Member Monday: The Wonders of the Lost Coast by Jen Higley

Welcome back to Member Monday!  We continue our theme on “Summer” with a piece from Writers Forum board member, Jen Higley.  Jen recently backpacked the lost coast in the good company of her mother and their dogs.  Today she writes of the wonders they beheld.  Welcome, Jen!

The Wonders of the Lost Coast

by Jen Higley

View from Kinsey Ridge TrailSummer in northern California marks the beginning of travel season for many, and few places are more refreshing than the coast.  Cool breezes, frequent moisture and lush green growth are just a few of the things that make the coast the opposite of the rest of California in summertime.  But for those craving adventure this summer, you needn’t look further than the Lost Coast in the King Range Wilderness.

The Lost Coast is a beach-loving camper’s paradise, with campsites for those in motor vehicles, on horse-back, or those adventure lovers who strap all their supplies on their backs and set out for those patches of coastline accessible only on foot.  Hike along the beach, watch seals play in the surf, set up your tent with a view of the ocean and listen to its tales all through the night.

Idyllic as it is, the importance of having a travel plan must not be understated.  There are a few things to keep in mind when on the trail to coastal camping bliss.

The Lost Coast Trail moves to and away from the beach at appropriate intervals, for the safety of hikers.  Enjoy the soothing sound of the powerful Pacific when hiking on the beach as you push through deep, silky soft sand with only everything you need to survive four days in the wilderness to weigh you down.  You’ll have plenty of time to absorb that marvelous maritime air when traversing miles of sand moving a foot and a half per step.  Plenty of time.

Moving inland, you get the beautiful ocean view from a shore bird’s perspective, as parts of the trail climb quite high with no obstacles such as railings, stout shrubs or anything else you could hold on to blocking your view.  And while you’re up there, with those magnificent shore breezes, take care to lean in to the hillside being traversed, as only the ocean and its accompanying sharp rocks and rip-tide would be there to stop a stumble.

There is no shortage of wildlife on the Lost Coast.  You will be living for a time in that mystical habitat where ocean life meets terrestrial, the sea lions and otters sharing the beach with bobcats, coyotes and bear alike.  While one must take care to watch out for potentially harmful wildlife when camping miles from the nearest town and well out of wireless range, most campers are spared unpleasant animal encounters by taking simple precautions, such as storing their food in bear-safe canisters and not stepping on the rattlesnakes.  The bother of insects is reduced by the exfoliating winds, but you’d be prudent to check your gear and body for ticks at the end of each day.  If you take along a faithful canine companion, check him also, as full-body fur can harbor a few dozen more ticks than you’d think.

Plant life along the Lost Coast is a sight to behold for botanists and common flora enthusiasts alike.  In early summer, you’ll pass wildflowers, century plants, and herbs such as mint, all equally obscured by the vast swatches of poison oak.  Trailhead signs encourage hikers to learn to recognize and avoid poison oak, but if you fail to dodge the fresh, oily growth that narrows the path to four inches wide in places, just rinse any exposed and most certainly contaminated skin at one of the many creeks and streams along the trail—and pray.

Weather on the Lost Coast can be breathtakingly perfect.  However, in a climate known to accumulate 200 or more inches of rain in a year, it is not uncommon for a hiker to experience some moisture.  Take care to pack your sleeping gear in water safe bags, as this will help you avoid a night of obligatory insomnia to stave off hypothermia.  Another reason to protect your gear from moisture is the grand ocean itself.  Some sections of this twenty-five mile trail are impassible at high tides, so one must carry a map and plan the day’s hiking accordingly.  At times, a hiker will neglect to consult a tide chart and be quite surprised when a pristine wave suddenly bashes her against the rocks, which is particularly distressing when there is no possible way to leave the beach for a mile or two in either direction.  Should you find yourself in such a predicament, you can hike to the safety of the nearest creek drainage, or perch on any high rocks in the area while waiting for the tide to recede, as it always does eventually.

As I’m sure I have conveyed, backpacking on the Lost Coast is a unique and amazing experience for the novice and seasoned backpacker alike, and can be enchanting fun for the whole family.  Knowing your route and packing conscientiously are the keys to a safe and grand adventure in this wilderness like no other.  On a personal note, I have never returned from the Lost Coast without longing to return.  It’s true.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: A Hot Summer Day in Chico Creek Canyon by Steve Callan

Welcome back to Member Monday.  We kick off our July theme on “Summer” with a piece  from member Steve Callan.  Steve is the author of Badges, Bears, and Eagles.  You can hear more from Steve on his NPR interview.  

