Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lost Coast Gloom

I am really behind on my blogging here, as I took yet another trip to the Lost Coast two and a half weeks ago and have yet to share it. Turned out to be a wet and gloomy weekend on the coast, but I'm finding as I explore this area ever year that it has many faces and all of them are quite beautiful.

We decided this year to explore the southern section of the Lost Coast that parallels the King Range (north of Sinkyone and Shelter Cove). I had heard that Shipman Creek was a great place to camp. On my first trip to the area we had blown by it without exploring, heading on to Buck Creek to be closer to getting out the next morning because a high tide was coming in fairly early. This year I wanted to spend two nights there so I could explore and enjoy the vicinity without the worry of "putting in the miles" each day.

So we headed back down that familiar road to the place that calls to me each early Spring. The weather seemed fair enough in the Sacramento area, but as we hit the 101 the clouds began to appear and slowly the sun was being blocked out. Had I known I would not see that sun again until we were on our way out I might have stopped right then and there on the side of the road to bask in it one last time.

We reached Nadelos campground just outside of Shelter Cove fairly early, and found it to be nearly flooded out. In the rain we searched each of the walk in campsites for tent spots that did not resemble reflecting pools whose images were rippled and distorted in the onslaught of drops from above. Nothing looked very promising so we held off setting up, choosing instead to go for food in town and hope the conditions improved. Alas, there would be no break in the rain that night and we drove back up the road to the campgrounds armed with bottled spirits and firewood to brave the weather.

We drove on past Nadelos campground to try our luck at Wailaki just up the road. The sites did not appear nearly as flooded as the others had been, so we staked a claim and began setting up our tents in the light but steady rain. After a few Eel River Amber Ales, and some Lagunitas IPAs (both fine beers) we challenged ourselves with starting a fire in this damp dreary weather. With the dry (though not seasoned) wood from the store and a fire starter brick we got the fire going, but it was rough going and needed constant attention to stay lit. By the end of the night I had it self sufficient enough to leave a warm flickering light on the tent as I closed my eyes amidst the chattering sounds of raindrops, but it never put off much warmth beyond the edge of the fire ring.

The next morning we set off down the coast, heading north to cover 7.5 miles in a strange misty wet haze. Creek crossing were a bit of a challenge this year. None were particularly dangerous, but often did I find myself slipping off a slick rock and coming to be calf deep in the moving cold water. This would not be as big a deal on a sunny day that one could hang their socks on their packs to dry, but this trip would prove difficult for drying out much of anything.

While having lunch and waiting for the last of the high tide to recede, I happened across this massive bear skull (A reader has corrected me that this is actually a large Sea Lion skull....I had no idea they got that big, or had teeth like that!). It always amazes me all the things I find along this shoreline. Everything from bones, to exotic shells, to massive trees, to ship debris intermix with the rock and black sand. You could spend hours walking searching the tide lines.

We arrived at Shipman Creek and found it to be completely abandoned. I had worried with it being such a prime spot that others might have beaten us to it considering we had a Saturday departure. The camp had a series of large logs providing some shelter for the tents and a nice spot for a fire ring which wouldn't see much use on this wet weekend. We explored the area and found a beautiful flowing creek sheltered by trees with Queen Anne's Lace growing abundantly. On the north side of the creek a trail goes back to a nice sheltered campsite. The mosquitoes are probably horrendous at the right time of year back in there though.

We spent the remainder of our trip enjoying the area mostly to ourselves. This area has a number of small waterfalls cascading down to the beach, and is really beautiful to see in any weather. We hiked up to Big Flat to see if any surfers could be seen at the break there, but between the weather and the pretty small swells we saw none. We saw lots of pretty wildflowers and other interesting things just about everywhere we went. The constant mist and off and on rains kept us pretty wet all weekend, but we still managed a humble fire the first night and kept dry in our tents at night. It also helped to have some trail screwdrivers and some vino that I had carried in. Here's my recipe for perfect trail screwdrivers for those interested...

Start with a small nalgene bottle that shows volume in ounces, a good quality vodka (I like Ketle One), and a single serve packet of orange Gatorade mix.
- Fill the vodka to 4 ounces
- Add the Gatorade mix
- Fill with water to 14 ounces.
- Shake well and divide with partner (or drink up!).

After sharing a few of those we enjoyed our wet wonderland and slept well amidst the sound of pounding waves crashing in. It was a little disappointing not seeing a single sunset the whole trip, but I think I found other interesting things to photograph instead.

Other highlights of the trip were getting to meet both the new Lost Coast Ranger Paul, who was making his rounds, and the old Lost Coast Ranger DC who was through hiking the 25 miles from Mattole to Shelter Cove with a group. Both are very nice people and very knowledgeable about the area. Truly great resources for having a fun and safe trip in this region.

