Lost Coast – King Range

The Lost Coast is a spectacular meeting of land and ocean along the most undeveloped, remote and rugged stretch of coastline along the U.S. West Coast. I was eager to return here after an amazing experience in 2010 (see 2010 TRs: King Range, Sinkyone). This time, I joined Colin and Gary for the complete tour of the coast from the mouth of the Mattole River to Usal Beach. Complete album here.

The northern portion of the Lost Coast is protected by the King Range National Conservation Area and 42,585 acres received Federal Wilderness designation on October 17, 2006. The southern portion is protected in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, named after the Sinkyone Indians that lived on this part of the coast. The two sections are split by Shelter Cove, a small community of mainly vacation homes, but the parts are completely different in terms of the overall feel and experience. The northern 26 mile section in the King Range NCA from the Mattole River to Black Sands Beach at Shelter Cove is primarily a beach walk with two-thirds of the distance spent on sand, gravel, and rock-hopping and the remaining third on trails just above the beach on the bluffs. The southern 27 mile section from Hidden Valley to Usal Beach in the Sinkyone is entirely on the bluffs above the ocean with arduous climbs and narrow, brushy trails in the forest – a true adventure run with over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. The northern part features sweeping oceanside views at every step while the southern part has inspiring vistas from atop rugged cliffs. The vegetation transitions from grassy hillsides at the far north end to lush Douglas fir forest further south. There is even a few nice groves of old growth redwoods in the Sinkyone portion. We did not come across many people on either of the days and in particular, the Sinkyone portion is infrequently traveled, as manifested by overgrown trails with often poor footing. The first day along the beach featured glorious blue skies while the second day in the Sinkyone featured a dense marine layer with 800 foot tops that kept the beaches foggy but the ridge crests sunny. The “twilight zone” resulted in some amazing sunbeam through the foggy forest. Here are some favorite photos from the King Range Beach walk, which took 6:45. Complete album here.


Many more photos in the complete album here.


Hyatt Lake Loop

Another adventure run into the Emigrant Wilderness, this time a spectacular off-trail loop departing the Pine Valley trail at Louse Canyon and including Hyatt Lake, Big Lake and Pingree Lake (complete photo album here). It’s about 9 miles on trail up Pine Valley from the Crabtree Trailhead to Louse Canyon where we left the trail and headed downstream. After about 0.5 mile we turned uphill and picked up an old use path to Rosasco Lake. Rosasco is largely surrounded by fir trees but soon after the landscape opens up into wide open white granite which is the hallmark of this region (in fact, this area of granite is one of the most striking on satellite imagery).

Pingree Lake is beautifully situated among the granite slopes with clumps of pine trees positioned atop intricate inlets, peninsulas and islands. Above Pingree we reached a small pass with breathtaking views down to Big Lake. The sheer expanse of smooth, glacier-polished granite is amazing and unlike anything I’ve seen before. Big Lake looks incredibly inviting from above and after an extremely pleasant run down the granite we were at the lakeshore enjoying a snack. Unfortunately, a stiff breeze and unseasonably cool temperatures kept us from swimming in any of these lakes. On the plus side, however, the cool and breezy weather kept the mosquitoes at bay which are notoriously aggressive in this region. The cool weather also allowed us to make fast progress as these granite slopes are entirely exposed and can become a frying pan in warmer conditions.

The stretch between Big Lake and Hyatt Lake was my favorite section with a continuous slab of granite arcing across the entire basin, a stretch that I called the “Granite Highway.” We traversed the smooth granite with delightful views high above Cherry Canyon. Soon enough we were at spectacular Hyatt Lake, easily one of the best alpine lakes I have visited. Another massive granite formation buttresses the northern shore, strikingly white and smooth. I traversed around the lake shore to its outlet where I saw a bear swimming in the water. When it noticed me it quickly scampered out of the water and ascended the cliffs like a pro rock climber. I snapped a few photos and admired the lovely scenery. From Hyatt Lake, we ascended the granite formation on the north slope with more fantastic views and then traversed over and down into Louse Canyon, which contains some unique granite pools. On the way back, instead of ascending Louse Canyon back to the trail, we went up through a pass and picked up the trail at Groundhog Meadows. The Emigrant Wilderness has proven once again to be a spectacular destination and I already have ideas for future explorations! Complete photo album here. 

Complete photo album here. 

Big Bird, Deadman Canyon & the Tablelands

The Great Western Divide region of the Southern High Sierra is one of my favorite spots in the entire range. On this day I scoped out a spectacular figure-8 loop (see google maps overlay at the bottom of this post) out of Wolverton in Sequoia National Park that is mostly off-trail and stays high above the tree line nearly the entire way. The eastern loop of the figure-8 is the more challenging portion with big elevation changes and slab scrambling while the western loop is easy, open cross-country terrain. The start of the route features a quick ascent to the granite high country of the aptly named Tablelands via the Pear Lake Trail and up through pleasant cross country travel to Tableland Meadows.  Once at high pass above Big Bird Lake I climbed up and over Big Bird Peak with fantastic views of the Great Western Divide and the Tablelands across to the Alta Peak massif. From Big Bird Peak the route traversed above Big Bird Lake to an unnamed summit with stupendous views down to shimmering Big Bird Lake below and precipitous cliffs on the east side down to Deadman Canyon. A quick trip from this summit brought me to Horn Col and then a traverse to Elizabeth Pass where I climbed a small summit along the ridge to enjoy more fantastic views of the Great Western Divide.

