly accurate until just a few days before the day/days in question.

Check local weather conditions but also plan for all types of weather. 

Also, during the winter the ocean has the potential to have a lot of energy, sending large waves and lots of water crashing on shore. This will make the “impassable at high tide” sections of the Lost Coast Trail much more hazardous to pass through. Additionally, the sections of trail that are not labeled as “impassable at high tide” can also become difficult or hazardous to travel in.

Read my previous post, Rescue on the LostCoast for more information about tides, waves and hiking on the Lost Coast.

Also, prepare for the worst and hope for the best is a good post about winter conditions.

Call or e-mail me if you have any questions.

Your Wilderness Ranger, 
Paul Sever

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Guest Ranger: Chris Sailor

Well it is already the end of my winter on the Lost Coast of California. To most this sounds like a winter spent in torrential rain and fog, but this was the winter of 13/14, a winter that will go down as driest on record. I was living the “California dream” as some one told me on the trail and spent everyday soaking in the sun with the whole King Range to myself.

My time spent here was as a volunteer wilderness ranger. Still performing all the duties of my summer profession, without the monetary compensation though. But money is not why any of us got into this field of work. I'm one of lucky rambling seasonal rangers from Humboldt State. Free to roam every six months or so to a new wilderness area to work in and protect.
When I start to reflect on what I have learned these past couple of months, I can't help but think on how it relates to the other places that I have had the pleasure of rangering.

In the high desert ranges of Eastern Nevada it was the invasive Cheat Grass that provided the biggest threat to the native flora and fauna. It would burn hot, fast and frequently, until it was the only species as far as the eye could see. I would go from wilderness area to wilderness area tracking its inevitable advance. In the King Range I could relate this to a native species that, aided by fire suppression, turned into the intruder of the grass lands. The Douglas Fir was able to quickly propagate in meadows with the absence of fire, and slowly cover every open area so that wildlife and grass species were forced out. After spending a day removing Douglas Fir from a meadow I noticed half inch growth rings! Unheard of in the high mountain areas I have worked.

The trail corridors in the King Range receive an incredible amount of rain and sunshine making for a never ending brush battle. The Colorado Rockies have a massive amount of dying and standing dead trees due to the Mountain Pine Beetle. This will provide a daunting amount of trail work for years and years to come.

On the High Sierra, the ever popular John Muir/Pacific Crest trails created areas of concentrated impact so bad that there was not an un-burnt stick on the ground. The King Range's high tide zones and fresh water limitations concentrated overnight use to the mouths of streams. Some so impacted that every available flat space has a tent pad on it.
In Colorado it was the climbing community that provided compliance challenges. In the King Range is was the Surfers............. OK, you get the point. You can draw a seemingly endless amount of similarities from one place to another.

Challenges like these will forever test the resolve of wilderness managers. Easy options such as the use of chain saws, use limits and increased regulation might create a simple solution to many of these management problems. But is administering “quick fixes” what wilderness management about? NO! “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders!” And strong ones at that. Ones who can creatively come up with solutions that don't jeopardize wilderness character. Ones who can cross 20 trees a day, every day and still have that “bring it on attitude.”

It is our job as the rambling ranger (a.k.a. Future wilderness managers) to take in and absorb all that we can from each wonderful wilderness area and its management. Come into each season with an empty cup so it may be filled by the lessons of the wild. Use these fond memories to aid you in the future management of these pristine lands. So go now and do the “best job in the world” with vigilance and pride for the spirit of all things wild will thank you for an eternity!  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Current Conditions

Is it winter yet? Technically, according to the calendar, yes – But I don’t believe it. I’ve been out hiking on the coast in recent weeks in a t-shirt and working up a sweat. Indeed, as you’ve probably heard, this December was the driest on record. According to the forecasts I’ve looked at it looks like we will have some slight precipitation this weekend, then it will continue to be dry until the last week or so of January.

So, if you’re hoping that conditions hold a little longer while you hastily pack your gear and head over here, keep in mind the following to help reduce fire danger and other impacts to the wilderness.