Some tips for dealing with a wet camping trip:

- Most good modern tents will stay really dry on a wet trip if you follow a few guidelines. First, I like double walled tents with a separate rainfly. Condensation collects on the inside of the outer rainfly, but the inner tent walls remain dry if you keep them well ventilated and make sure they don't touch the outer rainfly wall. I can't stress this enough. If you have too much gear, or the tent is too small for you and the wall is pushed out against the rainfly, you will get moisture coming in at that point. Also, most tents have a weak spot on the outside where the fly touches the ends of the tents. For this reason there is often a loop sewn in there. Attach some nylon ripcord to this loop and tie it off so that it holds the ends of the rainfly off the tent.

- Rain gear. I always take rain gear on the Lost Coast this time of year. Tops, bottoms and a pack cover. If you don't have a pack cover a thick large black trash bag works nice. Slide it over your pack and cut out slits for the shoulder straps to come through.

- Dry bags. I keep my sleeping bag and any clothes I want to keep from getting wet in dry bags within my pack. I could literally fall into the Ocean and assuming I don't get pulled in (a real risk here!) I will have dry clothes and a dry sleeping bag available to me.

- Pack up your rainfly separately on in-between days. If you are having to pack up in the rain and set up again that night (in the rain likely), then you want to keep your tent that you have done such a great job of keeping dry under the rainfly as dry as possible (it'll get a little wet rolling it up). Rolling the tent up with the rainfly will ensure a very wet inside of your tent when you set it back up. Not the dry comfy place I want to sleep in.

- Leave the cotton at home! As they say, cotton kills. It keeps moisture right on your skin and does not dry well at all. Wool, Polypropylene, and other quick drying fabrics that draw moisture away from your skin are essential in foul weather.

- Layers. I wear a light waterproof shell and a breathable soft shell underneath. The shell itself gets clammy and moist inside without a breathable layer in-between.

Gear that worked:
- Ex Officio Nio Amphi pants with vented knee. These things are amazingly breathable. Nothing else dried very well all weekend, but these things stayed dry even in the soaking mist.
- REI Quarterdome UL tent. Light, easy to set up, and stayed dry inside. Perfect size for one person.
- SeaToSummit Event compression dry sack. I love these things. Water can't get in, but air can get out so that you can compress them down real small. I have two small ones that fit either a down sleeping bag or clothes nicely. I also have an Outdoor Research Airpurge compression dry sack that is a little bigger and fits my synthetic sleeping bag.
- Marmot Precip jacket and pants. I'm kind of on the fence still with these. My precip jacket had already failed within a year of buying it so I washed it and my new precip pants in Nikwax prior to the trip. They kept me dry, but after three days in the rain I could see where it was beginning to soak through and fail on the jacket. Great light weight jacket for light rain, but I think I want a Gortex jacket now for serious bad weather.
- Slik Pro 613 CF Carbon Fiber tripod with Gitzo G1177M Magnesium Series 1 head. Slightly over 2 pounds, but is very stable, giving a working height between 7 and 39 inches off the ground, and folds down to a little under 20 inches including the head. It's my ultimate compromise between weight, cost, and stability in a tripod.
- Canon 5D camera. This thing amazes me every time I use it. For not being weather sealed it seems to handle shooting in wet environments very well (your mileage may vary!). I keep it covered as much as I can, wipe it down from time to time, and get the shots I want even in the rain. Shower caps work well to keep some water off.
- Starbucks Via. Not really gear per se, but I really love a great cup of coffee in a light package with almost no cleanup. It's the only coffee I drink on the trail now.

See everything I took along here:

I have some video that I shot with my GoPro HD camera mounted on my hiking staff that I'll upload as well when I get a chance.

Lost Coast 2011

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in California

More photos here:

See my other trips to the Lost Coast for more information about this amazing area. Just click "Lost Coast Trail" under labels on the right. Or just click here.

Also I suggest visiting the new King Range Wilderness (including the Lost Coast) blog here:

Check out the old King Range Wilderness blog as well for lots of information:

Rules and guidelines for the Lost Coast can be found here:

Tides Tables (which are very important to know on the trail) can be found here:*1.04&hl=*1.03&footnote=


Robert said...

Sweet! Hope I can come along next year!

AlwaysJanuary said...

You get an automatic invite every year I go. It usually ends up being the week before Easter. Bring Felicia along too!

Great Scott said...

Wow, what great photos. You have a gift my friend. Keep 'em coming! You ever get down to Texas, lunch is on me...McDonalds of

VeloMento said...

Hey Randy, it was likewise a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Your photos are stunning--and I have seen a lot of LCT photos. -- DC_CARR, Lost Coast Ranger from May 2008-July 2010.

AlwaysJanuary said...

Thanks for stopping by DC, and I appreciate the kind words about my photography. With all that extra weight I'm hauling in and out it's good to know I'm capturing something worthwhile.

Felicia said...

Oh Randy, the photos are awesome! And wow, a BEAR SKULL! I would've lugged it home with me :P

Wilderness Vagabond said...

Terrific photos Randy. Nice, although gloomy, report. Here is our report, from decidedly sunnier times: