It must be said that I am an awful person to shop for, if I don't like a gift you will know about it as Emily found out one Christmas when she gave me a tie. I happened to think that he needed the ties. In front of her parents I was gracious but in private I let her know that I considered this an act of war and future ties would be grounds for divorce (despite not yet being married at the time). He still needed the ties... With this in mind, I suggested that for my 29th birthday we go on a backpacking trip and given our 2-1/2 day window, the time of year, and lack of options other than the Skyline to the Sea Trail we headed from Berkeley to Point Reyes on Saturday after Emily got off work around 2:30 pm.
Sometimes trips go exactly as planned, and that was the case this time. Of course a bit of the unexpected was thrown in to keep things interesting. Our itinerary, planned and actual, is given below the map.
- Saturday, 1.8 miles
Laguna Trailhead (near Point Reyes Hostel) to Coast Camp
- Sunday, 7.9 miles then 4.0 miles
Coast Camp to Wildcat Camp with detour to Sculptured Beach
Wildcat to Alamere Falls (via western trail) to Wildcat (via eastern trail)
- Monday, 11.8 miles
Wildcat Camp to Glen Camp to Sky Camp to Laguna Trailhead
Total Miles = 25.5
All four of the campsites we visited had toilets with paper, garbage bins and even recycle bins! To accommodate this, they are all accessible by dirt roads which means you can ride bikes to any of them. Additionally, Coast and Glen had potable water while at Wildcat the water had to be treated (it smelled like rotten eggs) and at Sky the faucet was broken. Additionally, each individual campsite at each camp has a picnic table, BBQ grill and metal food storage locker. Had we known this we would have brought steaks the first night!
With the exception of Glen, all of the campsites are nice, but it helps to get assigned to the right spot. At Coast, we stayed at site #1 which had dramatic vistas of Drakes Bay from our picnic table. Larger groups can stay in a protected and thus viewless grassy meadow. There was also a great big swinging tree right beside the trail to the beach. Someone has fixed large ropes with loops and knots onto the branches and you can stand and swing from these ropes. A few other people where there when we arrived Saturday night and when we left on Sunday morning.
Wildcat has sites on a bluff overlooking the ocean but to get great views you have to go to the edge, thus no camp is really preferable to another in my opinion, although we stayed at site #5. Much to our surprise, we had the entire camp to ourselves Sunday night.
Under no circumstances would we stay at Glen Camp as it has no views and limited sun exposure. We ate breakfast there on Monday and it was deserted. It also smelled kind of funny. I'm not sure if that's a permanent feature or just that morning.
Sky Camp is quite awesome, with some sites (I won't say here) commanding spectacular views while others have none. Quite frankly, if I was assigned to one of the viewless sites I would be pissed off. When we arrived on Monday and ate lunch all of the sites where empty. I also saw a bunch of quail, so I'm going to look up how to trap quail for next time. Mmmm... roasted quail...
In general, all of the trails were in good shape and well marked, in fact, every single junction had signs. I expected the trails along the coast to be spectacular, and they didn't disappoint. Along the ridge, on the Sky trail headed towards Sky Camp views were equally stunning. In fact the only area of somewhat "blah" terrain was before and after Glen Camp. It was pretty, but lacking in views.
Expectations exceeded ten-fold! Pictures will show why. If you do go to the falls, either to or from Wildcat Camp, consider walking along the beach as it is much shorter (and obviously flatter) than either of the trails I took. Watch out for the tides though!
When we picked up our permit (that I had paid for and reserved by phone several weeks earlier) at the Bear Valley Visitor Center an overly talkative ranger gave us a double sided, black and white, 11"x17" piece of paper that he called a map. Sure it shows all of the trails and distances but it is missing one crucial piece of information, elevations! Do yourself a favor and get a proper map.
During the trip we marveled at the perfect weather, blue skies and temperatures suitable for shorts and tee-shirts. We couldn't have asked for better conditions. Then during the first night we both woke up feeling a bit cold so I glanced at my thermometer and was blown away to see that it read 20 degrees Fahrenheit! We ended up sleeping with all of our clothes on, thus sacrificing our clothes pillows, and made it through the night with minimal discomfort. As expected, the next morning everything was covered in frost. On Sunday night we were once again prepared for the bitter cold but it only dropped to right around freezing. Those were the third coldest nights I've ever spent, the first being the Grand Canyon and the close second being the train station in Venice.
