Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lost Coast Trail - California

This trip had been on my Bucket List for a very long time and I was super happy that Josh, Alina and their dog Baya were able to go on it with us.  At the last minute, after reading that it was extremely hard for dogs, we had left Leo with Tom and not taken him along.  We quickly found out when we started hiking that it was the right choice.  This trip was 3 days of bliss along the remote King Wilderness Northern California Coastline that was well worth the 8-9 hour drive to do.  Read on to see the pics and read of our journey.  Video at the end as well.

Emily and were able to leave Portland around 4 in the afternoon on Friday and it took us to just past 11pm to arrive at the Shelter Cove point trailhead.  This was the ending point of our hike.  Alina had arranged a shuttle for the 5 of us to the northern trailhead at 8 in the morning.  On the long drive down we saw deer, lots of birds of prey, and on the windy road down to the trailhead about five foxes scooted across the road in front of us!  We arrived so late that there was no way that we would find Josh and Alina sleeping in their car so we just found a place among all the other cars along the side of the road and crawled into the back of the sloped Prius on the hillside to get some sleep for the night and hope that we would find them in the morning along with the correct shuttle.  

I woke up a bit early around 6:30am and took a walk down the road to see if I could spot them anywhere.  To my delight they were about 5 cars down from us along the side of the road and I woke them up to say hi, startling Baya.  We all packed up our gear and made it to the shuttle with time to spare.  The driver was incredibly nice and was very patient with Baya who seemed to have a real problem with him, growling every time he was nearby, perhaps because he was a tall mustachioed man...?  There were others in the shuttle with us, including a very nice girl from MIT who chatted with us on the two hour drive to the northern trailhead.

AT the trailhead we finished organizing, said goodbye to the van driver and passengers, checked with a forest service employee at the entrance about tides and headed down to the beach to start our 36 mile shoreline trek southward.  There is absolutely no way that I could fill this post with enough text to enclose all the amazing photos we got from this hike so I will do my best to touch on some of the highlights.  

The first day we hiked from Mattole Beach Past Punta Gorda Lighthouse to Spanish Flat and covered about 10.3 miles.  Immediately after leaving the parking lot and starting on the beach we realized that all the blog posts we had read were true... This was going to be a tough hike despite the fact that there wasn't any elevation gain walking the shoreline.  Each step in the sand or loose rock was like only taking half a step on normal ground and used very different muscles in our legs as well.  I had packed a lot of food, booze, batteries, and had a gorilla pod, GoPro, DSLR, iPAD, travel speaker, and the FZ1000 with me so my bag was definitely not light to carry over the traction-less sand and rocks.  

Although it was tiring, the effort was rewarded by stunning ocean views and wildlife everywhere.  In under two miles on the first day we had passed a beautiful abandoned lighthouse with deer grazing around it and saw countless seals and sea lions offshore.  We stopped a long time at the lighthouse to both climb it as well as for me to take some well thought out footage and photos of the marine life on the beach and offshore on the sea stacks.  It was no surprise to me to be greeted with a face full of weed smoke and smiling faces when I got to the top of the lighthouse with Emily behind me... Hehe.  

Yes, the sea lions wreck havoc on docks along the coast of Oregon and many fisherman do not like them eating all the local fish and damaging their docks but damn are they cute when they are young!  There was a healthy mix of seals, sea lions, and elephant seals offshore with several big males harassing all the females on the rocks looking for some action but only appearing to be barked at instead.  Dogs of the sea couldn't be a better description for these animals.  Fun to watch!

From the lighthouse onward we entered a pretty long stretch of the coast that we could only traverse at low tide which we had timed very well by looking at the tide charts before the trip.  I had thought the guidebooks to be overly dramatic about the "impassible" areas marked on the map I had also bought but they weren't kidding.  We were able to sneak by at low tide but there was definitely no way we could do these sections at high tide without getting absolutely soaked.  Thankfully, we reached the end of the section just as the waves were getting close to reaching the rock cliffs of the shoreline.  We only had to time our dashes a few times near the end of the stretch to avoid getting wet.  

Being the holiday weekend it was pretty busy on the northern section of the Lost Coast Trail we were hiking so it was tough to find a great place to camp for the night.  After hiking for what seemed like forever Josh and I came to an expanse of grassy shore above the beach just past a small stream that looked perfect.  Others had set up their tents along the stretch but we found a great spot with big logs to sit on between them.  Josh was reluctant about the spot because Baya tends to wander and explore and sometimes bark at others but was willing to give it a shot.  

