Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
May 16-20, 2012
This trip was divided into two sections; Point Reyes first and Big Basin Redwoods State Park second. I will describe the BBRW days as a separate Blog Entry.
We had enjoyed the Lost Coast trips in Northern California so much that we wanted to see if there was another location that had similar attributes. This combination of parks provided both time on lonely beaches and time amongst redwood trees.
Arrive mid afternoon of the day we fly from Michigan. Hike a “respectable” distance that day. Day 2 – Hike to a camp site near the water and hike on the beach if possible. Day 3 – Hike to a campsite across the park. Day 4 – Hike without packs to the water again and walk on a beach.
We left Detroit at 9:00, arrived SFO early at 10:40, left SFO about noon, arrived at REI, just off Highway 1, north of the bridge in Corte Madera about 12:45. Bought gas for the stove, freeze dried meals, drink mixes and snacks. Good lunch next door at Counter where you build your own burgers from an exhaustive list of options. Exit to Point Reyes, i.e. Sir Francis Drake Blvd was about the very next exit. We almost missed it. The first part of SFD Blvd is very congested but then it opens up into farm land. Found Bear Valley Visitor Center by following the signs with little difficulty. Got our official permit tag, packed final items, changed clothes and started walking about 3:30 with 4.4 miles to go to get to Glen Camp.
Norm remembered he had forgotten to transfer his only reading material, his Kindle, into his pack, so he retraced many steps to get it and his hooded sweatshirt which would be essential for warm sleeping and morning hiking. The Bear Valley Trail is wide and level for 3 miles of this walk. Once you move on to the Glen Trail, the trails climb into the hills. We didn’t anticipate the extra .9 miles of the Glen Camp Loop. All trail intersections in Point Reyes are well marked with arrows and destinations with distances. We were always confident that we knew which trail to take. We were eating dinner at Glen Camp by about 7:30. Sun set about 8:15. We read a bit and fell asleep. Fog came in so none of the items we hung out dried at all. Jerry stayed pretty dry under a tree. Norm pulled his rain fly over to keep moisture off the exposed part of his sleeping bag. All the sites at Point Reyes come with picnic tables, grills for charcoal fires and metal boxes to protect food from animals. At each camp, there is a well maintained pit toilet, a trash can and a water faucet. We have never had such great accommodations in our backpacking camp sites before.
Knowing we would have potable water at Wildcat, we were able to carry only a couple of pints. That was wonderful compared to “tanking up” for hiking in the dessert. Only 2.5 miles to Wildcat. We’d get to drop our packs and “day hike” the rest of the day. There is a very long descent into Wildcat and we could see two very large parties in camp. We could only hope they were leaving. One group was probably college age. The others seemed to be middle schoolers. Wildcat is just above the beach, so we just carried our packs down to the beach and had a second cup of coffee. We then went as far north as we could, about a mile. After walking back, we had lunch, read a little, maybe napped, and then went as far south as possible (1.2 miles?). We had a great time in the tide pools at low tide on the Lost Coast hikes so we hoped to repeat that at Point Reyes. It looked like the south end of the beach might be an interesting place based on lots of big rocks in the water. The lowest tide of the day was during the night, but the other low tide was at 3:45 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we saw only one sea anemone, but no crabs, no star fish, etc. Near the south end of the beach, we found Alamere waterfall which has a strong flow. When we arrived, we met a young couple who had come down from the Ocean Lake Loop. They recommended we climb up at that point. It didn’t look like fun to us. It was very windy on the beach in the afternoon. Walking back to camp was a chore. Probably 8 total miles counting the trails and the beach.
