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 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.
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