Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Trip Report: Lost Coast Hike



Lost Coast Weekend

Other people's Photos

I just got back from a 3 day Lost Coast trip with the Google Outdoors club. I've owned the Lost Coast map for years and years, but never got around to organizing it. Before I left Google, I loaned Kirsten Yee the map and asked her to consider organizing a trip for when I could make it. She picked labor day weekend, and given that nearly everyone else on the trip had pesky day jobs, the car pool did not leave Google until 3:30pm, which with a combination of traffic, stops for food, and coordination problems, led us to get to the Black Sands beach trail head at midnight. The shuttle picked us up at 1:00am, and dropped us off at Mattole (on the other end) at 3:00am. I could not sleep much during the transfer.

I had dragged Tracy along, since she had expressed interest in hiking after having given up on cycling a few years ago. Lisa did not choose to come along, since the hike, with its many tide restricted zones would require us to hike somewhat to a schedule dictated by the tide tables. I was also concerned that Lisa would not be able to keep up with what I expected to be a very strong group of hikers, since she was flagging in the Alps earlier this year on an unloaded hike. Other than Kirsten, the other person I knew on the trip was Johannes Henkel, whom I had not hiked with since he became an uber-outdoors man. Other folks who came along included Devin, Matt, Sonya, Daniella, Josh, and Steve, none of whom I had met before. There was a flurry of e-mails prior to the trip, first pointing to Arturo's and Marc Merlin's trip reports. Kirsten arranged a shuttle service with the Lost Coast Shuttle, negotiating a price of $45/person for the transfer.

We had to hike in on the trail at least 500 feet from the trail head before pitching camp. Fortunately, I had put up my tent often enough, and so with Tracy's help managed to get it up and facing into the wind in order to minimize wind noise. We put in sleeping pads, sleeping bags, crawled in and crashed.
 



From Lost Coast Weekend

Because of the tides, we had to get up at 7:30 am, and make it past to Randall Creek before 4:00pm. As usual, I was awake around 7:00am. There was fog outside my tent, but the wind had kept the tent walls dry, and my sleeping bag was not even damp, so I immediately packed it up and started getting ready for breakfast. I woke Tracy up, and told her that we should pack up, hike back to the start of the trail head to the campground, and use the running water and toilets there to make breakfast, since that would be more sheltered and I didn't feel like digging toilets. By the time we were finished packing up, Kirsten had roused every body and there was general movement all over the tent site. I ran into Sonya, who had a Soto Micro-Regulator stove whom she had never used before, and a canister of fuel. She had e-mailed me before asking me to help show her how to use it, so together with Tracy and I, we headed back to the trail head where conveniently enough, there was a man with a camper van in a campsite who was happy to let us make breakfast there in exchange for helping load his motorcycle onto his rack. "I forgot to get the instruction manual!" said Sonya. "This thing has one knob and one button. I think we can figure it out without the manual." Sure enough, screwing the stove into the canister, turning the knob, and pushing the button lit up the stove with no problems. We filled up my pots and started hot water going, while Sonya went back to get the others.

Organizing 10 people is never easy, so I decided that since I wasn't the group leader, I would have the luxury of going on ahead on schedule regardless of how far the others were along for breakfast. Tracy and I were therefore done and ready to go by 9:00am, and with our bags packed and lunch out of the bear canister so we could easily geto to them, started walking on the trail after letting Kirsten know that we were going on ahead. On our way past the tents, we ran into Sonya, who immediately decided to join us. Steve Langdon was also already packed and came along with us.



From Lost Coast Weekend

The fog was really thick, and we could barely see past the beach to the water as we walked on the beach. Walking on sand sounds romantic, but the reality is that you sink into loose sand and then have to lift your foot up from that. If wearing low cut shoes like my running shoes, sand gets into the shoe as well. Steve had hiking boots with gaiters, which I thought was a really good idea except that I hated hiking boots. I was therefore glad to find that there was an official hiking trail off the beach within half a mile of the start, which would lead us easily and quickly to the Punta Gorda lighthouse.



From Lost Coast Weekend

By the time we got to the lighthouse, the fog had cleared enough that we could take off our outer layers and put on sunscreen. Punta Gorda was where the first "low tide only" area was, but it didn't seem very hazardous. The group caught up to us at this point and we were surprised to see Daniella and Josh not there. Kirsten assured us that they were OK, and we pressed onwards. After the boulder hopping which was neither difficult nor extensive, the trail resumed and headed up into a headland. There had been a debate as to where to have lunch, but the place was pretty scenic so I voted for lunch. Daniella and Josh caught up to us in the midst of lunch so we were all together again. Everyone seemed rather amused that I had bought some Bacon Spam for lunch, and they were even more amused that I had brought along my electric toothbrush. "Don't talk to me about ultralight backpacking!" declared Johannes.