We were glad to see that both of the large groups had left. Three other sites were occupied. We had Mountain House Stroganoff, an annual favorite. So far we had seen slugs, quail, plover, tracks of raccoon on the beach, and dozens of empty crab shells. We had a beach fire permit but we had no way to learn if the fire danger had changed (which is a requirement) and it was much too windy for a fire. It was so windy, Norm couldn’t get warm, so he went on a long walk along the Ocean Lake Loop. Indeed there is a lake overlooking the ocean. He saw deer on the trail and met a group of equestrians. We played a little trivia and went to bed. The wind abated about midnight, but the temp went down to about 40 degrees.
Up at 5:45. Walking by 7:30. Long climb out of Wildcat. It was so cool we had two shirts and our hoodies on, and were not getting hot on that climb. We started with a plan to go directly up to Sky camp via Baldy and Sky trails. We could see that this was going to get us to camp about noon with little to do, so we went back down to Coast trail and followed the ridge and the great views. It would be a shame to visit Point Reyes and not take the Coast Trail. Great sweeping views. We took a break at Kelham Beach, one of the two places one can get down to the ocean. There are about 140 steps built into the hillside. We had lunch on the beach and a walk as far north as we could go. The hillsides are wet and there are thriving hanging gardens. Due to haze on the prior two days, this was our first view of the headlands that extend west out to the point of Point Reyes. When we came back up to our packs above Kelham Beach there were two fellows sitting in the shade near our packs. One said, with a European accent, “We took a call while you were down. The Smithsonian wants your packs.” Pretty funny. We explained how hard we had to work to find and purchase these external frame packs. Jerry told of his experience with his internal frame pack. Counting the capacity of the stuff you can so easily tie on the top and bottom, and all the handy zippered compartments on the outside, you can carry about 20% more stuff in these old packs. This is one of the reasons we can take the 7 day trips we usually take.
After lunch we met some horses on the trail. We asked what we should do. Norm had a prior experience when his backpack spooked a horse and the rider was thrown. The lead rider asked us to keep talking. She said her horse would be fine if we just kept talking. We jabbered until all four horses were past us. Later we met a single rider. He gave us no instructions, so we probably made the worst possible choices. Norm went left and Jerry went right. The rider went between us.
We left the Coast Trail at Woodward Valley Trail. We called it Woodward Avenue, which is a main highway in Detroit where there is a huge hot rod meet each summer. Woodward was more like a Grand Canyon trail than the others at Point Reyes, in that it is quite narrow, rocky and steep. Norm was concerned about meeting horses on that trail, be we didn’t meet any. We came upon a deer on the trail. He watched us and even stepped toward us, before meandering off the trail.
We seemed to be the only humans at Sky Camp when we arrived but we found a huge cabin tent and some personal effects at site 10, which was our site. We cleaned up and then hung our stuff out to dry all over site 10. We had Backpacker’s Pantry Fettuccini Alfredo. It was quite tasty; would buy again, would recommend. Eventually a young couple came in to the site and of course said, “You’re in our site.” Norm of course said, “You’re in our site.” They said they definitely had reserved the site for two nights and this was their second night. Their permit was in their car, so we couldn’t check it. They offered to go back to the car and show us. It seemed possible that when the NPS converted to computer reservations, Norm’s human registered reservation might have gotten lost. We moved our stuff down to site one, which looked like it might not actually be assigned to anyone. It is small and has no real flat spot for a tent or a bivy sack. Jerry had found a flat spot not far away where we planned to roll out our “beds”. The party from site two came into camp and offered to let us sleep in their site. It was a group site and so we thought we could find a couple of flat spots there. We stayed in site one until dark to minimize our intrusion into their privacy. Most, maybe all Sky camp sites were occupied, but this was Friday night.