A Hot Summer Day in Chico Creek Canyon

by Steve Callan

One of my most memorable trout fishing trips took place during the summer of 1964.  My fishing buddy, Paul Martens, had heard that some trophy browns could be caught in upper Chico Creek.  The only way into this treacherously steep canyon was an overgrown caterpillar track that hadn’t been traveled in years.  Throwing caution to the wind, I shoved my 1947 Chevy pickup into first gear, stepped on the gas and inched forward.

“I just bought a new Mitchell 300,” said Paul, obviously excited.  “I can’t wait to try it out.”

“If this road gets any narrower you might not get your chance,” I said

Walking might have been faster than the old truck moved in first gear, so it took us almost an hour to reach the end.

“OK, where’s the trail?”  I asked, climbing out of the truck.

“It’s supposed to be here somewhere,” answered Paul, in a sheepish voice.

“It’s only nine o’clock and already hot,” I complained.  “The temperature’s supposed to hit a hundred today.”

Paul and I peered over the canyon’s edge.  All we could see were giant boulders, scrub oaks and what appeared to be an impenetrable wall of poison oak.  Reasonable adults might have surveyed the situation and decided it wasn’t worth the risk, but we were sixteen year old boys, not reasonable adults.  Besides, we could hear the trout stream rushing and rippling below.

Paul discovered what might have been some kind of human foot path a short distance from where the road ended.  I looked it over and was convinced that it was no more than a deer trail, but that was all we could find so we gathered our gear and began the day’s adventure.

Both of us carried cloth fishing creels and two piece spinning rods, with reels attached.  “Watch for snakes,” I warned, as we carefully squeezed between two patches of poison oak.  About fifty yards down, the trail disappeared and the canyon became even steeper.  Sweat poured off our faces and into our eyes.  We had already forgotten about avoiding poison oak.  The fear of stepping on a rattlesnake paled in comparison to the anticipated joy of reaching the stream and flopping into the refreshingly cool water.

Expletives rolled off our lips as we charged forward, pushing brush and sharp branches aside.  “It’s too late to turn back,” I shouted.  “Keep going, Paul, we’re almost there.”  I reached a clearing, fifty feet above the stream.  It was then that I heard Paul cry out, “Sheiiiit!”  I looked up just in time to see my fishing buddy burst through a patch of poison oak.  He was still on his feet, but sliding on the soles of his Converse All Stars.  Paul’s fishing rod, with his new Mitchell 300 reel attached, was still firmly clutched in his right hand.  Suddenly his feet flew out from under him and he fell backward onto the hard red clay.  The impact loosened Paul’s grip on the fishing rod and away it went, bouncing down the canyon, over the rimrock ledge and into the stream below.

Fortunately, Paul’s rod and reel didn’t break into a hundred pieces.  They did, however, land in what had to be the deepest pool in Chico Creek.  Paul was devastated.   He had not only lost his new reel, but after all of the work getting there, he didn’t have anything to fish with.  “Cheer up,” I said, still laughing.  “I’ll get your rod and reel back.”  I reached into my creel and pulled out an old diving mask.  “I brought this to see if there are any big browns in this stream, like you said.”

Paul and I carefully climbed down the remaining rocks to the water below.  I marveled at the beauty of this Northern California trout stream.  The water was crystal clear as it rushed over car sized boulders, creating one deep pool after another.  Alders provided much needed shade, creating an ideal environment for fish and other aquatic life.

Ditching my shoes at the water’s edge, I carefully maneuvered across the rocky bottom until the swirling water was shoulder deep.  My face mask had not been used for some time, so I rinsed it out, spit on the inside glass and thoroughly rubbed saliva around before rinsing it again and putting it on.  Leaning forward, I stuck my head under the water.  The sounds from above were immediately silenced and replaced by the muffled sound of rushing water and millions of foaming bubbles flowing downstream.  Pushing off from the stream bottom, I skimmed across the surface toward the steep cliff on the opposite side.  Tucking my upper body and straightening my legs, I began my descent.  Within seconds I was ten feet below the surface, continuing downward.  The water became dark and suddenly colder.  Pressure began to build in my ears.  Peering toward the bottom, I saw several eight-inch rainbow trout dart upstream toward the falling water and disappear into the bubbles.  My peripheral vision was limited by the sides of the old face mask, but I managed a short glimpse of something larger, much, much larger…

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!