So I finally did it. With the weather forecast promising three straight 80s-and-fog-clear coastal days, I headed to King Range National Conservation Area to descend north to south the 25.6-mile stretch of the Lost Coast trail from Mattole to Shelter Cove. Here’s the log.
Friday, Oct 10, 2008
3:15 am: Left San Francisco to drive north on H101. Deserted Golden Gate bridge has a surreal quality to it. I am doing good time all along the way, though encountering multiple slower men-at-work areas along the freeway.
7:50 am: After stopping in Petrolia to confirm directions, I arrive at Black Sand Beach trailhead parking lot. Air is cold and dry. At 8:00 am sharp Sherri, my shuttle ride, pulls up in the lot, exactly as planned. The party of three + dog I am sharing the ride with joins us soon after. They had spent the night in a nearby camp.
8:30 am: Quick stop at the NCA Ranger Station for maps and bear canisters. I ask the ranger on duty if he thinks I can make it to Randall Creek before the afternoon high tide renders access along the trail impassable. He is skeptical, but suggests to get going quick if I want to try.
10:00 am: Mattole trailhead. I pay and thank Sherri, waive goodbye to my shuttle partners and get going. Determined to keep a good pace. Glad the gusty wind is blowing from northwest, at my back.
11:50 am: Punta Gorda Lighthouse. 3 miles into day one, I reach the abandoned lighthouse, stop for a dry meal and head down to the beach to explore elaborate driftwood shelters.
1:20 pm: Bluffs, sand and high grass give way to boulders as the beach passage narrows considerably. I can sense the tide rising as the day goes by. Negotiating the narrowest stretches of the trail, I am now stepping in and out of the water and watching for 10-foot waves, keeping a good pace to avoid being squeezed back out by the tide.
3:30 pm: Randall Creek suddenly opens up on my left as I clear a narrow beach passage. A stream emerges from the vegetation at the bottom of the creek and expands in a beach pond just above the high tide line. I setup camp on the bluff just above the it.
6:30 pm: Randall Creek. Just a memorable sunset.
Saturday, Oct 11, 2008
6:40 am: I wake up before sunrise. Hot coffee, milk and granola, while I savour the light flooding the bluffs, turning the ocean to blue and giving it its morning sparkle.
10:00 am: Spanish Flat. The broad grassy headlands expand under the bright morning sun.
12:40 pm: Big Creek. At about 14 miles from the start, the beautiful, wide creek opens up covered in dense vegetation. Sand dunes, gravel and boulders slow me down as I start to feel the strain in my heels and knees.
1:45 pm: Big Flat. As I reach the widest flattest section of the landscape along the trail, I reach the northernmost tip of a unpaved landing strip. The isolated house of the small airport residents is the largest of a handful of residences scattered along the route. Big Flat is busy. I meet other backpacking parties as well as surfers that have setup camp there and are enjoying the long, steady breaks. I also meet the ranger I had talked to at the ranger station the day before. He is surprised I made there ahead of the tide and that I am backpacking alone.
3:20 pm: Shipman Creek. After a tiring mile-long stretch of boulder hopping, I reach the beautiful campsites at Shipman Creek, where I decide to pitch tent. I am now 6 miles away from Shelter Cove.
8:30 pm: Shipman Creek. While I am tending a beach fire, two hikers with their dogs arrive at the camp. The dogs end up chasing a skunk into my site which in turns causes the skunk to spray all over my tent and gear. After attempting to get used to the stench in the tent, I decide to take my bag out and sleep under the rising moon.
11:30 pm: Shipman Creek. It is getting colder and I wake up. The moon has now set and I open my eyes to the most incredible, saturated, star-studded black sky I have ever seen. Truly awesome.
Sunday, Oct 12, 2008
8:50 am: Shipman Creek. Sore feet and heels and a light headed make me feel happy I only have little more than 6 miles to reach the destination.
10:30 am: Gitchell Creek. It is a beautifully warm and bright day. I meet multiple parties of surfers on their way north, lugging their boards and gears along the beach. Feet hurt and hiking in sand is slow and exhausting.
12:30 pm: Black Sand Beach. Gated by big, tall rocks the beach widens up, stretching for over a mile down to the trail head. As I get to the end of the trail I take a moment to enjoy the breeze, the sun, the sand and to soak my feet in the freezing Pacific Ocean water.
Until the next one.