We awoke and moved our beds back to site one. After breakfast we moved our packs up to site 10 and left our food in the box. We bid adieu to the young couple. Walking by 7:50. No packs today. We walked north to pick up Fire Lane trail, which is very steep down. We quickly took off our hoodies and detached the bottoms of our zip-off trousers. We covered the 3.6 miles to Coast camp in about two hours. We stayed on the trail/road above the bluffs for another mile or so and then went down to the beach at our first opportunity. We rested, snacked, and took our boots off. We enjoyed seeing the pelicans flying in formation right along the tops of the waves. The beach is littered with empty crab shells. The gulls must be well fed. We walked another mile or so west in bare feet, had lunch, and then walked back to our boots and then to Coast camp. There were about 15 people near a point where the Limatour Road ends, but basically we felt we had the beach to ourselves. Near Coast Camp there was an excavator on the beach amongst some metal debris. We couldn’t figure out what was being dismantled, but later learned from a Ranger that a boat had run aground recently and after draining the diesel fuel, they were taking the boat apart to remove it. We had some water left but expected to get more at Coast, but we learned there is no water at Coast. The Park Service had just brought in a huge water tank that they would be hooking up to provide water again.
We hiked back from Coast camp to number 10 at Sky camp in about two hours. We met a woman riding a horse and leading another. Her only request was, “Please don’t give them a carrot or an apple.” Later, we were taking a break, and were startled by a “death wish” runner coming at full speed down a very steep part of the trail past us. It seemed he would eventually take a serious fall, if he kept running out of control like that. 10-11 miles, no packs.
No one was in site 10 and no one came for site 10. We heard of no other reservation issues, so it seems that couple were scamming us or they just got their dates wrong. The camp was inhabited by some beautiful birds we don’t see at home or in the Grand Canyon; Western Scrub Jays. Blue wings and tail and head with a black back. They seemed harmless enough but Jerry believes any bird at our camp site is after his food so he kept shooing them off. We had Mountain House Chili Mac. It was OK. Might again, Might recommend. After dinner two twenty-something girls came into site 10 sipping wine from plastic cups. They said they were looking for the site with the best view. Norm invited them to step up on the picnic table to get a great view of Limantour Beach and the “point”. They asked about our other backpacking trips and eventually told us we were an inspiration. We love to hear that at least once per trip.
We hiked back down to the visitor’s center in about two hours via the Wittenberg Trail. It is about 3 miles and we couldn’t imagine that couple carrying in that cabin tent or the “wine girls” their cooler up these trails. We deduced that there must be a shorter, perhaps leveler trail to Sky camp. Later we confirmed via map and car that the closest trail head is on the Sky trail from the Limantour Road. That’s about 1.3 miles and surely more level. Parking at the visitor center worked just fine for our whole itinerary, but not for those who are just camping at Sky.
How could it get any better than… almost no food, 1 pint of water, cool of the morning, downhill? We shaved and washed up at the car. Rinsed out some clothes. We then went into the visitor center. They have some nice displays of the park. We should have probably spent the time first instead of last. We were reminded that Point Reyes is West of the San Andreas Fault. It seems to be the only part of Marin County that is west of the Fault, and in fact has no geologic similarity to the rest of the county. To find its “origin”, one must travel down to Monterey Bay, where the “point” was about five million years ago.
Just to avoid backtracking, Norm chose Route 1 to get back to the bridge. This would probably have been a fine idea on a week day, but on Sunday, Route 1 is narrow, windy and full of bikes and even more full of cars. How the bikers survive is a mystery. After crossing the bridge there was a crazy backup through Golden Gate Park. After that the traffic flowed more normally. Once on I280, we got hungry so Jerry picked a random exit to find food. All we found was homes, miles and miles of homes. A friendly young man gave us directions back onto I280 and we didn’t get off again until our exit #24 at Sand Lake Road. Eventually we got to the busiest intersection (35 meets 84) between San Francisco and L.A. where we found Alice’s Restaurant. It was evidently a destination for bikers (bicyclists), bikers (motorcycles), and cars of all varieties. “Whether it's garlic fries, a Jalopy burger, or a Mexican scramble, you can get anything you want ... at Alice's Restaurant.” We called home.
The remainder of our trip is posted on this Blog under Big Basin Redwoods.