Monday, May 11, 2009

Lost Coast - Northern Coastal California

Jerry and Norm

April 24 - May 1, 2009


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.

Trails of the Lost Coast Map, Wilderness Press

King Range National Conservation Area Lost Coast Trail Map – BLM Arcata Field Office

Tide Tables (we used Shelter Cove) -

BLM Website for Lost Coast (including shuttles) -

Note – We also did this hike in 2004. We did it one week earlier this time. The weather was much cooler this time. Since we were familiar with the route and the sights, we planned to minimize some bad spots and maximize our favorite spots.

Friday April 24, 2009 – Getting There – Left home at 6:30 for a 9:00 flight. Long luggage line at NW or is it Delta? Breakfast at McD’s. Long walk to the very end of the terminal at Gate 78. Had to hustle. Oh, flight now scheduled for 9:23. Had aisle seats across. Uneventful flight. Landed at 11:40. Poor signage within the airport to find the rental cars. They are far away from the terminal at the end of the air tram. Long line at the Budget desk. Finally, driving by 1:30. We missed the exit for the REI store where we planned to by the butane/propane gas for our stove. Jerry pulled off the freeway and got directions to a sporting goods store that had gas at the next exit. We at lunch at that shopping center too. Traffic was awful for about two hours after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. The last three hours were OK. Highway 101 to Leggett and then turn left onto Highway 1. Go South to mile marker 90.88 and turn right. The road into Usal Creek is rough and rougher than 5 years ago. Took it slow. Parked the car at 8:00 PM. We set up the tent, just in case, but went to sleep in our bivy sacks, hoping to prove to ourselves we wouldn’t need the tent. We heard voices and saw lights late into the night. We were later told the park is party headquarters for kids from Fort Bragg. Norm moved into the tent at 4:00 AM to see it if was any warmer. Yes, it was.

April 25, 2009 – To The Light House And Beyond - Both of us woke up with moist sleeping bags, evidently from condensation within the bivy sacks. Between that and the forecast for 30 something degree nights all week, we decided to leave the bivy sacks and take the tent. Nuts! We packed up and moved the car as we had been directed. Jill, the shuttle driver, was on time at 7:30. She said she loved to come over to Usal, that it was her playground. She drove faster than we had, do I guess it was her playground. She warned that we might get motion sick due to the winding roads. Norm eventually moved into the front seat, took some medication, and asked Jill to slow down and even stop once. She was very cooperative and compassionate. Norm eventually fell asleep. We picked up BLM Bear Cans at the store in Petrolia and arrived at Mattole River at 11:30. Jill took our final three day’s food to the Shelter Cove General Store which is on the hill above Shelter Cove. Jill provided the excellent King Range National Conservation Area Lost Coast Trail Map. It clearly shows the areas with tide issues and gives the hiking distance between all major land marks down to the Needle Rock Visitor Center.

We were walking in just a few minutes. It was very WINDY, from the Northwest. We were very happy we had decided not to walk South to North as we had originally planned. As the next few days developed, we became happier and happier about that decision. Everyone we met mentioned the wind. We stopped at the light house for lunch and were soon joined by The Couple in Black. They were friendly and shared their names but we forgot them. They were 20 something, from Portland, and were going all the way to Usal on the same basic schedule as we were. They didn’t have a map for the lower half, so we shared ours. Later, a larger group of younger people arrived from the south. We skipped a nap we were contemplating and headed out. Soon, we met adults who were probably the chaperones of the young group. We also met a farther, son, and grandson. Nice to see them hiking together. We managed to find several stretches of trail above the beach, which we missed five years ago. We soon heard and saw dozens of sea lions sunning on some large rocks. We saw several creeks falling down the hillside. There are small creeks all along the route all the way to Shelter Cove. It is not necessary to carry very much water. We saw the first of four cabins which are very near the ocean. They made us wonder about who owned them, how long had they been there, how does one get to them, and how often are they used. We also saw the first of many driftwood shelters. They must have been made by previous backpackers for shelter from the wind. Most have some nautical ropes or floats incorporated. This one was partially roofed. It was too soon to stop so we just looked through it.

