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Lost Coast 2007

Page history last edited by lmckeega@... 10 years, 11 months ago


Greetings from the
Red Leader,

For several weeks after I had put up a notice for this hike no one had responded and I was prepared to go solo. Finally Clara Xue (06) said she'd be joining me and I welcomed the company. Clara drove to my house on Friday night, June 1 and we were up late with last minute preparations. The next morning we were up before dawn and off north up Highway 101. We stopped in Ukiah for breakfast and drove on to Garberville, where we stopped to get lunch-to-go and other last minute items. From Garberville we turned west to Shelter Cove and got to the Black Sands Beach parking lot by 11:30. We unloaded our gear and prepared to meet the shuttle we had reserved. At noon a big grey extendo-cab pickup drove in and parked, it was our shuttle driver Roxanne Beijan. We introduced ourselves and loaded our packs into the back of her truck. We were sharing the ride with a young couple from Laramie Wyoming, Robyn and Deven, and introductions were made all around. As we were driving through the mountains we exchanged bios and Deven told us he was a geology major and that his father was a geologist in Wyoming. I asked if he'd read any of John McPhee's books and he said they'd been all over his house while he was growing up. I mentioned that I'd read McPhee's , "Annals Of The Former World", and how I loved the story about Wyoming Geologist, David Love. Deven said that when he was in high school he'd interviewed Love for his school paper, and that his dad had finished some of the work that Love had begun. It's that old "six degrees of separation" and a small world indeed.

On our way through the mountains the weather was sunny and warm as we passed through Ettersberg and Honey Dew. When we were within 5 miles of the coast it began to cool off and soon we had the windows rolled up. By the time we got to Mattole River it was overcast and dreary. We donned our jackets, unloaded our packs, paid our fare and waived goodbye to Roxanne. Robyn and Deven only had a few days to do the hike and immediately hoisted their packs, wished us a great hike, and started south down the beach. Clara and I had planned to stay the night at Mattole River so we picked our spot and began setting up camp. It was early enough when we were done that we took a walk up the beach to the mouth of the river. We entertained ourselves by throwing sticks into the current and watching them float away, tossing in the surf. The campground at the mouth of the Mattole River is a drive in affair and we were entertained by a low-rider with mega-speakers while we ate dinner. As the sun set it began to get chilly and we retired for the night. Clara said my snoring drowned out the boom box at the other end of the campground. She also said the ear plugs didn't help much. Me, I slept like the proverbial log.

Sunday morning we were up at six and, after breakfast, loaded up and hoisted our packs for our first day of a planned seven day trip south along the Lost Coast. The area, generally known as the Lost Coast, begins at the mouth of the Mattole River, about 45 miles south along the coast from Eureka. It runs south for about 50 miles from the Mattole River and encompasses the King Range Conservation Area and the Sinkyone Wilderness. The northerly, King Range, portion is roughly divided into two distinct areas. The north half, from Mattole to Big Flat, has grassy, steep rolling hills that drop down to the beach, with several major creek valleys that open onto the beach. For about one half of this stretch the trail is on flats above the beach. The rest of the time the "trail" is route finding along the beach. Some of the beach is rocky, with everything from 2 foot diameter boulders to fist sized cobbles. The rest is sand walking. For the south half, From Miller Flat to Shelter Cove, the mountains "crash" straight down to the beach and there are no real flats above the beach. It's all beach walking, with sand being predominant. Sometimes the sand is quite firm and one barely leaves tracks. Sometimes it is soft and you can hear your leg muscles screaming at you. Clara and I were fortunate, and for most of our trip the sand was quite firm. We walked south around the point at Punta Gorda and stopped for a pack break and photo op at the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. This facility was abandoned in the early sixties and only the Lighthouse, Oil tank building and a few foundations remain. We climbed up into the tower and if you ever get a chance to do that be sure to watch your head. After a short break and a snack we headed on south to an abandoned cabin beyond Sealion Gulch. There were two large dome tents there but the residents were absent.

When hiking the Lost Coast one should always be aware of the tidal cycles. Several stretches of the beach are under water at low tide and there are narrow places where you must keep an eye on the wave patterns. Occasionally a "sneaker" wave will come much higher than normal. For the first part of our hike the low tides were very early and from the abandoned cabin south to Cooskie Creek we would be traversing a section of very narrow beach with the flood tide well along. Just above the abandoned cabin the Cooskie Creek Spur Trail climbs a mile or so, 800 vertical feet, up the mountain, before dropping down into the Cooskie Creek canyon. We opted to take this bypass. The trail turned out to be what was left of an old road that hadn't been used in a long time and some route finding was required to top the ridge. The terrain was open and grassy with some trees and brush in the draws and this made it reasonably easy to find our way. On the way up the mountain we were closely watched by various small herds of cattle, mostly cows with calves. There was a lot of mooing and bawling as the herds moved about, staying out of our way. We soon topped the ridge and crossed a beautiful meadow in a broad saddle, with views east into the interior of the coastal mountains.

