Guthrie Creek Trailhead to Devil’s Gate

June 15: Humboldt County Guthrie Creek Trailhead to Devil’s Gate.  10.8 miles

We did it!  We got around False Cape.  The entire schedule up to this point has pivoted on this day.  To get around False Cape you need to have a low tide, the lowest minus tide you can.  Our low – a minus 1.95 feet — came early in the morning, so we were up at 3:30 AM and had what breakfast we could throw together, broke camp, and left Ferndale at 4:30.  At 5 AM we were at the Guthrie Creek Trailhead and heading down to the beach below.  The night sky was filled with scattered clouds and a full moon shining on the swells as they came into shore.  These swells were the one unpredictable factor in the equation for figuring out the tide level.  The day before, we were told by our boatman, Bruce Slocum, that the sea was bi: a strong swell generated by a storm far away in the Northwestern Pacific had begun to hit the Humboldt coast.

We started our assault on False Cape about one hour before the predicted low.  Carl May, who has made this trip twelve times over the years, pre-walking and then leading Coastwalkers, noted the swell, reckoning that it added a foot to a foot and a half to the water height, still low enough to make the journey, but probably with wet feet.

We approached False Cape through a series of mudstone terraces and boulder fields interspersed with pocket beaches.  The mudstone is very slick; in the water it takes on a clay-like feeling.  Carl had stressed that we wear good foot gear and that everyone needed at least one walking stick.  The stick allowed us to make ourselves into tripods for stability against slipping and, in the beginning, as a means of resisting the tug of waves that sometimes came up knee-high.  Later on, we came upon solid rock.  Unfortunately, the rocks were covered with very slick algae.

For these and other reasons, the main coastal trail will never pass this way.  But I think everyone there felt privileged to be in such a wild spot.   This area is very active geologically, the beach changes from year to year as new rock slides cover beaches and old slides are washed away by the sea.

With False Cape behind us, we had a short rest at Bear River, and then continued along the beach towards Cape Mendocino.  As we approached this cape, Carl had us stay closely together.  Often California sea lions haul out in this area, and we did not want to unduly disturb them by stringing along through their area.  We were not disappointed.  In the space of a half mile, mostly north of the cape, hundreds upon hundreds of sea lions rose before us and lumbered down into the water at our approach.  It seemed as if every single one then barked its disapproval at our presence.

While most of the group ate a leisurely lunch at Singley Creek, Max, J and Steve went to the rescue of a stranded sea lion pup.  Somehow it had gotten itself trapped in a rock enclosure at the foot of the cliff.  Being very careful so as not to injure the beast and using J’s experience from freeing sea lions from fishing nets, they soon had it free, and it was soon in the water.

From Singley Creek we walked the beach to Devil’s Gate. There we hopped upon the Melmobile for the ride to our new campsite at A. W. Way County Park on the Mattole River, where volunteer Beth Powell served us a very appreciated dinner.(Jon Breyfogle; photos, Linda Hanes)

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