From Elizabeth Pass I descended down and into wild and remote Deadman Canyon to near Ranger Meadows. The broad upper basin is separated from the canyon by a headwall with a large waterfall on a high angle granite slab. The trail through Deadman Canyon is very faint in spots manifesting the lack of travel through this area which is 25 miles from the nearest road. I left the Deadman Canyon path and scrambled up to gorgeous Big Bird Lake, which is indeed relatively big for an alpine lake and is surrounded by granite cliffs in a wild setting. After enjoying the amazing setting at Bird Bird Lake, I ascended through slabs back up to the shallow pass near Big Bird Peak. From there, I crossed the Tablelands along its crest passing by numerous small tarns and ultimately the stunning Moose Lake perfectly framed with a backdrop of the Great Western Divide. The final portion entailed ascending all four high points of the Alta Peak massif. I especially enjoyed the stately Southern Foxtail Pines growing high on the slopes of Alta. Once I was on top of the primary Alta Peak summit (where the trail goes) it was a 7 mile trail run back to Wolverton.  There was amazing clarity for mid-June with the Central Valley clearly visible over 10,000 feet below.Total time for the ~40 mile route was 13:36 roundtrip. There was amazing clarity for mid-June with the Central Valley clearly visible over 10,000 feet below. Some of my favorite photos are below with many more here.

Many more photos in the complete album here.


Inside Trail Marin Ultra Challenge 50 Mile

Photo by the Endurables

Photo by the Endurables; Sunbeams through the fog on Willow Camp Trail

Last Saturday I participated in the inaugural Inside Trail Marin Ultra Challenge, which features 50k and 50 mile distances. It took me literally half of 2012 to do my first race (due to injury), but this was a great one to chose for my first outing. Both courses, designed by Jim Vernon of the Endurables, are arguably the most aesthetic, scenic and challenging ever created in the Headlands and Mount Tamalpais region. There were only a few miles of repetition on the entire course and virtually all the my favorite trails were included. The 50 mile course also featured an ascent of the challenging Willow Camp Trail which gains nearly 2,000 ft in 2 miles from Stinson Beach topping out on lovely Bolinas Ridge. Total elevation gain for the 50 mile event was nearly 11,000 ft with no shortage of hills throughout. Inside Trail did a marvelous job organizing the event with excellent course marking and plentiful aid stations.  A huge thanks goes to the volunteers for cheerfully staffing four aid stations and keeping them well-stocked. Despite the difficult course, all the runners seemed to be enjoying the day and finished in high spirits. Congrats to all the participants for tackling these challenging courses. If you haven’t tried Inside Trail yet, I highly recommend it!

The day dawned foggy and cool, but nice for running. It was great to catch up with Brett in the early miles as we traversed foggy hillsides. Heading over the Tennessee Valley and up the Miwok Trail the sun peaked through the marine layer providing a spotlight affect on the hills. The long gradual climb up to Cardiac went well and then swiftly down to Stinson Beach on the famed Dipsea Trail. Willow Camp was an arduous climb with some steep hiking sections, but the views at the top of more than compensated. Sunbeams shined through the foggy oak forest creating a surreal moment and then once above the marine layer, the fog could be seen streaming up the golden hillside from below. The single track to Pantoll and then down to Muir Woods was delightful. A little bit more hiking on the stairs of the Lost Trail was followed by a stroll by the Tourist Club (it wasn’t opened yet so no beer stop) continuing to the Sun Trail and then back down to Muir Woods. The Redwood Creek Trail was inundated in high grass and brush making it slower than expected.

Back at Muir Beach, the cumulative climbing was taking its toll and I knew the last few steep climbs were going to be arduous. While I’ve been doing some adventure runs recently in the 8-13 hour duration (see prior and future posts blog posts), I have not done long training runs with consistent running yet after my three month layoff from running due to injury (a pinched back nerve sustained after a freak accident hitting a tree on my head pre-dawn). I felt this lack of fitness as I transitioned to hiking the last climbs. Coming out of Pirates Cove I was surprised to see Gary Gellin coming in the opposite direction to run with me for the last few miles. It was great to catch up and hear about his big plans for the summer (Tahoe Rim Trail FKT attempt in mid-August) and distract me from my tired legs on the climbs. Closing in on foggy Rodeo Beach we ran down the last few flights of stairs and into the finish area for a time of 7:26. Brett Rivers finished second in a strong 8:05 and Ron Gutierrez was third in 8:38. My primary race goal today was to stay on top of hydration and nutrition for a 50 miler and I think I accomplished that with no cramping. The primary goal, however, was to enjoy the beautiful trails and gorgeous scenery of this trail running playground. Not surprisingly, this was also a success, with many thanks owed to Inside Trail, the volunteers, and Jim Vernon’s sweet course design!