12 Points of Interest on the Lost Coast Trail, as Told By Us

First off, let me preface this with the part of the Lost Coast Trail that we did was a portion of the southern trail.  Most time when people talk about the Lost Coast, they are referring to the northern part, about 25 miles between Mattole and Black Sands Beach in Shelter Cove.  The southern trail is about 32 miles, from Shelter Cove to Usal Beach.

I passed on the north part because I thought it would be harder to hike.   The trail has a lot of sand hiking, long stretches of rocks that roll underfoot, and tides you need to account for in your hike.  A lot of times, the tide comes in and leaves hikers stranded on parts of the trail, unable to move forward.  I wasn’t sure how my pace would look and don’t have too much experience with tide tables, so I preferred the southern part.

The south route of the Lost Cost Trail, is less traveled, and I assume because of the mountain range.  It actually passes through both King Range National Conservation Area and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.  As I mentioned in my previous post, part of the southern trail had been washed out.  The trails are not well maintained either, so hiking is made more difficult.

My friend Jenny and I left there with a great sense of accomplishment, even though it didn’t really turn out the way we expected it to.  We bonded over the joy of climbing a mountain, and the pain of your body breaking with no end in sight.  There’s really so much to tell about the trip, that I’ve found it difficult to even break it up to find “angles” of it to write a blog post on.

As we drove back from our crazy weekend, we started remembering all these small moments on the trail, I started to write a timeline.  There are plenty of trail websites and hiking blogs that can give you the details for the trails, I tried to read all of them, and as much as they had for me to learn, I still felt unprepared for what actually happened.  In the end, it wasn’t about the points on the map, but rather the points on our timeline that we still refer to when we mark a place on the trail, so I thought I would tell our story that way.

5:00 am

Packed the car and driving north.

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approx 9:30 am

Stop at a rest stop. Called home to let them know we are almost at the turnoff and will probably loose signal there.

approx 11:30 am

Realizing that we missed the turnoff and are almost in Oregon.

approx 1:30 am

Start the hike. (even though we are 4 hours behind)

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Hidden Valley Trailhead to Chemise Mountain Trail

We took two trails to even get from where we parked to the Lost Coast Trail.  The first of many switchbacks.  We had just started and already huffing and puffing up the side of the mountain.

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Observation point of Chemise Mountain

We made it to the top, which had a bench to sit at, so we decided to have lunch there. At REI picking up meals before the trip, Jenny and I both swooned over a package of mushroom risotto, and I had that to prepare for lunch.  I was so excited.  Enjoying the view, we both boiled most of my water (that risotto called for a LOT) and sealed up the packages to continue the hike.  Since we are behind on time, we thought we would hike and eat at the same time.

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Rocky area to woodsy area

Still in the mountains with a top view of the surrounding area, we began our descent.  The rocky ground was really difficult to hike and I found myself doing a bit of a shuffle to not fall.  I did fall, this was the first place I fell (not the last), as it was a combination of rocky ground and a bit of an angle.  My wrist still hurts from breaking my fall, but the worst part about it was spilling mushroom risotto on myself.  The risotto never cooked right, and it was a pouch of sloshing water with some extra hard bits at the bottom.  I took a couple bites just to be sure I had some type of fuel in my system, but it was terrible.  Since there is no garbages around, we switched off carrying this bag of uncooked risotto.  Oh yeah, and there’s poison oak/ivy everywhere… but that still isn’t as bad as this mushroom risotto.

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Manzanita groves and bear scat

Still on the descent, we were deep into some woodsy areas.  The first was the twisty branches of the manzanita groves and the second was the taller redwoods and pines, but both areas had plenty of spiderwebs for us to walk into.  We started to feel the fatigue of the hike and my knees started hurting, then we saw the bear poop.  Kinda fresh and full of berries, I thought it was kinda cool at first.  Then we saw a second pile, then a third.  Now for sure I was thinking we had a bear close by and I started coming up with different scenarios of how that would go down.  I was too tired to fight it, but I did have this bag of mushroom risotto I can throw in the opposite direction.

