Trip Report - The Lost Coast

Moody Lost Coast Clouds (Matt Pritchard) More photos below.

By Matt Pritchard

Click here for a printable guide to hiking the Lost Coast Trail (PDF)

Waaaay back in July of 2001, we decided to take a long weekend up to the Lost Coast. It sounds like some place out of a Hemingway novel, doesn't it. It was our third backpacking trip together and we were getting incrementally bolder with our choices of venue each time. The Lost Coast is one of the most remote pieces of coastline in the US, certainly in California. I first heard of the Lost Coast from an article in the first issue of NG Adventure. Extensive information on the area is difficult to come by. I suppose the lack of information fits quite well with the moniker. Despite the mysterious name and elusive details, we were pleased to find out that the area is relatively tame. Most guides to the Lost Coast will describe the Lost Coast Trail which travels north from Shelter Cove (Black Sands Beach) to the mouth of the Mattole River. The trail is 24 miles in length and 3 to 4 days are recommended.

We didn't really have a solid plan for our trip when we left. We knew we didn't have the time to do the whole trail. Nor did we have a way to get back to our car after completing the trail (a bit more research might have solved this problem - see Destinations). So we decided to start at the mouth of the Mattole River and just hike around for a few days. We had two nights and three days to kill, but the drive to and from SF would take some time on either end. And take some time it did. I think we ballparked it at three to four hours prior to leaving. It took a solid six. I believe there are only three roads into the Lost Coast area and two of them are dirt roads. Jody's Honda braved the roads like a champ and soon we realized that such a drive was well worth the effort.

After parking the car, we came across an information board at the trailhead that revealed a couple of key details. First, were surprised to find out that we were in bear country and canisters were strongly recommended. Somehow, we rationalized that if we stayed close to the beach our ursine friends would keep their distance. The logic we employed totally sucks, but we didn't have any bear encounters just the same. We also found out that portions of the route are impassable at high tide. Thankfully, there were tide tables posted on the board and a quick study assured us that if we got moving soon, we could get past the key points before we got into any trouble.

I don't remember if it was the bumpy roads or the Burger King breakfast, but for one reason or another, Jody wasn't feeling very well once we got going. Never one to turn down an opportunity to loaf it, I agreed that taking it easy was just what the doctor ordered. We hit the trail, or beach as it were, and started chugging south. You're not going to break any land speed records hiking in sand - a point we quickly realized. During the entire hike in, we were amazed at the number of seals and sea lions swimming near the breakers and lounging on the beach. The weather was pretty cooperative througout the trip. There were clouds about, but the temperature was comfortable enough for shorts and a shirt. The Lost Coast is notorious for the rain that pounds the area year round, but the worst we saw was some heavy fog and a stiff wind.

After a few miles, we came across the Punta Gorda lighthouse. We set up camp on a bluff about a quarter mile north of the lighthouse. For the next few days, we spent our time hiking about, checking out tidepools further south, and taking pictures of the area (see below). With the exception of getting stung by a yellow jacket on my pinkie toe, the trip was quite pleasant. We would both recommend it highly to anyone with an adventurous soul and a tolerance for inclement weather.

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