In the Autumn/Fall 2015 issue of the Paddler ezine, we asked sea paddlers about their favourite locations. in 200 words or less. Jason Self chose northern California and here he puts some flesh on the bones of his choice…
The far northern California coastline is a challenging place for sea kayakers. With hundreds of miles of sheer cliffs and unforgiving boulder strewn beaches, there are very few opportunities for all but the most skilled and brazened paddlers to experience the magnificent beauty the area has to offer.
For the most part the area has remained undeveloped due to it’s rugged inaccessibility. Although it’s remoteness and extreme terrain present challenges to the under prepared, they also provide an opportunity to experience unparalleled natural beauty for those ready to take it on.
Trinidad Head is one of very few places that offers protection from the Pacific’s constant onslaught against the shore. This 358-foot tall rocky promontory juts out from the coast to the south west over 500 yards, sheltering the beaches immediately south from the prevailing north west swell and wind. Here you will find a kayak launch suitable for the not so hardcore, allowing those with intermediate paddling skills an opportunity to access the ocean at the gateway to one of California’s coastal monuments, stretching for miles around the launch.
Towering sea stacks and offshore reefs provide ample habitat for seals, sea lions, thousands of migrating sea birds, otters, porpoise, whales and a myriad of other incredible sea creatures. Enormous coast redwood, eucalyptus, cypress, and spruce trees cling to the edges of cliffs, themselves crumbling into the ocean.
Paddling south from the protected harbour will give you a gradual increase in exposure to north west swell and wind for two to three miles before you get to Moonstone Beach, where a long, sandy, exposed shoreline begins and runs south for 20 miles with several river mouths along the way before you reach the jetties of Humboldt Bay near Eureka and your next opportunity for protection from dumpy beach break landings.
The area around Moonstone Beach can be great for surf play for those looking for action. The rocks and reefs between the launch and Moonstone provide ample opportunity for rock gardening, fishing, whale and wildlife viewing.
For those with proper skills and a sense of adventure, paddling north of Trinidad Head will not disappoint. With full exposure to the prevailing north west swell and wind, exploring the miles of cliffs, hidden pocket beaches, coves, sea stacks, arches, caves, offshore reefs, surf breaks, and pour overs is something not to be missed. This stretch of coast is rugged and unforgiving, but for those willing to face its challenges, the rewards are overwhelming.
The Coast Guard has three air stations between Eureka in the south and Crescent City in the north, but paddlers should not take the remoteness of the area lightly. With very few safe landing opportunities, steep terrain, limited human development and population, communication and signalling are not always possible. Any paddlers who visit the area should be prepared with skills and equipment to deal with any problems without outside help, as in any back country expedition. Although limited services exist in Trinidad, such as a grocery store, gas station, and a few diners, paddling just a few miles north from the launch limits opportunity to effectively communicate an emergency call or signal. Of course, this is also the reason the area is so incredible, offering one of the greatest wilderness coastlines in the lower 48.
South west swell
Like most coastal areas, Trinidad is prone to fog in the summer. Be prepared with chart and compass. Fog is always a trade off for strong winds. Our typical summer weather pattern can be quite mild, with a dominant north west swell direction, making the launch in Trinidad Harbour ideal. Fog in the morning typically gives way to sun and strong winds in the afternoon. Occasionally a south west swell emerges in the summer, making the harbour launch no more protected than anywhere else. South west swell can be quite challenging, turning docile Trinidad Bay into a raging torrent, not suitable for beginning intermediates and is typical during our ferocious winter storms, making the area unsuitable for all but the most proficient paddlers. However, there are always windows of opportunity between storms to get out.
Jason Self is a sea kayak coach and guide for Pacific Outfitters, offering instruction and guided tours of the area from Shelter Cove in Mendocino County to the Trinidad area in northern Humboldt County.