Lost Coast Trail Part II

Check out the 1st part of this trip HERE

Saturday, May 19, 2012 – Spanish Flat to Big Flat

Sunrise over Spanish Flat

Saturday was going to be an easy day. We were only going 7.5 miles to Big Flat and didn’t have to cross any sections that were dependent on the tide. I woke up at 7am as the sun was starting to show over the ridge. The morning was cool, but the night had been warmer than the previous one.

I wandered down to the beach to watch the sunrise and snap a few pictures. On the way back to camp I grabbed the bear canister to make some breakfast. Paul and Charles had yet to emerge from their tent, but it wasn’t long after I started fumbling with the stove that they crawled out.

Bear Tracks!

The low morning tide had revealed some large rocks covered in mussels. After a trip to the beach, Paul returned to camp with a half dozen of the little guys filling his pockets ready to cook up for breakfast. They weren’t gourmet restaurant style, but they weren’t half bad…

We rolled out of camp at about 9:30am taking an easy pace down the beach. It wasn’t long before we realized we were following the tracks of a bear, and since the tracks were below high tide line, we figured we must not be far behind!

We stopped for lunch by Kinsey Creek, where we were passed by a couple, also on their way towards Big Flat. After lunch, the trail took us slightly inland over a ridge giving us a spectacular view of the trail stretching down the coast.

Walking down the dirt landing strip towards Big Flat

As we neared Big Flat, the trail took us down the middle of a dirt runway that was the access for a small cabin. It was a good thing no one was trying to land, because it would have had us diving off into the grass!

We got to Big Flat camp about 2PM. The couple that had passed us during lunch was sitting across the stream behind some bushes. We made camp a short ways up stream, just above high tide line.

Camp overlooking Big Flat Creek

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the surroundings and working on our tans.

Throughout the afternoon, several groups strolled by, but none stopped for the night, even the couple that had been there when we arrived eventually moved on, leaving the whole area to us.

After dinner we took in another amazing sunset, followed by some  stargazing by the camp fire.

Sunday, May 20, 2012 – Big Flat to Shelter Cove

Looking down the beach at low tide

I woke up at 6am. Low tide had peaked at 5:55am, and we had 6 miles to cover before high tide. Based on how quickly we had been moving, we planned on leaving camp by 7:30am.

The first hour of hiking was well out of reach of the tide, but after 2 miles, we climbed down a short cliff onto a stretch of beach that would definitely be underwater at high tide… 20ft cliff to the left, ocean to the right, and not a lot of room in between.

This stretch continued a ways before opening up a bit were we crossed two streams where the other groups had set up camp. They were all just starting to break down their camps, having opted for the hike farther-sleep later plan…

Fog over takes us

By 10am we had cleared the high tide section. We were well ahead of schedule, so we stopped for an early lunch with only two miles to go.

On the final stretch the fog rolled in giving the beach an erie feel. This was definitely Bigfoot weather!

By the time we reached the car, the fog had cleared and we headed back north to retrieve my car. This time we avoided King Peak Rd.

Back at the Mattole River, we hung out on the beach for a bit waiting on a very special show… This afternoon was the annular eclipse! As the moon moved into position, and the light from the sun dimmed, a thin layer of clouds moved in providing the perfect filter for viewing the eclipse, and allowing Paul to take some pretty awesome pictures! What a treat!

Composite image of the annular eclipse (Photo Cred: Paul)

Check out more photos from the trip on Flickr!

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Lost Coast Trail Part I

Along the northern coast of California is a stretch of land so rugged that the road crews constructing Highway 1 didn’t dare tackle it. This stretch is the Lost Coast. Here the land rises sharply from the sea, reaching heights of 4,000 feet within only 3 miles of the shore. Since this sort of geology is so rare along US coastline, it was an obvious destination!

The Lost Coast Trail stretches 26 miles from the mouth of the Mattole River to Shelter Cove. While the mileage is not great, there are two stretches that are impassable during high tide. Because of the need to cross these sections at low tide, it is best to make the trip in 3 days.

Thursday, May 17, 2012 – The Drive

We hit the road out of Berkeley at 3pm in an effort to beat the traffic. Our first destination was the Shelter Cove trailhead. Since we were doing a point-to-point hike, we took two cars to run a shuttle.

