California’s Lost Coast Trail – July 9-11

High tides, rogue waves, bears, avalanches, rattlesnakes, poison ivy and ticks. All part of the dangers of the Lost Coast Trail and this year’s father/daughter trip.

The Lost Coast Trail is 27 miles of one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of the California coast. The trail travels along sheer cliffs, through tide pools, along black sand beaches and rocks and boulders. One of the most intensive parts about the hike was the planning. You had to time starts and stops each day to accommodate the high tides, otherwise you’ll be swept out to sea for a free trip to Hawaii or Japan depending on the currents.

I flew to San Francisco, then Quinn and I drove five hours north to Shelter Cove. The last hour or so was on the narrow, single lane, winding roads. At Black Sands Beach Trailhead, we grabbed a shuttle and drive another two hours on even narrower, winding and sometimes roads to Mattole Beach Trailhead. The territory was very much like Appalachia, except they grow weed, not brew moonshine. There was a mysterious truck in a tree noticed on the way. It was a long tiring approach to get started.

We arrived at the trail head around 230 and headed down the beach, wanting to get at least 2 to 4 miles under our belts for the first day. Within the 1st mile we ran into our first narrow strip of beach which is impassable at high tide. We made it through OK and went on to Punta Gorda lighthouse, which served the coast from 1910-1951. It was the site of an old frontier settlement that never had electricity. Nearby we saw a large herd of seals basking in the sand and some very large elephant sea lions roaring and fighting with each other. It was a pretty cool sight.

We found a nice campsite a short distance from the lighthouse next to an old concrete foundation, which served as a great little area for our kitchen. While erecting our tents, Quinn discovered that she had the rain fly and the tent ground cover but not the tent itself. That was very worrisome because the area was tick infested and she would have had no protection from them or the elements. My tent was a single so there was no room for her in there. She was sure the rental company did not include the tent itself. She made one more look in her pack and found it. Made for some good laughs. I was not giving up my tent! We watched a few deer, had a Templeton Rye and went to bed.

After a foggy, damp awakening we had breakfast and headed on down the coast. This day was the longest segment, which included a 2-mile high tide impassable strip. We passed through that area with no problem because we had planned our departure to hit this area at low tide. The worst was yet to come. We were the only ones on the beach and ran into all kinds of animal tracks. We saw bobcat, duck, deer and raccoon tracks. There were many streams along the beach, so water was plentiful, and we made our rest stops and lunches at the mouths of streams. Very picturesque. We came to an area of cliffs that required the trail to leave the beach and follow along on top the cliffs on a real trail This was a welcoming relief compared to the ankle breaking rocks and calf busting deep sand. An old house was up there, and a fawn and its mother were playing in the ruins. The owners had left an old tub on the cliff I guess as a Cilias commercial.

Up until this point we have been the only people on the beach. For the first day we crossed paths with the other two couples that were on the shuttle with us. But on the second day we had a strong pace and basically saw no one for the rest of the day. As we were approaching the next night’s campsite, we saw an old house with several tents and a lot of people with the same hats sitting in chairs all over the property. Only one person was walking around, and all the others were just stoically sitting staring. I waved but none waved back I thought they were manikins they were so immovable. It turned out this was a meditation retreat of some kind.
Day two camp was at Miller’s flat along Big Flat Creek. The camp area was full of large groups. Beyond Miller flat was the 4-mile, high tide death zone, the most treacherous segment of impassable beach. We toyed with the idea of pushing on to Shipmen Creek which was about a mile into the death zone. It is the only refuge at high tide and has a place for one tent. Once there you are trapped by high tides and could not get out until the tide receded. We had put in a 14+ mile day, were tired, and Quinn had slightly sprained her ankle on one of the boulders. It was approaching two hours before high tide and we knew the hike to this safe spot was full of more boulders and the going would be slow. We did not want to get trapped in this death zone, so we nixed the idea and found a nice beach campsite We took a refreshing swim/bath in Big Flat Creek instead.

Tides were early in the morning the third day, so we had a relatively leisure start. We started off down the death zone as the tide was just receding. There were a couple of close calls as rogue waves tried to pin us against the cliff walls. We passed Shipman Creek where we were thinking about camping, but now it was clear that we would not have made it this far the previous night. So, we were grateful for our little beach campsite. Also, along this death zone were evidences of avalanches and as we passed one area, there were still rocks and dust streaming down on the beach. We hurried past. Clearing the death zone, we had about four more miles of beach and rock hiking. We stopped for a nice lunch and talk with some other hikers who were on their 4th day of this hike and had done this several times.

We had about a two-hour hike ahead of us, so we took off and eventually finding the trail back up to the parking lot. This 27-mile hike was about 4 miles on trails with the balance split probably 50-50 between rock and boulder hiking and soft sand hiking. We felt we got a great three day work out and had a great adventure in a beautiful part of California. A stop for a beer and a burger was in order.

(Click on any picture to see slide show)

The tide plan

2 thoughts on “California’s Lost Coast Trail – July 9-11

  1. Very cool indeed! A fun change from the normal mountain hikes, but with just as many exciting moments 🙂

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