Monday, July 28, 2008

California - Lost Coast

California Coast - Lost Coast Trail

Jerry and Norm

May 1 – 6, 2004


The Hiker’s Guide to the Humboldt Coast, Bob Lorentzen, Bored Feet Press

The Hiker’s Guide to the Mendocino Coast, Bob Lorentzen, Bored Feet Press

Both books include maps.

High & Low Tides, Lost Coast Trail Transport Service, or– Note, there are points where passage is much more difficult or impossible at high tide, so tides must be included in your planning.

Trails of the Lost Coast (map), Winderness Press

Other Lost Coast information including information on bear cans, shuttles, permits, trails, camping, etc. at

We arranged to be picked up by the shuttle at the Usal Creek in the Sinkyone State Park. We flew to San Francisco, rented a car, and drove north about four hours to Leggett where we left 101 and went towards the coast on Highway 1. We enjoyed the giant redwoods including the Chandelier Tree which is so large that a car can drive through it.

Day 1 Shuttle, Mattole River to Randall Creek – Roxanne picked us up at the Usal Creek as scheduled at 7am. We put the car in a shady spot at the foot of the trail. Roxanne drove the winding roads up to the Mattole River. She stopped at the DNR where we got our permit and borrowed our Bear Cans to protect half of the food. She agreed to drop off the other half of our food and pick up the Bear Cans in a few days at the store above Shelter Cove. What service! Roxanne told us about life in Shelter Cove with her three sons and life as a shuttle driver. Driving in the coastal mountains on the winding roads requires new brake pads and shoes every 3,000 miles. This cuts into the shuttle profits. Due to the mountains and the curving roads, the trip was over four hours.

We were walking by 11:45. We took a slight sort cut and so we did not head directly for the beach. When we got to the beach we saw signs of sea life immediately in the form of a sting ray on the beach. We had lunch before we reached the light house and enjoyed the first of many sea lions frolicking in the surf.

We walked in black sand all day. Along the way we saw mammoth stumps which we assume must be redwoods based on the size. We stopped at 6:30. We walked beyond the tide issues at Sea Lion Gulch and actually further than we had planned. The camp sites at Cooksie creek, where we intended to stop, were occupied so we kept going to Randall Creek which made it a 8.7 mile day. The good site at Randall Creek was also taken but we found a workable site back up the creek a little way. After we set up our tent we found out there would have been nice spots up on the bluff, where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset. In hindsight, I’m not sure why we didn’t just find a spot on the beach.

Day 2 – to Big Flat and Shipman Creek -Soon after leaving Randall Creek the trail left the beach and went up. This well packed soil was easier walking than the sand. In the morning there was picturesque fog floating above the ocean. The meadows we crossed were filled with bright yellow California Poppies which were beautiful. Later we saw hundreds of white morning glories. There are huge piles of driftwood including many large logs and stumps. People have used the driftwood to make camping shelters right above the beach. The trail comes pretty close to the shoreline and you can see the waves crashing onto this drift wood. Beautiful. We crossed several creeks either by stepping stones, climbing over dead trees or just wading. The most surprising things of the day occurred at Big Flats, where the trail leads up to an actual landing strip. We know it is actual because we had to get off the strip when we saw a plane coming down right at us! As we left the Big Flats area we passed a couple of nude sun bathers. Bottoms Up! There were several other people there, properly clad, and there is a large house at Big Flats.

We found a nice campsite among the old logs at Shipman Creek, making the day about 10 miles. We made a small fire from driftwood and saw whales swimming by. Again we were between tide issues as planned.

Day 3 – On to Shelter Cove and UP to the Hidden Valley Trail - We awoke to a cool and wet world due to heavy fog. We walked all the way to Shelter Cove on the black sand beach. We saw hundreds of seals floating in the water, star fish on the shore and whales passing by. We took pause (or would it be paws) when we saw clear bear tracks in the sand. They seemed to be about six inches across and about eighteen inches apart. I guess the bear cans were worth the trouble. There were a few more creek crossings. The final stretch is open to vehicle traffic so there were tire tracks. We saw only one vehicle. We also saw a dedicated young surfer who was carrying a surfboard and a back pack evidently bound for Big Flats which is reputed to have some good waves. That’s about a 10 mile walk.

We reached the first Shelter Cove parking area at lunch time so we ate and napped on the beach before starting the climb through civilization. We then walked up the road, and at the first intersection we hitched a ride “to the store”. To our horror, the truck took us downhill not uphill. He took us to the only store he knew of. When we asked about our food at the store, all we got was very blank stares. Wrong Store! We started walking back uphill again. There wasn’t much conversation. Luckily we hitched another ride in another pickup and this time we made sure we would get dropped off at the right store. This store had the door on the left as described by Roxanne and our food was waiting for us. We left the bear cans so Roxanne could return them for us. What service! We had some cool snacks and drinks and started uphill again. That is one long hill especially in the heat of the afternoon, exposed to the sun. We failed to hitch a ride on this leg. The road is quite steep so it discourages drivers from stopping. We were relieved to get to the shade of Chemise Mountain Road which led us to the Hidden Valley Trailhead which is clearly marked. After another few miles we settled on a campsite on the saddle of a ridge. It turned out to be windy as the evening unfolded. We didn’t find the site until 7:30. That is one long day; probably 13+ miles.

