Archive for the ‘hiking’ Category

adventures up north

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I’ve been having too many adventures, and getting too little work done. We recently took a week long camping/family trip up to Oregon. Several blog post worthy event happened on that trip. I’ll try to briefly cover a couple of them here.

Vaux’s Swifts in Eugene

The day after a family reunion, a cousin of mine performed in a big band concert in a park in Eugene. After the show, we were standing around talking, and I noticed the sky was suddenly full of thousands of small birds, which I took to be swallows. The locals knew right away; the birds were swifts, not swallows, and they were gathering to roost together in an old chimney a couple of blocks from the park. We walk over to watch.

It’s hard to describe the spectacle of a swirling tornado of thousands of birds getting sucked into a large chimney. Fortunately, I caught it on video so I don’t have to try too hard to describe it with words. The subhead above links to my YouTube video. Make sure you watch it in HD, the low def version is awfully gooey.

Before the Europeans Came and Messed Everything Up, swifts roosted in hollow standing snags in old growth forests. Fortunately for the swifts, as the Europeans knocked down the forests they built chimneys. Now, many of the old chimneys are being razed, but the old growth forests are still gone.

Bad Boy Elk

On the way back, Andi and I stopped briefly near Prairie Creek Redwoods to watch the Elk. This elk herd is famous; they hang out right next to Highway 101 and the Newton Drury Parkway, so thousands of tourists see and photograph them every year.

The late summer is a transition time for male elk. Earlier in the year, they’re remarkably docile for such big wild creatures. In the fall rut, they are aggresive towards everybody, especially other male elk.

When we first saw the herd, two males were locking horns in a half-hearted preliminary bout. We parked on a little side road next to the highway. We walked around a little, trying to get good sight lines, photo light, and a safe working distance. There was a wide pathway between two clumps of trees which crossed the side road, connecting two large meadows. Several elk, a mix of females and young males, were grazing calmly on that pathway about fifty feet from the road. I took a few minutes of video. It was a close range and good light, but the elk weren’t doing anything real interesting, so the video is a bit on the blah side.

As this group of elk grazed, they were gradually moving towards me and about a dozen other observers/photographers who had gathered in that spot. I figured they were gradually moving towards the other meadow across the road. They were getting a little close for my comfort level, and I believe in always yielding the right of way to big strong wild creatures, even if they’re herbivorous; so I walked back to the car and put away my camera.

Andi was still watching the elk, and the phalanx of photographers, from behind our car, so I kept watching, too. The elk continued to move toward the road; the photo phalanx stayed in position, picking up a few more members. The elk group now had all categories of camera pointed at it: cell phones, point and shoots, video cameras, even one over-equipped guy with a long-lensed digital SLR on a tripod, another SLR around his neck, and a vest full of accessories.

One of the female elk crossed through the phalanx and onto the side road. The people parted just enough to let her through. She was clearly nervous, stamping her feet and looking around anxiously. Yet, the photo tourists mostly stayed put. Suddenly, a big bull elk burst onto the scene, apparently protecting his lady. He bluff charged the over-equipped photographer, who skedaddled quickly behind a car. The humans were yielding more space to the elk all of a sudden, but it wasn’t enough for the bull. He charged the car behind which the OEP and others were hiding with a mighty CRASH of antler on metal and tinkle of antler on glass.

As near as I could tell, no humans were hurt. The woman in the part of the car closest to the charge looked rather stunned, unsurprisingly. The car suffered a broken window, a big dent on the door, and several large scratches. The bull elk suffered a headache.

Maybe, just maybe, a few tourists learned a lesson about yielding the right of way to large wild animals.

fire at usal

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

I just posted a video on YouTube. It’s old and new at the same time. While I just barely did the video editting, I took the footage in July of 2006.

Andi and I were walking up the bed of Usal Creek, on Calfornia’s Lost Coast. We heard an odd crackling sound. We looked around… was it water gurgling over rocks? Was it… we looked up at the ridge above us. It was a wildfire! We walked through the nearby campground, making sure people knew what was happening. One group had a cell phone, and knew where the nearest place with reception was. They hopped in their truck and sped off to report the fire. Other groups started rounding up their people so they could evacuate quickly if they needed to. Andi and I got in our car and started to leave.

