The Lost Coast really does live up to its name. The place itself seems as if it could vanish from the Earthly plane when the fog blows in just right, which it often does. It sits so far to the North end of the state that it’s a haul to get to, regardless of where someone is coming from. My buddy, Ken, who would join me on this trip lives in Eureka, and even for him it’s a journey of several hours over steep and winding roads through the forest to get there. This was my first backpacking experience on the Lost Coast, and I have to say, it felt more foreboding than anything…
The drive from the Central Valley to Garberville (whereupon, I first sprang into this world) isn’t so bad. A mostly straight shot up 101, from there however, the relatively close Saddle Mountain Trailhead seems to get farther away the longer one drives. My truck was up to its usual anxiety-inducing nonsense. Randomly it would decide to overheat, spewing forth the volume of water in the radiator. Of course this event would only occur in places such as places around Stockton with high levels of gang activity, the California White Mountains, almost-the-top of Sonora Pass after midnight, and now, the middle of nowhere in the vicinity of the Lost Coast.
On some backwoodsy road, it happened, and I was stranded with no cell signal, once again. After a while a mail woman pulled up in her 4×4 and offered me some of her dog’s water to help get me down the road. I had already put all of the extra water I brought with me into the thing, only to have the engine puke it back out shortly after. “If you need more water at the bottom of the hill, you can pull into Nathaniel’s private road and get some from him,” she leaned out the window and said to me as she was pulling away “if you hear shooting, don’t worry, he just likes his guns.” So it was settled, I would definitely not be paying an unexpecting Nathaniel or his well-stocked home off a private road a visit if I ran out of water again. Thankfully, my truck abided!
After an arduous drive on steep and slippery fire roads, I pulled up to the trailhead around 3:30 PM. Ken was supposed to meet me there, although we had been out of communication for hours. I was already half an hour late, and I was the only person at the trailhead. Rain washed against the windows of my truck in sideways sheets. I opened my water containers to catch some for the ride home. I was having the sinking feeling that I was going to do this hike alone in some really nasty weather and then, have to deal with a maybe-broken-down truck after. Just as I was pondering that scenario, Ken’s headlights emerged from the trees! At least I would have some company in the gloom!
Ken and I got moving towards Maple Camp. It was nearby and would be an easy destination for the first night. Grey clouds, mist, and sheets of rain were blowing fiercely across the trail on the exposed ridge. In the forest, rain was falling from trees in heavy drops that were leaving bomb holes in the duff along the trail. We arrived to an empty camp. These inland trails are not used much. That would later prove to be a factor, but for the time, it was nice to pitch a tent and crawl into some warm and dry clothes. The night was cold, dark, and wet.
The next day we continued on the inland trails to King Mountain. The rain cleared sometime later in the morning and the sun actually peaked through the clouds! That was a refreshing change from the ominous dark forest and dead trees shrouded in the gloom.
Our goal was to head up to King Mountain, then eventually down to the coast and camp at Big Flat. My friend Adam shared a story with me once that I was thinking about. Like so many others, he ventured to the Lost Coast and got caught in dicey weather. It was so terrible in fact, that he decided to spend the night sleeping under the hang glider launch on King Mountain. Weathering the storm with him was the largest centipede he had ever encountered, some giant type of species, perhaps a leftover from the Jurassic period. The fog rolled in over us when we reached the summit. We were having some fun, yelling random shit out into the grey, when Ken yelled out “Can I get a beer? HELLO?” and then a voice from the fog – “hi?”. We were shocked and convinced that one of us was pranking the other until a man and woman emerged from the pea soup.
As we hiked down toward the coast, the fog lifted, or we got below it, and the Pacific looked as beautiful as I have ever seen. Aside from the many, many, MANY, downed trees we had to navigate on Rattlesnake Ridge, the hiking was great, with good views.
The bottom of the mountain becomes more densely forested, and the trail actually disappeared. We approached a creek bed to assess if it would make an acceptable route, then the bank washed away from under Ken, and he took an elevator ride about 8 feet straight down. Somehow he managed to keep his hands on his hips the whole time, and an air of masculine prowess as if nothing at all had happened. Following the creek proved to be a good route to take.
Camping at Big Flat turned out to be a crowded affair, but we managed to find a small spot to claim for ourselves, next to a solo hiker who hesitantly approved our courtesy request for permission to camp near him.
The next morning we set off toward Buck Creek. Walking on the beach is rough on the hips and knees. The sand, the loose rocks, the off-camber angle of the beach the whole way… not something I would enjoy hiking on for miles with a backpack (or without). Buck Creek was another crowded spot. Many hikers who are doing the classic beach walk were out and utilizing those sites. The Jeep road leading out of there, back up into the mountains, was a brutal climb. They didn’t build those for people, rather 4×4’s with Granny gears. As always, motivation to get back to food and beer does the trick, and sooner or later, we made it back to where we started from.
It was just an extended weekend, life is busy though and sometimes you just have to take what you can get. Sharing some miles with a friend is always fantastic, especially when they make for great company, like Ken. The trip was a mix of fear, gloom, and strenuous trails, but the beauty to be found at the Lost Coast shows itself selectively, and when it does, you know why you bothered to go in the first place. My truck even started and got me home safely. – JD