As soon as we had set up camp others began to file by looking for spots as well and the the space between us and the others got filled up by more people much to the dismay of Alina and Josh.  One group tried to set up nearly on top of us and we persuaded them to move on.  I understand being 25 yards away, but not 10... We needed to find a balance between Josh and Alina being able to control Baya and not compromising our desire for solitude... A fine line to walk with so many people around while trying to be polite about it.  

Turns out the ocean waves behind us were so loud throughout the evening and night that we couldn't hear any of our neighbors and even walking 10 feet from the iPad and speaker we had going all you could hear was waves!  We spent the night chatting, sharing bourbon and smokes and headed to bed early as it had been a long first day for us.

On Sunday we took our time waking up and leaving camp.  Almost everyone around us had picked up and left by the time we had eaten breakfast and rolled out of our campsite.  It might be harder to find a campsite for the night later in the day but we were on vacation and didn't let it stress us out.  We had packed a bunch of Starbucks Via packets which have turned out to be great to wake up to!  The massive log that I had watched on the beach being pushed by high tide waves had been transported about a hundred yards south down the beach, a testament to the earth-shaping power of the ocean.  

Sunday was a shorter day and had more travel along a trail above the beach then the other days which meant faster, more comfortable hiking.  We didn't see as much wildlife on Sunday besides Pelicans and other sea birds but the views and always-changing coastal terrain was amazing nonetheless.  We also had no sections of trail that were impassable on this day so we had no timeline to maintain and could hike leisurely, enjoying the views.  

Throughout the hike I had a GoPro on my head, intending to create a video after our trip from both the 4K GoPro as well as the FZ1000 footage.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten to pack a spare battery for the FZ1000 and it had run out of juice on the first day resulting in essentially dead weight in my backpack.  So, I kept recording with my phone, GoPro and DSLR instead.  Because each night there was a lot of dew from the quickly dipping temps of the coast I wasn't able to do any star photography as I had hoped to but I was able to capture some pretty great panning time lapse videos at sunset which can be seen in the video at the bottom of this post.  

It was early in the afternoon when we hit Big flats after just 7 miles of easier hiking.  Beyond the flats was a long section of trail that could only be passed at low tide so we chose to stop for the day and look for a camp spot.  To our surprise there weren't that many other people in the area around the stream and we had plenty of room to spread out among the driftwood washed up on shores from past storms.  We found a great spot with logs to sit on and were delighted to find a large pool of water at the base of the stream for us to take a surprisingly warm swim in to clean up and cool down before dinner.  Honestly, it might be my favorite beach camping spot ever!  

Because we were early to our camp we had plenty of time to set up, swim, filter water, cook and relax in the sun before it got dark.  We were well rested from the night before so we decided to watch the movie "Pop Star" on the iPad with the Bluetooth speaker I had bought on the drive down to California.  Even though we were a greater distance from the waves this night the sound from our camp was easily drowned out just 10-15 feet away from us.  Super convenient for movie watching on the coast!  I think Alina and Josh were skeptical of technology in the woods but I won them over with the iPad movie watching as well as the video I was able to make post trip from all my camera gear.  If it's too foggy for stars, and illegal to have a campfire, why not watch a movie with friends in the outdoors, so long as it doesn't bother other campers.

We were able to finish off the bourbon and spiced cider I had brought while watching several families of deer stroll through the grass nearby.  The fawns were super cute, eagerly following their mother wherever she went, keeping them a good distance from a lone buck that was sipping water from the nearby stream.  Interestingly, there was another lone female also grazing nearby and when she got too close to the mother and fawns the mother rushed her angrily to scare here away from her little ones.  I'd never seen deer chase each other in real life so this was super fascinating to me and I'm glad I got it on video (below).  

On Monday, the 4th of July, we got an early start out of camp for the last 9 miles of trail back to Shelter Cove and our cars.  The Lost Coast Trail actually continues another 20+ miles to the south from where we parked but it climbs steeply up into the mountain sides and doesn't have the views or wildlife of the northern section from what I read so we chose to skip it, not having the time off to it anyway.  