When we began our descent to Cooskie Creek the way was obstructed by a large landslide. We took the easy way down and found a few trail markers that got us to a creek crossing. From here the Cooskie Creek trail climbs the south side of the canyon, on its way to the top of the Lake Ridge. Our route was downstream to the beach and our first camp. What's so difficult about a stroll down the creek for a mile or so? No trail, lots of poison oak and nettles, many stream crossings, several deadfalls, and much boulder hopping, that's what. It took us quite a while before we finally got to where the canyon widens out, just above the beach. We found a sheltered spot behind the bench of an old landslide. I had seen this site the first time we did this trip in 2000, the creek was close by and the westerly breeze blowing up the canyon was blocked by the bluff above us. It was a great spot so we set up camp and pumped water before preparing dinner. Since 2000 there had been alot of flooding and the creek had moved from the south side of the canyon to the north side. On the south side of the creek there was a bench, close under a cliff and we saw a tent nestled behind some trees. There appeared to be a couple in residence. They were quiet neighbors and we never heard a peep from their camp. It was dreary and cold so after dinner we crawled into the tent. I borrowed some dental floss from Clara and began to repair the buckle on my waist belt. The buckle had begun to flip 90 degrees and I would have to unhook the pack and remove the belt to straighten it out. I hoped my sewing job would keep the buckle from rotating and solve the problem. I finished my repair chore and soon we were tucked in our sleeping bags. Clara said I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. She never told me if the ear plugs worked any better.

Monday morning dawned grey and chilly. We were up at six, ate a quick breakfast, packed up, and topped off our water before crossing the creek and heading down to the beach. As we turned south we met the woman from our neighboring camp. She was sitting on a log and appeared to be writing in a journal. We exchanged greetings and she told us they had walked in from Mattole the previous day and would walk back later that morning. We wished them a good trip and headed south into the gloomy morning. After a two mile walk down the beach we passed the mouth of Randall Creek at the north end of Spanish flat. Once again we were on a trail that wandered the broad flat above the beach. It had been a relatively dry winter, even for the Lost Coast, and the grass was golden. The only green areas were near the several streams that fall from the steep hills behind the flat. Near these streams there were wild flowers, still blooming, and we stopped to admire them and take a few photos. I had planned a short day and hoped to stop at Oat Creek, just beyond Spanish Flat. We crossed Oat Creek around noon and found that campers had built a rather substantial driftwood shelter in our old campsite. It was too small an area to set up the tent. We decided to make use of the shelter, spread the ground cloth and had lunch in cozy comfort, protected from the drizzle. After a while the clouds pulled back and a weak sun warmed us a bit. I took advantage of the dry warmth and took a nap while Clara explored. When I awoke the sky was grey again and we decided to move on south. It was a little more than two miles to Big Creek and we thought we might find a better place to camp there.

In 2000 when I hiked the Lost Coast with Donn (98) and Inge (99) Nibblett, their grandson, Erik and Mike Arnold, we had passed Big Creek on the way to our zero day camp at Miller Flat. The canyon was wide and heavily forested. It looked like there would likely be great places to camp back in the woods, protected from the sea breezes. On our shuttle ride to Mattole Roxanne had told us of a large forest fire two years ago. She said it had burned from Spanish Flat to Miller Flat and from several miles inland right down to the beach. We had seen signs of the fire since Spanish Flat and when we got to Big Creek we saw that nearly all the canyon had burned and the erosion since the fire had eroded the beautiful creek into a jumble of boulders and gravel bars. Much of the driftwood had turned to charcoal. We found two driftwood shelters in the sand at the top of the beach and chose the most substantial for our campsite. For the past hour it had been raining lightly and the sand was wet where we set up the tent. The sand was too soft for tent pegs so we used driftwood logs and rocks to guy out the fly. Fortunately the wind was light and we quickly got our sleeping gear into the tent and out of the drizzle. We set up our kitchen in the shelter and were protected from all but dripping. As soon as we had eaten and cleaned up we took to our sleeping bags and snuggled down for the night.

