Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Once upon a February.

It's hard to believe that the weather has ever been nice. We've just finished the coldest April in decades and are headed for the coldest, wettest May.

It wasn't always this way, though I can barely remember. The snow pack this year peaked on May 1, when normally that happens on April 1. As of March 1, it was about half of normal and now it's double.

Well, it feels like a long time ago now, and I guess it was, when I made my last trip to the Pacific coastal beaches. February 2006. Five years. I thought it was only four, which was bad enough. I used to go every winter.

In fact, this was where I started backpacking, in November 1980. Where I was working then, we had four days over Thanksgiving weekend, perfect for backpacking, except for the fact of it being early winter. The beach solved that. On the beach the temperature hardly ever even gets down to freezing, let alone lower.

The real issues in winter are dark and storms. Dark is actually kind of nice. I've been out to the beach a couple of times in December, which is REALLY dark.

This is a good time to have a roomy tent, no matter how much it weighs. I used to. Lay in a supply of flashlight batteries and bring a good long book. One winter I read Stephen J. Gould on evolution. Another year it was Somerset Maugham. Different books at other times. With a tent big enough for two large people (six pounds/2.5 kg) pitched well, all you have to worry about is tsunamis and hurricanes.

One December I got up around 8 a.m., with first light, finished breakfast around 10, diddled around on the beach, had lunch at 2 p.m., supper around 5, and went back to bed by 7. Then I read until I couldn't stand it any more. I think one night I spent 14 hours in bed because there wasn't really any reason to get up.

But that's a matter of taste, assuming nothing large and ugly is coming your way. The place is full of bears, though I've never seen one. Raccoons are a lot more common. I've seen herds of five or six go by, and listened to them squabble and fight a few feet from my tent. This is spooky, but so far nothing with teeth has been a problem. I've always hung my food and left it in the trees unless it was meal time.

At some locations the critters (specially the coons) are educated. The word is that they can bring down food that is hung normally, and even open a lot of bear canisters. But as I said, I've never had even a hint of a problem. On the one hand, it's an endorsement of my caution, or on the other hand, a critique of the kind of food I eat. Knowing where animals go, what they do, and how they eat, I'm pretty sure my uneventful history is due to my intelligence. Though there's always room to be surprised.

Weather is more a blunt instrument but much larger, and does not yield to yells or thrown stones. The weather has been pretty good over the years. Two trips back, one December, when I was trying out a clear plastic sheet used as a tarp, I had a hailstorm. At night, around 11 p.m. Overall, pretty interesting.

One year though, things were gnarly. I decided to leave early, mostly because I started doing all kinds of things wrong, and the weather looked like it wanted to kill. I didn't want to be handy, and instead decided to become scarce.

There must have been a lot going on at sea, because hiking out, at low tide, I found that the actual low tide was higher than the high tide should have been. And you have to hike (carefully) on the low tide, most places. Normally, once you know where you're going, you can start two hours before low and hike until two hours after it. But you have to make exceptions. Or die.

So overall I've found that winter weather on the beach is interesting, warmer than you'd think, and often drier than parts inland. True. Right on the beach you frequently get only intermittent drizzle while a bit inland, with even a small rise in elevation, the rain is falling like crazy.

But it varies. It can get uglier than I've personally seen, though I've seen the evidence. The evidence is the parking lot at Rialto Beach, half covered to a depth of around 10 feet (3 m) in cobbles. Hundreds of tons of cobbles pushed up over the beach and into the parking lot a good 100 yards (100 m) from the water.

They finally gave up and left half of it permanently buried.

Well, at least February of 2006 was nice. Gray and misty at first, it changed to a couple of sunny days. Totally nice. I was trying out a silnylon tarp and had the pleasure of sitting in it and watching the rain fall like crazy a couple of mornings, but during the days it was nice. Until the last day.

That day was all wind and bluster. Foam and whitecaps. Frigid. The kind of weather that makes you walk on the horizontal, leaned over so far into it that your nose makes a groove in the sand. But then it was the last day. It was just fun. Once at the car I changed into dry clothes and had yet one more long, slow drive home, satisfied once again with the privilege of living here.

I have more pictures for later some time.