The Lost Coast Trail has become my early season getaway, but the year since Conquering the Lost Coast Trail in 2020 fueled a highly anticipated return. Permits for the LCT have become more coveted so you select your permit far in advance and hope for the best. This year’s permit was for February 18-22 and the weather appeared to be acceptable, however, rain was in the equation. We decided to do a Yoyo down and back from Mattole to avoid the brutal shuttle road over to Shelter Cove. I had my normal concerns about my now 66 year old body, but I also was highly interested in how my new exercise routine, Supernatural on Oculus, might enhance my backpacking experience.
This year Bryce and I welcomed Jeff, an experienced Wilderness Recreation Professional, to join us and the 2021 Trekking season was launched complete with Rainier Jubilee Beer. I do believe Jeff thanked me for the invite more than 100 times throughout the trek. We arrived at Mattole Trailhead at dusk on the 17th and found a spot to camp on the beach. Thursday was known to have rain in the forecast so we were grateful for every hour we got before it hit.
Low tide would occur around the middle of the day making for great flexibility, but the weather would dictate our progress. The Elephant Seals were strewn across the Punta Gorda Lighthouse stretch but they rarely emerged from their slumber. I’ll use the video below to document the Seals.
We were not making great time once we got on the trail, I think we knew that the weather was not going to cooperate to allow us to venture past the first tidal zone, so we enjoyed a leisurely stroll. It started raining around 2 pm and the wind out of the SW appeared to be an issue so we were looking for a campsite with a wind break. We ended up choosing the green knoll just as you enter into the overland section past Sea Lion Gulch.
We were able to get camp setup as the rain became more significant. By 4pm the rain had forced us into our tents for the remainder of the day and night. We had a significant amount of rain and the accompanying wind made it difficult to keep the moisture at bay. This is when you wish you had downloaded more media options to your phone to fill your time. But the rain began to retreat the following morning allowing us to pack up our wet gear and proceed south.
We were highly encouraged by the sight of blue skies but were were in for a weather mixed day which would include difficult stream crossing thanks to the overnight rain. (Stream Crossing Video later in the Post)
The weather bounced between a windy rain in our face to beautiful sunny breakouts. We were now hiking on the overland trail but needed to return to the beach at about the 5.5 mile mark. This turned out to be a bit precarious due to the recent rain. You have about a 20 foot drop down a steep eroding gully. Bryce ended up in surf slide down complete with a spill at the end, but no injury.
We were optimistic coming out of the tidal zone with beautiful sunbreaks but the weather report warned of another storm.
We wanted to venture past Spanish Flat, maybe down to Big Flat, but the rain and the wind were returning so we concluded that the wind breaks at Spanish Flat would be the better choice. We set up camp and had enough time to hike down to Kinsey Creek.
This was a much better evening since we weren’t forced into our tents until the sun went down, but then we were in for another night of heavier winds with rain. The next morning better weather complete with rainbows offered great motivation for our return north.
The hike back past the tidal zone was just as interesting as the hike in. Rain, wind and sun made for an eventful day. Streams were flowing as high as ever which made for some exciting crossings. (Documented in video below)
We decided we were going to camp somewhere near Mattole this night in preparation to head out from the LCT on Sunday morning.
After getting through the tidal zone the search for an acceptable campsite began. The problem with the stretch around the Punta Gorda Lighthouse is the presence of sea lions and free range cattle. We also were bucking a head wind which we were really hoping to get some shelter from.
Once past the initial tidal zone we were competing with cattle for the only decent campsites. We ended up clearing cow patties so we could camp.
Our final night on the LCT was beautiful and dry. We hiked out the next morning with plans for some frisbee golf, brewpub nourishment and to search for a campground for the the evening.
My third Lost Coast Trail Trek was all that I could have hoped for. Bryce has become a trusted companion and the addition of Jeff was a benefit to all. My old body held up great and I can validate that my Oculus Supernatural exercise paid great dividends for my core and upper body. My knees were a bit sore but what the heck, first hike in 2021 was awesome.
Driving out from Mattole through Petrolia and over to Ferndale was as scenic as ever, complete with spotting the pickup in the tree.