Tuesday dawned clear and bright, the first real sun we had seen so far. The day was beautiful and this was supposed to be our zero day but the eroded creek canyon didn't look like a pleasant place to explore and we decided to move on. We ate a quick breakfast and pumped water before packing up and heading for our next camp at Miller Flat. As I was cinching my waist belt the buckle snapped. At that point the pack dropped down, the weight coming to rest on my shoulders. I took off the belt and examined the broken buckle. It was trash, so I hoisted the pack and tightened the shoulder straps as tightly as I could and off we went. The pack was not riding on top of my shoulders and it wasn't that uncomfortable. The bad part was the bottom of the pack frame hitting me in the butt. It got a bit bruised after a few miles. Fortunately the day was gloriously sunny and we hiked on. It was only a mile and a quarter to the north end of Big Flat and the end of our beach walking for the day. We were soon at Big Flat and hiked along the runway that serves the two cabins there. Roxanne had told us that the owner was a big time land attorney from Arcata and that he had been able to obtain a ninety nine year lease to an inholding (private parcel within the King Range Conservation Area) and he and a partner had built "cabins". These cabins are really beautiful and are built of heavy timbers and native rock, from nearby Miller Flat. There are several outbuildings and a solar powered well. It didn't appear that anyone was home, though two days ago we heard a low flying plane heading down the coast and I wondered if it was the lawyer looking to see if there was a hole in the fog at Big Flat so he could land. On previous trips to the Lost Coast we have seen him flying back and forth from Big Flat to Shelter Cove. He always flys quite low and slow.

Big Flat is one of the best surfing areas along the north coast and dedicated surfers hike the twelve miles from Shelter Cove carrying backpacks and surfboards, to enjoy the set and dodge rocks off the point. We seemed to be the only ones around and dropped our packs to investigate several interesting driftwood structures while we looked for a spot to camp. I knew of a sheltered spot under a large Alder, just south of Big Flat Creek and we crossed to take a look. Though the sun was out, and the alder camp was in deep shade, there was a cool, brisk wind blowing. We decided to deal with the deep shade and pitched camp in the grove. We wouldn't be camping on sand and there were some driftwood logs and a stout plank for a kitchen table. We soon set up camp and I walked to the stream and hauled a gallon of water. Clara went out to explore and I took a nap. I was awakened by voices describing our campsite and decided to roll out. Clara was sitting on the beach enjoying the beautiful view. The fog was completely gone, the sea was covered with whitecaps and we could see south all the way to the point at Shelter Cove. Clara had seen a large group come in from the south and it seemed that they were the voices I had heard. I left Clara enjoying the view and walked down to greet our neighbors. They were 12 students and two teachers from Larkspur High School, half of a group that had been back in the mountains as volunteers building mountain bike trails in the King Range. They had just hiked in from Shelter Cove and were going to move on the next day and meet the other half of the group at Spanish Flat. It's a long sand hike from Shelter Cove to Miller Flat and most of the kids were sprawled on the ground, resting. After trading tales of our adventures I drifted back to find Clara and we walked south down Miller Flat, as she showed me several scrubby looking driftwood shelters she had found. The sun was getting low and we finally looped around and headed back to our camp to prepare dinner. It got dark early in our grove and we were in our bags before it was quite dark. Clara and I had planned to take at least one zero day but we had decided that, since the canyons were mostly burned out and not that interesting, we would not, and planned to head out in the morning. We had been asleep for some time when a loud clank awoke us. I had thought it was happening in my dream and asked Clara if she had heard it too. She had and I opened the tent fly and peered about with my flashlight. The only thing out of place that was Clara's bear canister, which was lying on the ground beside the plank where she had left it. My canister was still sitting on the other end of the plank, untouched. I had left my dinner and tea cups sitting on a log and they were still sitting there. I thought that it might have been a raccoon since nothing else had been moved. We zipped in and soon I was back in dreamland.

Wednesday morning we were up before dawn, in order to beat the tide to Gtichell Creek, and nothing else had been disturbed. We ate breakfast, pumped water, packed up, and were hiking by 7 am. As we passed the Larkspur camp and they were just beginning to cook breakfast. Their leader said they had bears in camp all night. The only damage was a crunched Nalgene bottle someone had left out, but they had slept lightly and looked tired. It was probably a bear that had tipped Clara's canister. I don't know why they didn't chew on my food cups. I'd have had to eat out of the pot for the rest of the trip but I'd have had some great bear-chewed trophies. At the Lost Lakes in 1995, the only other time we ever had bears in camp, Joe Leal had left a camera in a pack pocket and the camera had a really cool bear tooth dent in the front. The camera still worked and Joe had great stories to tell his grandchildren. Maybe the bears didn't chew on my cups because I don't have grandchildren.

