My recent solo return to the Lost Coast Trail carried with it many memories of my failed solo attempt back in December of 2015. My backpacking buddies were not able to accompany me so I was free to relive that 2015 experience on this year’s LCT. Plus the weather was perfect for my 4th adventure on the Lost Coast Trail. My goal for the first night was to get past the first small low tide point which has never been a problem but I wanted to set myself up for the following day to make it past the next larger low tide zone.
I decided to camp at Fourmile Creek to be far enough away from the elephant seals and occasional cow traffic to have a peaceful night’s sleep.
I had set myself up for a leisurely day that would end with getting past the first larger low tide zone toward late afternoon.
I hung out with the Elephant Seals at Punta Gorda Lighthouse for a few hours. BTW – the lighthouse does look better since it has been cleaned up in recent years. The seals were totally lethargic enjoying the sunny beach. Plus I had LCT all to myself, I never saw anyone until my third day. I was Chillaxing.
Low tide was around 6 pm so I knew I could eventually get past the first large low tide section.
That cute old Elephant Seal Girl laying on the trail was definitely making eyes at me.
This coastal area is strikingly beautiful with the crashing waves.
I guess my brain was totally absorbed by the fabulous weather and memories of how I attacked this trail in 2015 because I totally forgot about the impassable zone at Sea Lion Gulch which could have been avoided if I had remembered to take the high trail. This is my fourth LCT trek so I was not checking the map as I diligently as I should have.
So there I was was waiting at the Sea Lion Gulch point waiting for the tide to go out, but I was getting impatient. You cannot walk around this point when it is wet. Those loose pebble rocks are really difficult to walk on.
After slipping a few times on the algae covered rocks I realized that I would have to climb up and over the rocks that define this point. This is doable but I would not advise it for an old guy, however, I did it complete with some nice cuts and bruises.
Then came the long beach hike past Coosksie Creek and onto the safety of Randall Creek. But this was good because this is exactly what I had to do in 2015 when I had to jump into the ocean to get around this point.
I have always been intrigued by these unique striated rock formations.
By now I am starting to realize that my short February day is running low on sunlight and I am more tired than I expected to be so the approach of Randall Creek is highly anticipated.
I was able to set up camp at Randall Creek as darkness fell. The moonlight was still hidden behind the mountains but once the moon appeared it was as if a light was turned on.
I had thought about hiking down to Big Flat before returning to take on the Spanish Ridge – Coosksie Creek Trail but I determined that I needed a Nero Day at Spanish Flat to allow my tired body to recover. Plus this is what I had to do for a rainy day in 2015 so why not spend this glorious day chillaxing.
As you can see the weather was perfect, however, on the evening of Friday 2/18 the humidity spiked and everything got dewy wet. But the weather report called for sun by 9:00 am and that is exactly what happened allowing me to pack up for my reenactment of my 2015 overland escape up Spanish Ridge. I thought about trying to climb straight up as I did in 2015, however, that was aided by the typhoon rated winds. So I opted to take the actual Spanish Ridge Trail 7/10th of a mile back up trail.
My concern was about what condition this trail would be in. It was obvious that it is lightly used but I knew it could be done with or without an actual trail.
Being able to see all of this helped me understand why it had been so treacherous in 2015. The Spanish Creek Canyon forms a natural funnel that allowed the winds to reach extremely high velocity hitting me harder and harder the higher I climbed.
I was having an awesome remembrance while truly enjoying a really beautiful trail.
At 2381′ you reach the junction of the Coosksie Creek Trail which heads north on a ridgeline providing exceptional views of the coastline below.
This trail does give you some vertical and most of the time you know you are on the trail but you also need to interpret the terrain to figure out where the trail should be. Thankfully there are occasional trail markers which give you good confidence boosts. It did turn out to be a long day and I was in need of water as I approached the upper Coosksie Creek where I camped for the night. The next day I would take the Coosksie Spur Trail back to the LCT.
There are more times on the Spur Trail when you wonder where the actual trail is, this is partly due to extra trails created by free range cattle that use the land some of the year. However, you can see where you want to go and the official LCT Map shows you the drainage contours that you need to navigate. I also used a free GPS USGS PDF map on my Avenza App to validate where I was at.
Weather was still great but I knew change was coming. The wind was in my face but no complaints, I was finishing up an awesome adventure.
I got back to my car as rain drops started to fall.
This was my 4th trek on the Lost Coast Trail. My reference to 2015 was about my first attempt “I Lost to the Lost Coast” where everything went bad and I was thankful to have survived. This trek route was almost an exact duplicate of that perilous trek, however, this time the conditions were perfect.
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.