cleanup crews pick up tar off the sand in Newport Beach California

Surfers and Ocean Enthusiasts Grounded as Largest SoCal Oil Spill in Over a Decade Covers Coast

It feels like I’ve been grounded…literally…from surfing. I’m not 15 years old, I didn’t get too sassy nor did I break curfew. But this feels like punishment for something I didn’t do and like my teenager self, I’m protesting the “parents” in this situation—big oil.

Since Saturday, October 2, an oil pipeline was punctured and has been gushing more than 126,000 gallons of crude oil through a pipeline’s 13-inch gash into the Pacific Ocean about 4 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach and Long Beach, according to news reports. However, some boaters reported smelling something in the water on Friday, October 1. The rig responsible is called the Elly rig, owned by Amplify Energy, which is based in Houston, Texas.

oil pill water is closed sign in sand in Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach River Jetties

Officials indicated that the pipeline was moved more than 100 feet across the ocean floor, which possibly suggests a ships anchor may have punctured the pipeline spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, killing wildlife and soaking the coastline in tar and filth. Cleanup crews from California Fish and Wildlife and independent contractors (which I will add are hired by the oil companies) have been working for the past two weeks to clean up the spill. Ironically and it should be noted that those departments are working together—California Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Coast Guard are sharing an office in Long Beach with Amplify Energy—a company that is now under criminal investigation, according to the Orange County Register.

Amplify and the U.S. Coast Guard did not return my phone calls, texts or emails. California Fish and Wildlife referred me to the press conferences.

After a week of beach closures and many still remain closed, Huntington and Newport Beaches are allowing people to enjoy the sand, but not the shoreline or the water. Newport Harbor, Corona Del Mar, Laguna Beach and Dana Point Harbor are fully closed.

“Our beaches are largely unaffected south of the Newport Pier,” said Brad Avery, Mayor of Newport Beach.  “We do have oil on our beaches from the pier to the Santa Ana River Jetty…it’s by no means a disaster.”

black oil tar sits on the sand in Newport Beach, CA

A tar ball about the size of Swedish pancake and a pretty darn thick one, too.

According to California Fish and Wildlife’s Southern California Spill Response, 1,500 people will be helping the already 400 crewmembers in the cleanup response by the end of the week and the team has so far recovered 5,544 gallons of crude oil from Huntington Beach and south to San Diego. Additionally, 13.5 barrels of tar were recovered, 232,500 pounds of oil debris has been removed from shorelines and more than 11,000 feet of containment boom has been deployed.

“The Huntington Beach oil spill is a fateful reminder that oil does not belong on our coasts,” said Matt Sylvester, Orange County Coastkeeper communications director. “This is not the first California spill, nor will it be the last unless we move quickly to decommission oil rigs and halt all future oil contracts.”

Beaches are set to reopen when the water quality levels detect no toxins associated with the oil in the water, said an AP News report.

A 2017 study about the Keystone Pipeline conducted by Auburn University states that crude oil is made up of petroleum, mineral salts, sand and more 1,000 chemicals, like benzene, which are hazardous to humans when inhaled or touched. In their study, they noted that Ponca City, Oklahoma residents experienced an increase in health hazards once the pipeline was extended into their city, including young children who lived near the pipeline were 56 % more likely to develop leukemia.

Not only is the tar now in the Pacific off the coast and on the sands, exposure to these toxic chemicals can cause migraines, painful rashes, breathing complications, nausea, chemical sensitivities, and exacerbated cancer activity—in a word, don’t touch it. If you do touch it, here’s how to remove it, and remove it quickly!

hand with tar on it

Yuck.

What’s more, according to the same study, tar sand sinks into the water supply and that makes cleanup even more complicated, not to mention the slew of health hazards that come with a tainted water supply. Though this spill’s magnitude was not as great as several in the past, (see: Deepwater Horizon), this is an industry who’s consistent shady backdoor practices, deep pockets and faulty equipment, failure to notify the proper authorities, needs to be brought to the surface and removed from environments because our ecosystem, be it California, the Gulf and basically any ocean, land, river, … can’t and shouldn’t take much more.

“Laguna Ocean Foundation works to protect the beaches, tidepools, estuaries of our local coast and to share the wonder of those resources with the public. Harm to those resources of any kind, is a loss to us all,” said Claire Arre, Laguna Beach Ocean Foundation education and outreach coordinator. “An oil spill with the magnitude of last week’s pipeline ruptures off of Huntington Beach can devastate our coastal ecosystems in an instant. We have held our breath as our kelp forests and tidepools, our go-to snorkel and surfing spots, truly all our favorite treasures were threatened. We are thankful for the good news of minimal nearshore impact here in Laguna Beach, and hope that all of Orange County will be able to recover from this. We love our beaches and we never want this to happen again.”

partly sunny Newport Beach with a wave in the background and sparkling sand

Though it looks like that barrel is going to open up, it’s closed for you thanks to Amplify Energy.

Though networks are inundated with volunteers (a great problem to have!), it never hurts to find out how you can donate or get involved, too:

Donate to Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center

California Fish & Wildlife volunteer form

Surfrider Foundation: Text ‘OILSPILL’ to 51555

Until we get the green light, this is one grounding I will be taking seriously.

black oil tar sits on the sand in Newport Beach, CA

How to Remove Tar Off Your Body (and F*ck Big Oil!)

If in case you can’t already tell–I’m pretty heated about what’s oozing down the coast from Huntington Beach. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that’s hopefully not a glob of tar, there’s been a giant oil spill, one of the largest in Southern California in decades, that has recently hit the shores of not only HB, but is now making it’s gross, oily and destructive way down the coast. Many thanks goes out to those cleanup crews working hard to remove this shit from our environment and help the animals and plants who are suffering.