Usal Creek and the campground are in the bottom of a canyon. The fire was on the ridge to the north. The road back to civilization goes south, over another ridge. From about halfway up that ridge there is a large clearing with a view across the canyon. Here, at a safe distance from the fire, I set up my tripod and shot some video and some stills.

You can view the video here.

Here’s one of the stills:

A Cal Fire helicopter battles a wildfire on the Lost Coast

montgomery woods fire report

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

The fire situation has calmed nicely around Mendocino County. The roads are open, the evacuations have been called off, the fires are contained or out. On the Coast, we hadn’t seen the sun for a week or so, so I thought I’d go inland to Montgomery Woods for an afternoon.
There were several fires near Montgomery Woods, a nearby hot spring resort—Orr Springs—had been evacuated, and the road through the area had been closed. Since the main old growth grove at Montgomery Woods is in a low, damp drainage, it seemed likely that the grove had been spared. When I got there, I found signs saying the park was closed. So, I loaned my camera to my evil twin Skippy and sent him into the main grove. He filed this report.
From the road, there is no sign of fire. As soon as you start up the trail to the grove, though, you encounter a whole burned hillside. More specifically, the understory is burned. The larger trees look OK. (For those of you unfamiliar with the biology of redwood trees, it’s worth noting that they have thick, fire resistant bark.)
In the main Montgomery Grove, some areas are just fine, lush and green and healthy:


In much of the grove, the ground had been burned and ash covered the ground, making it look like it had been snowing:

Some places had oases of lush greenery surrounded by scorched earth:

In a few areas, the devastation is terrible:

Some places were still smoldering:

A few downed logs were glowing red hot:

Through it all, there is still lots of bird life in the grove. I heard a normal amount of sounds from chickadees, wrens, thrushes, etc. I even saw this (I’m pretty sure it’s a) juvenile northern spotted owl:

I’m not sure if this owl was terribly stressed by the fire or not. Did its nest burn? Did it get any barbequed mouse treats from the fire?

Over all, it’s very sad to see the beautiful treasure of Montgomery Woods in such a charred state. The good news is that the big trees are almost all ok, and the understory should recover fairly quickly. It will be interesting to watch the recovery process over the next few years.

the lost coast: an overview

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Note: This is a rough draft of content for my future Lost Coast website. I’ll do research and stuff later.

California Highway 1 runs along the Pacific Coast from the border with Mexico northward. A few miles north of the tiny town of Westport—roughly 180 miles north of San Francisco—Hwy. 1 suddenly veers inland, intersects with US 101 at the town of Leggett, and ends. Hwy 101 doesn’t hit the coast until near the Humboldt Bay, leaving an 80 mile stretch of the California Coast highway-free. This no-highway zone is the Lost Coast.

From a viewpoint near Juan Creek, just before Hwy. 1 turns inland, you can get a view to the north which explains why the highway builders opted not to continue along the coast: mountains rise abruptly from the ocean two, or even three, thousand feet high. If you look to the south from this point, you’ll see a considerably gentler coast; it’s still fairly rugged, but there’s a flat terrace about a hundred feet above sea level which makes a great place to put a highway. To the north, there’s no sign of terraces, only cliffs, and high cliffs made of crumbly stuff at that.

This photo doesn’t really do justice to the cliffs or the abrupt change of geology, but it’s kinda pretty, so I’ll use it for now:

view north from juan creek

The Loast Coast is divisible into three regions: in the south, there’s public access through the Sinkyone Widerness State Park; in the central zone the Bureau of Land Management owns most of the land, and administers it as the King Range Natural Conservation Area; the northern section is nearly all privately owned, but there is some public access to beaches near Cape Mendocino.

To a purist, the Lost Coast is not truly wilderness. Europeans have been logging tanoak, douglas fir, and redwood in the region since the late nineteenth century. There are only a few groves remaining of the original forest. There are old mill sites, and even old town sites, scattered throughout the region. Still, the remoteness, the ruggedness, the current land use practices, and the low human population of the area make it feel pretty gosh darned wild. And if you get injured out here, help is a long, long ways away.

