Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Signing Out

Greetings from Colorado. There haven’t been any new posts in several months because I moved to Grand Junction, Colorado at the end of March to continue recreation work with BLM.


I started working as a seasonal wilderness ranger for the King Range NCA in 2009 and became permanent in 2011. It didn’t take long to stop counting how many times I hiked the Lost Coast Trail, or how many miles I walked, but it’s enough to say that I know the King Range National Conservation Area very well.  I’ve enjoyed my time here but I decided that it was time to shake things up a bit and see some new country. Of course, not a week goes by that I don’t day dream about the Lost Coast.


I’ve seen it change quite a bit since my first season. This is an ever changing landscape that is being sculpted by waves, wind, rain, and seismic activity. Every spring the rivers have a new mouth, sometimes shifting hundreds of feet. Hillsides erode and crumble into the sea. Ocean creatures such as whales, octopus, anemones, and all sorts of fish are washed onto the shore where birds are always waiting at the breaking waves for their next meal to appear. Year after year I’ve observed the movement of the same ginormous logs that are thrown onto the beach during large winter swells. They stay there throughout the summer only to be gobbled up again by the ocean the following winter and moved another few hundred feet down the beach.


And then there’s the wildlife. There’s the time a bear came into by camp (with volunteers) and violently shook and slammed every bear canister onto the ground. Another time a bear silently circled my camp late at night, strolling within feet of my hammock. I really enjoyed when I was working up on the switchbacks of Rattlesnake Ridge Trail when I looked down at Big Flat Creek to witness a bear slowly making his way down the creek and soaking at every pool of water (or looking for fish?).


The river otters are always a delight to see. By far my favorite is when I observed several young otters learning how to catch fish. The family of otters scurried into the waves together and only after a few minutes the adult otter (mother?) caught a fish and pulled it up onto a rock to eat. One by one, each of the youngsters took a try at getting a bite. But the adult was determined that they each get a fish of their own and none of them had a “free meal.” Well, she finished her dinner and watched the kids try on their own. Soon she decided to get back in the water and show them, again, how it was done. It didn’t take long for her to pull another fish up onto the rock, this time she shared.


One of my favorite creeks on the coast has a deep pool near its mouth. It was here that I was eating lunch while waiting for the tide to recede one afternoon when I witnessed 2 snakes attempting to catch fish in the pool. They lied out on a log that crossed over the pool and intently watched the fish dart around below the surface. Then suddenly, one of the snakes would strike down into the pool and I’d see flashes of light followed by a dark streaks whiz around in the water in the grand dance of life-death. But alas, the snake slithered back onto shore and onto the log with an empty mouth and began his intense gaze back into the water, completely stiff except for his head ever so slightly moving back and forth.


I have dozens of stories like this but of course they don’t happen every day or even every week. But I do run into and talk with people every day. People like you who are reading this right now, planning your trip. It’s wonderful to meet people from all over the country and all over the world who come all the way out to this remote area of northern California to experience the rugged, beautiful and unforgiving Lost Coast. Visitation has continued to increase and nearly doubles every few years – the lost coast isn’t lost and it hasn’t been for a long time. That being said, you can still find solitude if you know when and where to look. What has always been difficult to escape, though, is the evidence of mankind – the trash, toilet paper, human waste, graffiti, and campsite structures. Although I have gradually found less and less junk hanging from the trees and slightly less exposed turds, I have always packed out large amounts of trash and litter year after year.   A large part of this is in the form of micro trash – bits of wrappers, twisty ties, nylon strings, tent stakes, ten foil, orange peels and all sorts of odd bits of plastic. After I go to every campsite on the coast I’d always come off the trail with at least a half-gallon worth of micro trash, minimum.

These, maybe from one individual...

Adds up to this from multiple visitors

every week it's a fresh batch of trash left behind.

My guess is that most micro trash is left unintentionally. I’ve found a good way to avoid leaving trash and other items behind is to always check my campsite and resting locations before I leave them. I also have ONE designated pocket  - a backpocket or a cargo work well – for wrappers and other small trash items. This way you’re not getting into this pocket for your camera or sunscreen while pulling out wrappers that blow away in the wind in the process. Keep in mind that most things don’t burn. A lot of what I pack out is from fire rings: Plastics, metal cans, foils, and food! Notorious fire ring trash is instant freeze dried food packaging (e.g. mountain house); these are thick plastic and foil!!!! They don’t burn.  