We left our amazing campsite and quickly found ourselves descending back down to a very rocky shoreline backed by cliffs that we followed as the tide came in at us.  Low tide was at 6am and we had left camp around 8:30am so we needed to do a bit of hustling to not get trapped up against the cliffs by the waves.  There were definitely a few sections that at very high tide I might see one of us actually being sucked out to see but at worst case I thought we might get our boots wet as we made our way along the shore, jumping out of the way of crashing wave sets every now and again to stay dry.  I thought Baya was really gonna get it a few times but she was able to scoot away before getting drenched.

This was the most fun part of the trip in my mind.  Waiting for waves to go out and then dashing along the rocks to a high point out of their reach over and over again.  At one point I was left in the sand and had to Yelp to Emily to jump up, barely avoiding getting soaked up to my knees!  I had brought my waterproof Asolo 520's from Kilimanjaro and was glad to have them as they kept me dry on a few occasions.  Along the way Josh found a big crab on the rocks which I happily helped back into the ocean with a strong toss into the waves.  We passed many sections were there was a steep undercut off the shore creating huge waves that crashed just yards from us adding to the excitement.

Eventually we came around a very tight corner with waves at our heels to find ourselves on a long sandy beach with our end goal in sight in the distance.  It looked so close but trekking through the loose sand made the final strip of beach lengthy and tiring.  We were able to find big driftwood logs to jump up on and run along to pick up forward momentum off the sand.  This became the practice over the last few miles and it definitely sped things up for us.  

The only wildlife we saw the last day were a ton of sea birds which Baya obligingly chased each time we came across them on the beach.  This would create a swarm of gulls over our heads which threatened to poo on us but thankfully didn't.  We passed a massive shoreline sea stack on the beach whose mass created a sand trap that built up over 30 feet of transported sand from the beaches to the north.  This change in the shoreline from the rocky section just north of it was very dramatic.  

Just past the large stack Baya bounded down the beach towards what looked like a long flat exposed rock on the beach but proved to our noses quickly that it was actually a small dead baby whale!  Josh rushed to pull Baya back from possibly rolling in the carcass and we made our way past it quickly to get upwind from the smell.  From the whale it was a short, tiring walk up a hillside to the trailhead where we found our cars, grabbed a drink, and headed into town to look for a place to eat.  

We tried poking around Shelter Cove but found nothing of interest to eat at so we headed back up the long winding road through the King Wilderness back to 101 where we stopped in for gas and was told of the only restaurant in town that was open on the holiday.  The place was busy for sure but we were able to get cold beers and sandwiches pretty quick once we found a table.  Baya remained passed out from exhaustion in their car.  She had worn booties the entire trip to protect her paws but they were still pretty worn and she was clearly exhausted from all the exploring and bird chasing.  Soooo happy we had not brought Leo as he wouldn't have made it past the first mile.

We said our sad goodbyes to our friends and headed north towards Crescent City for the night to get a hotel room, maybe watch some fireworks and have a nice dinner.  We were lucky to find a place in Crescent City at Travelodge for the night.  We dropped off our stuff in the hotel room and before even showering left to find a place for dinner.  The first place we went was packed so we left and we ended up eating at the nearly empty Harbor View Grotto where we had a nice waitress bring us a bowl of clams, chowder and other seafood for the holiday as we watched the fireworks go off all around us in town, not caring to be out in the crowds watching them ourselves.  It was a great dinner after 3 days of tough hiking and the showers and bed we climbed into felt great!

Emily and I had both been able to get Tuesday off as well which was fantastic as it prevented us from having to drive 8 hours after finishing the hike on Monday.  We woke up around 9am after a good nights sleep, got a big breakfast at the nearby Apple Peddler and headed towards the Jedediah Smith State Park to hike amongst the towering Redwood trees.  It had been about 9 years since we visited and we found a great little hike at a place called Stout Grove to go on and snap some photos of the light coming through the tree canopy above us.  I also put the GoPro on the windshield for the drive through the amazing preserve as well.  

We had thought about heading back to the coast and driving up route 101 back to Portland but a quick look at Google Maps told us this would take at least 4 hours longer so we decided to just head back to I-5 and head north from there to get back at a reasonable hour.  This trip had been amazing and it definitely got us in the mood to do more coastal backpacking.  I think our next trip will be the same time next year (hopefully with Josh and Alina again) but to the Olympic Peninsula to walk along the shore of the National Park there!

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