Lost Coast Trail - Northern Section

19-21 May 2009 - by Tim Hult

Thoughts on Hiking the Northern Half of California's Lost Coast

In May late 2009, I lead a group of 6 experienced hikers from the Northern entrance to the Southern exit along California's Lost Coast trail on the Mendocino coast. If you are lucky enough to do this trip in fine weather, you'll enjoy common and uncommon beach scenes of a wild Pacific coast of sand beaches, bluffs, wild flowers, surf, marine mammals, rocky coves, and LONG hikes along wet sand. If you enjoy hiking, like the sea, and have 3 days to spare, this hike is a must do. The list below is NOT a trip report per se, but a collection of random observations, tips, and comments about the Northern Half of this classic California wilderness route that future hikers may find useful in planning their visit.

- The Lost coast is divided into two sections: north and south. This report concerns the Northern portion only.

- The Northern half may be done in 2 LONG days, but best as a three day hike: segments of 6, 12, and 6 miles respectively with a car shuttle at the end.

- Shuttle from one end to the other is approximately 1.5 hours

- A shuttle service is now available: $360 minimum (i.e. if you are 1 person, it will cost $360), or $120/ person each way if your group max's out the vehicle in use: an extended cab pickup that appears to seat 4 -5 people. Our group self shuttled as we had 3 cars.

- Shelter cove is a resort community with limited accommodations, but several campgrounds are nearby including one at the harbor that may take reservations (we didn't check). Motel rooms are relatively rare, and may be expensive and in high season or taken by the time you arrive, so reserve early.

- High NW winds are likely (20-40mph are not uncommon) this means you'll want to hike with the wind at your back by moving North to South. Unfortunately, this also means the sun will be in your eyes much of the time, so wear sun glasses and a sun hat. Some form of wind protection is advised as well.

- An early start each morning may beat the winds as it is usually calm in the morning then builds in intensity through the afternoon.

- Have a tide table and watch the ocean plan your day around the tides and the pinch points on the route. This is very important, or you may find yourself stranded for several hours on the wrong side of a pinch point, or worse, trapped between the cliffs and the encroaching tide.

- High, wind driven waves may result in higher than normal tide so while the tide tables my accurately show the mean high tide, there are a couple of spots where you may be in trouble if the winds are high and you are pushing the envelope for your crossing.

- Any tide over ~4 feet will cause problems along the route. This means you'll want to plan your trip well in advance for tidal conditions and plan accordingly.

- It can be difficult walking in wet, soft sand, over rounded small pebbles for miles and miles. Be sure you are physically fit and have good shoes /boots. Light weight hikers may work if you know they will be comfortable over fist-sized stones for miles.

- The stream crossings are numerous. In high run off, these can become ragging torrents impassible for any but the most experienced. Be sure to inquire at the ranger station if there are any streams in flood condition.

- Bring water shoes for the MANY stream crossings: flip-flops work, Tevas work better, Crocs better yet.

- Use hiking poles to cross stream and navigate boulder fields

- Talk the ranger about local conditions; pick up a tide table at the BLM ranger station. Ask about current conditions especially stream crossings.

- The Wilderness Press map of the Lost Coast is not very good. Use the BLM map: cheaper, easier to read and with MUCH better markings and elevations! The BLM map shows tidal danger zones and good camping spots.

- Wild flowers at the end of May are spectacular! There may be at least 12 different kinds. They are so numerous that at times it appears your hiking companions are engulfed in a sea of blue, yellow and white flowers.

- Getting to camp before 4PM is advisable if one wants to secure the best sites (be mindful of the times for high tide however as this will dictate your movements more than any other factor and may require early morning starts to achieve your daily objectives.

- In 2009, there was a fully intact Humpback or Grey (?) Whale along the beach between Oat and Kinzsy Creek. By the middle of May this creature still had all of its skin on, but had been rubbed raw (pink) by rolling across the sand. The mild stink was noticeable from about 1 mile away; I'm sure by the end of the summer it will really reek for miles and miles. It will be interesting to see if there is anything left in a year's time or if the winter storms will pull it back to sea.

