Ninja Camping Point Arena, October 13th to 15th 2006.

I reserved this weekend for a BASK camping trip to the Lost Coast in Mendocino. But as the time approached, almost everyone backed out of the trip until there was only one person besides myself still signed up, Gordon Schanck. He is a graduate from the BASK Skills Clinic the previous year but was very interested in an open ocean kayak camping trip. With only two off us we figured we would be in just one car and thus would not have two cars to arrange a shuttle like I had planed. I talked to Gordon and suggested a different trip. I have been interested in camping in the area between Point Arena and the Point Arena Cove. There is an unnamed cove there with a large protective island named Sea Lion Rocks. There are some gravel beaches protected from the swell by this island and I figured we could find a place to camp. I suggested to Gordon that going to Point Arena would involve less driving, we would go out and back and not need to shuttle a car, and would be launching and landing in generally protected areas. The swell forecast was for moderate waves calming to smaller waves over the weekend. The tide was mild and the high tides were in the evening and mornings. Ideal conditions for sneaking onto beaches and camping overnight. Gordon was game to try it out and we made our plans.

Not having to drive all the way to the lost coast meant that we could sleep in a little late on Friday. Even later in my case because we could drive up Highway One and Gordon would pick me up on his way. We drove to Point Arena Cove and read the fine print on the parking lot signs. Calling a few days in advance, Gordon had been unable to get a definitive answer about overnight parking at The Cove. However the signs definitely said "No Overnight Parking". We walked around and talked to landlords and shopkeepers that Gordon had called and everyone thought it best to talk to one of the harbormasters. (There is no harbormaster on duty in the middle of the week so Gordon had been unable to contact them directly). We tracked down harbormaster Mitch McFarland and explained to him what we wanted to do. He arranged for us to park a car between two boat trailers if we bought a "Marine Rescue" cap from his office and called it even. Gordon became fond of these caps and was glad to buy one. I don't usually wear baseball camps, but I was sorely tempted to buy myself one. (They come in two colors, "Port" and "Starboard"). But I figured I'd want to leave a car here again one day so I resisted getting a second one this trip.

We took our time packing up the kayaks and launched from the gravel beach south of the pier and parking lot. We paddled out across the cove and around the rocks at the north end of the entrance. Here there is a long stretch of very rough shoreline with rough waves breaking on it. You can see large rocks with arches in them but I have never had conditions mild enough to really explore them. This trip was no exception. Every time I was tempted to go inside a large set of waves would rise up and break between the rocks and convince me to stay out. I did go inside one little cove to look around. I found several caves that lead back out again but decided not to take these short-cuts when I saw waves close them out while I was watching.

As the coast started to turn inland again we came to a waterfall that I have been under before. Somewhere I read that there are only two waterfalls in the entire California Coastline that fall directly into salt water. The waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of them. Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore is sometimes reported to be one of them, but even with a very high tide it is difficult to claim that the water falls directly into the sea. However, this waterfall just north of Point Arena Cove definitely splashes directly into the ocean. I'm not sure is listed in the record books. On my topographic maps the creek that feeds this unnamed waterfall doesn't even have a name. However the land around it has recently been converted into public land, and it is called the Stornetta Ranch So I'm calling this the "Stornetta Waterfall" now.

While exploring this section of coastline on-line before exploring it on-the-water, I looked down on the Stornetta Ranch with Google Maps and was surprised to see what looked like water in a depression near the ocean. I figured this was a sinkhole leading out through a cave and resolved to look it up in person. I found the cave and saw a sandy beach under the sinkhole, but the waves were a little rough on Friday to attempt a landing. I decided to name this the "Found on Google Cave" and promised myself I would try to get inside the next morning when the swell would be calmer.

After looking into a few other caves, Gordon and I ducked across to the back side of Sea Lion Rocks to look into the caves, arches and blowholes there. The cave leading to the "Stone Warf" that I had found back in 1997 seems to have collapsed. The waves were too rough to even go in and see what remained of the rock formations I had photographed way back then. The waves were so big that we got a bit of a surfing ride behind the island while traveling north looking through the arches. There are two arches that go completely through the island, a small one that I have been through before and a large one at the north end that has shallow water where waves break violently and I have never been in there. We avoided both of them this trip.

