Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave Terms

by Nancy Soares on August 11, 2014

Editor’s note: Thanks to Michael Powers, Eric Soares, and Jim Kakuk for these fabulous photos.

The Rangers prepare to enter a cave at Elk, Northern CA

The Rangers prepare to enter a cave at Elk, Northern CA

One of the cool things about the Tsunami Rangers is the lexicon they invented to describe the marine environment. Some of these terms have probably become mainstream, but just for fun I thought I’d reproduce the Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave Terms.

A good reason for knowing and understanding these terms is that when you encounter the reality you’ll have at least some sense of what you’re dealing with. You will find all these things in the sea caves of the Northern California and Southern Oregon coasts.

Balrog, n. a powerful demon who lives in crevices in the earth. Created by J. R. R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion.

TR Dave Whalen gives a good impression of a balrog in a cave

TR Dave Whalen gives a good impression of a balrog in a cave

Cavern, n. a cave featuring a big room (if elaborate called a grotto; if light pours through the ceiling called a cathedral).

Cathedral Cave. Pictured: TRs John Lull and Deb Volturno

Cathedral Cave. Pictured: TRs John Lull and Deb Volturno

Elevator, n. the rapid rise and fall of surge in a cave.

Dave Whalen riding an elevator in a cave

Dave Whalen riding an elevator in a cave

Exit, n. a back or side way out of a cave.

The exit is behind and to the right of the kayaker. Pictured: Laura Nixon

The exit is behind and to the left as you look at the kayaker. Pictured: Laura Nixon

Fourth dimension, n. what it is like to be inside a cave. The most radical zone a kayaker can enter (e.g. first dimension is normal seas, second is surf, third is rocks, fourth is caves).

TR Capt. Jim Kakuk gets all Zen in the 4th dimension

TR Capt. Jim Kakuk gets all Zen in the 4th dimension

Grok, v. empathetically understanding a situation to its fullest, done immediately upon encountering it. Taken from Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Eric grokking the rocks at Sniveler's

Eric grokking the rocks at Sniveler’s

Labyrinth, n. a cave featuring intricate, winding passages which make it easy to get lost (also maze, warren).

Entering a labyrinth at Cape Flattery

Entering a labyrinth at Cape Flattery

Sandwiched, v. getting crushed by rising up in an elevator and striking the ceiling or tooth hanging from the ceiling.

Could be a tight squeeze

Could be a tight squeeze. Pictured: Eric Soares and Craig Hoyt

Sea trog, n. a valiant, cave exploring kayaker who dares to face a balrog.

Sea trog Glenn Gilchrist at Marin Headlands

Sea trog Glenn Gilchrist at the Marin Headlands

Shaft, n. a long, narrow cave with a square, rectangular, or rhomboidal shape.

Nancy Soares navigates a shaft at Russian Gulch

Nancy Soares navigates a shaft at Russian Gulch

Soft spot, n. a safe place to be in a cave (also called station) (e.g. a giant cavern is a safe place because there are no squeezes or teeth of concern).

Misha and Eric find the soft spot at the entrance to a cave

Misha and Eric find the soft spot at the entrance to a cave

Sybil, n. a legendary, alluring female entity that inhabits sea caves (synonyms include mermaid, nereid, nixie).

Nereids

Nereids

Tooth, n. a stalactite or stalagmite (identified by shape, e.g. incisor, canine, molar).

Backdoor Cave. Note the molar in the ceiling.

Backdoor Cave. Note the molar in the ceiling.

Tube, n. a long narrow cave.

TRs Deb Volturno and Tim Sullivan enter a tube

TRs Deb Volturno and Tim Sullivan enter a tube

Twilight zone, n. a dimly lit part of a cave.

Rangers in the twilight zone

Rangers in the twilight zone

Wave in a cave, n. an expression indicating the worst real event that could occur in a cave.

A wave in a cave. Pictured: Eric Soares

A wave in a cave. Pictured: Eric Soares

We hope you enjoyed the Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave Terms. Even if you never encounter these scenarios, they still fire the imagination and give you a sense of what it’s like to kayak in dynamic sea caves. If you have some of your own sea cave terms not mentioned here, please share with us!

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Looks an unlikely place to find a sea kayak, but there are opportunities...

Looks an unlikely place to find a sea kayak, but there are opportunities…

On a cloudy day in April we headed east. Clear sailing until five hours out and a pronghorn played chicken with the truck so I had to cross into the opposite lane and take my foot off the gas so it could pass on the right and run in front of the truck at 60 mph. I hate it when they do that but no one was coming in the opposite direction for miles so it was okay. This one was younger than last year’s buck and you could see his mouth open sucking wind. Still, he was keeping pace and even beating us.

There was all kinds of crap in the road this year

There was a lot of stuff in the road this year. I almost broke my foot on this item trying to kick it out of the way.

In the afternoon we arrived at Skull Camp and there was no one there. We set up camp and it was dusk when our friends arrived and we circled the wagons. That night we soaked in the hot spring and listened to the coyotes. It was cold.