- Number of dead seals and birds along the beach are to be seen. This is probably common.

- Watch for fog in the forecast when planning your trip. You may want to change your plans if fog is forecast which is common in high summer.

- Bear tracks and sign are in several places bring a bear can for your food.

- Lots of insects, but no mosquitoes seen (middle of May). Bring repellant as it will work on the Tics we saw.

- Poison Oak is EVERYWHERE! Most of it is low to the ground and avoidable, but in places there are massive amounts of the stuff growing at knee height on both sides of the trail. DO NOT wear shorts as we saw some young women wearing!

- Bring Tecnu cream to rub on your extremities to counteract the oils from Poison Oak. Wash your hands before eating. If you use trekking poles be careful where you stow them or if the hand grips are free of oil. Consider washing your clothes and shoes immediately after returning from this trip.

- Ticks can be a problem. Hike with long pants tucked into your socks or with gaiters. These insects will crawl up your pant legs a long way before they bite. Inspect your legs and torso at night before turning into bed.

- Bring a tent, not a tarp or bivy bag on this trip to keep the insects from entering your sleeping bag.

- Long sleeve shirts, broad hats, sun screen are useful or mandatory.

- In the colder parts of the year, a warm hat and gloves as well as a wind / rain proof jacket & pants may be necessary.

- There are miles of Untouched beach on this trip. Although there are several in holdings these are relatively inaccessible and the beach shows little indication of anyone but the occasional hiker passing through. We saw no trash except for the occasional fishing boat detritus, and some mega trash from 19th century ship wrecks (e.g. riveted iron boilers)

- Rusted debris from the Columbia passenger liner disaster in July 1907 is along the beach in places (Boiler, riveted bulkhead) heavy fog was the cause of a collision with a lumber carrying ship. This sinking took 50 lives and resulted in the establishment of the Point Gordo Lighthouse.

- Other debris occasionally shows as well, and are an interesting curiosity such as the remains of a giant ocean buoy washed up on the beach.

- There are LOTS of sawn logs left over from logging operations many years ago. These may have gotten away from the log-Wranglers 100 years ago, or been the remains of the log cargo from the collision mentioned above and have been beached here ever since.

- There are 6 inhabited cabins along the way sit on in holdings; At Big Flat there are two VERY nice houses (not cabins) with their own private airstrip! Two of the 4 remaining cabins appear to be accessible via 4WD trails, and the last 2 are accessible only by foot or hoof. All four are relatively simple in picturesque settings the great place to write a novel.

- Our trip featured gusty winds the first day and calm winds and sea for the last two days. Weather was spectacular. If the weather wasn't as good, the trip would have not had the same character, especially if the winds were high and it was rainy or foggy.

- Bring a water filter. There are lots of streams along the way, but they drain pastures loaded with cows in the headlands and are therefore probably contaminated with bacteria and run off.

Our group followed this itinerary (with notes):

- 2nd night was at Shipman creek. There is a "pinch off" just before this beach where the "trail" is blocked at high tide. This is 12 miles from Cooskie creek. It took us about 7-8 hours to reach this point from Cooskie with generous stops for picture taking and breaks every hour to hour and a half.

- Probably the best camping along the "beach" is in the Big Flat area where camping along the grassy bluffs is possible

- Ranger recommends that one reach one of these places by day 1: Cooskie, Randel or Spanish creek.

- Ranger recommends Day 2 objective as Miller flat (s. of creek in the trees), or Shipman Creek.

- Big views may be had from Cooskie creek trail, or by walking partway up Buck Creek Trail

- Sea lion Gulch to Randall creek may be Impassable at high tide (miles 4.5 - 8.4mi)

- Get to the Northern trail head early to get a parking spot.

- Few campers were at the trailhead camping area on Thursday night / Friday morning, but the following Sunday afternoon showed the campground very full.

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