There are only two towns of any significance in the Lost Coast region. Shelter Cove is a resort community at the end of a thirty-mile paved—but narrow, steep, and twisty—road from Hwy 101 at Garberville. It can also be reached by air or sea. Petrolia, near the mouth of the Mattole River, is a more traditional town servicing the local farmers and ranchers.

The view from one of the rooms at an inn in Shelter Cove:

shelter cove deck view

For hikers, there are many places to explore in the region. The most popular backpacking trip in the area is a forty-mile beach stretch of the California Coastal Trail, from the mouth of the Mattole to Shelter Cove.

The beach near the mouth of the Mattole:

beach near mouth of mattole river

The other end of the great wilderness beach backpack, Black Sands Beach:

black sands beach

South from the Shelter Cove Road, there’s another excellent stretch of the Coastal Trail, running over Chamise Mountain, down steeply into the Sinkyone at Whale Gulch, and then up and down and up and down through a series of gulches to Usal Campground. There are also plentiful options for day hikes in the region.

Needle Rock in the Sinkyone:

needle rock

Looking down to Usal Beach from the Coastal Trail:

usal beach from coastal trail

lost coast site

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

A couple of years ago, on a camping trip to the Needle Rock area, I was ruminating on my various trips to the Lost Coast region. I realized that it was the twentieth anniversary of my first trip to the area, give or take a week or two. Over the years, I’ve done a fairly thorough job of exploring and photographing the place.

Today, I registered a new domain, Eventually, I’ll create a substantial site for that domain, with a trail guide, information about the natural and human history of the area, my photos, user-submitted photos, links to web resources about the area, etc.

In the short term, I’m planning to use this blog to post drafts of content for the long-term project. The discipline of creating regular blog posts should help me actually get this thing done.

Here’s a photo taken from the Coastal Trail looking south (and down) to Usal Beach:

Lost Coast Evening

fourth of july on the lost coast

Monday, July 7th, 2008

California’s Lost Coast is a fifty-or-so mile stretch of the northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt coast which has no highway near it. It’s a remote and rugged region, and one of my favorite places for hiking, photography, and exploration. While I usually stay home during the major Summer holidaze, this year my girlfriend and I found ourselves at Wailaki Campground, near the Shelter Cove Road.

The drive up was my first trip away from the Mendocino Village-Fort Bragg coastal zone since the fires began. Many of those fires are out or controlled now, so the conditions were not bad. The only place we were close to a recent fire was near the “town” of Rockport. There, a ground fire had burned right next to Highway 1. The larger trees appeared to be unharmed. There were a few fires still burning on nearby hills and the smoke was pretty bad in this area.

Our camp was about ten miles from the Paradise Ridge Fire in southern Humboldt County. That fire appeared to be out, although we did see a helicopter making repeated passes over the site, presumably looking for hot spots.

One local we talked to in the area relayed a tale from the week before of just how bizarre the priorities of our current federal government are. During the height of the fire, with the local volunteer fire department toiling away to protect their homes, in comes the feds. Four hundred feds in a caravan of black vehicles. Were they there to help? Nope. They were there to bust pot farms. Many of the firefighters had to leave the lines to make sure their partners hadn’t gotten busted.

The air was pretty clear during our stay, and the weather was fabulous. While there were quite a few people in our camp, the trails were remarkably free from crowds. In fact, in three days of hiking we saw exactly eight other people on the trails. I did a little, not-so-serious photography on this trip, but wound up getting a few ok shots.

Here’s the Coast Trail through the Smeaton Chase Grove:

Trail through Smeaton Chase Gove

Here I am in the same grove (photo by Andi Corsick)

Garth at Smeaton Chase Grove

Here’s Momma Elk and Junior at the end of the road near Bear Harbor:

elk at bear harbor

The Smeaton Chase Grove:

smeaton chase grove

From the top of King’s Peak, looking south toward Chmise Mountain:

south from kings peak

The ridges north of King’s Peak:

ridges north from king\'s peak

A distant fire in the east, probably the Kettenpom Fire:

kettenpom fire

Fog creeping up a gulch NW of King’s Peak:

fog and ridges from King\'s Peak

adventures in yolla bolly land

Friday, June 6th, 2008

I just got back to civilization after a brief camping trip to the Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Widerness and its neighborhood. We were camping with a pop-up tent trailer, a whole new style of camping to me. Hardly anyone drags a trailer up the rugged dirt roads to Yolla Bolly Land; in fact hardly anyone goes there at all. In three days, we say absolutely nobody outside of our group. While that’s mid-week, it’s also early June, the best time, overall, to visit the area. From July to September it’s frightfully hot and dry there. The Fall is the most visited time, as people go there to kill things. In the Winter months, the area is completely inaccessible.

