Trip Report: Point Reyes National Seashore Backpack

Point Reyes National Seashore Backpack
By Aaron Jones
HIKE 04/19/2014 MOD-

Point Reyes National Seashore Backpack
Aaron Jones

We hiked through alternating tunnels of verdant foliage and magnificent ocean views. Midway down the trail we sallied off to Arch Rock and returned just as a whale was surfacing. It was just part of a perfectly wonderful day in a perfectly wonderful place, the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Our first night outside was spent in Samuel P. Taylor state park. Next morning we were off to the seashore and a series of dayhikes before the main item. It was up and down the 308 numbered steps to the Point Reyes lighthouse. This area has been deemed the foggiest and windiest place on the Pacific coast and the incredibly bent and twisted trees served as obvious evidence. Afterwards, it was off to the Elephant Seal overlook and an amazing surprise as the Center for Marine Mammals arrived with a cargo of formerly ill but newly recovered animals to be returned to the sea. Elephant seals and sea lions were hauled to the beach as smiles, cheers, and possibly tears of joy swept through the onlookers. When we were preparing to leave the area Tom skillfully pulled an expensive BMW out of a ditch that was bookended by other cars. The rest of us just held our breath deeply afraid that Dorothy Parker's adage that no good deed goes unpunished would be suddenly verified. Many kudos to Tom as he succeeded masterfully.
Our dayhikes continued with a journey towards the northern end of the park and Tomales Point. With the hours ticking away we decided to hike only until we spied the Tule Elk a subspecies that is found only in California. The elk are a remarkable example of a successful conservation effort. The herd had been reduced to near extinction during the nineteenth century but, they can now be found in several places in California. Our reservation for the night was to be at the Steep Ravine section of Mount Tamalpais but, first we had to fuel the cars and we faced an incredible traffic jam as everyone headed home from the Easter weekend. An elementary class in the late sixties composed a song proclaiming the peaceful nature of Mill Valley but, on this day it was decidedly frantic. All of the frenzied activity had us pulling into camp only to discover that even with a reservation the numbers to a lock combination are necessary to drive into the area. Following the lead of other dismayed hikers "the boys" as Cindy referred to us trekked through the dark to our site while she remained in the car. The tribulations of the previous day were soon forgotten as morning came to the region. Steep cliffs led to the sea, dramatic monoliths of rock reached upwards, and flocks of brown pelicans winged past the coastline.
Our first day of backpacking began with a car shuttle and suddenly we were ushered into a different world. A short journey to our destination at Sky Camp took us through a woodland adorned with trees, moss, ferns, and mushrooms. The area has one of the world's highest concentrations of deadly Amanita mushrooms and we were blessed to have Tom, a serious student of the matter, explain the characteristics of the local fungi. Occasionally, he was spellbound by the presence of scrumptious edibles but, contained himself in accordance with park regulations. Later that evening we climbed Mt. Wittenberg and retired to our tents as a gentle fog swept into the forest. We were visited by rain that night but, later discovered that much of what we thought was rain was really a shower of pine needles.
Coast Camp was our next destination. The Woodward Valley trail was a green thoroughfare leading us from a bevy of quail at camp, past banana slugs and lizards to a herd of deer just minutes from the shoreline. We hiked to the beach and found thousands of mussels clinging to boulders by the shore. The next morning we followed the Coast Trail hugging the coastline that oftentimes disappeared behind an impressive curtain of green. The trail took us to Wildcat Camp where our campsite was encircled with wildflowers that equaled or exceeded our own height. Approaching sunset we walked to an overlook but, soon found ourselves overpowered by the wind that was a constant evening visitor.
Before leaving camp to complete our final stretch we trekked down to the beach and made our way to Alamere Falls. The falls are a lovely cascade sprinkled with wildflowers and pouring over the cliffs and into the ocean. A receding high tide maintained a robustness that forced us to execute one stretch by bounding from rocky cliffs to the seashore and back again as we counted the seconds between waves. Returning to camp we packed up and sojourned through the lakes district and the final spectacular segment of the Coast Trail. Then it was off to complete the car shuttle and one more night at Samuel P. Taylor state park.
On Friday morning we journeyed to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park which must be a great experience under the right conditions. The park has an observatory and an array of telescopes but, we had been lucky and the foul weather finally caught up with us. Neither hiking or stargazing were promising options. But, Tom, a veritable estate sale addict, had seen a sign for a sale so Cindy and I joined him as he satisfied has obsession. Afterwards, we attended two wine tasting sessions. After all, we were in the wine country so we decided to make the best of it.
There was a great cacophony that final night in camp as a chorus of frogs competed with a huge downpour with one seemingly trying to outdo the other. We were surprised to find our tents coated with a layer of ice as we broke camp doing our best to deal with frozen fingers.
A final memorable event was a visit to Dave's friend in nearby Fairfield. She invited us to breakfast and we feasted on crepes, strawberries, orange juice and other delights. Afterwards, she provided everyone with a sack lunch, a bag of snacks, and a big hug. It was a great conclusion to a great trip.
Participants: Cindy Crass, Aaron Jones, Tom Mitko, and David Rumbellow.