There is a tide issue in the stretch beyond the light house but the tide was going out, so all points were passable for us. We wanted to camp beyond the final tide issue, so we needed to get to Randall Creek. The guide book indicated we would see Reynolds Rock at or before we arrived at Randall Creek. We didn’t know what Reynolds Rock would look like but we guessed it would be more prominent than all the others. We never saw such a rock so we overshot Randall Creek. We became sure of that when we got to the clearly marked foot of the Spanish Ridge Trail. (Note - The guide book indicates that the Spanish Ridge Trail starts 250 feet beyond Randall Creek, and that at 10.5 miles another spur climbs Spanish Ridge. We believe that the currently mapped and marked trail corresponds to the guide book’s “another spur”, and that the Spanish Ridge Trail is no longer marked at 250 feet beyond Randall Creek.)

Jerry walked back a quarter mile to the last small creek/ravine and found two flat spots. The Couple in Black took the other one. We were somewhat out of the wind, but gusts would blow the tent away, even with a pack inside. Norm crawled in to hold it down. He got comfortable and dozed off. He basically stayed in the tent until Jerry got ready to retire for the night. We should not have even put the tent up, until we actually intended to retire. The wind gusted all night. We eventually were wearing every but if clothing we brought; 2 shirts, sweat shirts, rain jackets, rain pants, stocking hats, gloves. This was required on every evening but one.

April 26, 2009 – Crossing the Flats – Awoke at 6:00 and were walking by 7:30. We planned the trip around the notion that we wanted to arrive at the foot of the Shelter Cove hill early in the morning instead of mid afternoon as we had last time. This meant we had some discretionary time, so we dropped our packs and hiked up the Spanish Ridge Trail for about 45 minutes, until we could see back to the beach again. It is open and grassy and very pretty, with nice views down the shore. After, heading south again, we met a fellow with his dog going north. He mentioned the wind and said “Nothing to block it but Asia”. Asia wasn’t blocking much wind for him or for us. We enjoyed seeing the shore at lower tide. The kelp sparkles in the sun, as the waves move it back and forth. We stopped again at Oat Creek to shave and clean up, and basically hang out. It was sunny and we had a nice rest and stayed for lunch. The Couple in Black had not been stirring yet when we left our camp but they passed us at Oat Creek. We passed them again at Kinney Creek. We saw several snakes cross the trail today but no rattle snakes. Lizards too. We also saw the very sad sight of a dead whale being flopped about by the surf. Sad Sight. Almost the whole day was on trails above the beach. The trail goes pretty high at one point. Passed three more cabins/homes at the foot of the cliffs. Two can be accessed by road and one by plane. The first was occupied but we did not see a vehicle. The road to these cabins would demand a vehicle with plenty of ground clearance.

We camped in a big driftwood shelter just beyond the landing strip for the third house at Big Flat. The Couple in Black took a shelter down a bit further. Water was readily available from Big Creek. We were nicely out of the wind this time. We had vivid memories of this stretch from the first trip and they didn’t match up very well with the actual trail today. Funny how that works.

April 27, 2009 – Getting Close to Shelter Cove – Awoke 6 AM. Walking by 7:30. We wanted to hustle through the first 4 miles which have the tide issue. It was about low tide when we started so we were not exactly racing the waves. The road above the beach ended too quickly and we were walking on the cobbles and in the sand for most of the day. We saw into a few tide pools with star fish and saw all the kelp on the beach.

Jerry claimed he saw a sea lion but it never appeared again. Norm offered a dollar if the sea lion appeared again. Jerry kept talking about him but “Fred” did not reappear. Eventually Norm charged Jerry $3.00 for repeated references to Fred. Ironically, we saw about 30 real sea lions down the shore a little ways. We then even saw one up on the shore. He was very close to where we were walking and actually startled us as we realized that he was not just another piece of driftwood. He seemed healthy and contented. Tossed sand occasionally, maybe to keep the flies off?

It was cloudy and the wind was not as strong. We made good time over the first four miles. We took longer breaks after that. We wanted to camp at Horse Mountain Creek which is 1.9 miles from the foot of the Shelter Cove hill. We stopped one creek too soon, but walked further down shore without our packs. We found the sign for the Horse Mountain Creek trail and once again knew we had stopped at the wrong place. We went back for the packs, and dropped them at the foot of the trail. We walked up the H.M.C. trail for about 40 minutes, then back down and then carried the packs over to the actual creek. We found a small shelter there and set up camp. There was a much more deluxe shelter on the south side of the creek but when we arrived another party seemed to be camping there. They eventually left and we went over to check it out. It had a roof and multiple rooms. Jerry was convinced there was wild life (mice and snakes) living in it and that the roof would collapse, so we didn’t move in.