Gordon was concerned about getting too close to Point Arena itself but agreed to continue north to see what conditions were like. What we found where fairly benign conditions. They allowed us to paddle out past the end of the point and look north at Manchester Beach. I told Gordon that he had acquired bragging rights for having "bagged the point". We turned back to select our camping spot. We had spied a couple reasonable places to camp on the way north behind Sea Lion Rocks and had our ninja campsite picked out. The recent publicity about this area becoming open to the public, however, had attracted a lot of people to hike on the trails above the bluff. We had to hang out around Sea Lion Rocks for a half an hour (trying to catch another surfing ride) until several groups had left. Then we landed on a gravel beach and set up camp for the evening.

As predicted the tide was low all night long and our campsite was safely high and dry. We took our time breaking camp on Saturday morning and the first groups of hikers came by to look down on us before we were off the beach. We had our tents and sleeping bags put away by then so I don't think we gave away the secret of ninja camping. Once we launched we headed back south and I poked my nose into "Found on Google Cave". I ducked into it and landed on the beach inside the sinkhole to take a few pictures. I wasn't sure if Gordon could see what I was up to and wondered if he worried about me disappearing inside a cave for five minutes.

We continued south again past the rough shoreline just north of Point Arena Cove. It was still too rough to explore up close. Our plan for the day was to paddle past the cove and south all the way to Iversen Landing for lunch. Along the way we kept our eyes open for a good place to camp that evening. Gordon was the first to notice a HUGE gravel beach below a high steep cliff. I liked the looks of this place a lot and marked it in my memory. I warned Gordon that the coastline between the cove and Iversen Landing was "boring" but he disagreed. The shoreline is made of tilted layers of light sandstone that wear off in interesting patterns, like topographic maps on edge. The conditions were mild enough to land for a break on a long sandy beach just south of Moat Creek. There are some expensive looking houses at the top of the cliff and several of them have plastic drainage hoses running all the way down the cliff. I picked up the end of one of these and yodeled into it. I'm not sure if this was actually heard by anyone, but a few minutes later someone did look down at us from the top of the cliff. But because of the noise of the surf we were unable to communicate.

After passing all the "boring" coastline we arrived at the rocky area south of "Facing South Only State Park" (sometimes called Bowling Ball Beach). I ducked into Sunders Landing and every other little cove in this area, telling Gordon that THIS is what a FUN coastline is like. Gordon is not big on rock gardening but he followed me into one beautiful cove full of rocks because he thought this was Iversen Landing and he was going to have to land on one of the rocky beaches there. But I lead him around Iversen Point into the landing, which is a beautiful cove with sandy beaches protected by large offshore rocks. Here we sat on the beach and ate our lunch.

A cold breeze came up while we were eating and chilled both of us down. We tried walking to the south end of the beach to warm up and look at the shoreline farther south. The breeze turned into a wind, chilled us down more than the walk warmed us up and started us worrying about the paddle back north. We jumped in our kayaks and discovered that we would have to fight that wind to get to our selected campsite. We could have stopped early at several sandy beaches near Moat Creek but I worried about being too visible in that area. We had the whole afternoon and were making reasonable progress so I continued to encourage Gordon to keep going. In fact we actually made pretty good time and made it back to the remote gravel beach in plenty of time for setting up camp in the evening. Since Gordon had "discovered" the beach I named it "Gordon's Beach". This beach reminds me a lot of Baja. It is made out of large pieces of gravel piled up in several terraces by the winter storms. The highest terrace was around 20 feet above the water, plenty high enough to feel safe from the tide in the evening. That is where we set up our tents for the night.

The next morning we slept in late with the comfortable feeling that we were so remote that no-one would discover us there. After a leisurely breakfast we started paddling north. I landed on another beach that we could have ninja camped on to check it out. I tried surfing in a few places but never caught a large enough wave. We made it back to Point Arena Cove in time for a Fish and Chips lunch and the drive back home again.

All text and images Copyright © 2006 by Mike Higgins / contact