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Crossing from Kings Range NCA to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park

We started noticing a lot of fallen logs.  Our legs were tired, but we managed to find some walking sticks to help us continue down the mountain.  Some logs we had to crawl under and some we had to climb over.  This was the first place Jenny fell, it was going over a log, and with the weight of her bag she ended up not only cutting her leg on the log but also getting a huge black and blue bruise.  We saw mushrooms as big as my head and the leftover skeleton of an old house with a big fireplace that once stood.  At some point we found ourselves out of the forest, in open meadows, with what looked like bike tire tracks.  We were sure we were probably close to the end at that point.  I think we had just made it to the middle of the trail.

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“The german shepherd situation”

As we make our way from the meadow areas to the cliffside, we were excited to be next to the ocean and still thinking the end was near.  Then we heard a dog barking.  Dogs are not even allowed on the trails.  The bark sounded mean and it was coming right for us.  We were on the downhill, and with all the bushes and plants around, I couldn’t see the dog or the owner anywhere.  We started moving faster.  I was calling out for an owner, asking “who’s dog is this?” as we rushed along the trail.  The dog was right there, we could hear him, and Jenny had this vision of us getting run right off the cliff so she grabbed me and pulled me into the bushes.  I didn’t know and didn’t care if it was poison oak at that point, as I’m still screaming out, “hello? is this your dog? is he friendly?!”. This dog did not seem friendly at all and continued to bark at us in the bush.  The dogs owner finally showed up and called the dog off.  The owner was wearing some thick old gloves, had a notebook and a pen, and offered no apology for the dog.  We had not seen anyone on the trail, or the campsites where we left our car, and he was the first person we had come across.  As we tried to continue on and get away from the strange situation, the man stopped us again.  “HEY! That’s not the trail, the trail is here, you have to go here.”  We got back on the trail and picked up the pace to get away.

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Fern gully and the crazy elk droppings

At this point I had barely eaten, have little water (nor had seen a stream to refill my water since starting the hike), my knees and back are hurting pretty bad, and we had just gotten chased by a dog. We zigged and zagged again through so many switchbacks, they just seemed to go on.  I wanted to just rest my body on a seat, a tree stump or a fallen log would be great.  All the trees here looked sturdy, with thick green moss all around.  I wished I had brought a mat with me to lay over all the ferns and elk poop to just take a break from hiking.  There was scat everywhere.  With so much of it, I thought for sure we would see a Roosevelt Elk somewhere.  I cleared elk poop off a small bit of ground with my walking stick and just sat in the fern.  I was so tired.  Jenny and I pulled out the bear bin, grabbed some snacks, and had a nice little break.

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Switchbacks, sliding, and Whale Gulch

The trail seems like just really long switchbacks on a steep angle at this point.  My knees are done, and I keep feeling like I’m doing a baby-step shuffle thing that is getting me nowhere.  There were a lot of locations on this part of the trail that we fell or slipped.  The ground angles forward, but the dry loose dirt leaves nothing for grip and you slide down.  There was areas that I just sat on my bottom and scooted down a steep area knowing my knees just would not be able to take any more.  Then, as if a mirage in the desert, I look down and see a bright orange trail way down below.  It was a stream, the fall leaves line the sides like nature’s very own neon sign.  I needed water, and was determined to get there.  We slid and scooted our way down, wishing for a bench.  I don’t know how it got there, but we ended up coming across what looked like a 25′ slab of concrete on top of the fern.  It almost looked like a cement slide to nowhere, and you were only able to access a small edge of it.  We claimed that small edge and spent the next 10 minutes sharing the tiniest corner of this big slab.  Exhausted, we made it to the stream, and it felt great.  Cool water, fall colors, and since we were at ground level- we must be close, right?  Nope.

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The most annoying golden hour

After getting rehydrated and crossing the stream, we found ourselves going back uphill.  The sky was perfectly lit and we made our way up the steep grade, legs burning, toward the sun.  We were approaching the cliffside, and about to turn left.  We thought for sure we would turn the corner and see our destination.  Instead, there was nothing, just more.  You actually turn from the cliffside and go back into the mountains with more switchbacks and sliding, then climb back up, then enjoy the sunsetting, and turn that corner again… and still nothing.  This went on like that another 8-10 times, constantly thinking you were about to be done but not.  The sky was beautiful, the light was perfect, but I couldn’t even enjoy taking photos as my arms were shaky already.  So many of those photos came out blurred from my shaking.  I just wanted to see the end.