1. Currently, campfires are allowed.

Please take care to Minimize Campfire Impacts – especially with the dry conditions. Already this year, Humboldt County has had at least 10 wildfires (yes, since January 1st).

In the North CoastJournal, Paul Duncan, battalion chief with CalFire’s Humboldt-Del Norte Unit explains, “Extremely low humidity, winds and very dry fuels contributed to these unseasonable sparks.”

If you do decide to have a campfire, please:

Assess the scene and decide if it is safe. Is it windy? Are there dry grasses or piles of driftwood near-by? If so, it is a good idea not to have a campfire or find a safer location.

Be sure to always have someone present to watch over/tend the fire and have plenty of water nearby to extinguish any rogue flames.

Use existing fire rings whenever possible and keep the fire small by using only dead and down wood no bigger around than your wrist and no longer than the diameter of your fire ring (this doesn’t mean build a giant ring). This will help keep everything contained, keeps the campsites clean and reduces fire danger. Larger pieces of wood tend to break down the perimeter of the fire ring and spread ash outside of it. This leads to an eye sore for other visitors and encourages them to build another fire ring - multiplying the impacts.

Also, when choosing your site, please, don’t put your fire up against a large piece of driftwood. This selfish act will remind every other visitor for years to come that someone decided to have a large campfire at this location. This is a major eye sore and completely unnecessary.

When you are done with the fire put it out using the soak and stir method: Soak with lots of water, stir around the mess and make sure everything is cool to the touch. Do not leave anything burning when you depart – even if it is calm and foggy out and you feel there is little danger an hour later it may be sunny and windy.

Additionally, glass, cans and plastic don’t burn. Please pack out all trash! The campfire ring is not a trashcan. Ranger Tip: To avoid getting my bear can messy I bring a small trash bag to dispose of trash from food items – I then put that back into my bear canister (because, of course, it still has a strong scent and bears and other critters – i.e. raccoons - will tear it to shreds).

2. Creeks are low. Expect that if current conditions (low rainfall) continue that these conditions will persist – until we get seriously dumped on (for a week straight, for example).

It looks like we will get some rain Friday night/Saturday, But I doubt this will raise the level of the creeks to a level that can’t be crossed safely. 

Always check the local weather forecasts leading up to your trip

3. Large waves are forecasted through this weekend.

Also, check the marine conditions before your journey on the Lost Coast.
See my previous post (Rescue on the Lost Coast) for more details about what the above numbers mean.

When you see conditions such as this you may want to consider rescheduling your trip.

Hazardous marine condition(s):

Small Craft Advisory


Today: NW winds 5 to 10 kt. Waves W 9 ft at 13 seconds. Isolated showers.

Tonight: N winds 5 to 10 kt. Waves W 10 ft at 13 seconds. Scattered showers.

Fri: W winds up to 5 kt. Waves NW 11 ft at 15 seconds.

Fri Night: SW winds 5 to 15 kt. Waves SW 3 ft at 7 seconds... And NW 11 ft at 15 seconds.

Sat: S winds 10 to 20 kt...becoming NW 5 to 10 kt. Waves S 5 ft at 8 seconds...and NW 18 ft at 17 seconds.

Sun: N winds 5 to 15 kt. Waves N 3 ft at 6 seconds...and NW 16 ft at 15 seconds.

Mon: N winds 5 to 15 kt. Waves N 3 ft at 7 seconds...and NW 11 ft at 13 seconds.

4. Conversely, know that on calm days there is the potential for sneaker waves. Here is a story to illustrate what a sneaker wave does: Once, I was at a popular beach in Humboldt County, perched up on a rock watching well over 100 people recreate in the warm winter weather. The ocean and the waves crashing on shore were far away. Suddenly, without warning, a wave broke that sent a mound of water rushing up the beach knocking people to the ground left and right. People were yelling and running, grabbing backpacks, blankets, and babies – chaos. The entire time I was there (well over an hour) the water never got close to reaching as far as it had in this instance. Thankfully no one got pulled in.

Read these two articles in the North Coast Journal about sneaker waves in Humboldt County.

As winter progresses and conditions change I will keep you updated.

Until then, enjoy this picture of a river otter having a snack near one of the creeks on the Lost Coast.