Adventures in hiking…

Hikes With Johnny – A Not So Dry Coastal Hike

Running with the Snowy Plovers

Day hiking in Southern California has been a rewarding experience.  The diversity of the terrain  and environment is hard to match within the continental U.S.   As my wife can attest to, hiking with Johnny is usually an “adventure”.   Today, we would escape the dry, arid trails of inland San Diego or Riverside County and venture out to the coast.  Looking for a stretch of mostly unobstructed shoreline, I found the beach on Camp Pendleton an easy choice.  We tend to frequent the beaches on Camp Del Mar since I’m retired military and there are few restrictions when compared to the public beaches in SD county.  Our goal today was to do a 10 mile out and back along the shore.  As we made our way through the throngs of people clustered around the main beach, we probably appeared a bit out-of-place.  With our running shoes and backpacks, we looked fairly nerdy.   It was a nice day for the beach, low 70’s,  with a decent breeze. We broke out from the crowds after a few hundred yards .

We’ve been up this way in the past and enjoyed the serenity of the coastal bird sanctuary that the Marine Corps has established.  We came upon the tidal channel that fed a fairly large lagoon.  The lagoon and the marshy areas inland are typically off-limits due to the nesting areas of the Snowy Plover and other ocean birds.  We removed our running shoes to ford the channel around 150 ft. from the surf.  The tide was fairly low and there was very little current.  Water was up to our shins and we easily crossed the 20 ft. channel.

We continued north at a steady pace.  While walking in sand isn’t easy, it was easier than our usual 2,000-3,000 ft. climb.  The number and types of coastal birds were impressive.  Hundreds of snowy plovers, seagulls, storks, whimbrels, pelicans and more were busy – usually in search of food.  A plover chick no more than 4-6 weeks old was venturing out from its’ nest.  I tried to get closer for a pic, but it was fairly quick as it scuttled away.

After an hour or so, we would break out our beach towels and have lunch near the surf.  Beaches in southern California are obviously very different from the east and Gulf coast.  Lack of humidity, cold water, not to mention the abundance of wildlife.   We enjoyed the surroundings and took it all in.  For several miles in each direction, the beach was all ours.

My new beach towel.

After lunch, we would log a couple more miles heading north and reached a point just south of the Las Pulgas exit.  The sandstone cliffs rose above the beach, their weathered faces were like sentinels facing the ocean.

Sandstone cliffs near Camp DelMar.

Found these around 100 yds. from the surf.

As is typical with us, the first leg of our hike is casual – stopping for pics and exploring.  The return leg is usually downhill and faster.  There was no downhill today, but we picked up the pace and jogged for about 30 minutes.  As we approached the channel, I noticed a difference in the surf.  It was much closer now.  When the channel came into view, it became apparent that the tide had changed.  In the course of the last 4-5 hrs, the transition between low and high tide had occurred.  The 20ft. channel was now 150 ft., deeper, with a stiff inbound current.  I assessed our crossing options and chose an area toward the lagoon where it was wider.  We removed our shoes, and placed our electronics inside Ziploc bags.

As we started across, the swift current immediately pushed against us.  The depth slowly increased and by the time it was to our knees, it was becoming hard to stand.  We held our packs over our heads.  My wife was concerned and I encouraged her to face the current and lock arms with me. Soon, the water was up to our waist and my thoughts turned to what we would do if we got washed into the lagoon.  I told my wife if that happened, to let go of the backpack and let the current take us into the lagoon where it became shallow and calm.

As my wife prayed for us to make it across safely, I focused on where my next step would be.   10 feet away I saw an area where the water from the lagoon was pushing against the inbound tide.  Hopefully, the force of the current would be less there.  Suddenly, the bottom dropped and we were up to our shoulders.  Now, I was concerned and prepared to let the current take us in.  Miraculously, the current subsided and we waded the last 10 yards as the water lapped against our necks.

As we emerged from the channel, we laughed and I apologized for not taking into account the ocean tides.  My wife, mentioned something like “it’s always an adventure with you…”  We walked barefoot the last mile or so to the beach, tired from today’s trek.

Snowy Plover chick.

Lessons Learned:

1.  When hiking along coastal areas, plan to get wet and look up the tidal tables in case you have to cross inlets or channels.  In our case, if it would have been any deeper, we would have been washed into the lagoon.  If you are not a good swimmer, don’t cross.

2. Tidal changes around channels can be very dangerous.  An outbound current could have been drastically different for us, due to the possibility of riptides.  We happened to cross right at high tide

3.  Waterproof your equipment in your pack.  Have a few gallon baggies available.  Most backpacks will float.  If you cross with your pack on, unbuckle the sternum and waist straps so that you can roll out of the pack if necessary.

4.  James 5:16 – …”The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.  My wife knew exactly what to do in a time of trouble.  God loves each of us so much.  You are the apple of His eye my friend.

Now, back to the mountains.

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