Saturday, July 29th, 2023, 0630-1700
Flint Ridge to Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
18 miles, Gain 1000′, Loss 1400′, elevation 10′
(My mileage reflects the side trip I took). I had some anxious and \ or reflective thoughts overnight. I was even wondering if I wanted to continue on with my thru-hike. I think a combination of not being around other hikers, taking this detour, and being a month into the trip had put me in a funk. I was also tired of smelling my funk. As I laid down to sleep, I kept getting a whiff of something bad, and I couldn’t tell if it was my gear or body or both. I guess going 2 weeks without machine washing any of my clothes was a bit too much. I was just feeling very gross and uncomfortable.
I started the day expecting to do battle with the trail, like the few from the day before. The Flint Ridge trail had been an especially tortuous climb at the end of a long day, with very frustrating overgrowth. I was worried the upcoming section would do a lot of up and down and be very brushy. To my surprise and pleasure, it was an old road the whole way, very flat and open. I did fight a short overgrown trail (Carruthers Cove) to drop to the beach, then had a bout with a boulder scramble along the beach. One spot was particularly washed away, with some not-so-fun chossy spots. I tried to climb onto a ledge where every foothold and handhold crumbled on me. Then I had to outrace a few waves around the boulders. I hit the beach only an hour before high tide, so that didn’t help.
The beach opened again for a long stretch. I think I could have stayed on it all the way to the Gold Bluffs campground, but my trackline led inland for some reason. I’m glad I followed it, because it led through a coastal prairie where I spotted 4 massive Roosevelt bull elk! They are the largest of North American elk subspecies, with bulls weighing between 700 and 1200 lbs. These looked every bit of that. Three were 6 pointers and one a 3 pointer. They live in these bachelor pads during the summer, then rejoin the herd for the rut in the autumn. They can be very testy during the rut, stir-crazed by male hormones. But these guys were still chill, relaxing and grazing. I gave them a wide birth, looking for any signs of disturbance. They glanced at me a few times but one remained laying on the ground, a sure indication that it cared not about me. They know they are protected in the park and are used to seeing people. I could never get this close to bull elk in the Rockies, unless maybe in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I went a little further, then decided to take a mid morning break to snack and watch the elk. To my surprise, they continued to graze right up to where I was sitting. I sat quietly, watching in awe, and by the time I realized I should move, I was too afraid to make any sudden movements. I had all my snack bags laid out around me, so was worried the noise of packing them might bother them. I couldn’t really abandon my food, either. They definitely knew I was there, they just didn’t care. Obviously they weren’t afraid of me, because one of them even laid down in front of me. As a last resort, I figured I could roll behind the log I was sitting on…in case one suddenly got grumpy. There are signs all over the park warning about not approaching the elk, but what if they approach you? I wasn’t trying to feed them or anything, not that they would have wanted my food, anyhow.
They continued on their independent grazing trajectory and I breathed a sigh of relief. The same thing had happened to me with cows (real cows, not cow elk) before, so I knew it was best to just remain calm. A momma cow had actually lowered her head threateningly as she came by just feet away, but kept moving. Cows are one of the most dangerous animals on the trail, in my experience. These mighty bulls barely acknowledged me, thank goodness. It was one of the coolest animal encounters I’ve ever had but just imagine what such an animal could do, if threatened!
I continued along the trail as it went in and out of the woods and prairie interface. I loved the transitions and variation…it was perhaps my favorite trail in the whole park. In addition to the elk, I saw eagles, hawks, rabbits, and deer. Plus seals along the beach. And not one human! What a great wildlife spotting morning. It certainly seemed unusual and unique to see seals and elk in the same place. Just when I was feeling a little glum about hiking, I was once again so happy to be on trail. I came to the place on my map labeled Fern Canyon and blasted right by it, still thinking I needed a permit to hike it. But I saw some cool waterfalls along the way. I headed back to the beach, walking another mile to the campground.
It was only noon and I had a decision to make: keep going or drop my stuff for the day to hike a side loop. I opted for the latter option. In fact, I’d later decide to just abandon the rest of the coast trail in favor of exploring more of the trails around Elk Prairie campground and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Both nearby campgrounds had Hiker Biker sites for only $5 a night, so a stay at each sounded like a good plan. After studying my maps and options for a bit, I left my pack in a bear box, hoping no one would mess with it, and set off for some day hiking. I followed the Miner’s Ridge trail up 2 miles, then took the Clintonia trail to cross over to the James Irvine trail. This led back down to the Fern Canyon loop. I learned from some other day hikers that the permit was only for parking a car at the nearby lot. For those that can’t get a parking permit, another option is a 10 mile round trip from the Prairie Creek visitors center. And for me, hiking all the way from the Columbia River, I figured I’d earned the right to see Fern Canyon. I later learned that it’s a man-made canyon, formed during the gold rush when miners blasted the hillside with dynamite to get to the gold in the bluffs. Since that time, the canyon became covered in ferns and waterfalls, creating a new kind of attraction. It was truly beautiful, and I’m so glad I went back to see it. The series of trails were also beautiful, winding through a mix of sitka spruce and redwoods. It made for a wonderful afternoon.
Back at the permitted parking lot, I encountered a man and his daughter who were hesitantly asking for a ride back to the visitors center. Turns out, the 10 mile round trip was too much. I laughed out loud when he asked me…I was the worst person to ask for a ride. But I was also the best person to try to score him a ride. He was so embarrassed about it, ready to give up and hike back. But this was my cup of tea. I boldly asked 2 groups, the first car was full but the very second took the bait. It took me less than a minute to find him a ride.
As for myself, I could have also taken the ride a mile back to the campsite but I was in such a good mood, I just wanted to walk the beach again. I figured that it was probably going to be my last beach walk on this trip, so I wanted to savor it. The temperature was so perfect and the ocean so calm, I was almost inspired to go for a swim! How could I not at least swim once while walking this coast? Well, I chickened out…even with the promise of a hot freshwater shower afterwards. I went in up to my knees but just couldn’t take the plunge. There seemed to be a bit of an undertow and the seals seemed to be just tempting me to prove how bad an idea it was. I’d been in up to my ribs on several crossings, so that seemed good enough.
I did finally camp on the beach, or at least in the dunes where the hiker biker site was. It was very nice, with a little bit of protection from some coastal pines…which by the way are like cactus, they’re so spiky. I took a hot shower and washed some of my stinky clothes, a big relief from the way I was feeling the night before. I was the only one at the walk-in site until a backpacking couple showed up at dusk. I was almost ready for bed, so didn’t talk to them, but was glad to finally see some backpackers in the park. I hoped to watch the sunset over the ocean one last time but the clouds came in, so it was a bust. Oh well. My weird dinner that I got at the fun grocery store was a bust too. It was some chickpea organic pasta thing that tasted so awful, I had to throw it out and substitute another. That left me with no dinner for the last night, but I figured I’d be at another campground, so the trail would likely provide.