Point Reyes National Seashore
Dec. 7-10, 2011
December is not my usual backpacking time frame. But the dry but cold and windy weather provided an unusual opportunity. I agonized over where to go! Pohono Trail in Yosemite (too cold!), Henry Coe Park (dried up water soures), Point Reyes (not again! I swear I have been on every trail). My daughter solved the problem- she wanted me to babysit so off to Point Reyes I went. My 4-day, 42 mile route was a bit contrived involving nearly walking in circles; lagoons Day 1, coast Day 2, woodsy Day 3, and short hike back to car on Day 4. Winter backpacking at Point Reyes is a lot like mid-summer high altitude backpacking in the Sierra as far as weather and equipment so I simply packed up my normal gear. I walked in my mid-weight wool base layer with a light vest and then put on everything in the evenings and mornings. As much as I wanted to use the bivy sack, heavy dew is to be expected on the coast so I took the tent.
Wednesday I managed to get through Sacramento and Bay Area morning commute traffic, picked up my permit and get to Bayview Trailhead a bit after 11 AM. I had never hiked the numerous trails through the lagoons north of Limantour Road so planned a 9-mile route that ended with a 2 mile walk on the beach to Coast Camp. Between getting a bit over-enthusiastic and an unexpected trail closures, I ended up walking 14-miles, never taking a rest break and walked into Coast Camp just as the orange ball of sun slipped below the horizon of the Pacific. The route: 1.6 miles on Bayview trail, 0.5 miles on Drakes View, 2.9 miles on Muddy Hollow Road and White Gate trail (the extra mileage to see a nice little duck pond, 1.2 miles on the Estuaro Trail, then 4 miles on the re-routed trail that went the opposite direction I intended. The trail shown on the map was closed so my direct route to Limantour Beach was gone! Then I had to walk back 8 miles on the Muddy Hollow Road to reach Limantour Beach for a final lovely 2 miles on the sand as the sun set to the west. I seemed to be chasing the clock all afternoon, at a breakneck pace. When found my campsite I was beat, set up the tent and cooked dinner by moonlight. So close to the shortest day of the year, darkness came about 6:00PM. I had forgotten my watch so the times I cite hereafter are only approximate. My muscles ached but I slept well. Other than a few people on the beach, I met no others. The trails were on the whole, a bit boring but at least new to me. As I fell asleep, I pulled my hat over my eyes to darken the bright light of the nearly full moon.
Duck pond in the lagoon area
Walking Limantour Beach to Coast Camp at sunset
Thursday I awoke at dawn staying in my warm bag knowing it would be a shorter day. When I got up there was ice on the picnic table. For those who have not backpacked at Point Reyes, it is quite civilized camping. Each backcountry campsite has a table and metal food box and a separate tent area. Sites are well spaced so you do not feel crowded. There is treated water provided from a common faucet and clean outhouses. The tent was soaked inside and out with dew. Sun hit my site but it was too low to do much drying, so I packed up the wet tent and headed up the trail. The trail scoots in and out of valleys of several small creeks and stays high on a bench with a fine view of the ocean. I stopped and hung the tent and sleeping bag on metal horse-hitching posts and walked down a short side trail to walk along Kelham Beach. The cliffs were formed of twisted, crumpled rock. When I returned to my drying “laundry” everything was dry. After walking 4.3 miles on the Coast Trail I crossed Bear Valley and up one of my favorite parts of the Coast Trail as it gains over 1,000 feet with sweeping ocean views and finally intersects Stewart Trail (really an old road). After a 0.7-mile drop the road ends at Wildcat Camp. I quickly set up camp and then took off down the beach, glad to be free of the backpack. The low winter’s sun and unusually clear air was great for photos. At Alamere Falls about a mile and quarter south of Wildcat Camp I met two young fellows were bravely taking a “shower” under the falls. I had the same thought, but by the time I got there, the cold wind killed that idea! I took off my shoes and walked around to photograph the falls from several angles. Then I walked back barefoot along the water. The tide was extremely low exposing a long spit of sand, parallel to the shore and beyond a channel filled with shallow water. I walked barefoot back to camp, my toes squishing in the sand, perfect therapy for my sore feet! Including the hike to the falls it had been a 10.5 mile day. Back at camp I just had enough time to cook dinner before the sun set. I kicked myself for missing the best part of the sunset while cooking, but I did catch the sun just as it lowered over the horizon. I spotted a seal. In the darkness the ocean was full of bright lights of boats just offshore. The moon rose huge and yellow and numerous mangy deer wandered around my campsite. I went inside the tent and listened to a book on tape for several hours. It was another cool and very dewy night full of moonlight and pounding surf.