Skull Camp

Skull Camp

A few days later when I got a chance (we get so busy in the desert) I took three hours and scouted the creek to see if it was doable. There were some iffy spots where beavers had created little pourovers, some of them cushioned by reeds and grass which would allow us to slide over. The beavers had culled the willow thickets along the creek making wide meadows of thick coarse grass where we could hop out and line the boats if necessary. There were only two or three places where we would have to portage ten or twenty feet. Startled waterfowl flushed with a clatter: a black-crowned night heron, mallards, canvasbacks, geese. It would be a bushwhack but it would be fun and there were long stretches of unobstructed current running through deep gullies and meadows. It was sunny and warm which boded well for the next day.

We found sun stones, a type of citrine

We found sun stones, a type of citrine

That night the rain blew in with gusto. The highs that week were in the fifties, lows in the twenties and the morning was dark, wet and cold. We spent the morning soaking in the hot spring discussing the weather. When you’re living out of doors weather is a big deal. We decided it was not a good day to go bushwhacking down a creek. Plus the road to the launch site could be compromised. Roads in the desert rain can turn slick and miry. So we went to Plan B. For me, that meant a hike up a sweeping mountainside to check out a field of yellow flowers.

Tumbleweed mustard

Tumbleweed mustard

I started out gingerly on the slick, muddy road. Off the road it was better: the desert pavement provides firm footing even in foul weather. I climbed up to the flowers and discovered they were tumbleweed mustard. Since I was well up on the ridge’s shoulder it seemed reasonable to continue up to the first big rock outcrop at the top of the rise. The higher up the more lush the flora: there were wildflowers everywhere, although few were actually blooming yet. The plants looked really healthy and in six weeks or so the display would be spectacular. There were many different grasses too and up here they were more luxuriant than lower down. There seems to be a critical point at which the steep grade prevents cattle from going there (no cow pies or hoofprints) and that’s where the plants really flourish.

Interesting little wildflower peeking out from under stones

Interesting little wildflower peeking out from under stones. Note the rubbery finger-like leaves and the desert pavement.

At the outcrop another long slope revealed itself and another rock formation further on. The bracing northwest wind spat rain and hail like grains of sand but it wasn’t cold. The whole vast desert and a multitude of mountain ranges were falling away beneath me and the views were spectacular so I decided to keep walking.

Sweeping vistas at around 6,000'

Sweeping vistas and rain curtains at around 6,000′

On the way I found small worked obsidian chips and a pronghorn antler, spongy with age. Guessing there was a story behind the antler and the chips I played desert detective and searched the ground till I found the arrowhead I suspected would be there.

Checking out another hot spring

Hot spring with a view

In the rocks there were lichens, wildflowers, a species of currant, and many burrows, some containing bones and some containing culled grasses still green. I’m sure the residents were nearby but they didn’t come out to greet me. So much desert life is underground. The views were amazing: far away mountains obscured by rain and mist and clouds rolling across the landscape. After looking around a bit I headed back to camp and a hot soak in the spring.

Aaaaah, more hot water!

Aaaaah, more hot water!

The weather wasn’t improving so we loaded up the truck, left Skull Camp and headed out on a quest for another hot spot. We found it in a creek flowing down into a large pond from a source up the slope.

Happy feet

Happy feet

The water temperature was 114F (we had our trusty swimming pool thermometer), and it was too hot for us but we hiked downstream until we found a place where the water was cooler, about 99F.

Up a hot creek with a sea kayak

Up a hot creek with a sea kayak

I grabbed the X-O and put in, paddling upstream toward the source. The shallow water steamed around me. There were yellow flowers that looked like a type of mimulus on the banks. I kayaked up till the water got too shallow.

The Source

The source

Almost to the source, I pulled over to the bank to check out the flowers and saw a dust devil whirling along the high bank. The swirling wind buffeted the kayak and I was concerned about tipping over into the scalding water but after biffing me around a bit the whirlwind passed and danced away.

Kemper's "wildflowers of Southern Oregon" identifies these as seep-spring monkeyflowers.

Kemper’s “Wildflowers of Southern Oregon” identifies these as seep-spring monkeyflowers.

That evening we soaked for hours watching the stars come out among piles of clouds. A squall slammed us with wind and rain in the night, rocking the truck, but the next morning the playa was dry as a bone.

Camping on the playa

Camping on the playa

Another hot soak before breakfast and we packed up and split. On the way home we had the usual assortment of spring desert weather: rain, snow, hail, sun, and wind, alternately and all together.

The road home

The road home

On this desert adventure we raced the annual pronghorn, found sun stones, hiked, soaked, met our friends, scouted a cold creek and paddled a hot creek. Mission accomplished! Maybe we’ll hit that cold creek next year…

What quests have you been on lately? Go ahead and share your adventure!

Like this post? Then please help us out and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Tsunami Rangers posts: subscribe by e-mail or subscribe by RSS. And you can leave a comment below...

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