My choice for shelter on this trip was my "Cloudburst" made by "Tarptent". It is the same shelter that I froze in on my solo trip on part of the JMT last year but I attributed that to my sleeping bag which I had just had extra down blown into. Turns out to have been a poor choice. As the temperature dropped water began to form on the inside of the tarptent and it began to sag. As we shifted during the night and rubbed against the tent walls small amounts of water would get on our sleeping bags. Not a big deal for Emily, as her bag has synthetic fill but mine has down and I was worried! Turns out I didn't have to be, for although I did get a bit of water on it, no loss in loft occurred.
Emily and I both thought fondly of my other tent, a "Peak 1" by Coleman that weighs under 4 pounds and cost less than $90 (the same tent that I took on my cross country bike trip). Sure, water would have condensed on its fly as well, but we would have been protected in the mesh tent. I'll experiment a bit more with the Cloudburst before I go back to the Peak 1 but things are not looking good for it. I keep looking back on the trip I took with Henrik to the Ansel Adams Wilderness in August of 2002. That night we went to sleep in the Peak 1 and woke up in the snow. I was not cold at night and I was using my homemade synthetic quilt that has maybe 2 inches of loft.
We did really well on this trip, carrying out only minimal snacks on the last day. We enjoyed all of our food and would bring everything again, only next time, perhaps a bit more Gatorade. Our dinner was a mix of freeze dried vegi chili and freeze dried refried beams bought in bulk from Berkeley Bowl. Two cups of the dry mix poured into 3 cups of boiling water did the trick for both of us although next time we might cut back on the beans a bit and substitute some pasta. We also saved some cheese and salami from lunch and added it to the pot.
Should you go? Yes. Are we going to do this trip again anytime soon? No. Is that a contradictory recommendation? Maybe. Basically, we had a great time but would rather go on day trips to this area, especially to Bass Lake. If we do stay overnight again, we would probably ride bikes to Coast Camp, but who knows. I'd like to do Coast camp with a group next time since it is so close to the beach and the parking lot. You can have a big group there together and bring in a lot of food.
Here begins the great Point Reyes loop. From this point we had an easy 1.8 mile walk to our first campsite called "Coast".
White deer and brown deer graze together. Can we learn from their example?
After our encounter we expected this rabbit to lead us down a hole to "Wonderland". Our first picture was from about 25 feet away and we moved forward in 5 foot increments, taking pictures, until we where this close. Then he simply tired of us and walked right by us.
This picture was taken while seated at a picnic table at our Coast site #1. Multiple rope swings hang from the tree at the left. Sites #2 through #7 have similar views. Larger groups can camp in a field and sleep on grass, but they have no views.
Here I am on the trail south of Coast Camp with Drakes Bay to the left.
We detoured off the main trail to go down to Sculptured Beach.
A beautiful patch of "Miner's Lettuce" on the path down to Sculptured Beach. I ate it every chance I had.
We didn't eat any miners lettuce from this area.
We had lunch here, out on Millers Point. After lunch we continued south and at some point occupied the same space as this man.
After lunch we climbed from El. 100 to El. 850. I think it was worth it.
Eventually we ended up above Wildcat Camp. Our site, visible as two dots, is the farthest to the right. We where the only people at the camp that night.
After quickly setting up the tent at Wildcat I jogged over to Alamere Falls. To get a sense of perspective note the person on the cliff to the left of the falls.
And here is the falls from above. I am surprised, but glad, they haven't put up a railing.
And these are the minor falls above the major falls along with an Abbey Road type crossing.
Back at Wildcat, we had to make dinner post haste as the sun was setting.
Chili on the bluff. It doesn't get any better than this.
Deer at Wildcat, oblivious to our presence. After I jogged to the falls Emily had an encounter with a raccoon resulting in harsh words being spoken.
"Somebody turn off the goddamn moon!" No really, it was very bright and on all night like a flashlight in the face. This photo was taken around 7 on Monday morning.
I ponder frosted grass before the sun has a chance to wake it. Emily thought that this picture would not turn out. Ha!
Walking through the trees before Sky Camp. This photo really shows how dense the trees were.
Amazing view from Sky Camp site #, ahh, errr, hmm. Emily took this photo while sitting at the picnic table where we ate lunch on Monday. Like Wildcat and Glen, this camp was empty.
Emily branches out into nature photography with this iris.
And continues her new passion with this chamomile.
Even when heading down from Sky Camp (El. 1020) to the Laguna Trailhead (El. 125) you still have to go up hills, although this was the last. At the top we had dead on views of the Farallons.
Dried apricots, chocolate covered almonds and Berkeley Bowl honey sesame sticks were our only leftovers. My calorie spreadsheets are finally starting to pay off. This leftover food weighed less than 8 ounces.