We played ‘tag’ with a party of 3 or would it be 4 today? The couple had their nine month old daughter with them. We couldn’t imagine it, all the extra stuff, giving the baby the attention it needed with little hesitation…

We saw the Couple in Black pass us and go on toward Shelter Cove. Norm was convinced they got a warm, dry motel room for the night and would be having bacon and eggs for breakfast. He tried not to think about it.

April 28, 2009 – Up the Hill and Out the Hidden Valley Trail – Awoke at 6:30. Jerry’s efforts to level out the area under the tent were only partially successful. Norm’s area was on a sideways slope and he had trouble staying on his mat and out of the side of the tent. We had kept water in the bucket and found a mouse floating. We shaved so as not to discourage anyone from giving us a ride up the hill.

We were walking by 8:00. The footing was not as loose as some other parts of the beach. It seemed that the beach was made up of very small gravel instead of actual sand. We reached the Shelter Cove parking area by 9:30, used the flush toilet, and headed up the hill. We walked about 2 of the 3 miles to the store before Greg picked us up. We bought him coffee at the store. The clerk didn’t seem to know much about our food being there or having the bear cans picked up, but she lead us to where the FedEx pickups are made and our food was there. She agreed to let us leave the bear cans as long as someone from the shuttle was going to pick them up. We bought some snacks and tossed the 3 days of trash we had accumulated. As we repacked with the new food, a young fellow engaged us in conversation. He lived near some part of the Lost Coast Trail and had hiked parts of it. He gladly gave us a ride for the last one plus miles to the Hidden Valley trail head. He is a local musician and says they band has steady work. They also do some fund raising for the local communities. He said this is a great place to be poor. We tipped him a few dollars for the ride. Nice fellow.

We were surprised to see the sign indicating that this part of the trail required bear cans. We had left ours at the store so there was little choice but to get through this section today. Because we had been given the two rides, it was now possible to get beyond Nick’s camp site where we had planned to stay, and get to the state park boundary. We would need to drop our packs for a few minutes and hike into Nick’s to get water. We had lunch on the park bench at the top of Chemise Mountain. Very nice panoramic view of the coastal mountains. We extend our thanks to whoever carried the pieces of that bench all the way up there. There is a huge climb at the beginning of this stretch of trail and then it’s up and down until you reach the state park boundary. This stretch has some nice views of the ocean but no views of the coast looking south. Eventually there is a view looking back north and of Shelter Cove. The hike into Nick’s (taking the second trail, not the first) to get water is about ¾ mile but seemed quick without the packs. We reminisced about our night at Nick’s on the previous trip. We saw lots of dog sized scat and lots of elk scat. Nothing that looked like bear scat.

We were done by 5 PM. We arranged some bricks and boards from the fallen down house and made a decent camp site. That house would have been the only private house with an ocean view for about 30 miles. We wondered what had kept it from being completed. The Couple in Black walked past as we got dinner ready. It got quite cold on the hill top so we walked down the trail a half mile just to get warmed up. With 6 miles of Hidden Valley, 2 Miles on the beach, 2 miles on the hill and 1.5 miles over/back to Nick’s we had an 11 plus mile day. Satisfying but not a killer.

April 29, 2009 – Needle Rock and Bear Harbor – Awoke 6:30. Things a little damp but not wet. I hate to carry a wet tent all day. Walking by 8:00. Our favorite place on the Lost Coast is Bear Harbor so we only had 5 miles to hike today. We could stop often and long and enjoy the wonderful views of the coast to the south. Dogs greeted us at the “house on the left”. One didn’t even seem to be tied up. Wound down to Whale Gulch where we again found the huge laminated beams, 40 feet long by 5 feet wide. We speculated on how they got there and what their purpose might have been. Jerry guessed they had been lowered from a helicopter for use in a bridge over Whale Gulch Creek. Neither seemed very likely to Norm, who thought there used to be a logging road in from the North and observed the creek is currently crossed with the help of a single 2x4. (Later, the Park manager told us that Jerry was actually correct on both counts. The local people had objected to the bridge for some reason and so the beams had never been put in place.) We soon arrived at the mown paths of the state park. The Couple in Black was camped at the first picnic table. There was a field full of pup tents, but we never saw the probable occupants. We then came upon a very industrious team of young people from the California Conservation Corps who were making trail improvements. We thanked them for their hard work. The next picnic table was near a creek so we stopped for a snack, and Jerry cleaned up. About 45 feet away an elk was lying in the grass chewing its cud. There is an elk herd in the park and they must be very used to people. There was a wonderful ocean view but we didn’t see any whales swim by.

