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Monday, April 29, 2013

Lost Coast Trail Yo-Yo Part 2: The Sinkyone Wilderness

Even though we had only traveled a modest 8.3 miles on the first day and 18.8 miles the second day, Fiona and I were feeling pretty wiped from the sun and sand.

We received our first bit of trail magic on Monday (Day 3) whilst walking up the hill to the general store to resupply. A kind older gentlemen asked if we wanted a ride up the road after I inquired about the precise location of the resupply point. We had a wonderful exchange about the beauty of the land and he dropped us off just down the street from the store.

There was still 2.5 miles of road walk left before we reached the Hidden Valley trailhead. The road was narrow but there was room to hop off to the side when cars passed. Not the best, not the worst.

When we reached Hidden Valley we were overjoyed with the tread of the trail. Solid ground, switchbacks and a steady climb had never seemed so speedy after two days of beautiful but challenging sand walking.

Chemise Mountain, our first peak was very dry was gorgeous views to the east and after a short ridge walk we descended precipitously back towards the ocean. The very steep descent offered some spectacular views of cliffs along the ocean.

Fiona discovered this giant millipede on the south side of Chemise Mountain.

It became quite obvious that the trail was taking on a new personality when we transitioned from the King Range National Conservation Area to the Sinkyone Willderness State Park. The nicely graded wide trail was replaced with an overgrown disappearing act.

Don't get me wrong, I love cross country travel, but yo-yoing through nettle, poison oak, pampas grass, thistle and blackberry definitely brought up a unique challenge. I should have brought more durable pants.

Our first stop in the Sinkyone was the Needle Rock visitors center. This gorgeous wooden house was being cared for by a delightful man named Rich who offered us warm showers on both visits to the center. We accepted his offer on the return trip.

The first dirt road section between between Needle Rock and Bear Harbor was deceptively easy and not at all representative of the trail further south.

The Sinkyone was magnificent and we were handsomely rewarded for our persistence.The seldom visited coves were like secret paradises and Fiona often related the landscape to her time in Hawaii. Lush forests, steep cliffs and a warm comforting breeze.

Bear Harbor, Wheeler and Little Jackass Creek were definite highlights. 

After a 23.4 mile day we arrived at Little Jackass Creek, our camp for the third night. On first inspection we were greeted with a grassy field interspersed with nettle. I don't like camping on grass because of condensation issues. I wasn't satisfied, so I went searching down the creek towards the ocean. My search was fruitful and I discovered one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been. The light was low in the cove while we were there so I didn't get any good photos. You'll just have to take my word for it or go there some day. A warm blow dryer-like wind gently funneled into the cove and we bed down in the sand after cleaning and drying ourselves in the breeze. Such a treat after a challenging up and down bushwhack filled day.

We had some good adventures that night including gusting wind that forced us into the shelter of a stand of alders surrounding the creek. After our retreat, Fiona woke up in the middle of the night to a tugging on her sleeping bag. A skunk was nibbling near her toes and when she slowly arose to confront it the skunks tail rose. Luckily, for all of us, that was the pinnacle of the excitement and the skunk slowly retreated without spraying.

Tuesday (Day 4) was the turning point of the trip geographically, physically and psychologically. Rich, from the Needle Rock visitors center had warned us that Usal, our turn around point and the southern terminus of the Lost Coast Trail, was a dump. He wasn't kidding. After descending a very exposed, very overgrown chaparral hillside down the south side of Timber Point in 90 degree heat, we were welcomed to Usal with trash and a law enforcement ranger who was ticketing three illegally parked cars. Fortunately we were hiking back and none of the vehicles were ours.

On the return trip north, the weather flipped to a colder foggier cycle but it was nice change. We knew that every nettle patch left would be a one time affair and our spirits began to soar. Fiona was battling some foot pain but it was nothing her badass self couldn't handle. We had stashed our bear canisters at Little Jackass Creek and traveled the 15 mile round trip with a little less weight. It was a nice break. I'm really not a fan of carrying those things but I was delighted by how well my Gossamer Gear Gorilla handled the canister.

We finished our day (19.5 miles) at Wheeler and were given quite the show by several grey whales as we observed from the cliffs hundreds of  feet above.

Wednesday (Day 5) was an exact 26.2 mile marathon and it felt great. A shower supplied by Rich at the Needle Rock visitors center, an enormous herd of Roosevelt Elk with some spectacular bulls, a scorching climb over Chemise Mountain extinguished by a beautiful cascading creek, ice cream, goat cheese, orange juice and greens at the general store during resupply were all highlights. 

The most excitement came in the last hour of our day as we raced the high tide to Buck Creek. We didn't get wet but we definitely found some adrenaline to fuel that last mile and a half. Time to rest.

By Thursday (Day 6) we only had 19.4 miles to hike back to Mattole and a good amount of spring break left so we decided to take it easy. Over the course of the 13.1 mile day between Buck Creek and Cooskie Creek we took a lot of time to explore, track, lounge and snack. It was delightful. Here are some highlights:

There were an incredible amount of bear tracks between Buck Creek and Shipman Creek.

Coyote Tracks

Otter Tracks


The yellow brick road across Miller Flat

Old growth driftwood

Beautiful rock hops across the creeks

The King Range and King's Peak

We celebrated our final night at the gorgeous Cooskie Creek. There was a meticulous clothing drying session and a giving of thanks for a safe journey. Challenging and rewarding this trip was a great success.

 Back at Mattole, the northern terminus, after the completion of the Lost Coast Trail Yo-yo (115.6 miles)

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