From Lost Coast Weekend

After lunch, the route stayed high, granting us nice views of the ocean and the beach below. After the Cooksie Spur trail, however, the trail dived back to the beach for more boulder hopping, which was extensive at this point. At one point, in fact, the place narrowed and you had to time your scramble in between waves to get around the point. Steve led the way here, being tall and with gaiters, and I followed but was not as agile as he was, and got my shoes wet over the crossing. Steve pointed out that the rocks on the other side were slippery, so he put his pack down and hopped onto the saddle to help others across. I stayed close to try to catch people and also to point to the natural step with a firm footing. I'm pretty sure my presence was superfluous with Steve being in a great position to help the others. In fact, when Johannes slipped, I could not save either him or the camera from hitting the ground.



From Lost Coast Weekend

After that, the coast looked desolate, with the loose gravel causing a slip-slip action whenever I took a step. Coupled with wet socks, this quickly created a blister in my foot. I started lagging behind as others moved forward ahead of me. Daniella and I walked side by side and after a while I asked her if she had a bandaid or moleskin so I could keep the blister from chafing. She indeed had bandaids, but neither she nor Johannes had moleskin. I applied a bigger bandaid over a smaller one and called it good. Johannes was bleeding from his fall, and his camera was also apparently busted from the fall. I felt sorry for him but he seemed philosophical, pointing out that his camera had been heavily used.



From Lost Coast Weekend

We got to the end of the boulder hopping at Randall Creek, where everyone else had stopped to get fresh water. Between the bandages, the drying socks, and some welcome shade I started to feel better. We had a debate as to whether this was Randall Creek, but rather than scout ahead, we decided to press on since it was early, with me and Sonya leading the way. The track leaving Randall Creek turned into a wide double-track jeep trail (which should have tipped us off as to where we were). After a mile, we got to an intersection asnd saw that this was the intersection with the Spanish Ridge Trail, which confirmed that we had indeed walked past Randall Creek. We waited at the intersection for the others to figure out where we wanted to go. Another group of backpackers showed up and asked us if we had seen their companion, a 6' tall man with a black mustache. We had seen no such person, but they decided to talk to us further. "He's a very strong hiker, but unfortunately also has the least good judgement amongst us."

When the others caught up to us, we quickly decided to stop at Spanish Creek, which apparently wasn't a great campground but would keep us from having to backtrack. Upon reaching Spanish Creek, however, I saw to my dismay that the area around the trail seemed pretty exposed. We saw other backpackers staking out area close to the beach but it looked pretty exposed to the wind to me. I persuaded Sonya to put down her pack and scout with me a bit on the south end of the river, but we quickly ran into vegetation that posed as a barrier. Sonya went to talk to others while I persuaded Josh to come with me to scout the North end of the creek, hoping that as we went upriver we would find something. Sure enough, near the north end there was what looked like a nicely constructed campground, with logs for sitting and natural tenting areas. The ground was hard, but the shade and shelter would be welcome. It took a good 30 minutes to get back to where everyone was, organize the group, and then lead everyone back there.



From Lost Coast Weekend

Folks seemed pleased with the campground, and then it was a matter of pitching tents, getting water, and preparing for dinner after a long day without having had much sleep before. Unfortunately, my Katadyn Mini Ceramic Microfilter's ceramic element chose to give up the ghost at this point, so we were down to only one filter plus our water bottle filters. Sunset was gorgeous, from the beach, however, and very unusual, since the coast was usually fogged over at that point and we normally did not expect views!



From Lost Coast Weekend

Kirsten announced that tomorrow would be an 8:30am departure to try to get past the next high tide section so we did not have to get up at 5am the next day. I wasn't happy about having to do another 12 miles tomorrow, but went along with the group. I did point out that given that our 7:30am wake up this morning led to a 9:00am departure, an 8:30am departure would require the reverie to be at 7:00am. Kirsten agreed and I went to bed right after that.
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The windy night made it actually harder to sleep than I expected, despite my fatigue, but it also meant that the coast was clear when we woke up! After breakfast, Tracy and I were again packed before everyone else and headed off down the trail. Sonya asked us to wait a few seconds so she could join, and so we did. Steve started to join us but realized he had not put on any sunscreen and so stopped to put on sunscreen. The jeep track took us past a couple of cabins and Kinsey Ridge trail, and then after that back down towards the beach. There was not even a hint of fog along the coast, and Sonya blazed the trail at a relentless, blistering pace which led me to dub her Hiking Robot Girl(tm). We walked past another cabin and then a gorgeous looking house that looked brand new. The forest above us, however, showed signs of a fairly recent burn. We guessed that the house was resupplied by airplane.

