Point Reyes National Seashore: Wildcat Beach

Wow. This was an amazing hike. So amazing, in fact, that I’m almost willing to disregard the danger that our Meetup organizer put us in to make this trek. I’m a cautious person, and I’m also very realistic about my abilities, limitations, and fears. Had I known that this hike would be as hazardous as it was, I wouldn’t have signed up because this pushed me well beyond my comfort zone in a bad way. That being said, though, at the end of the day, it was a very beautiful and fun hike and I’m glad I went.

Wildcat Beach is a beach located in Point Reyes that is home to Alamere Falls. The goal of this hike wasn’t to visit the falls, though, although that was part of the itinerary. Instead, we aimed to visit Miller’s Cave, which is a beach cave that’s typically inaccessible because tides aren’t low enough. And when they are low enough, it’s usually at a very inconvenient time of day (say, midnight). On this particular day, low tide would be at about 3 PM. This would also be an unusually low tide because we’re currently experiencing “king tides,” which cause both extremely low and extremely high tides throughout the day. Perfect!

I’d only been to Point Reyes once before, but that was to the Tomales Bay region. Point Reyes is quite large and its terrain is surprisingly diversified. It’s very easy to stumble upon different microclimates and ecosystems here. On this particular hike, we took the Palomarin trail to Wildcat Camp and encountered lush forests teeming with freshly sprouted fungi. Very different from the chaparral of the Tomales Point trail.

My favorite fungi we came across is Dacrymyces chrysospermus, which is a type of “witch’s butter.” I just think that it looks really remarkable. This is supposedly edible, but as remarkable as it is, I don’t find it appetizing. 🙂

Dacrymyces chrysospermus, or witch’s butter.

Also found on the way to Wildcat Camp was a thoroughly decomposed carcass of a stag. Most of its skull (minus the mandible, as you can see in this photo) and spine were intact in one area. We found a tibia, fibula, hoof, and partial femur some dozen feet away, probably dragged away by wildlife. I wonder if this deer died of natural causes or something else?

Since we’re on the topic of dead wildlife, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered so many dead animals on a single hike! I saw a dead deer, a dead starfish (see below) , a dead bird (also see below), a dead crab, and very strangely, a half decomposed dead mammal on the beach that looked a little too much like a dog, but could have been an otter. It was a little unsettling but I realize death is a part of nature. Everything must balance. Of course there is death and decay, but there is also life, growth, and beauty.

In my opinion, the most beautiful part of this hike, hands down, was Horseshoe Cave. Seriously just incredible.

Horseshoe cave!

After walking for about 3 miles on Wildcat Beach and making our way over tide pools and slippery, kelp covered rocks (one of which I slipped on and ended up smashing my finger against), we arrived at a ledge (shown below) that we would need to climb in order to reach the cave. I’ve never rock climbed in my life– I don’t have an interest– so this was scary to me. There was little hand or foothold, and if I fell, I’d fall into water of questionable depth that was likely lined with jagged rock. I almost had a panic attack halfway across the ledge. Once I made it, I had to go further down some rocks and around another ledge while gripping onto mussels. I lost my wide angle lens cap while doing this. I might have been able to squat and pick it up, but I didn’t want to risk losing my balance and getting wet!

Finally we arrived at Miller’s Cave. My honest opinion? It isn’t worth the trouble of getting there. You can see the same creatures (crabs, sea stars, sea anemones, etc.) near the cave in one of the many tide pools on the walk to the ledge or the end of the beach. I’m happy that I can say that I went here, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re an experienced rock climber or you just really, really want to check this off of your bucket list.

Here’s the view from Miller’s Cave.

Since we arrived at the cave later than we’d hoped, the sun began to set on our way to Alamere Falls. It quickly became obvious that we wouldn’t make it to Alamere Falls (about 4 miles away) in time, but we tried anyway.

This reminds me of Yosemite.

Despite the fact that we had to run at times to narrowly miss rapidly rising tides, it was a gorgeous sunset. Also, I didn’t realize that sea foam was an actual thing. Am I stupid? I’ve always known it to be a color. Now it all makes sense!

Sea foam!

By the time we got to Alamere Falls, it was dark. The falls were active and full of water, which would have made for some great photos, but try shooting a waterfall in the dark. 🙂 This was disappointing because I had actually lugged my tripod with me for about 11 miles at that point in hopes of getting some nice shots of the falls at sunset.

Instead, we saw the falls in the dark and then had to make the 30 – 40 foot scramble up loose rocks to return to the trailhead by headlamp. This was challenging, but easier than climbing the ledge to Miller’s Cave. I would have preferred to backtrack a mile so that we could skip the rock climb, but by that time the king tides had completely swallowed the beach so that there was literally no way to return the way we had come. So, we climbed in the dark (and I’ve got bruises to show for it) and made the 4.5 mile trek back to our cars in the dark, too.

I hope to return in the near future to see Alamere Falls again. I think they’ll be a lot more impressive during the day. 🙂



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