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Open meadows with sacred ground

Deer were jumping through the coastal meadows as we tried to find an end.  We wouldn’t have as many steep grades but we were still going to the water, then back in the forest, then back to the water, then back to the forest.  At one point, we came across pale white trees.  They had looked like they had been arranged there, grown in this specific location, and not looking like they belong.  Behind the trees was a dark lagoon.  I don’t normally freak myself out on camping trips, but there was something about this water that freaked me out.  At first glance, it looks black, shiny black. I had this feeling that if I looked into it or took a photo of it, that I would see something that would scare me.  I got one photo, as we were leaving the area, from the backside of the lagoon.  This photo isn’t as creepy as the front of it was.  Later, as we were talking to Doug from the visitor’s center, we came to find out it was sacred ground for the original Native American groups from the area and would go there for ceremonies.

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Jones Beach and the perfect campsite

We finally made it to where the the beach starts opening up more and the trail starts becoming less up and down and more even.  At that point the sun was setting fast.  We found a perfect campsite, it was overlooking the Jones Beach, under a tree, picnic table close by, and an open meadow area making it seem like the coast was all yours for a night.  The guy at the BLM firestation was telling me it was his favorite spot and I was glad to find it.  I was ready to set up to camp.  There was a storm brewing and was going to hit about 3am, then clear up for a bit, with it coming back around 11am.  We figured, we could just try to make it that last mile to our intended turn-around in the morning, during the rain break, when we have more strength.  Then we met two locals on the trail.  These guys had rode their electric bicycles down to catch the sunset.  We talked to them about the storm, and considered our options.  If the main part of the storm was going to hit at 11am, we would be in those same mountains that we just struggled through.  There was no way our bodies were going to do it.  We decided to get to the visitor’s center in Needle Rock and find out what other options may be.  They were such nice guys, they had even offered to drive us back to our car in the morning if we were still around.  It was sweet, and probably very genuine, but we ended up not staying in that perfect campsite because of that.  We were two girls camping alone without anyone in the vicinity and now these two locals know that.  I bet you guys never have to consider this in the wilderness.  I was bothered by the double standard, but we agreed to continue until Needle Rock.

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Finding the barn

Jones Beach to where we ended was about a mile away, but it felt like the longest mile ever.  I have one last photo, which was still blurry from my arm fatigue, taken right before putting on our headlamps and hiking in the dark.  After cursing and screaming in frustration, we really just wanted the whole thing to be done.  Our pace got quicker even though our bodies felt more broken.  We were going to get there.  We found our way in the dark, crossed over some creek beds, and came across a barn.  It was the perfect place to hide from the storm, and we felt super lucky to find it.  We hobbled uphill and into the barn.  Ate some food and secured the area.  We were go grateful to finally get off our feet and get some rest.

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around 3:00 am

I woke up to the sound of the ocean and the rain, and I was even more thankful to have the roof over my head.  I stayed up thinking about a lot of things; my family, my life, the trip, that hike.  As it turns out, finding that barn changed something.  The day went from having so much go wrong, to having something work out.  Thank you, karma fairy.  When the rain stopped, we ended up having some great conversations about the history/locals/wildlife in the area with Doug from the visitor’s center.  He even gave us a ride back up to our car so we wouldn’t have to hike the mountain in the rain.  We told him how we wished we had seen an elk and once he turned the corner, BAM!, an elk just waking on the road in front of us.

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We ended up doing what felt like the longest 10 miles ever; made more difficult with ups and downs, switchbacks and cliffside.  It was cut short because we underestimated the difficulty of that mountain and knew that attempting it in the rain, in our condition, would be a joke.  We had done a lot already, it was an incredible thing, but once our luck changed in the barn, it seemed to only get better.  The storm never continued again for us at 11:00.  We got to spend the day in a hot tub, overlooking the ocean where we saw at least 7 whales jumping around.  More importantly, we finally got to throw away the mushroom risotto! It was an amazing day and an amazing adventure in the books.

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