At Rattlesnake Ridge Trail we stopped to get our bearings and check where we were. It was ambiguous at this point whether we were about to start the next bouldering section but we had gone quite a while. Tracy and Steve, who were behind us had barely crested the trail when Hiking Robot Girl strapped on her pack and headed off down the beach. I followed suit. It became clear that having only one hiking stick was not enough for me to keep pace with Sonya. I would wobble and slip over one stone after another, only to watch as she hopped lightly from one boulder to another like a ballerina. The beach, however, was beautifully desolate, looking a lot like the opening scene of the movie Inception. We confirmed when we caught up to another pair of backpackers that we were indeed in the tidal restricted zone. We walked on for quite a bit before getting hungry, whereupon I realized that Tracy had half my lunch (I had her sardines, and she had my crackers). I cleverly used this to get Hiking Robot Girl(tm) to stop and wait for our two friends.



From Lost Coast Weekend

I could barely move at that point but Sonya, upon seeing Tracy and Steve, dropped her pack, walked over, and waved them over. Steve, Tracy, and I had a sardine, bread, and crackers lunch while Sonya ate a veggie-turkey sandwich.

After lunch, we walked only 500 meters before running smack into Shipman creek, a beautifully shaded campground and creek where we could resupply. The shade and sweet water looked so inviting, and if I had had half a brain I would have realized that this was a superior place to stop: Gritchell creek was past the tidal restrict zone while Shipman creek wasn't, but Gritchell creek was well known as a bad place to stop and Shipman creek looked really inviting. Being in the middle of the tide restricted zone shouldn't have bothered us, as we would have until 8am the next day to finish the next 2 miles, easily accomplished by skipping a hot breakfast. While we were refilling our bottles the others caught up to us, not having had lunch. We were still excessively focused on Gritchell creek for the night, and so took leave of the group, once again with Sonya blazing the trail.



From Lost Coast Weekend

We first came across a Sea Otter sunbathing. At first we thought it might be in trouble but when it raised its head to look at us it was clear that it was just taking a nap. We shot a few pictures of it and pressed on. Sonya then found a bottle with a message in it, extracted it, read the prayer written on the piece of paper in it, and then replaced it, adding a note as to where and when it was found, and then returned it to the ocean.



From Lost Coast Weekend

When we got to Gritchell creek, I was aghast. There was not a shred of vegetation, and the place was hot. Climbing over a bunch of downed trees at the river mouth, Sonya and I found that there was maybe one or two camping spots, but definitely not for a party of 10. It was too hot at that moment and the direct sun was no good for putting up a tent (UV deteriorates Nylon), so we huddled in the small postage-stamp sized bit of shade and discussed our options. The rest of the group caught up to us at 4:15pm, and we had more debate before someone suggested that we ask the other campers who had come from Shelter cove what Horse Mountain creek looked like. When the answer came back that Horse Mountain creek wasn't any better, we decided to stay here rather than backtrack to Shipman creek.



From Lost Coast Weekend

Between the sun exposure and the hike, I was cooked and sat down in the shade to read while the others jumped into the ocean. The shade was quite pleasant and I enjoyed the solitude. After a bit the shade disappeared and I had to retreat deeper past the logs to get more shade, and the others came by to rinse off after a short bath in the ocean.



From Lost Coast Weekend

We saw quite a few snakes in the water but none of them came near the bathing area, though a wood rat did. Dinner was had over sunset, and with the sun coming down the place became cool enough to contemplate sleeping. With no a single cloud in the sky we had the unusual opportunity to see the stars from the beach. I went to bed soon after 9:00pm after chatting with Johannes and the others, and missed Devin's rendition of Cree, with the words "Run" apparently scaring the other campers into thinking that something untoward was about to happen.
 





From Lost Coast Weekend

Our last morning came too early, and this time, Tracy and I left the camp without any stragglers. We speculated as to how far we would get before Hiking Robot Girl would catch us, and sure enough, by 0.5 miles we would look behind us to see a figure walking behind us implacably. We started feeling like someone from The Terminator, looking back to see a humanoid figure getting closer and closer without any visible effort. It was a good thing we knew Sonya was friendly!



From Lost Coast Weekend

By 0.82 miles we were caught and there went the relaxing pace Tracy and I were setting, after a stop in which Sonya gave Tracy a blister bandage. The last 3 miles went without incident and we were soon back at the parking lot where we had arrived at midnight 3 nights ago, looking very different than when we had departed. The place was gorgeous, I had gotten to know more people and was once again reminded of how much fun backpacking was, with great company and gorgeous scenery. I still hated bear canisters, but the kind of isolation you can only get in America made it worth while.



From Lost Coast Weekend
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