Monday, May 2, 2011

Backpacking the Lost Coast

I've been away for so long! I'm going to start with the most recent news and work backwards to catch up on what has been going on, so stay tuned!

On Friday Michael and I set out for a 3 day backpacking trip of the Lost Coast trail in the King Range National Wilderness. We returned yesterday (Sunday) sore, sunburnt, and a bit blistered--but what do you expect when you put your body through such demanding terrain!?

Day 1: Mattole Beach Trailhead to Cooskie Creek
Part of the trail is impassable during high tide, so we had to check the tide charts to make sure we could make it to our camping spot before the water got too high. The map showed two creeks we would need to cross before reaching our final destination, Cooskie Creek. As it turns out, there are at least twice as many places where water flows from the hills to the surf as what is shown on the map. Maybe three times as much. This made it kind of frustrating, as almost every time we crossed a stream we wondered a little bit Is this creek on the map?

My rule of thumb: It's only marked on the map as a creek if crossing necessitates taking off your shoes and wading through the water.

Around 6pm I was beginning to get frustrated. We'd gone over so many creeks I could hardly keep it all straight, and there seemed to be many more bumps in the coastline than the map showed. Just when I was beginning to lose hope of finding Cooskie Creek that night, it appeared. That is kind of how it happened--the water flows down through rocks, and from a distance you can't even see it. So we approached this area where the water was flowing out to sea, and looked up into the hills. There it was: the most open, almost meadowy area, perfect for camping overnight.  We scouted around and found a nice little place to set up our tent, with a fire pit and some driftwood benches not far away.  While there was no escaping the wind, Michael still managed to boil water so we could cook dinner, and we made a driftwood fire to enjoy before going to sleep.

Cooskie Creek had this great rock formation, visible from where we set up camp for the night.

This is looking up the ravine from our campsite. The creek is out of view, but flowing along the right side of the picture.
Day 2: Cooskie Creek to Spanish Flat to Randall Creek
Day 2 was a bit intense. We woke up when the sun hit our tent and made the temperatures inside near unbearable. We decided to head further south, once again waiting for the tides to ebb before we had beach to walk on. The plan was to head south to Spanish Ridge Trail, take it inland, and then continue north. As it turns out, finding trails in wilderness areas can be a bit difficult. And by difficult, I mean near impossible. While walking on Spanish Flat, which was covered in blooming wildflowers and the highlight of the day, we found a sign that pointed inland and read Spanish Ridge Trail.

Wildflowers bloom on Spanish Flat.
 The sign pointed directly to three hills, rising in front of us from the flat. After staring at them for awhile, we decided there was a discernable trail over to the right, winding around the side of a hill. The map, I might add, noted that trails on the north end of the wilderness area are often overgrown from low use. The trail we could see looked like what the map was showing--it headed in the right direction, at the right elevation. After following it for awhile, it became apparent that this [hopefully] wasn't the trail, as it suddenly ended at the edge of a ravine. We tried and tried to find the trail, but finally admitted defeat and treked back to the beach to find a campsite for the night. Michael has since checked on Google Earth and is of the opinion that that trail, whatever it was, even though it was marked, was too far north to be the actual Spanish Ridge Trail. We had to backtrack to find a place to camp for the night, and ended up at Randall Creek.

Camp at Randall Creek. The creek runs over on the left, by where Michael is walking.
 Day 3: Randall Creek to Mattole Beach
Randall Creek was on the south end of the area impassable at high tide, so in order for the beach to be clear for hiking north again, we had to wait until high tide had passed. We didn't get onto the trail until about 1:30, and it was very slow going on the sand (as it had been the whole trip). We stopped at Cooskie to cook lunch before continuing on, intent on making it to the trailhead before dark. There is an abandoned lighthouse about 3 miles south of the trailhead, and when we reached it we were able to find a path above the beach that kept us above the sand. That made for much easier walking, though severe headwinds hampered our progress. There were all sorts of neat things littering the beach--shiny abalone shells, rocks with strange holes in them, balls of wax from who knows where, and rusting piles of metal from buoys and other assorted things that were washed up on shore.

Beautiful waterfall, visible from our trek.
 We made it back to Mattole shortly before 8:00 on Sunday night. Souvenirs from the trip: a few shiny rocks and shells, one epic blister on my baby toe, sunburn, windburn, freckles, and sore muscles galore!

The intrepid travelers, safely back at Mattole!

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