Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lost Coast Part 1

A few weeks ago I finally got to spend some time on the Lost Coast of Northern California. I've been meaning to get up there for some time but always seem to end up in the mountains instead. So when some old friends suggested the area I figured why not. This trip was a nice little reunion for me, every year a group of folks try to get together and actually get out for a week or so. I used to work for the East Bay Regional Park District and its a nice conglomeration of old park staff and kids who grew up backpacking with the park. My favorite part of these trips besides seeing all the old familiar faces is the fact that I never have to do any of the planning. Its a real treat skipping all the leg work and just showing up. 
Which is how I ended up out of cell reception driving though an active burn on the Northern California Coast before eventually pulling up to Black Sands Beach near Whitethorne CA on a foggy sunday evening. I was crossing my fingers the whole time that I was at the right beach, something that wasn't helped by the fact that I saw no recognizable faces in the parking lot after my long 7 hour drive. 
Soon enough 2 familiar faces appeared and it was time to go. I grabbed my stuff and hopped onto a shuttle our fearless leader had arranged. The rest  of the group was at Matthole Campground already, the three of us were part of a shuttle so our trip would be nicer logistically. Turns out we would be completing about 25 miles of the Lost Coast Trail. Just the Northern section from Matthole Campground to Shelter Cove, hiking the trail south over 4 days or so. 
Our shuttle drive wasn't to eventful, although I don't typically get carsick but 90 mph on windy roads had me queasy and hoping the long ride would soon be over. Thankfully we wound our way through the fog and pretty coastal hills making it back to the coast and the crowded campground. We had a pretty big group. 10 people seems awfully big when all of my recent trips solo, but then I remember we used to lead large groups of 40 kids aged 9-18 and think 10 is peanuts. The group is a nice mix, a few my age that I had grown up with, 1 of the original park rangers and a number of younger kids all around 17-21, a few of whom I hadn't seen since they were maybe 10. So a little like being back at work minus the official responsibility. A late dinner, wandering to the beach and a campfire before an early bedtime. 
The Lost Coast trail has a few quirks we had to prepare for. Pretty much all of it (at least this section) is apparently directly on the beach. So not only is lots of sand walking a given but certain sections are only passable during low tide. The map is scattered with ominous "Impassable Zones" meaning we have to pay attention to timing and the days will probably all have some odd long break times. 

camp for the night
Heading towards the beach

historical lighthouse and some shelter from the wind

Day 1 started off in the fog hugging the coast and sinking into sand. 2 miles in a lighthouse and a chance to take a short break to reconvene. The trail leads away from the beach and spends some time narrowly dodging hedges of poison oak on the bluff as we make our way up. We have a long lunch break trying to figure out the next impassable zone and killing time waiting for the tide to start receding. 

the sun appeared during lunch

heading out into an impassable zone

turns out its more rock walking than sand out here
We round a corner and see pretty much every other hiker we've seen since the night before. At least 15 people milling around staring at a rock. We've been walking through an impassable zone with the outgoing tide, turns out its not out enough quite yet...

We wait, the rest of the group straggles in and over the course of the next few hours finally strategically run and hop around some scary looking slippery rocks staying mostly dry in the process. The only casualty of the morning so far is our fearless leader. She tripped some ways back on the beach and while only skinning her knee now has a huge hematoma on her forearm, quickly approaching grapefruit size. Which looks all the more dramatic on this tiny little woman who I'm pretty sure is hovering around the just shy of 4'8'' mark. Itineraries are discussed, gear is redistributed and we decide to head a little farther making our next day have simpler timing with the tides. 
A total of 8 miles has us camped on a bluff near a fresh water creek enjoying the views and the fact that our bear cans will be that much lighter on day 2. 

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