We moved on to the visitor center, registered, paid for two nights and watched the ocean from the front steps for a while. We headed down the road toward Bear Harbor. Our memory of the road was that is was straight, level and exposed to the sun. This is one short segment like that just before it ends but the rest is rolling, winding, and partially shaded. Memory is a funny thing.

No one was at Bear Harbor when we arrived so we took ‘our’ north most camp site. We set up camp and went down to the beach. There were three kayakers who had been out diving for abalone. We spent the afternoon amongst the big rocks watching the tide come in and talking about spiritual things. It was sunny but still cool.

Norm went off to get water for dinner/breakfast and saw the Woman in Black near the creek. He asked if she was getting water but she said she was picking nettles. Norm asked if that was a good thing. She laughed and said you can eat them if you cook them first. The Couple in Black were camped on the far side of the big creek. We prepared to have our normal freeze dried dinner except that this package of chicken and dumplings had a far more complex “recipe” than normal. It required simmering the basic chicken, peas and gravy and then 12-15 minutes of simmering after the dumpling mix was put on top. We don’t carry enough gas for that duration of cooking and our narrow Jet Boil stove wouldn’t have worked very well for this dumpling simmering anyway. We just put the dumpling mix away, and made up the chicken and gravy with the normal “dump boiling water in the pouch, stir, and wait 10 minutes” recipe. It turned out OK and we supplemented it with snacks. Better make it a point to read each freeze dried meal package next year. An elk walked right past our camp, and down the trial into the forest. We gathered some fallen wood and made a fire. Played Trivia by flash light.

April 30, 2009 – Tide Pools, Redwood Trees and the Ghost Town – We intended to hang around for low tide which would ‘peak’ at 10:40 so we slept in a little. We arrived at the beach at 8:15. There was not much to see, until we started to look more closely. Something that just looked like sand on the rocks turned out to be hundreds of individual little animals that cling to the rocks, get covered with sand, and close up when the tide is out. We could see the ones that were still under water and thus open, then we could see them everywhere. As we hung around, and the tide went out, we could get further out amongst the rocks and we found tide pools with sea anemones, star fish, crabs and a 7 inch red chiton. Norm even thought he glimpsed a sea otter, but the photo is inconclusive. Great fun for boys from the Midwest.

We were walking by 9:40. The CCC team was ahead of us trimming weeds and pulling a huge stump. We thanked them again. Based on the volume of droppings we were following a couple of elk up the trail. Saw our first big Redwood trees. Wow. There is a big climb at first, then a rolling section, and a big descent into Wheeler. There are two amazing redwoods with side limbs that are bigger than most normal trees, as you reach the valley floor. This seems to be School Marm Grove. We had lunch at the first creek crossing and the poked around at the second creek crossing. There is a large metal frame attached to the ground at the creek and a foundation to the west of that. There are several open “home sites” but no physical evidence of the 30 plus homes that made up Wheeler. We tried to imagine the school house, the community and life there. What was it like to be so isolated and with the same 30 families for 10 years? Would there be any privacy? We stopped again at the beach. Saw a crab pot in the river. Took a short nap on the driftwood logs.

Walking again by 2:40 with four plus miles to go. We didn’t expect to finish until about 6:30. There is a huge climb as you leave the beach. A few more foundations are there. There is a rolling stretch and then another big climb before the long, steep descent into Little Jack Ass Creek. We actually got in before 6:00 PM.

The prime camping site on the beach was occupied, but it was starting to rain and we hadn’t seen the other two sites that the guide mentions so we took a secondary site on the beach. It was around the corner of the cliff from the primary site. We were out of sight and we never saw the other fellow. Perhaps he did not even know we were there. The Couple in Black made a site in the grass between the main trail and the beach. Our site was on an elevated place right next to the cliff. We were somewhat concerned about being dry at high tide at 3:40 AM. Checking the tide tables indicated that it had been an even higher tide a few days ago, which would have eroded our little hill away, so we thought we would stay dry. We put the tent up immediately due to the threatening rain and threw most of what we wanted to keep dry into it. We put on our rain gear and made dinner in a drizzle. As the rain picked up at 7:15, we went into the tent and played Trivia. When the rain stopped, we moved our food away from the tent. There was no place to hang it on the beach, so we put it under a big rock and surrounded it with smaller rocks. The surf is very loud there because of the cove shape. It sounds like a big gun shot every now and then. Norm happened to be up at 1:30 AM and saw that the tide was quite a distance from the tent and surmised we would have no problems in our location even at high tide. He slept a little better. In the morning we saw that the waves had come within about 40 feet of our tent but not nearly as high in true elevation.