We went on to play a round of Disc Golf in the Redwoods at Humboldt State University. Had an amazing dinner at the Mad River Brewery and got a great campsite at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. However, we should have checked the road conditions, because getting back to Oregon from this location turned out to be quite an adventure with Hwy 101 closed just to the north and then CA 96 closed near Happy Camp. So we ended up having to take CA 299 over to Redding, CA to then drive north via Hwy 5.
Previous Lost Coast Treks:
December of 2015 where I nearly did not survive: I Lost to the Lost Coast
February of 2020 when I returned to conquer the Lost Coast: Conquered the Lost Coast
The Lost Coast Trail in northern California is one of the few Coastal Wilderness treks in the US. The 25 mile north section from Mattole Beach to Shelter Cove is a challenge because of a couple 4+ mile low tide only passages. So other then working out your logistics correctly it is a fairly straightforward backpacking trek. Of course in December of 2015 I did not get my logistics correct and mother nature hit me with an epic storm. I failed in my first attempt at the Lost Coast which is documented in my most read trip report “I lost to the Lost Coast Trail“. Retuning to conquer it allowed me to remember the pain and rejoice in the new success.
I really appreciated Bryce, an experienced wilderness survivalist, joining me for my return to the Lost Coast. With 2 cars you can pull off your own shuttle between Shelter Cove and Mattole, however, it is brutal. I think I would rather just do an out and back from Mattole and avoid the Shelter Cove roads. After way too much driving we did end up about a mile down the coast from Mattole and had an excellent first night on the Lost Coast.
The second day included a visit to Punta Gorda Light House which also is home to a rather large population of Elephant Seals.
Low tide was at 4 pm so we could take our time working through the 1st hazard zone for our second night at Spanish Flat. Punta Gorda was holding up well but the our treat was being able to pass by a couple hundred Elephant Seals. Calving season had just ended and a team of researchers from Humboldt State University were trying to gather data and tag the 102 new seal pups. I think we saw Elephant Seals for about 2 miles.
This up close view of the elephant seals was awesome but now we needed to put in some miles to get through the first 4 mile hazard zone.
This was also when I started recalling my bad memories from my first attempt at the Lost Coast. But this time I did not have to jump in the ocean so the hike to Spanish Flat was quite enjoyable. Our only challenge for getting past the low tide zone was to wait for the tide to go out and then time the waves at a few of the points.
Once you are beyond the first hazard zone you are greeted with a nice long trail up on a grass shelf to get you to Spanish Flat.
Instead of having to stop and dry out I got to enjoy the beautiful scenery. We were able to camp at the same spot I had ridden out the first day of a storm back in 2015.
This day was all about being perfect. Fairly warm, plenty of dry firewood and the formation of an excellent sunset.
The sunset was awesome. The next morning was beautiful as I said my goodbyes to the Spanish Ridge that I had to climb over to seek shelter from the typhoon in 2015.
The remaining hike was new terrain for me. I took this ocean video before leaving.
Now on too Big Flat and the 2nd high tide hazard zone.
I think the temperature was 60 and we were hiking in shorts and it was February, this was as good as it gets.
About this time we met Jane who we ended up hiking with to our next campsite that night. We come into the Big Flat area and realize that a fair number of California Surfers had either hiked in or flown in via private planes to surf this area. Some had been there for many days. One dad said it was a constant task to feed his three teenage boys who were out surfing when we passed by. Check it out.
Soon after Big Flat through Miller Flat we entered into the 2nd hazard zone, but I did not feel that it was as difficult as the 1st.
Plus we didn’t actually make it all the way through as we decided to camp at Buck Creek which would require that we get an early start the next morning to finish the 2nd hazard area.
We had about 6 miles to hike out to Shelter Cove, but it did include some great scenery.
Black Sands Beach was very nice and empty on a Saturday morning.
We said goodbye to the Lost Coast Trail from the Black Sands Trailhead.
Then the grueling shuttle over to Mattole from Shelter Cove and then up and over the mountain to Ferndale.
Facebook greeted me this morning with a memory from 8 years ago when when Bryce Mitchell and I were in Cameroon, Africa, working for our NGO GeoAid, providing humanitarian aid for the Baka Pygmies in the Eastern province near Lomie.
Bryce (center) was our Director who had stepped into the role replacing his father who had unexpectedly died 6 months earlier.