To volunteer to help in the cleanup,  text ‘oilspill’ to 51555

More details to come from this infuriated surfer girl.

If in case you got some tar stuck to your extremities or hair, here’s a helpful tip on how to remove it without removing your skin:

two girls wearing sweaters with arms around shoulders stand on a cliff in Big Sur Willow Creek smiling

Disconnecting up North in Santa Cruz and Big Sur

two girls inside the car take a selfie in sunglasses during a road trip up the coast of California

The first of many selfies.

About seven years ago this past April, I was surfing San Clemente State Park when I noticed this curly-haired chick wearing only a green Brazilian bikini paddling around in the lineup. The water had to be at least 60 degrees—nothing new for Southern California at this time of the year, but balmy by comparison from where she was from.

Curiosity got the better of me and we struct up a conversation being the only two women surfing at State Park that day. Lauren, being from New York, thought 60 degrees was warm water, thought all the guys on Tinder sucked, said we should go for the sets and paddled straight to the peak at pumping State Park—zero effs given.

Instant friendship.

A few weeks ago, that same surfer girl and I decided to pack up my Subaru and drive up the coast to Santa Cruz and Big Sur to find some surf, eat A LOT of snackies, camp and just plain disconnect from this crazy world. In fact, she made me turn off work notifications and that was the BEST decision ever.

a bright pink champagne cake sprinkled with white powdered sugar at the Madonna Inn

Marveling at the pink champagne cake at the Madonna Inn.

We had always talked about a trip together—I mean, why not?! She and I are typically on the same pages in life and (almost) the same speed in the surf. Although she has been known to tackle 15-foot peaks at Todos Santos, but that’s another story.

As with most surf road trips, we said ‘let’s leave at 6:00 a.m. and beat LA traffic!” My cat had other plans by keeping me up all night long and we also just plain lagged. But! Somehow traffic wasn’t that bad and we made it up to Ventura before 9:00 a.m. We stopped at my favorite little coffee shop, Sandbox Coffeehouse, to grab an awesome Chai latte and to (briefly) check C Street. Of course, it wasn’t working. To be continued…

a girl stands on a big rock by the ocean with her hand outstretched towards the ocean

Today, we have the small wave special served cold.

We burned past Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. We slipped past wine country and stopped at the Madonna Inn for a tasty, sweet treat. Deciding to take our time, we headed straight to Santa Cruz and would check Big Sur and Morro Bay on the way back. There was no swell in the forecast, so we weren’t in any rush.

After checking Moss Landing’s

a partly cloudy and windy beach scene with rough waves and yellow sand

Moss Landing, anyone want to surf?

wind-blown beach breaks, we made our way into Santa Cruz, the hippie capital, and surfed Jack’s, close to Pleasure Point. Of course, the sun was setting and the water was, once again, a balmy 58-60 degrees. Lauren insisted we trunk it for our first sesh. Teeny tiny waves met our bikini-cladded bods as we skidded and surfed with longboards underfoot. I realize—I miss longboarding so much. The cold got the best of me first and I took the tiniest wave in. Lauren and I decided hot soup was the ticket for a post-surf dinner and we found calamari, a glass of wine and clam chowder at Water Street Grill most satisfying.

light streaming through the trees in the forest

It is, indeed, a good morning, Henry Cowell campgrounds!

We made our way to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park around 9:30 p.m. and set up camp. The next day, the surf was once again tiny, so we decided to hike around—albeit taking it easy with Lauren’s injured Achille’s. A mellow 6-mile hike literally over the river and through the redwoods was the day’s adventure—major picture porn ensued and my iPhone was a shutter slut. (see photo slideshow below)

The next day, we gave Steamer Lane a shot, although there wasn’t too much to be had. There were the occasional shockingly bigger sets and Lauren and I scored, under the approval of two local guys—one was a regulator named Carlos who told an errant kayak surfer (as nicely, but firmly as possible) to beat it. Thank you, Carlos!! We thanked him and struck up convo.

looking up into a tall redwood forest canopy

We’re surrounded.

On my first wave, I forgot kelp is a thing up there and inertia got the best of me when my board stopped short. The most epic wave of the trip was Lauren’s…she decided to trunk it AND wear her most awesome hat. Besides the fact that she looked like she belonged in Southern Baja, she took off on one of those “bomb” set waves and her hat nearly flew off as she cruised down the face and I paddled up the shoulder laughing hysterically. Thankfully she saved it, otherwise it was going to be my rescue mission. I must have died laughing. Best. Wave. Ever.

two girls standing in a forest making funny faces

This hat is legendary.

Not long before—I saw a sea otter pop up right beside me, an inquisitive look on its face and a small spider crab on its tummy. I dazzled and gushed with joy while it stared back and proceeded to crunch loudly on a spindly little crab leg. According to the two local guys, a momma sea otter has been hassling and biting folks out in the lineup lately–they think it’s because she has babies somewhere.

small waves breaking off a cliffside on a. sunny day

Steamer Lane, small and uncrowded.

While small waves hugged the cliffside and I waited my turn, I marveled at the rock layers and the sea stars, barnacles and kelp. What a perfect day for a snorkel or free dive! Best session of the whole trip, hands down. We made another attempt to surf 26th Ave, a nearby beach break, and though the waves were pretty much shore break, we found the best sunset views. A campfire, a solid burrito, a bottle of red wine and s’mores called us back to our campsite.

a girl wearing a bikini running out of the ocean with her hands up and smile on her face during the sunset

Trunkin it proof.

We made a few friends, too, who shared their biking adventures and we traded surf, bike and camping stories for our last night in Santa Cruz.

The morning was met with a hot dog from older hippie ladies by the Hook and some absolutely DELCIOUS pastries from Gayle’s Bakery based on Lauren’s recommends. We also did a stint at Grey Bears Thrift Store, and jetted as fast as my subie could carry our fat asses south towards Carmel, Monterrey and Big Sur aiming to find a camping spot. We checked some surf spots in Carmel, nothing too exciting, and dedicated our mileage to Big Sur.

Bixby Bridge in Big Sur California with fog and the beach

Obligatory pano of the Bixby Bridge. Not too shabby shot after tourist dodging, if I do say so myself.

secluded beach with rocks and windy conditions in a partly cloudy sky

Pfeiffer Big Sur

Winding in and around PCH, Lauren chauffeured and I got to marvel uninterrupted at Big Sur’s incomparable beauty for the first time. Lauren was a trooper and let me do the tourist thing of taking 10 thousand pictures at Bixby Bridge. Tourists gathered inches away from the cliffside to take group photos at this historical site while I gingerly snuck around for an uninterrupted angle.

We stopped at Andrew Molera State Park and after realizing we’d have to hike our stuff into camp, we opted to find easier grounds. Ironically, we staked a claim at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park—the spot where we were supposed to start a mini-backpacking trip. Our site was covered in leaves, a perfect critter notification system, I thought.

a girl wearing a headlamp tends to a campfire

We tried to summon The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire,’ but phone signals, ya know…

Night time crept in swiftly as the tall redwood trees darkened the campgrounds with their immense shadows. Building the fire proved to be a challenging effort and as food and drinks fizzled into s’mores and laughter, we could sense critters creeping in around us. We peered into the darkness outside our campsite and sure enough, eyes dotted the dark like stars poking through a black sky. Raccoons…we hope.

Didn’t help I told Lauren about my mountain lion encounter from 2010.

All night long, I heard animal shrieks and leaves crunching right outside my tent—raccoons, surely. Some time around 4:00 am, I heard a dog persistently bark and growl and at 7:00 am, a shriek and some scattered leaves came from Lauren’s tent. Eventually I woke up to find her calmly reading a book and then told me about this blue bird who took her by surprise. I think the animals were extra curious. Perhaps we smelled like s’mores and dirt.

a wetsuit sitting on a rock with a large spider crawling on top of it

A small critter makes itself at home on my wettie. 

The last day of our trip began with a search for a surf spot recommend from my friend Royce Fraley, but fog and zero Wi-Fi wouldn’t allow for it. Next time.

We checked another surf spot recommend–Pfeiffer Big Sur, and had our own stretch of beach all to ourselves. There was what looked like a right breaking off some rocks and I paddled out to investigate, but the solo mission plus the random rocks and super sharky vibes had me coming in after a few duck dives. I once heard of a man who duck dove and never came back up.

foggy and rocky coastline with a peaky wave breaking off shore

Would you go? Willow Creek looking peaky and tempting.

I later told Royce who joked and said I needed a guide. True. Laughing I thought—I just need a few more bodies out there to lessen those odds. Imagine that—I actually WANT people in the water with me…. well, a few…my friends only, but not as Great White snacks. Maybe that’s why that other spot he recommended was so territorial.

Eventually up and at ‘em again—we left our secluded slice of pre-colonized California and decided it was time to head back to reality. The pangs of anxiety rang to the tune of work, school and fur child, so I soaked in every hippie dippy, nature-induced high possible, like an addict savoring the last hit.

Lesson: Find more time to become un-notifiable.

 

More photos + videos:

Santa Cruz + Big Sur

Peak 3 of 6: Cucamonga Peak

Peak three of six had me second-guessing that I was actually still in Southern California…

Beautiful redwoods dwarf any palm tree.

Beautiful redwoods dwarf any palm tree.

Taking in all the hobbit potential...

Taking in all the hobbit potential…

The Hike: By far one of my most favorited hikes during this challenge. For the first 2.6 miles, you’ll be hiking the Icehouse Canyon Trail, which features beautiful lush foliage alongside a rushing creek. There are also cabins and cairns to ogle at, which make this place look like anything but Southern California. Eventually you’ll make it to a rock quarry-looking area where you can observe very interesting geological rock formations. But don’t get too distracted—it’s easy to lose the trail. Veer towards the right in this quarry-like setting and you’ll come to the 2.5 miles to of the first chunk of the trail, which takes you through more exposeswitchbacks and eventually to the “Icehouse Saddle.” It is during this portion of the hike where you will climb the most elevation as the saddle puts you at about 7,600 feet.

Once you get to the saddle, you can go one of three different routes. I completely geeked out because not only could I see a beautiful forest view into the valley, but I also found more trails/mountains to hike.

Signage will point you straight onwards for another 2.4 miles towards Cucamonga Peak. This trail has a lot of loose gravel, and due to frequent landslides, the gravel often covers up the tiny trail itself. This makes things slippery, so proceed with caution.
And just like this hike description, when you think it’s never going to end, it does. And the view of the inland empire and Apple Valley is spectacular. If there are clouds around, they tend to make your photos look pretty damn cool, too.

Driving Directions: From the 210 east towards San Bernardino, exit Base Line Drive, make a right onto Pahua Drive and a right onto Mount Baldy Road. The trailhead is located at the end of Mt. Baldy Road, and there is a lot for those who have Adventure or National Park passes. You can also park alongside the road without any ticketing consequences.

Back in the day, California was filled with volcanoes...still was a hot place to be. ha! I'm here all night.

Back in the day, California was filled with volcanoes…still was a hot place to be. ha! I’m here all night.

You'd walk right past it and never give it a second thought, but don't forget to check out the old gold mines.

You’d walk right past it and never give it a second thought, but don’t forget to check out the old gold mines.

Roundtrip mileage: 15 miles, 8 hours

Elevation: 8,859 feet

Elevation gain: 4,000 feet

What to bring: Water, snacks, hat, sunscreen, phone/camera, Adventure Pass

Consider this: There are so many cools sights to see along this trail that you tend to forget to sip your water. Cabins, cairns and igneous rocks can easily distractify, but don’t forget to do a sanity check lest your lungs do it for you. Also, be sure to look for the old gold mines along the trail. There’s no signs that point them out, they’re just kind of chillin’, so be on the lookout. If you’re heading toward the peak, they are on your right…because to your left is a straight 1,000 foot drop.

 

 

Peak 2 of 6: Sitton Peak

Peak two of six made me consider bug spray! Just when I thought it was safe to wear shorts and a tank top…

The scrubby trail to Sitton Peak.

The scrubby trail to Sitton Peak.

The Hike: A local peak always sounds great, right? Find the Bear Canyon trailhead located behind the old -fashioned Candy Store off Ortega Highway. It’s easy to miss this trailhead, so if the store is open, there’s no shame in asking about the trail location. The store also offers free printed maps. This trail requires a wilderness permit, which is often available at the trailhead to fill out. If not, bring a pen and paper and leave your info in the box.
The hike begins at a moderate pace and is lined with brush and large boulders. It meanders over a creek where there are plenty of trees for shade, although there isn’t much shade elsewhere on the trail. Since there are some areas that appear to be overgrown, I was getting mountain lion vibes, which reinvigorated my machete desires. Since I was sans machete, I sang Yankee Doodle very loudly and made lots of noise as well as carried a walking stick and a rock.

The last portion to the peak is almost a literal climb. At first, it didn’t even appear to be an actual trail since it was pretty steep and looked washed out, but it is and your calves will thank you for the luscious workout.
I started around 10:00am, made it to the peak by just before 1:00pm and back to my car at 3:00pm. Why so fast? Two words: The bugs.

Simply titled Candy Store and Goods off the 74-Ortega Highway. Park across the street.

Simply titled Candy Store and Goods off the 74-Ortega Highway. Park across the street.

Driving Directions: hop on the 5 freeway and exit Ortega Highway (Hwy 74), head towards Lake Elsinore and keep going until you see “Candy Store and Goods.” Park in the national parks parking lot across the street from the store and either pay for parking or display your Adventure Pass. Carefully walk across the street.

Parking: located across the street from the candy store–no parking at the candy store

Roundtrip mileage: 12 miles, 5.5 hours*

Elevation: 3,273 feet

Elevation gain: 2,150 feet

Not sure how I made it without going insane, but I made it!

Not sure how I made it without going insane, but I made it!

What to bring: Adventure Pass, POWERFUL BUG REPELLENT that doesn’t give you cancer, lots of water depending on the air temperature, food, hiking stick, some form of mountain lion defense, courage

Consider this: The bugs are absolutely relentless. If I stopped for longer than 2 minutes, those suckers were on me like, well, flies on meat…that was sweating…because my dumb ass decided to start my hike at 10:00 a.m. Both factors made the hike less enjoyable. For almost the entirety of the hike, I was eaten alive by mosquitoes and horseflies. Have you ever been bitten by a horsefly? They SUCK! And leave big red welts that take too long to go away. The first part of this hike is shrouded in foliage, trees, rocks…lovely vantage points for mountain lions to sneak up on you. I didn’t see any, but it was definitely on my mind since I had a run-in with one 10 years ago in Carbon Canyon.

 

Taking in the views of the Cleveland National Forest.

Taking in the views of the Cleveland National Forest.

Peak 1 of 6: Mt. Baden-Powell

Peak one of six was a doozy for my first ass-kicking/toe-kicking hike…

Mt. Baden-Powell summit, as my toes live and breathe.

Mt. Baden-Powell summit, as my toes live and breathe.

The Hike: Part of the infamous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), this hike is incredibly steep. You will feel every foot of elevation gain as you traverse the 40 (that’s right: 4-0) switchbacks up and up and up some more. If you haven’t done this hike before, you might ask folks “how much farther?” to which, no matter where on the trail you are, you will hear: “Only a half mile more!” The trail stays covered in pine, oak and cedar trees for the majority of the trek, however, once you reach the last REAL half mile, it becomes fairly exposed. Beautiful 360 views of the desert, cities and mountain ranges lay before you once you get to the exposed peak.

On the way down, be sure to show some love to your “little piggies,” a.k.a.: your toesies. Because the hike up is so steep, your toes will pay the price coming back down since they are essentially being jammed into the front of your shoes. Bring band-aids, do a toe sanity check and tread VERY carefully. No matter how carefully I walked, I still managed to slip and fall on my booty a couple of times. BE CAREFUL.
Driving Directions: head east on I-210/Foothill freeway, take CA-210 and I-15 north to CA-138 west in San Bernadino county.
Your GPS may tell you to keep going, but be sure to look for two parking lots on both sides of the road just before GPS’ end mark. Depending on where you’re coming from, one parking lot requires an Adventure Pass or National Parks Pass. The other lot is free of charge, just be wary of the jagged gravel.

Roundtrip mileage: 8.9 miles, about 5 hours*

As you can see--not exactly flat.

As you can see–not exactly flat.

Elevation: 9,400 feet

Elevation gain: 2,900 feet

What to bring: Water, food, hat, phone/camera, band aids, a smile, Adventure Pass

 

I had to...

I had to…

Consider this:
There are 40 switchbacks up to the Baden-Powell summit, they seem never-ending, but they do end. They do. And you will never be so glad to see a bald-looking path once you are, literally, out of the woods and those switchbacks. Be wary of future hike recommends from anyone who has traversed the PCT (Sean Jansen!!) In late June, you may see remnants of snow on the ground, which, of course, I had to touch.

Intro-ing My Journey with the SoCal Six Peak Challenge

I bet y’all are wondering: where’d the surfer girl go? What’s with the land adventures? What gives?
There comes a time where…nah, I’m not gonna go into this lecture–I honestly got tricked into taking on this challenge after a series of life-changing/stressful events. I needed peace and escape and I gotta credit my best nature-loving junkie pal Sean Jansen with this adventure.
Sean—you started it! You’ve turned me into a land lubber.

And, now I’m forever grateful.

As I was saying…I needed escape from the norm. As the summer crept into air vents and AC bills across Riverside and other sweltering inland counties and states, I knew anything that resembled a beach would be a ZOO. And grumpy territorial locals combined with those touting soft tops, frosted tips and sweet ignorance, (PLUS traffic), had me reeling for an alternative nature-bound escape.

Enter the mountains, which have semi-eluded my interest until now. Hiking is fully a part of my outdoor geekiness. After getting tricked into hiking up one peak, a fellow hiker asked if I was doing the “SoCal Six Peak Challenge,” which I had no idea what that was, but could guess given the context clues.

And so it was ingrained in my brain: hike six peaks in Southern California

Technically there are 12 peaks within this challenge, but the most common one is the “SoCal Six,” which you can find here.
Follow me on my adventure to hike six of Southern California’s noteworthy peaks! Who knows…maybe I’ll do 12? No promises.

Stay tuned to my blog and Instagram. I’ll give ya my skinny on some of Southern California’s not-so-skinny mountain peaks.

Two hard and fast recommends if you decide to attempt:

    Purchase an annual Adventure Pass for $30 or a National Parks Pass for $80. They are available at any REI store or any ranger station.
    Be sure to bring more water than you think you need. I recommend 2 liters at the very least. On a hot day with a long hike and lots of elevation in front of you, I recommend at least 4.5-5 liters. Water weighs two pounds per liter, but trust me—it is worth every pound.

And…don’t worry—there will be ocean waves, too.

Disclaimer: My estimated time to complete each trail is based on my personal pace, which I have averaged at around 2 miles an hour. Your results and experiences may vary depending on the weather, stamina, water supply, mental sanity, etc.

*All photos and videos are my own

Facing Fears Solo in Zion National Park

Timing is everything.

And it just so happened that minutes after I gushed to my boss about wanting to do a solo camping trip, my co-worker messaged the team saying that he had an extra camp site at Zion National Park. Instantly, I responded with “mine…please.”

Watchman Campgrounds picturesque peaks.

Watchman Campgrounds picturesque peaks.

It has been 10 years since I’ve camped by myself…Big Sur in 2009, right around the same time of year, was the first and last time I had pitched a tent, lit a fire and truly struck out into a space with zero cell phone reception. I toggled with the idea of bringing someone along, but my mind immediately screamed: NOPE. There were times where I’d view the estimated air temps for that week and it mostly read in the mid 50’s for the high and the upper 20’s for the low. Again: still going.

I got yelled at by both parents and most co-workers were in disbelief.

Still.
Going.

Of course I began to question myself: Could I still light my own camp fire? Build my own tent? Cook my own food? Protect myself from predators in and out of the park? YES.

The first time this tent has seen the light in five years. Sad, but true.

The first time this tent has seen the light in five years. Sad, but true.

After staying Thursday night at the disgusting Rio resort/hotel in Vegas, I powered through Sin City’s dust, desert and debauchery for a couple more hours to Zion and arrived (after many photo stops) Friday afternoon. I could not wait to escape that blasted hotel room that reeked of smoke. Despite it’s salacious  party-hardy reputation, Vegas has never been interesting to me. In fact, it makes me want to run far far away every time. Funny enough–I got more bug bites in the hotel room than I did camping.

When I arrived to my campsite, the beautiful landscape jutted towards puffy white clouds that swiftly blew past the peaks of the park’s beautiful precipices. I was in utter shock and awe having done zero research (naturally) before my solo adventure outside of consistently bugging my co-worker for info. I immediately began to set up my more than 10 year old tent–it’s previous adventure was five years ago in Baja with six wave-hungry boys and myself. The Baja dust and dried mud still sifted around the tent’s interior and, as I opened it up, I let out a big “AWWWWE” remembering that epic surf trip five years ago while, in the same breath, scoffing in shame as it was the last adventure this tent had seen.

After the tent was set up, my co-worker and his wife stopped by to say hello. I also got to know my fellow semi-solo female camper neighbor, who helped me pull up my tent. I later spied her chopping firewood with an ax, which made me feel oddly proud that I asked for her help. Shortly after the set-up, I hopped onto a free shuttle that takes people into the park. I decided to check out the Upper Emerald Pool Trail, a small half-mile trip to a water fall, stocked with crowds, kids and strollers. YAY. So after the brief stroll, I made my way down Sand Bench trail, which had no one. As the sun started to set, I turned around and headed towards camp, where I successfully lit a camp fire and cooked freeze-dried soup and paired it with a salad I picked up from the grocery store earlier.

The night came quickly and after my fire died, I huddled in my tent equipped with quilts, two sleeping bags, beanies, gloves and a solid book. But, I never sleep well when it comes to camping. I woke up at 3-ish a.m to the distant sound of coyotes barking. As I stirred in my sleeping bags, the frigid air felt numb against my face and proceeded to sneak through any available crevice.
In short: brrrr

The first portion of the Angel's Landing hike, right before you get to Refrigerator Canyon.

The first portion of the Angel’s Landing hike, right before you get to Refrigerator Canyon.

My 7 a.m. wake-up proved even more difficult than sleeping as getting out of the warmth of my sleeping bags was especially challenging.

Wellll, I’m up! Time for breakfast and the infamous Angel’s Landing hike. No big deal, I thought, as I scarfed my oatmeal and green tea. I will do as much as I can and there’s zero pressure, despite my dizzying fear of heights. But–I often push through because am also very stubborn and goal-oriented. I knew I had to do the hike that has a reputation for treachery. Six people have died attempting the last half-mile and the park makes sure people are aware of that and recommends anyone with heart or lung problems and anyone afraid of heights to not attempt. Of course, I had to at least SEE this beast of a climb.

This hike certainly ain’t no Angel…in fact, she’s a real bitch.

"The Spine" looking nice 'n spiney.

“The Spine” looking nice ‘n spiney.

The first 2 miles of the Angel’s Landing follow along a paved road of the West Rim Trail and I will mention, you really start to feel the 1,500 elevation gain towards the top of the longer switchbacks. Try not to get too dizzy because it might not be the highest point of the trail, but it’s still a long way down. After this portion, you come to the only shaded part of the trail known as “Refrigerator Canyon,” which has a small creek and hanging plants and trees. I recommend doing some calve stretching because shortly after this section, you arrive at “Walter’s Wiggles,” which are 21 switchbacks named after the park’s first superintendent. This, outside of the climb, is the most difficult part of the trail as it will wear you down.

If you make it through Walter’s Wiggles, you come to what looks like the top, but no. It is merely a resting/lunching place before you (or should you) take on the last half-mile of Angel’s Landing known as “The Spine”–duly noted for it’s narrow shape and sheer drop-offs. When I tackled this part, there was a hefty line of people (somehow) going both ways on the very narrow path that is, YES, mostly lined with chains for grip. I stood in line and the first third of the half mile climb (not really hike), was what I thought to be the peak, but no–my mouth agape as the rest of the “spine” came into view.

I thought, well I’ve come this far, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought, maybe I’ll just keep going. 

Thank you for being my model, fellow photog, because I really didn't want to take a selfie. No fear at the peak of Angel's Landing.

Thank you for being my model, fellow photog, because I really didn’t want to take a selfie. No fear at the peak of Angel’s Landing.

A small part of my stomach was doing loop-de-loops as I climbed up and down, over and out very VERY carefully. One step in the wrong direction, one trip over a jagged rock and you fall to certain death thousands of dizzying feet below. The people in front and behind me became my best friends as I climbed with an 15 extra pounds on my back. I think I would’ve felt a little safer without my 15-pound backpack, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat my delicious turkey avocado sandwich at 5,790 feet. No, I wasn’t having that.

So, I committed to the rest of The Spine and eventually made it to a very unobstructed 360-degree view of Zion National Park. As  I got to the peak, my heart bursted with excitement and fear all at once. I dare not test my balance coupled with my tired legs and quickly found a lunch spot. My turkey and avocado sandwich never tasted so good. I sat for a moment, took in the beauty that is Zion and then decided to go back down since it was, at this point, past noon. I felt the sun fry my cheeks as I carefully stood up to hike down. Despite the fact that I was still shaking in my hiking boots, I was so proud that I made it to this place and didn’t give up.

Not too close to the edge. Yay conquering fears!

Not too close to the edge. Yay, conquering fears!

The climb back down, however, felt scarier than climbing up. For you climbers/hikers: capitalize on SQUATS because you gonna need ’em. No matter how much my thighs trembled, I forced myself to keep moving despite my semi-lighter backpack falling around my shoulders with each steep descend. At the Spine’s final third portion, there were some rude people who decided to not wait for oncoming traffic on the narrow one-way ridge, and some other folks had to literally grab me and hold me so those rude people would not push me over the edge. I am very grateful for those who were keeping me and the two girls behind safe.

Once I got to the resting space, I felt a wave of relief wash over me as my thighs continued to tremble.

I did it, I thought. I fucking did that shit.

As cheesy as this might sound, a special feeling remained in me for the rest of the day. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I continued to hike more of the West Rim Trail, Weeping Rock and a small portion of the Narrows. I absolutely HAVE to come back here–no question in mind.

My only real question that remains is: will I attempt Angel’s Landing again? Maybe or maybe not, but, not gonna lie: hang gliding, sky diving, rock climbing…these activities have a little more potential for future fear conquering.

Long Beach State University’s Shark Lab Director Speaks at Assembly Hearing on Shark Research Funding, 15-0 Vote Moves Bill Along to Appropriations Committee

Dr. Chris Lowe (left), director of Long Beach State University's Shark Lab and Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach)

Dr. Chris Lowe (left), director of Long Beach State University’s Shark Lab and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach)

 

Dr. Chris Lowe provides expert testimony on the need for monitoring and a beach safety program as white shark populations increase along the California coast

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (April 24, 2018) – Assembly Bill 2191, the White Shark Population Monitoring and Beach Safety Program, authored by Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D – Long Beach), cleared the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee Tuesday. The bi-partisan15-0 vote in favor of the bill followed a hearing that included expert testimony from Long Beach State University Shark Lab Director Dr. Chris Lowe.

Lowe spoke this morning to the committee supporting investment in research into growing white shark populations along California’s coast.

“For the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of white sharks. We believe this comeback is connected to environmental protections that were established several decades ago,” Lowe said. “The good news is that they are coming back. The tricky part is that we lack the tools to monitor them.”

O’Donnell, who introduced Lowe to the committee, noted that record numbers of shark sightings during 2017 had overextended the Shark Lab’s resources.

“The numbers of sharks at our beaches were so high that Shark Lab researchers ran out of shark tags,” O’Donnell said. “We must be willing to invest in those who are doing the work. This is a human, environmental and economic issue.”

“We are seeing unprecedented numbers of juvenile white sharks hanging out in the surf line alongside swimmers, surfers, paddle boarders and others who recreate in the ocean,” Lowe said. “This is prompting more sightings, warnings and closures at local beaches than in recent memory. While this is alarming for beachgoers, this influx – coupled with better technology – is a perfect opportunity for us to find out why these sharks are staying closer to shore for longer periods as they grow bigger. Unfortunately, we don’t have the funding to keep pace with the demand for tags and monitoring. This is jeopardizing our efforts to learn about white shark behavior and help lifeguards and law enforcement better inform the public about beach safety.”

“As a parent and a teacher, our kids’ safety is my highest priority,” O’Donnell said. “The bill – Assembly Bill 2191 – is about learning how to enjoy our ocean and beaches safely and responsibly alongside the growing presence and variety of marine animals along our coast.”

O’Donnell introduced this measure in collaboration with Long Beach State University’s renowned Shark Lab, which has been on campus since 1966. He also recently partnered with the Shark Lab to hold “Shark Day,” a public informational event at the campus. The event highlighted the Shark Lab’s work monitoring and studying sharks, which would be eligible for funding through AB 2191.

*Press Release and Photo Courtesy of Jeff Bliss and California State University, Long Beach*

One Man’s Reflection of Two Separate Great White Shark Attacks

 

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

Royce Fraley, long-time surfer and Northern California local.

It’s no secret that surfing comes with its lists of risks. From drowning, bacterial infections, reefs and rocks, jellyfish and stingrays, crazy locals, to random freak accidents, the list can go on and on… There’s even rogue dolphins who miscalculate their beautiful leaps onto the unsuspecting surfer. Ouch.

But none other than one of our most widely whispered topics, SHARKS, are more associated with the risks of being a surfer.  Royce Fraley, a long-time surfer based in Occidental, California, is incredibly aware of this risk and has encountered our infamous grey suited landlord not once, but twice in the chilly Northern California waters.

“In both situations, it’s amazing how your brain kicks into a ‘fight or flight mode’ real quick,” said Fraley. “You automatically want to believe it’s not happening to you, but it is. All these thoughts happen within milliseconds.”

Like jelly to peanut butter, sharks and surfers go hand-in-hand by reputation, sans, well, let’s hope tastiness. In fact, based on my personal conversations, one of the most cited reasons why folks decide to not surf is because of our association with our oceanic toothy counterpart.

But consider statistics—for the average surfer who is in the water maybe not every day, but most days and is floating in the ocean for an extended period of time, what is the actual risk?

“No one plans to paddle out and hit a rock,” said Sean van Sommeron, Founder and Director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, California. “Of course, every time you paddle out, you’re taking a risk. The statistics on shark attacks on surfers is very low on the list of possibilities. Surf board accidents are much higher on the list.”

Surfer Magazine did a lovely and realistic calculation for California surfer folks and concluded that California surfers have a 1-in-25,641 chance of being the victim of a fatal shark attack.

We’ve heard it all before—“you’re more likely to get struck by lightning.”

But sometimes lightning can strike twice for those special outliers, although they are few and very–VERY far between. For Fraley, who has logged more than 40 years of surfing around the world, charging double-overhead mysto reefs smack dab in Northern California’s “red triangle,” a little “brush” with our toothy landlords may be expected. However, for Fraley, not once, but twice did he pay rent and came out relatively physically unscathed.

Royce Fraley charging in Northern California. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

No hesitation or barrel dodging–Royce Fraley charging in Northern California.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Northern California’s got a reputation among the salty-haired to mean two unpleasant things with one tempting caveat: cold and sharky…but lots of uncrowded spots! For Fraley, 10 is a crowd and spots are most often protected from wanton commercialization by thick blooded locals, that is if the break and pirate-like foggy coastline doesn’t scare you off first.

I got to know Fraley over the interwebs and he shared both stories of his attacks, which were covered by the SF Gate in 2006. More than 10 years has passed since his latest attack in 2006 and I was curious to see how he still manages to charge the crazy Northern California surf.

First Attack: September 1, 1998

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California. Photo by: Patrick Parks

Royce Fraley hacking a little off the top in Northern California.
Photo by: Patrick Parks

A smallish surf day brought Fraley and a few of his good friends to surf Russian River, a spot located north of Bodega Bay, which is known for beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife and draining barrels. The trio were the only people in the water. Just as Fraley’s friends caught a few waves towards the inside, Fraley laid down on his board to rest from paddling along the sandbar.

Out of nowhere, he was launched around four-to-five feet into the air and disappeared into a giant burst of whitewater.

“If you took both palms of your hands and slam them on the hood of your car as hard as you can, that was the sound of this incredible impact,” said Fraley.  “All I could see was whitewater all around me.”

Luckily, after that shocking launch, Fraley landed perfectly on his board in the water. The nose of the shark left a half-inch imprint on the bottom of Fraley’s board, even leaving behind a little skin.

“I think that shark was very surprised it hit something that was so damn hard, which was my fiberglass surfboard,” said Fraley. “That strike was like an ‘okay, I’m going in big time’ attack.”

After he landed, Fraley did not hesitate to paddle his 6’10” Campbell Brothers pintail towards the beach, his friends waiting on the sand, when he saw the water close to him swirl and watched as the shark drew up alongside him and chase him in.

“All I saw was the shark’s back and it’s dorsal fin,” said Fraley. “His dorsal was parallel to me and I was like ‘are you kidding me?!’ And before I knew it, I was in super shallow water and the shark just turned off.”

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Royce charging big cold water A-frames, sans crowd.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Once he reached the beach, Fraley collapsed while his friends quickly checked him for wounds. A little shaken, Fraley and his friends decided to conclude their session with much needed tequila shots and local Indian cuisine to celebrate his most interesting, rare and harrowing encounter.

“If you’re tracking the shark, it will be eyeing you, too and eventually it will take off,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, director of the California State University, Long Beach’s Shark Lab. “If you lose track of the shark, the first place you should look is behind you because that’s what a predator, like a shark, will do–they’ll move out of view.”

Dr. Lowe explained they often see this tactic while tagging great white sharks off of Southern California’s coastline. The smaller, more juvenile great whites are more easily scared off, however, the bigger guys and gals will often move off to the side and sneak up from behind. Dr. Lowe recommends that if a surfer loses track of a shark, to do a 10-second count and look behind. Sharks can identify an animal or person’s head and might often consider the surfboard’s nose as a person’s “head,” therefore recommends a surfer to also track with their board, too.

“If their prey know they can see them, there’s a chance that the predator won’t be able to take them down and may get hurt in the process,” said Dr. Lowe. “Your surfboard’s ‘head’ will make them sense they are being watched.”

Second Attack: December 10, 2006

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A pack of dolphins catches waves in Northern California. Photo: Royce Fraley

Eight years had passed since Fraley’s Russian River encounter, and surfing was still on his to-do list. Fraley was itching for an evening session at Dillion Beach at a spot the locals like to coin as “the shark pit.” About 1,000 yards off the beach awaits a perfect and incredibly long A-frame peak that used to produce 3-500 yard rides in the 90’s. The spot is still filled with it’s fair share of big wave action as, according to Fraley, they will often see Mavericks crews and tow-in folks cruising the out-to-sea style lineup. If the location doesn’t make you flinch, then maybe a nice long paddle over the deep channel will.

“At this point, I had been surfing this spot for 15 years, had done this many times before,” said Fraley. ” It was a beautiful sunny December evening, right after a storm. A big set came through and I caught a couple of waves, which pushed me over into the channel.”

With the increasing swell, Fraley took his time getting back to the lineup, pacing himself for more waves. He rested on his brand new 7’6″ big wave board and as he was gliding over the channel, the water around him began to boil like a cauldron, the right side of his board lifted out of the water and Fraley rolled off the board.

“It was almost like the shark was a submarine surfacing,” said Fraley. “His bottom jaw hit the underside of my board and I started rolling off as the shark bit down.”

Fraley felt a sting in his right  hip as the shark dove down with Fraley’s 10-foot big wave leash wrapped around it’s mouth. As Fraley instinctively grabbed ahold of his board for flotation, the shark dove even deeper beneath the surface with Fraley in tow. In the time spent below the surface, he experienced a gamut of emotions beginning with strong denial, anger and pain–to acceptance.

“There’s a part of me that accepted what was happening, I felt peaceful,” said Fraley.  “Right when I felt that, I bumped off the side of the shark. It felt like someone pushed my whole right side up against a school bus.”

Royce shows relatively minor cuts after his attack. Photo: Royce Fraley

Royce shows relatively minor cuts and board damage after his attack.
Photo: Royce Fraley

When Fraley reached the surface, incredibly shaken, he paddled towards a surfer, who immediately paddled away from him towards shore, and Fraley was left to make the long paddle on his own. A lifeguard, Brit Horne saw the commotion and quickly came to Fraley’s rescue where he found three imprints from the shark’s teeth on his right hip, which did not require stitches.

The University of California, Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab estimated the great white shark Fraley encountered to be about 15 feet long and weigh about 3,000 pounds.

“Not all bites may be predatory, sharks may be sending signals saying ‘you better back off,'” said Dr. Lowe. “Surfers often don’t even know the shark is in the area, and the shark hits and takes off. We just don’t know what the motivating factors are prior to those bites and it’s very rare that people actually witness those behaviors happening, so we have no context.”

Post-surf/attack session, instead of tequila shots and yummy food, Fraley was greeted with a barrage of news media at his front door when he got home. Even Good Morning, America! wanted an interview, but Fraley preferred to keep the news media’s often jarring sensationalism out of his evening and simply reflect on the greater lesson.

Reflection

"The shark pit" looking good enough for a surf. Photo: Royce Fraley

“The shark pit” looking good enough for a surf.
Photo: Royce Fraley

Since his latest shark attack, Fraley has had time to contemplate his extremely rare attacks. Although from time-to-time, he understandably experiences a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Fraley still manages charge big waves, but, seemingly remains more vigilant and paddles out with friends, on most days.

“The biggie for me was to actually go back out at the same spots,” said Fraley. “I had that need to be around other people and even now, I’ll be surfing any spot and sometimes I have a mini-panic attack, It’s almost like PTSD, but I usually tell myself to calm down and breathe and that definitely helps.”

Even still–it certainly hasn’t deterred him from charging full NorCal swells. In fact, he and a few friends will often search for lonely peaks along the less traveled areas of the north coast.

“Since the shark attacks, it really made me look at the way I carry myself and the way I am with others,” said Fraley. “The sharks taught me to get over myself, be humble, be considerate of others in and out of the water, to have a reverence for every moment you have, and to get over your own bullshit.”

Similar to how Native Americans often associated these experiences with predatory creatures, Fraley relates to this school of thought and sees both encounters as blessings.

“That’s how I have to look at my situation,” said Fraley. “It taught me to have a little bit more respect for yourself and life. It helped me realize how precious things are. So much of our society is ‘dog-eat-dog’ when we should be giving waves away, hooting someone into waves–bottom line: don’t be freakin’ selfish.”

Another Royce NorCal nugget. Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography

Another Royce NorCal nugget.
Photo: Scott VanCleepmut Photography