May 1, 2009 – On to Usal and the Car – In the backs of our minds all day was the need to arrive in time for our “red eye” flight from San Francisco. Norm forgot the flight paperwork but we thought the flight left at 11:00 PM and planned backwards from that time. We thought we’d have time to clean up in Usal Creek or shower at the airport, and have a nice meal on the way south. We set the alarm for 6 AM, and awoke as planned. We packed and went up to the out house. Norm filled Mr. Bucket as he crossed the creek. The prime camp site was already vacant. We filtered water and had breakfast. Jerry found several ticks on his pants and jacket. As we were zipping our packs for the “last” time, Norm noticed he did not have his sandals. He immediately remembered where they were back on the beach, so he went to get them – 20 unplanned minutes. Then we headed south. We soon reached the other two camp sites. They are large, flat, well sheltered and even have fire rings. In the valley the trail goes through many tall weeds which were very wet, so we kept our rain pants on until we got to a more open section of the trail. Immediately, the trail headed up. The elk droppings continued but they were noticeably fresh. Soon we caught up with a female and two males. As we closed up on them, the female ran uphill off the trail. Excellent, just what we had hoped for. As we closed on the rear male, he just looked at us and chewed. He’d move a few yards, stop to bite off something new and then chew for a while, and repeat. His progress was not going to get us to our flight. We tried standing sideways to look bigger with our packs. Jerry had a stick. The elk didn’t seem impressed. When we edged even closer, the elk seemed to feel threatened and we thought he might become aggressive. Our tones became very conciliatory and we backed down the trail. Norm picked up some rocks to throw either at them or off to the side to get them off the trail, but we didn’t want them to become aggressive, so we never tossed the rocks. Jerry said he was running out of ideas and was ready to try anything including a whistle. Norm had a whistle that was quite handy, so we tried it. Three short bursts and both male elk ran up the trail. Jerry suggested that Norm just keep blowing the whistle in hopes it would drive them off the trail. It worked. We warily moved up the trail and peaked around every corner, but after about five minutes we became confident that we were finally past them. During the elk episode we covered about 50 yards in about 20 minutes. We were now 40 minutes “behind schedule”.

There were three more major climbs and descents. We snacked once and had lunch. Jerry found a tick that had “connected”. In the middle of the second of the three climbs the trail affords a nice overlook of the ocean. Jerry spotted whales. We saw only the spouting and brief glimpses of their backs but we saw them for several minutes so there was no doubt about this sighting. Seeing whales made the trip complete! As we completed the final major climb it started to rain steadily. We put on our rain jackets but our pants were already pretty wet from last night’s rain on the weeds along the trail. The last section of the trail is out in the open and winds through tall weeds, so by the time we reached the car our pants were soaked and we were ready to be done, and get into dry clothes. We both have water proof boots so we were surprised that our feet were becoming wet. Jerry suggested that perhaps the water had actually run down our legs into our boots.

We changed into our dry clothes in the warm car and headed up the dirt road out of the Usal Creek area. Norm found the flight paperwork. Not only were we 40 minutes “behind schedule” due to the sandals and the elk, the plane was supposed to leave at 10 PM not 11 PM. So much for a nice meal on the way. We had burgers from a drive thru. The signage to the rental car area in San Francisco was confusing and then the signage to turn in the Budget car in the Avis area was confusing so we arrived at our airport gate only 40 minutes before flight time. No time for that shower at the airport. Sorry about that fellow travelers.

Conclusion – We were very happy we had taken the local advice and walked North to South. We took one extra day to do this hike this time. We spent that time enjoying the wilderness on side hikes and longer rests. The extra day made the trip much more enjoyable. Climbing the Shelter Cove Hill in the morning was an excellent idea. Somehow our weather was warmer last time. Just lucky?

1 comment:

Nancy said...

A pleasure to read, as always. Sounds like you guys had a great time! "You are an inspiration!" :-) Love, Nancy