October 13-19, 2017
Day 1: Friday 10/13/17
Usal Beach Trailhead to Little Jackass CreekAnderson Camp
7.5 Miles5.0 Miles
We started the day late after having a slow time moving the rv to storage at the KOA in Benbow, CA. Our plan was to be on the road by 7 am, but after everything was said and done it was closer to 8:45. I hate starting behind schedule. Our drive was south to Leggit where we got on Route 1 South to Usal Road, a winding one lane mountain road that led us down six miles to Usal Beach, the southern terminus of the Lost Coast Trail. The trailhead proved difficult to find, though we did eventually and left our truck parked below a striking redwood.
The hike climbed up the hillside to the ridgeline from the forest below and to our first mountain view of the Pacific.
The day continued in some strenuous ascents and descents alternating between cool redwood shade and hot sun. Our camp was made at Little Jackass Creek which we followed down to a beach side camp. A seal community based just offshore had couple curious creatures swimming towards the beach to investigate our presence. Dinner was chicken with noodles, a little cous cous, and hot apple cider with a chocolate bar for dessert.
We waited to pitch tents until high tide, around 7, to be sure we wouldn’t be washed out. Just before dozing off Lily said to me, “You know, we’re about twenty-five years over due for a hundred-year quake. If one hits, we’re pretty much screwed.”
Thanks for the peaceful thought before nodding off.
In the middle of the night the wind kicked up and nearly booted the tent away. The rainfly whipped and woke us often. Between the wind and waves, dreams were strange, but I slept well regardless.
Breakfast of coffee and grits as we broke camp. A twelve-ish mile hike to needle rock in front of us. A fantastic first day, hopefully several more to follow.
Day 2 Saturday 10/14/17
Anderson Camp to Needle Rock
So good news is: Jackass Creek is BEAUTIFUL, bad news is: Jackass Creek is NOT where we camped last night!
In our inattentive excitement we pitched camp at what was actually Anderson Camp. We learned our mistake on the slow grind of a climb that did not seem to end. That climb led to a long day of hiking, finishing with three miles in the dark.
Despite the tough day, the scenery was a rugged beauty that blew us all away. We hiked down gulches and through groves of redwoods that led to epic ocean views. Fortunately, our destination offered a camp shelter created from a converted a welcome sight after a long day. We arrived late, 8:30ish, spread out on the barn floor for a dinner of lasagna. Sarah N. was planning on Chana Masala until she spilt it on herself. The rest of the week will be long for her, with burnt legs and curry scented pants.
Sleep came fast to us all.
Day 3 Sunday 10/15/17
Needle Rock to Shelter Cove (via the Hidden Valley Trailhead)
Yesterday (I’m writing this on Monday) was our last day of hiking in the mountains. After our longer day on Saturday, and another day up and down in the hills, we arrived in Shelter Cove. The trail along the way did not disappoint.
The day began with incredible switchbacks along a creek and through a dense fern forest. We climbed the 2,500 feet to the peak of Chemise Mountain. The going was slow over two small peaks, Red Rock 2 and Manzanita, before reaching the Chemise summit where we broke for lunch. From there it was a quick 2.7 mile downhill stretch to the car and resupply box we had stashed earlier, and even more importantly, the general store.
The beer, Gatorade, and mango frozen bar did not disappoint.
Our plan was to camp just beyond Black Sands Beach, but the RV park in Shelter Cove was too inviting to pass up. A shower and campfire along the ocean was a perfect end to a lighter day on the trail. Both employees at the park assured us that the next stretch of trail is easier, gaining only 100 feet between here and Mattole. Though “easier” may be relative as I’m not sure about hiking on the sand.
Day 4 Monday 10/16/17
& Day 5 Tuesday 10/17/17
Shelter Cove to Miller Flat
The first day on the norther section of trail was more or less what was expected. Hiking through sand with fully loaded packs slowed us to a crawl. The tidal zones weren’t any worse than the rest of the trail, except for the added stress, which some of us felt more than others. We arrived at Miller Flat in the early afternoon and set up camp at an epic spot with a view of the ocean and King’s Peak. Something about looking at a mountain that size from “sea level,” literally sitting on the beach, struck me.
Our original plan for today was to hike up to King’s Peak, but we scrapped that in favor of pitching the tarp on the beach and relaxing for the day, it wasn’t much of a debate. We lit a fire at breakfast and kept it burning all day. Chris arrived at camp early in the day, making us all look bad by whipping down the trail in a couple of hours. Other than that, the day was uneventful and fantastic. Reading and laying around camp is easily something I could do for days.
The day ended with a driftwood sculpture and chicken rice for dinner. Tomorrow we head to Spanish Ridge to camp for another night before heading to the Mattole River where the car is waiting for us. This has been a great week and I hate for it to end.
Day 6 Wednesday 10/18/17
Miller Flat to Punta Gorda
With a full rest day behind us we hit the trail refreshed. The plan was possibly going to Punta Gorda Lighthouse and definitely going to Spanish Flats. We broke camp at a relaxed pace and left heading north to one of the patches of private property which contained a small airstrip. During our day on the beach we had watched a plane land and take off from that airstrip as well as met a surfer who was living and working on the property. The plane had been construction supplies dropped for the work he was doing there. He was shocked to hear that we had hiked from Usal Beach.
“Nobody does that!” has become a common response from the few people we have encountered on trail. Though it was trickier to organize transportation, and the terrain was difficult, I cannot understand why people don’t do it. The surroundings were stunning and the hike was fantastic, even more impressive than the more well-known northern section.
As we approached the house with the airstrip, two dozen deer watching us on our right, the sight of our newfound friend running towards us yelling, “The Usal hikers!” definitely made us feel all the cooler. We chatted for a few minutes before he realized he had forgotten oatmeal that was burning inside, “come in, come in,” he tried to talk us into staying, and though I wish we had, we pressed on.
The weather was off and on all day, never raining terribly, but the ocean was violent and angry. It was intimidating to walk alongside of, like an angry drunk who could throw a punch at any minute. The day dragged for the first time as we made our way to the historic Punta Gorda Lighthouse. We had planned to camp nearby, but the water source was dry, so we pressed on to a creek that lay along private property where we filled water and backtracked to a camping area. Our spirits were slightly low after a day of hiking in the rain, but after building a fire and a dinner feast we all felt better. Dinner consisted of a smorgasboard of dehydrated meals, everyone heating up the extras we seemed to have in our packs and sharing mac and cheese, pho, pad thai, chili mac, spaghetti with meat sauce, cous cous, freeze dried ice cream and more.
The weather continued misty into the night, but the sleeping bags were dry and our bellies were full.
Day 7 Thursday 10/19/17
Punta Gorda to Mattole Beach
Our hike ended with a short slog over loose sand. It seemed the last two miles were the worst of the sand hiking and we were glad to be done with it. The sky was grey over Mattole Beach, but our breakfast of oatmeal and lukewarm PBR that we had stashed in Matt’s Jeep hit the spot. I am sad to see the trip end, this week carried some of the most impressive sights, some expected, others completely surprising.
Both Sara, Sarah N. and myself stayed behind while Matt brought the first carload of people back. We hunkered down and napped waiting for our ride into town, lunch, and the rest of our California adventure.