Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hiking The Lost Coast

This past weekend my friends Devin (aka "Young Man"), David (aka "Siesta Dave") and I went on a hike up north to an area known as The Lost Coast. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about this magical place: "The Lost Coast is an undeveloped section of the California North Coast in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. It was named the "Lost Coast" after the area experienced depopulation in the 1930s. In addition, the steepness and geo-technical challenges of the coastal mountains made this stretch of coastline too costly for highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast."

Photo by Devin Steenwyk. This is Wheeler black sand beach, where we camped the first night.

The drive to the beginning of the trail is approximately 4.5 hours north of San Francisco, which includes about 6 miles of dirt road. If you plan on going, make sure you have a car that drives well on dirt roads. My car is not built for rough terrain, thus it suffered a little. To avoid starting the hike late in the day after driving for so many hours, we decided to leave the city on Thursday afternoon, and start hiking on Friday morning. We spent the night at Devin's parents' house in Willits, where we hung out with his lovely mom and dad.

After purchasing some necessary food supplies, such as stinky canned sardines for me, disgusting Velveeta mac'n'cheese for Devin, and a big bottle of whiskey for David, we finally got started at around 1pm. The crew (from left to right): Devin (guide and water filterer), David (GPS-tracker and firewood gatherer) and Monica (foreign-accent amusement-purveyor).

I took a bad photo of the trail we followed: the first day we hiked about 10 miles partially following an old unmaintained dirt road, from Usal Beach to Wheeler Camp. This was an easy hike and it took us about 5 hours, including all the many stops to take photos, gaze at various plants, gather blackberries or snack. The road could in theory be accessed via dirt bikes, if it weren't for the many trees fallen across the road. The next day we hiked about 12 miles, from Wheeler Camp back to Usal beach, this time following the more difficult Lost Coast Trail. This took us a whooping 9 hours, with a break of about 1 hour for rest stops.

Above: the 6 miles of dirt road that you have to drive on to get to the beginning of the hiking trail.

While on this dirt road, my car started making the weirdest scratchiest noises. The noise came and went very inconsistently, and after we ruled out problems with the break pads or suspension, Devin suspected it must be a rock that got lodged in somewhere. Since the noise came from the left rear wheel, we took the wheel off, looked around puzzled for a while until Devin found a little pebble stuck behind the break. His earlier assumption was correct.

These are my goofy and adorable hiking buddies at the beginning of the trail, when we were still all smiles, no sweat and eager to take a million photos every step of the way. Later on, we got so exhausted and grumpy (me), that we forgot to take photos on some of the most beautiful sections of the hike.

The trail is full of blackberry bushes. I've noticed blackberries are almost like a weed in California. They grow everywhere, spreading their thorny tentacles and taking over gardens in no time. I took advantage of this abundance of free, organic berries and munched on them the entire time. They were a million times more delicious than the ones in supermarkets, with a perfect balance of tart and sweetness.

One of the many trees that we had to jump over or crawl under along the way. Due to lack of funding, the trail is not maintained at all, and that shows. But that also makes it more rugged and real. During the two days we hiked we only ran into 5 people total.

As every time I hike, I got pretty bad blisters on the center of my feet, and this photo was probably taken before the pain set in. The blisters got bigger and more painful the next day, to the point that I had to take painkillers to keep on going. I really need to find a better solution for my feet, so if anyone knows of special or custom-made insoles, please let me know.

My shitty point-and-shoot camera is not fast enough to capture this action shot properly. Alas, I am still at odds with carrying a heavy and expensive DSLR when hiking, crossing creeks or risking to slide down a muddy slope.

Jackass Creek, Near Wheeler Camp, Sinkyone Wilderness, CA
Arrival at Wheeler Camp, a beautiful cove harboring a black sand beach. We had the whole beach all to ourselves, a rare and pristine beauty reserved as reward to those who make it all the way out here. The concept of "reward" is what comes to mind the most when I think of hiking trips and their destinations. Of course, it's all about the journey, not the end - yet, when the end is like a crowning jewel, it's hard not to think of it as a reward when you've worked so hard to get there.

Our campsite even has a table!

Many pelicans and other types of birds were chilling on the beach, which they don't have to share with humans.

Watching the sunset on our very own beach.

The birds flew away when I came near them. I was impressed at how close I was able to get, before they noticed my presence.

We found a dead pelican on the cliffs. Its head and neck were far from the body, so we put them all back together for this shoot.

My early-morning camping face. I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the shore behind my tent. This I call luxury.

Being right on the coast, the area is notoriously foggy. We were very lucky to not have any fog the first day, but on the morning of the second day everything was covered in fog. It wasn't the same cruel and harsh San Francisco fog, it was milder and more like a mist.

This little guy visited our campsite and wouldn't leave. He hung out with us for about an hour, probably hoping to get fed. I was tempted to share some of my salami with him, but David, being more responsible than I am, dissuaded me.

And off we were again. Strange fruit hanging on a vine on the trail. Anyone know what it is?

The beginning of the hike on the second day went through thick, lush forest. Everything was intensely green and humid. This is the area where the wild elk live, and we got to see one briefly. I was leading the hike chatting out loud and didn't even notice the huge beast blocking the trail ahead of me. Devin stopped me. We had to be careful, as elk are huge animals with big horns. They're usually skittish, but given that the trail was very narrow with nowhere to hide or run, we had to be careful and let the elk find its way first. Unfortunately, he vanished into the thick forest before we could take any photos.

The morning sunlight transformed the forest into this magnificent, dramatic spectacle. From any angle you looked up and every step of the way, the light was protruding and exploding between branches. If there's paradise, this is how I imagine it to look like.

At our next stop / vista point we run into fog again and there's no vista really to be seen. The air however feels hot despite the fog, and it's just perfect for cooling off without getting too cold.

Siesta Dave right before taking a little siesta.

We run into a redwood tree that is completely hollow all the way to the top. It's shaped like a giant C letter that stretches out to the skies.

The trail meanders in and out of the forest, going from deep dark forest to high grass coastal hills. It also ascends and descends 5 peaks, which makes this hike quite balanced in terms of the sequence between ups and downs. My knees hate it when you only go up for half a day and then have to go down for several hours.

We finished the hike at around 8:30 pm. I was pooped, Devin felt tired too and Siesta was the only one still going strong. Well done, David! If it wasn't for him, we would not have been able to drive our sorry asses to the place where we wanted to camp that night.

As we drove away, we noticed the sun going down in the distance, so we stopped for a final shot. Such perfect timing and such a perfect goodbye gift!

Photo by David Pilz
That night we slept at the Eel river, the place where we usually camp with our friends. We got there at around 11pm, set up our tents in the dark and passed out without eating dinner. Before heading back to SF the next day, we swam in the river, let the sun soak our sore limbs, bought some food and had a little picnic in a park in Willits. If that's not a perfect weekend, then I don't know what it is.

Coming back home to San Francisco, the temperature dropped again from 100 to 50 and the sun was completely swollen by a thick blanket of fog. And this is how we live around here, daydreaming about our next adventure. What will it be?