After about 3.5 hrs of driving, we turned off Highway 101 in Garberville, where we stopped for gas and a bite to eat. As we left the restaurant, a man working there stopped us to talk about the Lost Coast. He told us to keep our eyes open because we may “see some large tracks in the sand… or maybe some larger tracks…” He said this with a bit of humor in his voice, and I assumed he was referring to the tracks from bears and Bigfoot!

View from the parking lot at Shelter Cove

From here we headed to the coast along a winding country road and dropped off Paul’s car in Shelter Cove. Now, with 4 of us pilled in my car, we headed north. According to my GPS, the drive would take us back over the King Range to Ettersburg Rd. This would get us to the northern trailhead in about 1.5hrs.

However! Near the top of the ridge we passed King Peak Rd. Paul said that he remembered Google telling us to take this road. So, in defiance of my GPS, we took off down King Peak Rd.

This road is labeled on the map as being paved… it is not! It starts out as a nicely graded gravel fire road. All was going well until we came around a dark turn and found ourselves looking at a rather interesting stream crossing. The water wasn’t deep, but there was definitely a sharp dip getting into and out of the stream. After a bit of planning, and kicking everyone out to lighten the load, we went for it, and made it… but not without scraping both bumpers along the way.

With that behind us, we continued… how much worse could it really get? Two more tricky stream crossings later, we got to a fork in the road. Our path took a steep turn downhill, which included a significant rut about the width of my wheel base. While the Vibe had performed so well on the streams, this was definitely too much for it. Slightly misled by Google, we turned around.

Getting back out proved a bit trickier than getting in, but once we were back on paved road it was easy driving to the Mattole river. With our minor 2hr detour, we rolled into camp at the Mattole River Trailhead at 12:45am.

Friday, May 18th, 2012 – Mattole River to Spanish Flat

I woke up at 7:30am to a bright sky lighting up the tent, birds chirping, and a chill in the air.  We had about 4 miles to hike before getting to the first impassable section, and high tide peaked at 11:15am. We left camp at about 9am with the goal of getting to the impassable  section by lunch.

Starting our way south from the Mattole River

We started out hiking on the beach. The sand made this quite difficult, so we followed the trail just off the beach. It was nice walking on a surface that didn’t slip away beneath your feet with every step!

The sun was out and the views were amazing! Such a different environment than anything I had ever experienced….

As we continued down the coast, the wind picked up significantly. The strong gusts would occasionally catch my backpack like a sail and throw me off balance.

About 2 miles in, we arrived at the abandoned lighthouse, where we met three northbound hikers, who were using it as shelter from the wind while enjoying their lunch.

Abandoned lighthouse

Rocky land meets crashing waves, blocking our path down the beach

After passing the lighthouse, we reached the high tide section. The tide was on its way out, so we had plenty of room to hike. A short ways in, we reached a section of rock that stuck out into the ocean. With the waves crashing against the rock, we were left scrambling over steep scree in order to pass.

It was not easy going, but Charles ran up and over without giving it a second thought! He may have been a mountain goat in a past life…

Charles waiting up for those of us who aren’t in touch with our inner mountain goat

Past this section, it was back to the beach where we continued down the coast. At this point my feet and hips were really starting to feel the effect of hiking across miles of sand and fist sized rocks.

Once past the high tide section, we were able to get off the beach and back onto the trail. The trail took us across grassy meadows and through a few stream crossings. After pausing for a moment waiting for everyone to cross one stream, Paul took the lead and nearly stepped on a snake. I was a few steps behind him when he let out a good yelp and quickly turned to run in the other direction, nearly plowing me down in the process!

Paul pulling out the camera by the Spanish Ridge Trail

As we approached Spanish Flat, we pasted a sign post marking the Spanish Ridge trail. The trail was completely overgrown, and without even a path through the grass where someone may have walked, it was clear that no one had traveled on it in quite some time. I suppose it’s a good thing we weren’t trying to take it…

Once at Spanish Flat we set up camp behind some trees to get shelter from the wind, which was still blowing hard. It was about 5pm, and it was time to make some food.

As the evening went on, we made our way down to the beach to set up the cameras for the sunset. The wind had let up a bit, though a few strong gusts continued to throw sand at us.

The sunset was beautiful! The sky over head was clear, and there were a few clouds on the horizon to give us some spectacular colors. We even saw a few whales swimming off in the distance.

Once the sun was down, the stars came out in full force. Every time I get out of the bay area, I’m amazed at how many stars are up there.

Sun set off the Lost Coast from Spanish Flat

Check out Part II of this trip HERE!

Check out more photos from this trip on Flickr