(note that all the pictures below are georeferenced. You can click on them to see where they were on the hike)
Things to know / GPS download of north section of the Lost Coast Trail
The report below contains details on backpacking on the northern portion of Lost Coast Trail, and worrying about portions that can be impassable at high tide (it's actually not that bad most times, details below), and also contains the only detailed GPS track with both a trail and a route you can use in your GPS, along with all the creeks and campsites that I could see, and which points of the trail can be tough to cross on a high high tide). For one, you not only want to have the tide table from the BLM rangers, but also remember to apply the time offset for Shelter Cove, and note if the high tide is a high high or a low high (depending on the moon, there could be a difference of several feet in the high tide, and that will make a difference later).
After you read the BLM info on hiking the LCT, you'll know that you need a bear container, and that fresh water is not much of a worry. There are numerous major streams to cross (i.e. they don't dry out), and many smaller ones that aren't on the map, but that I marked as waypoints in the map below (note that obviously those could potentially go dry, but again there is plenty of water on the route, so you really shouldn't run dry unless you really try to prove me wrong :) ).
While I recommend you read the portions below on how to deal with tides, and which exact points are tricky and where you could get trapped vs which portions are actually mostly safe to cross at high tide, you can get the
GPX data file of the north portion of the lost cost trail
used for the track shown below.
Planning, and starting from Mattole
It had been almost a year since Jennifer and I went backpacking. Eh, it took about 9 months for my toenails to regrow after the JMT trip :)
After Jennifer told me about doign the Lost Coast Trail, we studied which portion would make sense to do. We discounted the south portion (south of Shelter Cove) as we heard from a ranger the trail was somewhat overgrown and tick infested (with lyme disease as a bonus), so we concentrated on the Northern portion, which is all beach or trails by the beach.
Given that, we flew to the small Shelter Cove airport (which is actually not a piece of cake due to the prevalent overcast/fog, see my
flying blog for details
), and got a ride to the trailhead at Mattole thanks to Sherren's shuttle service (she's great, she and her driver will go out of their way to match your schedule and get you where you need to, when you need to, in a van of up to 6 people). We ended up landing on July 2nd at 18:45, through a small hole in the ground fog, and she picked us up and drove us to the trailhead.
The Mattole trailhead has car camping with toilets, water, and bear proof trash (although no bear boxes, but you are required to carry a bear proof container anyway). There are plenty of campsites to be had, so it's fine to arrive even after sunset.
The next morning, we went to the trailhead and started our beach hike.
bunny was enjoying something to eat around our camp
First tide crossing point
Look for the 'LowTide Cross 1' point in the map above, and while we crossed it 2h from high tide, it felt like we had plenty of room left. This was due to the fact that while I had very inconvenient high tide times (12:45 on the first day, and 13:30 on the second day), those were fortunately low high tides, meaning that even at peak tide the water wasn't as far as it could be at other times.
My take on it was that you can likely cross this point just about any time outside of the peak of a high high tide. Quite frankly, we crossed the spot not that far from high tide and didn't even notice it was a tough spot until after we crossed it.
Cabins, Punta Gorda Lighthouse, Sea Lions
Once we crossed the first point, we passed one of the few cabins you see on the trail (they are all private, please do not tresspass, we the exception of a very broken down one that I marked on the map and that you could use if you're not afraid it's going to collapse on you ;) ).
Soft Sand, nice trail, or rocks, rocks, and more rocks...
About one third of the trail is a nice path that's easy to walk on (easy to average 3-3.5mph on it), about one third is beach hiking, where you'll get slowed down to 2mph or less depending on the sand (try to walk on the wet sand, but that also means you need to watch for the occasional sneaky wave that'll get your boots and socks wet if you don't see it in time), and the last third is various kinds of rocks from pebbles to boulders.
I first wondered if it made sense to do the hike in tevas for the stream crossings, but then realized that you can cross all the streams without ever getting your socks wet (they're not deep and/or have a tree trunk or rock cross point), and you really want to cross the boulder sections with good sturdy hiking boots.
Jennifer wasn't enjoying the rocks much, tricky for her balance
High tide section #2
The second high tide restricted section is depicted as several miles, and indeed, some portions of it are tricky or not doable depending on how high the high tide is. Look for the 'LowTide Cross2a Hard Bypass' waypoint above to hike up the hill for a section that just isn't doable even during mid tide (low tide only), while the rest we were able to cross from high tide to 2h after high tide.
If you are trying to squeeze by during a rising high tide, which isn't recommended, there are a few spots where you could wait the tide out if you realize you can't proceed anymore, but there are other spots where you may get trapped and very wet at best. Not a good idea to push your luck during a rising high high tide.
'Lowtide Cross 2b' was actually the hardest spot for us 1h after high tide, you had to time a quick cross on slippery boulders between two waves. I made it without getting wet, but Jennifer got stuck on a rock and splashed by a wave before she was able to get out. Unfortunately, she had to switch to tevas to get her socks and boots dry after that, which was very inconvenient for the upcoming boulder sections.
I was able to watch and time the waves, but Jennifer wasn't confident about doing that and unfortunately got splashed there when trying to cross after me
one of the many campsites made out of driftwood (all marked in my GPS trail)
we couldn't quite figure out what this was: a fish? baby dolphin? other?
rocks, rocks, and more rocks, Jennifer is hating it with tevas
Stopping for the night at Big Creek
Because we had been slowed down due to the soft sand, boulders, and then Jennifer's problems with her wet socks/boots, and then having to hike in tevas on boulders, while we were hoping to get to Big Flat Creek (just before the second potentially impassable at high tide section), we stopped 3 miles earlier at Big Creek. It was actually quite a nice sheltered spot, which which we got a inkling of a sunset (the weather was overcast/foggy 90% of the time we were there).
Seagulls liked to hang out by estuaries, probably because they find small fresh water fish?
Day 1 totals were 13.4 miles, moving average of 2.6mph and full day average of 1.2mph only.
Day 2: more beach, more rocks, more fog/overcast, and low tide section 3
After 3 reasonably easy miles to reach Big Flat creek, we headed on towards the low tide only section, against a rising tide that was just 3h from being full. I need to repeat here that this is not a grand idea per se. It turns out that going south is actually not as bad as the worst section is right at the beginning (pictures below), but be wary during a high high tide and know that some extended sections have no escape routes until you reach the next creek crossing (and you can't hike up the steep walls looking for temporary shelter).
Luckily for us the worst part was the first hour, and as the tide rose, we were on the somewhat easier sections that were doable on our low high tide. Anything south of 'LowTide Cross3a' isn't too bad in my opinion, even during a high tide (of course, if you get swept up by the waves because of this, and you are impolite enough to only get seriously injured but not killed, you can't come back and sue me on this :) ).
I actually didn't mind them too much since I enjoy the challenge, but they did slow me down, and Jennifer too since her heels and boots were bothering her
Hello little guy :) (he was checking us out)
Black Sand Beach and back to shelter cove
And soon after leaving the low tide zone, we ended up on Black Sand Beach for the last few miles to the Shelter Cove parking lot, where we were driven by two kind souls back to the runway.
Day 2 totals were: 11.2miles, a moving average of 2.5mph and a day average with all breaks of 1.5mph.
and we celebrated by having juicy buggers at the Counter in Palo Alto after a quick flight home :)
You can find all the
pictures from the Northern Portion of the Lost Coast Trail