View north from Coast trail south of Arch Rock
View south from Alamere Falls
View north from Alemere fall
Friday I awoke at dawn and this time braved the frigid air. The tent was soaked, the table was wet with dew and a few spots of grass were frosty. A hill to the south blocked the sunlight so after breakfast I carried the tent up to the bluff above the ocean where the sun hit earlier than at the camp. I enjoyed watching sunrise on the ocean, now at a very high tide, as my tent partially dried. I finally gave up on the exercise in drying, packed up and was off by about 8:30. This day would be a woodsy day, away from the coast. I climbed back up Stewart Trail for 1.2 miles where I intersected Glen Trail. I decided to take the 2.1 mile Glen Camp loop for variety. At Glen Camp I inspected each campsite noting the best ones, so if I ever decided to camp here I would not choose an inferior campsite. Only a few sites had much sunshine. Back on the Glen Trail I continued descending 0.6 miles, then hiked 3 miles up the Bear Valley Trail. Bear Valley trail is the main trail from the visitor’s center to Arch Rock and is always full of people- horse riders, joggers, bicyclists, hikers, birdwatchers, old people, babies and just about everyone else too! At the meadow at the top of the hill I stopped for lunch and pulled out my sleeping bag and tent for a final drying. There are several trails to Sky Camp (Baldy, Old Pine, Meadow, Wittenberg and Horse). Having been on the most western trails, I decided to walk nearly all the way back to the visitors center and take the Wittenberg Trail, a steep 2-mile trail to the top of Mt. Wittenberg, a flat forested hill with no view. Then it was a quick 1.2 miles on old roads to Sky Camp. After a 10-mile day with about 2,200 feet gain, I arrived about 4PM with plenty of daylight this time. Campsite #4 that I had picked at the ranger station was a poor site indeed - it had an OK view and was protected from the wind which had picked during the day, but was sloped and very rocky. I walked around assessing other sites but had no idea how many had been reserved, so went back to my inferior site and started a small construction project. I pried out enough rocks to make a reasonably smooth spot for my tent. By now the sun was setting. I washed my dirty hands and cooked dinner. Several other campers arrived. I finished listening to my book and fell asleep. I later learned that I missed a fine view of the full eclipse of the moon! Had I only known! Although very windy, it was a much warmer night. The bright moonlight and excessively sloped tent site kept me awake much of the night.
Sunrise at Wildcat Beach
Bear Valley trail
Trail to Sky Camp
Sunset at Sky Camp
Saturday I awoke at dawn, but again was quite lazy. I finally got up and cooked breakfast. The night’s wind had kept the tent dry so I could quickly pack it up and I was on the trail by the time the sunlight hit the camp. It was a quick 2.5 miles back to my car. It was now 9:45AM and I toyed with the idea of trying to squeeze in the 8-mile Tomales Point trail (with an extra hour drive) but since I had committed to babysit my grandsons at 2PM (my daughter lives nearby) instead I drove a few miles to Limantour Beach and walked the 5.5 round trip out and back on the sand spit to the end of the spit to Drakes Estero to the north. It was a fun, shirt-sleeved walk on firm sand, without a backpack. I ran into many baby birds and watched the many fishing boats. Only one other person was on the beach! I was back to my car by 11:30 and the parking lot was filling. The drive down Sir Francis Drake Blvd. was bumper to bumper traffic. Now the real work began- keeping an eye on my one-year-old and three-year-old grandsons! We went to the playground where they both proved that backpacking is nothing compared to the daring deeds on the monkey bars executed by energetic boys. Hopefully in a few more years, after they learn a bit of caution and understand the concept of walking in a straight line, they will become my backpacking partners!
Lagoon east of Limantour Spit
Birds on the sand near end of Limantour Spit
North end of Limantour Spit