The core of Yolla Bolly Land is a 150,000 acre wilderness; the surrounding area has great opportunities for car camping. One reason so few people visit the area is difficult access. One single-lane paved road approaches the northwest corner of the wilderness; the rest of the place must be accessed via long and bumpy dirt roads.

For this trip, we used the Indian Dick Road, a forty-some-odd mile trek from the town of Covelo, which is a pretty remote little town already. Since it was early June, and the mountains are not as high here as in other California wilderness areas, only the highest part of the Wilderness still had snow. We started encountering patches of snow on the Soldier Ridge Trail at about 6500 feet the Minnie Lake trail and the French Cove trail were very snowy and difficult to follow. The highest summits in the area barely touch 8000 feet. Most of the Wilderness is between 3000 and 5000 feet; in May it’s paradise, in August it’s frightfully hot and dry.

On to the pics:

yolla bolly panorama

I used PhotoShop to merge four frames to make this panorama. It was taken from the Soldier Ridge Trail looking southeast.

shooting stars, Dodecatheon hendersonii

Shooting Stars, Dodecatheon hendersonii gowing in a rock crevice

Western Pond Turtles

buck fence, castle peak

popup camper

Our camp. That’s Castle Peak in the distance

turtle pond reflections

be afraid. be very afraid

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

This sign has been at many of the state park trailheads in the area for a couple of years:

scary mountain lion sign

Oooh,scary! Pay no attention to the triviality that there have been precisely no documented cougar/mountain lion attacks on people in Mendocino County, they attack without warning. Hiking alone causes instant death. Cougars will eat your children if you don’t keep the kids on a short leash and make a constant ruckus. EEk! Maybe it’ll be safer if we go to the beach…

But when we go to the beach, we see this frightening sign:

scary beach sign

Don’t walk on the bluffs, the ground will crumble beneath you or you’ll slip and fall and you’ll die.

Don’t fish from the rocks or you’ll die.

Don’t walk on the beach or a sleeper wave will come and suck you out to sea and you’ll die.

Wait a second, the sign makers forgot about the sharks! They’re really, really scary.

It’s far safer to stay home and hide under your bed. That way when you’re old, you can look back at your long life of paranoia and fear and think about all of the fun you’ve had and your interesting experiences and say “oh shit, what have I done with my life?”

montgomery woods

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

My girlfriend and I have gone for a couple of little trips to Montgomery Woods in recent weeks. Montgomery Woods is a State Preserve on a remote county road between Ukiah and Comptche. It has Mendocino County’s finest stand of old growth redwoods. I got a few decent shots there:

trail in montgomery woods

Some flowering dogwood along the stream:

dogwood at montgomery woods

A tiny waterfall feeds a cool pool in a side stream:

secret pool, montgomery woods

A trail by a giant:

trail by giant, montgomery woods

Pool with reflections:

pool and reflections, montgomery woods

kayaking on big river video

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I took advantage of a warm, calm evening for a little paddle on Big River. Big River’s mouth is right at the village of Mendocino here on the N California Coast. I took along my new video camera. One advantage of a cheapie cam is that I’m willing to take it on such trips where the chances of drowning it in brackish water are significant. If I had a really good video camera, It’d stay onshore.

Anyway, I took about 15 minutes worth of video on this little trip, and edited it down to 3 using Quicktime Pro and iMovie. There are lots of features and controls and codecs that I’m still trying to get a handle on, but here’s one web-friendly version of my little video:


OK, that’s mighty crude. I tried to use a larger field, but I wound up with either a whopping file size or so much compression that the image was just goo.

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