Last week I was playing golf at Chehalem Glenn in Newberg, OR, remembering that fatal day when Bill Mitchell died from a massive heart attack on the 9th hole. It was 8 years ago this week when Bryce and I were in Cameroon shoring up GeoAid with his new leadership. Unfortunately GeoAid no longer exists due to the collapse of the mining operation that supported the effort. However, much Good was accomplished.
Tomorrow, Bryce and I head to the north coast of California to backpack the Lost Coast Trail.
I have documented how this is a return to conquer for me but now I realize it was probably meant to be a reunion for Bryce and I to remember all the good that GeoAid accomplished thanks to Bryce and his Dad. The weather report for the Lost Coast could not be any better for this time of year. This is going to be a great Adventure.
I headed into my Lost Coast Trail backpacking trip during the first week of December 2015 confident that I would accomplish my goal to hike from Mattole Trailhead to Shelter Cove and return. I knew it was going to rain a couple of days, but the forecast called for 10 mph winds. I also knew I had some bad timing for when the low tides occurred during the first part of the week. But I did not dig deep enough into this data to be properly prepared for what was ahead.
The drive down to northern California through the Redwoods was great, my car loves roads like the Redwood Highway. I visited the BLM office in Arcata first thing Monday morning to get my waterproof map, so with that map also on my iPhone equipped to use GPS, I was well prepared for navigation.
The low tide on Monday was not going to allow me to get past the first high tide hazard stretch so I had a leisurely hike past a herd of cattle to end up camping next to the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. It was a beautiful evening as I overlooked a beach full of seals.
Low tide on Tuesday was at 9:33 am at 3.2 feet, so I entered the beginning of this 4 mile stretch before 9:00 am. Based on most reports I had read this stretch was not going to be a problem even if you were a few hours on either side of low tide. Unfortunately, I did not consider the actual height of the low tide. The trek through this segment was tough even without navigating the dangerous rock points of which there are about 5 that are really challenging. Some you can climb up and over, but the rocks were really slippery probably due to the higher then normal waves preceding the approaching storm. So I worked my butt off hiking over the beds of football size boulders. As I neared the last few hazard spots it seemed like it was far more dangerous than it should have been.
Then the last point before Spanish Flat nearly did me in. It was a point where you had to go between a large rock as the waves were crashing, however, it was all under water. As I tried to see around the corner to determine what I was up against I caught a full face on wave that nearly pulled me into the ocean. At that point I couldn’t worry about waiting for the best wave timing so I jumped into waist deep water and made it around. I was soaked but relieved to have survived.
I stopped at Spanish Flat, put on dry clothes and checked the tide tables to discover that the low tides that I was experiencing were the highest low tides of the year. That explained things, but now I was concerned about the next day’s stretch of tide hazardous coast with another 3.2 foot low tide, not to mention my concern about coming back from Shelter Cove.
I decided to camp at a nice beach fortress just below Spanish Ridge. The winds were gaining strength which was good for drying out but it was also a bit foreboding knowing that rain was on the way. Yep, the rain started at sundown and the wind just kept getting stronger. It was time to reevaluate whether I should press on to Shelter Cove.
I knew it was going to rain all day so I decided to stay put through Wednesday with plans to head back to Mattole by hiking up the Spanish Ridge Trail over to the Cooksie Spur Trail on Thursday. This was a nice campsite and I was able to get out a few times during rain breaks. This video will give you an idea about how I spent Wednesday.
I was up before sunrise Thursday morning with my backpack ready to go, just needed to take down the tent. I was so happy that it had not been raining for a few hours and the tent was dry. Unfortunately all hell broke loose at sunrise. The rain and the wind hit what I would call typhoon force. My line holding my tent fly broke, my tent stakes were being uprooted, water was rushing in so I had to go. Taking down a tent in gale force winds is challenging but I captured everything, but somehow lost my reading glasses. Of course I was instantly soaked but my Marmot Gore-Tex jacket was taking care of me.
I decided to go straight up the side of Spanish Ridge and intersect with the trail which worked out fine thanks to the map I had with GPS location on my iPhone. The wind was blowing from the south so it was mostly going to be at my back.
