Backpacking on the Lost Coast trail!

Lost Coast

This was a really nice hike along California's Lost Coast trail! We had an extra day to burn, so we decided to drive somewhere that was a bit harder to get to than usual. And since the temps inland were supposed to be in the high 90s, we decided that the coast might be a bit cooler, yet not be covered in snow like all the other places where we normally like to go.

Sure enough, it was. :-) It was hot on the way up there, but as we drove down progressively smaller and smaller roads, it kept getting cooler and cooler. And the road was pretty darn small there at the end. Single lane, rocky, with big huge ruts and streams going through it. It was a non-trivial road to traverse! But we made it, as had a minivan and a couple of other cars, though at least one had bashed out it's oil pan and was trying to get his cellphone to work long enough to call AAA.

Once we got our permit from the visitor's center (manned by a very very nice woman who had all sorts of neat info on the area), we drove down the last shot down to the trailhead. On the way, we drove past (and through) a herd of elk just hanging out there by the road. Quite a nice intro. :-) Apparently, the males can be aggressive when they have their horns and are doing their rutting thing, but right now, they were very docile, only moving out of the way when we got within 10 or so feet of them.

We walked the .5 miles to the campsite. It was a very pretty site. Deluxe. A table and a stream and a firepit and a view of the ocean. You could only burn driftwood. No downed wood! There was a nice path up to a ridge where you could look down on the little cove and the beach and rocks and whatnot. The visitor center woman also told us that there were ticks, so we put our socks over our pants and were careful to check each other for ticks.

Very peaceful, it was! As night fell, it got cooler and damper... I set out a set of long underwear to dry (it had gotten soaked in a platypus sack drinking nipple accident), and it never did lose it's water until the next morning, I put them on and walked around in them for a while. The damp air was quite good at bringing a chill to us even though we were fairly bundled up. But once we got in the sleeping bag, it all warmed up, and despite the high moisture content of the air, there wasn't all that much dew on any of our stuff.

The next morning, we got up, struck camp, and headed out to Wheeler camp. The trail went up a lush hillside, covered in plants and grass and moss and trees covered in vines... We saw lots and lots of wildflowers. And despite there not being dew on our stuff, there was LOTS on all the plants. So it was beautiful! Everything was fresh and green and great! There were nettles and some poison oak, but not in oppresive quantities. The trail went up and up, and the hills were extremely steep. In places, it was being encroached upon by vegetation, but was still clearly the only way to go. The trail was extremely well graded, and we climbed some 1200 feet very quickly and with surprisingly little effort. As we rose, we encountered more fog, and the scenery went from lush ferns and plants to dark redwood and pine forests to some open blackberry and grass meadows. Lots of variety. The temperature varied quite a bit depending on whether you were in the dark trees or in the sun. We ate lunch under a big old mossy tree, and found some ripe blackberries by the trail. Mmm!

We followed the ridge along, going up and down a bit, and eventually turned to the left and switchbacked down the trail to Wheeler, which was an old sawmill site. Some old concrete blocks, a small paved road in the middle of a meadow, and a funny old construction by the creek were all that you could find left. We left our gear in wheeler, and walked down to the ocean. Along the way, we saw some deer munching away at stuff. We would see more of them later, wandering about by the creek, eating some of everything.

The ocean had quite a few folks camping in front of it. Which wasn't bad. Everybody was very friendly and we stopped and chatted with a few of them. There were seals out in the ocean, surfing around and watching us. The beach was made of lots of small black pebbles rather than sand, and other than this little cove, the hills seemed to just drop off super steeply into the water. Very rugged. And with the fog coming in over the top of the hils, it was really very beautiful.

While setting up camp, I felt a pain in my left buttock, and sure enough, it was a tick!!! I've seen plenty of them before, but never had one actually bite me. So this one hurt, and I dropped my pants and had Steph pull it out. I saved it, and I'm going to get it tested for lyme disease as soon as I figure out where to do this. :-( My best guess is that it crawled on my thermarest chair and down the back of my pants. So that wasn't fun.

Again, the air cooled and got moist, and began to chill us. But we were prepared this time, and put on long underwear and had some nice hot dessert. Since a bear had been spotted at Wheeler in the last week, we hung our food. While sitting on my chair reading with my headlamp, I looked up and saw a pair of eyes somewhat low to the ground and about 4-5 inches apart... I recall hearing from somebody in the visitor's center that they saw a bobcat in the area as well, and so it may have been one of those. They quickly went away, and I was sad I could not see more.

The next day, we woke up and leisurely broke camp. We wandered back to the ocean for a bit to look at some flowers, said bye to the folks we had chatted with, watched the waves a bit, and headed back. We moved quickly, and had a nice lunch out in a little meadow off of the trail about halfway back. We were way way above the ocean. The hills are so steep around there that I'd want to have a belay if I went straight down them. I was glad for that great trail.

When we got back to Bear Harbor, there before us was the herd of elk! And some of their friends! There must have been 18-20 or so, including a small baby elk and a bunch of larger males with horns starting in. It was quite incredible! They were fully not afraid of people. We got so close to them before they decided to wander out of our way. We had to talk our way through the herd of them to get out to the car. It was strange being surrounded by these big creatures and not being all that fearful because they were so docile.

And that was that! The weather was great (though we hear that it really rains a lot normally), and the scenery was amazingly beautiful. The folks we encountered were less of the driven sierra hiker types, who sometimes seem offended because you are there too, spoiling their picture of "empty wilderness", and more just regular folks coming out to enjoy this gem of a trail. That road was definitely hair-raising and out there enough to really make it a bit more off the beaten path, and that was nice. Even the drive back to 101 was filled with beautiful redwood groves, hills full of trees, and innumerable encounters with various forks of the Eel river (sp?).

When the snow is still over your favorite trails, and yet the summer heat is upon us, this is a great place to go! I guess that this place is one of the last (and largest) section of undeveloped california coastline, and really is beautiful. I'd imagine that this would be pretty nice year-round, though from the evidence of the trees being so windswept, I suspect that some storms come off the ocean and get pretty exciting.

So here's the map of the route which we took. The profile at the bottom says that we went up and down 4000 odd feet, which I think is an exaggeration. What I suspect happened was that the GPS was unable to pick up a good signal a lot of the time when we were climbing in or out of those very steep narrow valleys, so it ended up with lots of "fuzz" in the trail. Since it was very steep in those valleys, going 40 feet off the trail could equal 70-80 feet of elevation gain. Enough of that, and you've got a bit of extra elevation. :-)

My pictures are here. Some of them suck, but I left them in anyways. Why not? :-)

Have fun!

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