Day 4 – To Bear Harbor - Being away from the shore, we awoke to a dry tent which was nicer and lighter. We were on the trail by 8:30. We began the pattern of giving up and then working to regain elevation; down, down, down. There are breathtaking views from the high elevations of the shoreline going south. We passed a home site that had only been started, with steel beams, a roof and floor but no walls. Things like that always cause us to ponder the story of the place and the people. About lunch time we approached Whale Gulch and passed a huge beam. It made us wonder about the story of the beam and how it could have been transported to that location. It didn’t seem possible to get there with any sort of vehicle. We met a Boy Scout troop going north. We lunched in the shade near the creek in Whale Gulch. We walked through our first big redwood grove. A short walk brought us to the Needle Rock overlook and Park where we napped on a picnic table, and then walked down a gravel road to the visitor center. There we were welcomed by the resident volunteers who gave us iced tea, advice on ticks and information on abalone. One can volunteer to live at the visitor center for a week or two. It is a quaint cabin on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. What a spot!

We walked on down the road to Bear Harbor Campground which can also be reached by car. We set up camp and walked down to the harbor. There are huge (Cluster Cone) rocks where the waves explode. We climbed on the rocks for a couple of hours enchanted by the sights and sounds. We learned that the next day would be very special due to an extremely low tide that would allow easier access to the abalone which live below the water line on these rocks.

Back at camp we saw elk hanging around the out house. There were beautiful calla lilies growing in the stream. We made another driftwood camp fire.

Day 5 – Wheeler and the Jack Ass Creeks - We hung around to see the abalone harvest and hundreds of starfish, which were exposed by the low tide. We couldn’t see either of these sights in Michigan or in the Grand Canyon.

On the trail by 8:30. The plants along the trail were very wet and so were our pants within moments. Don’t you hate that? The trail stays away from the shore and deep in the woods where we saw many very large redwoods including those in Schoolmarm Grove just as we reached Jackass Creek and Wheeler. Wheeler looks like a town which could happen but in fact it is a town that already happened. It is abandoned. You can see where the streets and individual home sites were. We had lunch by the creek and napped on a picnic table. The rest of the Lost Coast Trail has the pattern of a steep and long climb, some relatively level travel, and steep a descent to a point where you can access the ocean followed by another steep and long climb, then repeat. Our final descent was steep and down to Little Jackass Creek which we reached at about 3:30. 9 plus miles for the day.

We occupied a nice site on the beach with some benches and an outhouse near by. We saw whales jumping and breaching. Eventually two fellows set up a camp on the black sand beach (our beach). We chatted with them. One fellow seemed to have a superiority complex somehow related to his knowledge of the ocean from sailing and from being a California resident. I talked about the tides and the tide schedule. Even with all his knowledge he didn’t have a tide table or seem to know why he might need one on this hike. Score one for the bumpkins from Michigan. We found our first ticks tonight.

Day 6 – Back to the Car - As we left camp we saw a deer near the outhouse. Not sure where they came from but two fellows took our camp site before we were even over the first hill. We saw many slugs but even from the high points we saw no more whales. The trail is up and down including descents into Northport, Anderson and Dark Gulch. We started to say we “must be about an hour from the car” much too early. That really makes the day long. At Dark Gulch we wanted to take a break but did not find any trail to the beach or any camp sites. After Dark Gulch we had a rest stop on a high point and were joined by Kevin who was hiking North by himself. He had been on hikes for some months now. His only food was porridge so he was happy to take some of our extra food off our hands including steak bites, M&Ms and Gorp. He was marginally equipped. He had been to college and was married but seemed to be out trying to “find himself”. This part of the trail has its own wild flowers. We saw Foxglove plants taller than we were. Eventually the trail started a winding descent to the Usal Creek area and right back to our car. We cleaned up in Usal Creek and drove to Leggit for iced tea and ice cream, and then on to Willits for a motel and our traditional steak dinner at the Purple Thistle. Due to some long days we finished a day early. On day 7 we drove back to San Francisco and visited Pier 39, had fresh sourdough bread and rode the cable car to China Town. We have done four total hikes outside the Grand Canyon and this is our favorite of the four.

1 comment:

geebat said...

Sounds like a great trip. We just got back from our annual Cali trip and hiked part of the Chemise Mountain ridge from Wailaki and did a couple miles on the black sands. Would like to do the whole route someday mixing in a few upland trails. Cooksie Creek maybe. Nice post.