We wished them a bear free trip, hurried on and at the south end of Miller Flat descended to the beach and began the all-beach-all-the-time portion of our hike. The first half mile or so was mostly boulder hopping. We got to Shipman Creek in good time and took a pack break to try to find a suitable stick for Clara to use crossing the creek on the rather small and somewhat unstable log. I had been tossing Clara my TrailSticks for our previous crossings but this one was too wide. Most of the "sticks" we saw were more like logs but Clara finally found one she could almost get her hand around and we were soon heading on to our next crossing at Buck Creek. We were having good luck as far as the boulders were concerned and the sand was fairly firm as we trekked along. Just around the point, south of Buck Creek we spotted a couple taking a break at the base of the cliff. They had left Shelter Cove that morning and were headed to Big Flat. We stopped and talked for a bit and, wishing them a good hike, headed on to our last camp at our favorite spot, a quarter mile short of Gitchell Creek. This is a spot I found in 1992, on my first trip to the Lost Coast. It had been used before and someone had chopped down the weeds and pruned a small cypress to allow a space for a great camp at the edge of a brushy flat, just above the beach. It was a bit of a walk to get water but the site has wonderful views and is well protected from the northwesterly wind.

We climbed up to the camp only to discover that is was so overgrown with brush and poison oak that there was no room for the tent we were using. The limbs on the cypress had grown so long that they hung down blocking the only place we might have put our tent. Sighing in disappointment we trudged the last quarter mile to the mouth of Gitchell Creek, were we discovered that storms had piled driftwood logs so high that easy access to our usual water source was blocked. We found the ubiquitous driftwood shelter just north of the creek which would give us a sheltered kitchen, and just enough room for the tent. There we dropped our packs and set up camp. After we shoehorned the tent into position and got it tied down I went to the creek and filled our jug. Clara wandered about on the beach trying to add to her seashell collection and I took a nap. Before dinner I took a walk and chased a flock of seagulls down the beach, trying to get the perfect photo of them flying off the beach. Soon it was time for dinner. The driftwood shelter was one of the best we'd encountered, having a nice log seat at the rear, and plenty of headroom. We set up the stove and boiled a pot of water. When we had almost finished eating I put on a second pot for tea and cleanup. That's when we knew the trip was truly over. The stove died and we were out of fuel. Fortunately I had four snack bars left so we'd at least have breakfast. We lounged about and watched the sunset as two backpackers passed on their way north towards Big Flat. It had been a great trip and tomorrow we would walk the final three and a half miles back to the car.

Thursday morning was another beautiful sunny morning and, since we didn't have to cook, we were packed and on the trail in no time. The tide cooperated and we got past the low section just south of Gitchell Creek in good order. The walk from Gitchell to Black Sand Beach is all sand walking but for the most part the footing was firm and we made good time, getting back to the car before eleven. We loaded our packs into my "Boxter" and drove to the Deli-Cafe at Shelter Cove for a simple lunch. In order to conserve their expensive resources the restaurant doesn't turn on the grill until Saturday and we made do with a cold sandwich for Clara and a bowl of chili for me. After we had eaten it was still early enough that we drove around Shelter Cove amazed at all the hostelries. In the fifteen years I've been coming to Shelter Cove I'd never really explored the "town". There were at least a half dozen hotels with restaurants and many bed-and-breakfasts along the top of the bluff, overlooking the beach. It would appear that Shelter Cove is quite a vacation resort destination. There were signs advertising beachside weddings, honeymoon suites and "convention" facilities. Who'd have guessed. We finished our tour and drove up over the mountain, headed east for Garberville. We stopped at the new BLM office in Whitethorn to pick up Lost Coast maps. Also, I was able to score a supply of those cool plastic "Leave No Trace" cards the 2007 class received in their packets.

In 2000, after our first through hike of the Lost Coast, we had stayed over in Garberville at the end of the trip. When Clara and I got to Garberville on our arrival, we had stopped at the same Motel where the group stayed in 2000. We had hoped to reserve rooms in order to decompress, eat town food, enjoy hot showers, and sleep in real beds at the end of our hike. Unfortunately there wasn't a room to be had in the whole town. It seems that the weekend of June ninth was the date for the "Ride to the Redwoods", a gathering of mototcyclists. Clara and I had shortened our trip by two days and decided we could wait for showers until we got back to the bay area so off we went, headed south and home. All the way back we passed group after group of motorcyclists, heading north. It was going to be a busy weekend in Garberville.

Red Leader out

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