Friday, July 6, 2012

Lost Coast Trail: Day 2

Sunday July 1, 2012: We woke up to sunny skies. My phone turned on accidentally in the middle of the night so the battery was dead. As a result, I had no idea what time it was. Spillz and Kyle were still sleeping. High tide was coming in around 10:15 according to my tide chart. We were camped just before the first long section of impassable trail during high tide. The impassable section was four miles long, so we needed to get a move on, or wait until later in the afternoon to begin hiking. When Spillz woke up, her tide chart said high tide came in around 10:55. Just then, a group of three hikers passed our camp.
"Are you guys attempting the impassable section this morning?" I asked.
"Yes," one guy responded. "High tide doesn't come in until 11:15."
What the hell? Whose tide chart is correct?
The group of three seemed pretty confident, so Spillz, Kyle, and I decided to give it a go. We would hike just to the impassable section and then reassess the situation from there.
The morning's hike was one of the highlights of the trail for me. The evening before, we had hiked on the sand, not realizing that there was an actual trail just off the beach in the grass. This particular morning, the trail took us high off the beach, with amazing views. There were seals fighting over rocks down below. Spillz mentioned how the snorts and bellows of the seals were a new sound to be heard while hiking. I can't recall doing any other hikes where I heard the sound of seals off in the distance either.
When we arrived at the impassable section of trail, we met another hiker who had decided to wait out the tide. He had an excellent spot to observe the ocean from up on a cliff. He was hiking solo, and was traveling up the coast for a couple of weeks. We all felt like friends immediately. It's one of the blessings of trail life.
We looked at the ocean, and concluded that it did not look too bad. There was still plenty of beach remaining, and there were plenty of escape routes should we need them. We saw a canyon off in the distance and decided to hike there and then reassess again.
Once we arrived at the canyon, the trail took us high above the ocean again. It wasn't long before we hiked past the entire impassable section and were able to relax and enjoy the early afternoon hiking. Once again, there was plenty to look at. There was an abundance of dead and decaying sea life scattered on the beach.
There were interesting geological formations and colorful rocks. There was an abundance of waterfalls cascading down from the hills above. Water was not an issue the entire hike. There was plenty of fresh water to be found at regular intervals. The only slightly dry spot was later that afternoon during the flats. If a person is aware, and paying attention, rationing water is easy. I carried no more than 2 quarts at any given time.
One of the more interesting developments of the day's hike was the discovery of debris from the 2011 Fukushima tsunami. One of the locals in Shelter Cove told me that the debris was just beginning to appear last week. If I had more time, and wasn't backpacking, I think searching for debris from Japan would be extremely fascinating. The only worry obviously is the radioactivity of the various items.
On this particular day, the wind was gusting at our backs thank goodness. I think it would have been a brutal day had the wind been in our faces. The hike felt very exposed. There were virtually no trees along the route it seemed, and I felt myself baking and getting dehydrated in the sun. Even our breaks were taken sitting in the sun.
It seemed at most of the natural break spots, there were other hikers resting as well. That meant coveted shade spots were usually taken by various folks re-hydrating, snacking, napping, or seeking to escape the elements for a while.
Kyle, Spillz and I also were on a bit of a schedule since we all had to work on the 4th of July. We had to make miles when given the opportunity, and could not rest for too long. So southbound we continued.
There were various homesteads in various stages of disrepair along the route. As wonderful as it must be to have a cabin here, it must be a serious undertaking to keep it maintained. Most of the cabins appeared empty.
The route alternated between trail and beach walking. Our goal was to hike past the third and last "impassable at high tide" section. After our afternoon break and rest stop, this meant we had about 11 more miles to go before calling it a day. It also meant that we would probably have to continue hiking until 8:30 that night. Definitely not impossible, but it did bring back some of those feelings we often had on the PCT when we had a lot of miles left to hike before calling it a day, despite how tired we felt.
We reached the flats later that afternoon, and continued to enjoy the level walking. I often found myself looking at the cliffs and wondering about the trees. Despite this area being one of the wettest in the entire country (receiving over 100 inches of rain a year) I was surprised at the amount of territory that was brown rolling hills with grass instead of trees, and in some spots, it was apparent that forest fires have also occurred here. I can understand how the cliffs next to the ocean may be too hostile to support a forest, but inland along the roads seemed to be similar. One of the locals informed me that the area had been logged long ago.
In the picture above, you can see on the distant hill a large portion of forest that had burned in a fire. There were also large logs of driftwood washed way up on the grassy flats. Spillz thought they may have been deposited there from the tsunami that hit the coast last year. Sounded like a good hypothesis to me.
The day ended with a bang. We reached the third and final impassable zone around 6:00 or so. We had four and a half more miles to go before calling it a day. The trail took us back onto the beach. The tide was uncomfortably close.
"We should check our tide charts first. this water seems way to close for comfort," I said to Spillz and Kyle.
"I already checked," Spillz responded. "High tide comes in around 8:00."
That was not what I wanted to hear. Not being familiar with the ocean, I thought we were done with high tides for the day. We discussed the situation, and decided to go for it.
"We'd better not screw around then, let's get this done," I said.
Spillz and Kyle agreed, and we hit the beach. I had an uneasy feeling about this one. Kyle seemed totally relaxed, Spillz was enjoying herself too. The ocean was lapping at our feet in some spots.
We also discovered bear prints on the sand while we were walking. It appeared to be a momma bear and a couple of cubs. The ocean continued to creep closer and closer. In some spots there was plenty of room, in other spots hardly any room at all. Unlike the previous impassable section, there did not appear to be obvious escape routes. If a person became trapped between points, they may have to dangerously climb up what looked like crumbling cliffs.
After hiking about a mile in, we reached a corner to discuss the situation. I still could not see any obvious escape points and the tide was getting uncomfortably close. We still had three and a half miles to go to get past the impassable section, which meant possibly just under two more hours of hiking.
"We'd better turn around," I said. "I don't feel good about this."
"All right, but we'd better hurry back!" Spillz answered.
At this point, Spillz was running back, remembering some of the corners where we could barely walk past 20 minutes earlier.
It took a little longer than I thought, but we did make it back unscathed to a safe spot just above the beach, and decided to pitch camp. After setting up our stuff, Spillz and Kyle went to fetch water. I did a tick check and discovered another deer tick nymph engorged in my side. Dammit! As soon as I begin feeling OK about one tick bite, I receive another. I was probably overly paranoid the rest of the hike as a result. Spillz, Kyle and I ate a wonderful dinner along the trail along one of the flats and enjoyed a marvelous sunset. We were a little wary of the presence of bears, so we cooked and ate well outside of camp. We placed our bear canisters nearby up on a hill.
Pretty soon, an almost full moon rose over the mountains and the ocean. I decided to cowboy camp for the night, feeling pretty good that it was not going to rain. Other than being a little tick wary, I slept soundly most of the night. It was a tough and exciting day, and we were in good position for the next, despite having to turn around and retrace the last mile.

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