A used Mountain House package just left here.

Bottom line is: if it’s not straight paper - like cardboard or toilet paper - please don't burn it. Leaving anything behind is an eye sore for other visitors and reminds them of the dirty, busy, noisy city life that they probably came here to escape. Seeing wrappers at a campsite, toilet paper dangling from a bush, a pile of trash inside of a circle of rocks, and marine debris “artfully” hanging from a tree are the very things that most people come here to avoid. We can do better. We can do better picking up after ourselves and we can also pick up and pack out things that aren’t ours.


The torch is being passed to you. You have, and always have had, the responsibility. I was just an educator and a custodian – it’s your land (and the land of all the flora and fauna, more importantly). How do you want to leave it for the next visitor, for your next visit, and for your children?


This blog will still be here and will have more than enough information for you to successfully plan a trip. If you have any general questions about trip planning you can still shoot me an e-mail but anything immediate or about current conditions you should call the King Range Project Office.



PS: I was hiking up Big Flat Creek during early spring and came across these sights. How do you think these happened?



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Major slide in Sinkyone

Apparently there has been a major slide on the trail between Needle Rock and Bear Harbor in the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park (southern half of the Lost Coast Trail).

The Lost Coast Trail south of Needle Rock in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is OPEN. The slide is still impacting the trail and making travel very difficult and more dangerous. State Parks is advising people not to hike the trail and for those who still want to hike to proceed at their own risk.  

State Parks is still making a determination if the trail should be closed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Meet Ben: He Helped Remove Beach Garbage From the Lost Coast


You can also be like Ben. Remove some garbage, take a picture of it at the end of your trip, and I'll post it to the blog!

"Hat Rock" is impassable at all tide levels

There is an area of the Lost Coast Trail about 1 mile south of Sea Lion Gulch that is impassable at all tide levels. At this area you will need to travel up off the beach for about a 1/2 mile.

If traveling North to South, this is what the area will look like:

From standing at Sea Lion Gulch looking south. The pink arrow is where you will want to travel up the creek a few hundred feet and find the trail to go overland. 

As you approach you will see this rocky area. The trail goes up and over this. Just walk up the creek a bit to find the trail. 

Next, You will come to this sign:
This is the Junction of the Lost Coast Trail with the Cooskie Spur Trail.The LCT goes back north for a short distance, following a fence line. Go through the gate (please close) and drop back down to the beach. The storms this winter eroded the hillside a bit so don't expect there to be a trail for the last 15 feet down to the beach. 

If you are traveling South to North this is what you will see:

As mentioned above, this is where the hill side has been eroded from the winter storms. You will need to scramble a bit here.

When you see this sign, go up and over!

Hopefully this helps you find your way. 

If you have any questions please call: 707-986-5400


Monday, March 21, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016

Meet Fiona Maclean

Fiona is an illustrator, animator and naturalist and is a frequent visitor to the King Range National Conservation Area.

She is currently working on a project she calls the Big Year Drawn. In her own words:

In 2016 I am participating in a Big Year. A birding event that runs the calendar year in which every bino-strapped, feather-loving, bird-nerd who cares to tallies up the number of species they see and hear. I'm adding an element.  I'm illustrating each species I see.
So far the project has gotten me outside, inspired a few others to take up drawing again for themselves, and engendered conversations and comments around our experiences outside.
I'd love for any and all who are interested to join the conversation, follow along, and share you own experiences or drawings.
Most of that happens at https://www.instagram.com/fi_firefly/. but you can also check out my Big Year blog. ( https://fionalee-studios.squarespace.com/blog/2015/12/30/drawn-outdoors-a-big-year-illustratedI'm a far less prolific writer, but I do have fun writing and I hope you have fun reading.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

New Additions to the King Range Map

The King Range National Conservation Area map has a few changes you should know about:

1. The Cooskie Creek Trail is now called Cooskie Creek Route.

You'll also notice on the map that it says, "Cooskie Creek Route is unmarked and unmaintained. Route finding skills necessary." This is because this "route" is very difficult to follow.
Primarily, this is because it goes through grassland. Build a trail that goes through grass and you'll notice that it will be overgrown very quickly, unless you have a very large amount of human traffic on that trail - which this trail does not. In addition, there are wildlife and cattle trails that crisscross and parallel the human trail - making a spaghetti of paths to choose from that all look the same.

There are several dozen trail markers out there but unfortunately most of them are usually on the ground (even a month after I reinstall them). In the near future the majority of the trail markers are going to be removed to help improve undeveloped wilderness character while providing the minimum tool necessary. I believe that a wilderness area should be managed as a place of absolute minimal development and that information should be provided off site whenever possible. Are we not bombarded with enough signs and directions in our daily lives?

On the map you will find several GPS coordinates if you choose to use them. Primarily these are coordinates for land marks and/or near private property.

If you choose to hike the Cooskie Creek Route give yourself much more time than you think will be necessary. As the map says: route finding skills necessary. You may end up hiking a cow trail for a while until it either fades out or branches into multiple more trails before you realize you're going the wrong way.

2. There is an area between Sea Lion Gulch and Cooskie Spur Route that is impassable at all tide levels and requires you to use an overland route; this is now indicated on the map.

3. The addition of the Sea Lion Gulch State Marine Preserve boundary

The take of all living marine resources is prohibited at this location.

4. The addition of the Big Flat State Marine Conservation Area boundary

5. The wilderness is now indicated on the map with the green boundary, which is inside of the yellow line (the National Conservation Area boundary).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Marine Mammals on the Lost Coast

While out exploring the Lost Coast Trail there is a good chance you’ll come across seals and sea lions on the beach. Most likely these will be harbor seals, Stellar sea lions, or in one area there may also be northern elephant seals.

The presence of elephant seals here is new and if the few pups born this winter wean this spring, this will be the farthest northern breeding colony that has been established! This is exciting as being able to witness the creation of a new elephant seal colony is a rare opportunity.

Photo by Jesse Irwin

In part, the elephant seals are here because of the remote and undisturbed nature of the lost coast. This is a great example of the importance of wilderness areas.  They are a welcoming place for wild animals – a place where they can go and not be harassed and disturbed by the constant presence of humans and all of our developments, machines, and noise. This is wild nature at its finest and I’m proud that we have set aside such places where the plants and animals are free to roam and proliferate without the ever present manipulation of mankind.  What better areas to observe the undisturbed natural functions of the world?

The Wilderness Act of 1964 states:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

You can help the marine mammals of the Lost Coast by keeping at least 50 meters from the animals. They may seem slow and sluggish at first glance but if they’re disturbed or agitated they can move very fast in a very short amount of time. It won’t be any problem to crush you with their 1,500 – 4,500 pounds of weight.   Staying at least 150 Feet (about 50 paces) from the animals will help keep you safe as well as treat them with the respect and undisturbed habitat they deserve.  These guidelines are mandated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act – a federal law that has helped many marine mammal species recover.  So, please help us maintain this peaceful and safe place, not only for elephant seals, but for all of the marine mammal visitors to our coast.

In addition, please be very mindful of your dogs – which are required to be on a leash or under voice control at all times. Dogs are probably one of the largest threats to the disturbance and physical harm to the seals and sea lions of the Lost Coast.

Please note that seals and sea lions can go for long periods without breathing or moving while on land!  Please enjoy them from a safe distance (150 feet).  If, however you notice a sick or injured marine mammal that you think needs attention you can report it to the North Coast Marine Mammal Center  at 707-951-4722.  If the animal is dead, please call the HSU Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 707-826-3650.   

Thank you!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Message to The Surfing Community

The Lost Coast, and the surfing opportunities here, are no longer secrets. Overnight visitation to the King Range Wilderness has doubled in the past 3 years. There are more and more of us discovering this amazing and beautiful landscape and it will take all of us to help keep it as pristine as it should be.

This time of year, when people head out here to ride the waves and camp out on the coast I find A LOT of abandoned property. Tents, tarps, household pots and pans, sleeping bags, food items, etc. 

It's always the same type of gear that folks leave behind: cheap and heavy. They haul it out here and then decide that it's too heavy to hike back with them. To justify leaving their junk behind they say that they are either going to come back for it and/or leaving it for others to use. 

The truth is this: You can justify it however you want but abandoned property is the result of laziness. 

Over the past 7 years we've removed enough abandoned gear (all from the surf spot) to fill a dumpster. 

Inside of the tent (pictured above) there was a note that read, "for the next campers that need it." 

Are the five empty food cans that were scattered around the site also for the next campers that need them? It all looks like a bunch of garbage to me that someone was too inconsiderate to pack out. 

Too common: Multiple pots, heavy tent, huge tarp, and a large, cheap stove designed for car camping were left behind (along with several empty fuel canisters) - most notably from surfers 

Several Large tarps, household pots, empty booze bottles, surfboard bag, broken tent poles

NOW, all this being said, I've met a lot of really awesome people in the surfing community who care about their public lands, keeping things clean for other visitors, and who have actually helped me clean fire rings and collect garbage. 

One of these people I've met that really stands out in my mind is Aleks, the owner of Aqua Surf Shop in San Francisco. He's all about spreading the message on keeping the place clean and has helped me pack out other people's trash. 

This is everyone's space. Let's keep things wild, natural and pristine so we can all enjoy this place now and for generations to come. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winter Travels: Safety First

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 get banged up against the rocks pretty badly. You’re now soaked and have a badly injured 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. You get a good dose of reality as you're now soaked and scraped on your arms and legs badly. 

5. Gale force gusts of wind tear the rain-fly off of your tent, leaving you out in the rain and forcing you to hike out in the night - if tides permit - miserable, wet and dangerously cold. 

Several weeks ago we received a call from a concerned mother  - her daughter was out on the Lost Coast Trail, solo, and was somewhere on the beach apparently trapped from the cliffs and the ocean. The hiker had a satellite phone with her that she was using to make frantic calls to her mother. Thankfully, she eventually made it out of the impassible zone and to the safety of Randall Creek area. By this time it was well after sundown and she was wet and cold from the ocean. She had already made the wise decision to remove her wet clothing and get into her sleeping bag. To further help prevent hypothermia, I advised her to eat any available food she had and to heat water for a warm drink; she could also fill her water bottle with the hot water and keep it in her sleeping bag with her.

The young lady was unnerved and worried about how and if she should continue with her journey.
She had come a long way for this trip and had been planning and looking forward to it for a long time – although she was shaken up from the day’s events, she didn’t want to quit.

I admire the perseverance and courage. However, I encouraged her to head back the way she came – to the Mattole Trailhead. My reason being that 1. The conditions were not conducive to traveling on the coast that week due to higher than average tides and large ocean swells. 2. She already knows what to expect if she were to go back the way she came 3. The section of trail south of Miller Flat, especially near Shipman Creek, can be very hazardous to travel 4. She is traveling alone, which is even more dangerous for a novice backpacker.

Understandably, she was concerned about how she would get back to her vehicle if she turned around (she parked at Black Sands Beach Trailhead where took a shuttle up to Mattole). I reminded her that she had a satellite phone and I encouraged her to call the shuttle company as soon as possible to explain the situation. She was also very concerned about not “completing” the trail.

It’s this tunnel vision that people sometimes get into  - adventurers of all sorts - that lead them down the path of no return.

The most important goal of any journey is getting home safely – nothing is more important than that. Don’t think of a trip as a failure just because you didn’t complete the trail – rethink what your goals of the trip are and what benefits and experiences you hope to come home with. There are no rules that say you can’t redesign those goals as you go.

Flexibility is key. See the problems and think of solutions – don’t just trudge on through the hazards just because you made up your mind long ago that that is what you were going to do or because you have to keep to a schedule. What’s more important: getting home a day late or getting home in one piece and alive?

Have a backup plan. 
What if you get to a creek and it's too high to cross?
What if everything in your pack gets wet? 
Plan for the worst case scenario and do the necessary preparation to avoid getting yourself in those situations to begin with. 

For more about the specifics of traveling in the King Range, and the Lost Coast Trail, during the winter:

First, read this blog post for lots of information about how to travel through the "impassable at high tide" sections and a real story about a group backpacking on the Lost Coast who ran into serious trouble (learn from their mistakes!)

Second, be sure to read Winter Conditions: Plan for the worst, hope for the best for specific information about planning a trip in the King Range during the winter. Also check this post - scroll about half way down for more tips on winter travel in the King Range

The creeks are deep and difficult to cross.
The waves can be huge and make passage on the narrow sections of coast very hazardous. 
Conditions change rapidly on the Lost Coast. 

Look up, look around and pay attention! 

Get yourself out of the situations you put yourself into! 

Send me a message or give me a call with any questions. 

Your Wilderness Ranger,

p.s. It's best to give me at least a week to get back to you.