My goal was to climb the 2400 foot vertical of the Spanish Ridge Trail and then take the Cooksie Spur Trail over to Cooksie Creek since I would need water. Well halfway up the climb (see blue dot on map) I was realizing that this wind was a real problem. As it whipped up the slopes it must have gained even more power, so much so that I was barely able to stand up. Then I really got hit, actually blown off my feet, and I was a 250 lb object. I was totally exposed at this point, no trees or large rocks to shelter behind, so I laid face down next to a small rock that gave my head a little relief. I was pinned down about 45 minutes with the wind occasionally lifting me when it hit between my body and backpack. Oh yes, and the rain was as hard as you could imagine. So here I am face down trying not to be blown off the mountain and I’m getting cold. The night before I had listened to a chapter in Lawton Grinter’s book “I Hike” about his experience with hypothermia, so I knew that the shivering, loss of feeling in my hands and feet and the desire to burrow were typical of hypothermia. What was a bit fascinating from being in this predicament was getting a taste of what it may be like to face the real possibility of death so my conversation with God was with great urgency.
Of course the human spirit doesn’t just give up, I had to do something because my current situation was hopeless. I fought to stand which was really hard because my legs were not working as I would have liked. Something told me that I needed to climb out of this, however, I had no way of knowing what was ahead, but my GPS map at least assured me that I was on track. I walked with my back to the wind using my trekking poles as braces to counter the force and I made it to an area where a small cornice offered some relief from the heavy wind. At this point I knew I had to warm up so I pulled out a wool shirt to add a layer under my rain jacket. Buttoning that shirt with my cold fingers was far more challenging than I could have imagined. However, this accomplishment seemed to give me new motivation to press on at all costs. And pressing on was brutal. There were a few sections where the wind was at my back so I used it to essentially fly up the mountain, however, coming to a stop was never pretty. Then my backpack cover blew loose but was still attached to my backpack creating a spinnaker type sail that dragged me for 20 feet. In between my attempts to move forward I spent more time on my face trying to regroup. Overall it took me about 3 hours to travel about a mile through the really bad section of the ridge.
Of course I did finally make it to the top and when I got off the Spanish Ridge Trail and onto the much calmer Cooksie Spur Trail I was singing praise to God for allowing me to live. From the looks of the map I knew that the Cooksie Trail was also going to present an exposed ridgeline so I opted for the best tree sheltered spot to pitch my tent with the goal to get into my sleeping bag and warm up. That evening was not great but compared to the effort to get there it was wonderful. I was very content to make it through the night with just 13 ounces of water. I had dry clothes, mostly wool, so I did eventually warm up.
The forecast for Friday was sunshine which held true, so I set out with the need to get to Cooksie Creek for water. I also decided that I had had enough of the Lost Coast and I really wanted to hike back to my car with dreams of a good meal and warm bed. But the hike out Friday turned out to be a lot tougher than I expected. Thank God for my GPS map locator since finding the trail to the creek was rather confusing. For some reason I thought that the trail was going to follow the creek back to the coast, but as I kept examining my map I realized I must cross the creek and then climb 650 feet and another 2 miles just to get back to the coast.
Well of course the creek was swollen from all the rain so crossing it created some anxiety trying to crawl over trees and fight the current. Unfortunately I lost my backpack rain cover as I was crawling over a log for part of the crossing. I was really bummed about the simple climb because my legs were dead tired, but the weather was great and the motivation to end this trip lifted my effort. This was a typical view as I returned to the coast.The first beach segment on this final coastal leg required navigating a few difficult points but it was at the (high) low tide. Surprisingly I ran into a single woman just entering this difficult stretch and it was an hour after low tide. I warned her that she might want to reconsider trying to make it to Spanish Flat, and I’m not sure what she decided. The rest of the hike out was not dangerous but it was exhausting.
Walking on loose sand with tired legs was tough, but the motivation was strong and the sunset was beautiful.
When I finally got to my car at sundown (long day) I was met with yet another disappointment. I noticed that my gas cover was ripped open and then I noticed that all of my windshield wiper blades had been stolen. This was just so rude. Luckily I intentionally had less than half a tank which probably meant they didn’t get any gas. However, if it had been raining that would have been one dangerous drive back to Ferndale. I did get to Ferndale and I had possibly the greatest NY Strip Steak ever and a much needed warm bed.
Note: I returned 4 years later in February of 2020 to Conquer the Lost Coast Trail
I visited the LCT again in February of 2021 and have plans to return again in February of 2022.
I was able to reenact my 2015 route in 2022 with perfect weather. Here is the comparison