Hiking The Lost Coast in California
In 2013, a good friend of ours invited us on a backpacking trip to the Lost Coast, the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast. The stretch is 24.6 miles, a hefty undertaking for a the 48 hours we allotted ourselves to hike it. To date it’s probably the hardest trek I’ve done, with a good many hiccups along the way. I highly recommend hiking this trail, but learn from our mistakes, and prep accordingly.
We started on the road early in the morning from San Francisco, coordinating several cars to tailgate up to the starting point. When everyone arrived late, I hurried to get us on the road. Three hours later, I realized I had forgotten my hiking boots on the curb of our apartment. Mistake #1. There was no way of going back, so I had to buy new hiking boots to break in on our 24.6 mile trek. Sadness.
Andy had convinced 14 people to join the adventure. We all met in a parking lot at the end of the trail where’d we would have drivers meet us to take us to the beginning, 3 hours away. On the way up, we chatted with our driver about the conditions, and come to find out, knowing the tide table was incredibly important. This was something our fearless leader was unaware of. Mistake #2, make sure you know your leader knows his shit. In a situation such as this one, it could mean life or death. When you’re hiking down a coastline where the tides can creep up the cliff’s edge and surely sweep you out to sea in frozen waters, it’s kind of important.
We arrived at the start of the hike later than we had hoped, and began hiking down the beautiful coastline along the sand. Silent and surrounded by nature at sunset. It started out on flat sand, then eventually we were climbing through and over large rocks and boulders. This was really tough with a large backpack. You aren’t as nimble to shift your weight to traverse the rocks by hopping around. Instead, you have to take each step carefully so you don’t fall from weight of the backpack movement.
Next up were more standard hiking paths up on the cliff’s edge where we would try to find a good place to camp. Since we were running behind on time we hiked until there was little daylight left. And then, Mistake #3, not pre planning where would be a good place to camp. We were tired, and finally made our way onto a grassy bluff. This grass was 2 feet high and wet, and we had to set up tents in the dark. The Lost Coast gets more rainy days than not. Lucky for us it was dry enough. No drops falling from the sky, just condensation from the ocean below.
We woke up, packed up, and were ready to move on. A few miles into day 2 our fearless leader Andy would have to turn around. Mistake #4 (you can see these are piling up now). Andy had brought his adorable and adventurous Boxer Tebow, who frequently went on hikes with him. Since the terrain involved stepping over many jagged rocks, Tebows paws were cut up and bleeding. With a bit of research, you would know that dogs who come on this trail wear booties to protect their paws. Now we were down a leader, and ended up splitting into 3 groups. Our group was inexperienced with backpacking and reading tide tables, so for the rest of the trip I would be on edge trying to keep us all safe.
We went on hiking, and while it was tough with the large backpacks, the views were spectacular! Sweeping vistas of the ocean, wild flowers and uninhabited mountains. Beauty and silence.
We hiked around 9 miles then found a place to camp. We were tired. 9 miles carrying packs ranging from 20-40lbs. Mistake #5. Since none of us were experienced backpackers we definitely overpacked. Our party of five comprised of three women who kept unloading more weight onto our two men. At a few points in the trip, our friend Steve lost his balance with all the weight and resembled an upside down turtle.
It was exciting to take our boots off for the day and make ourselves dinner by the campfire. It was around 5pm when we finished, so we had plenty of time to relax and unwind. The biggest delight was that Steve had packed Bailey's and Marissa Hot Cocoa so we made ourselves a warm cocktail. If I packed all over again, it would be worth taking the booze, but ditching some of the food and extra gear.
We had run into the rest of the group the night before and all camped together. So day three we were more or less on the same cadence for most of the day. It was our last day, but we still had about 8-9 miles to go. We were exhausted, the packs seemed to get heavier everyday. We had blisters. We kept moving, knowing that the end now was closer than the start. Just as I was feeling like I could collapse, Liz spotted some movement out in the ocean. Whales! We all stood on the bluff watching the creatures from afar. It was a nice break, and just the adrenaline rush we needed to continue on the journey. We passed rocky paths, creeks, and yellow meadows. Staying strong willed and maintaining a good pace to make it back before night fell on the lonely coastline.
The home stretch was a black sand beach. By this point I could taste the sense of accomplishment, and was hoping to also taste a delicious In-n-out burger animal style with fries. Nothing tastes as amazing after 24.6 miles of protein bars and top ramen. We need to step up our backpacking gourmet food game!
When we finally made it back to the parking lot I was in a daze. Had we really just done that? It was amazing, but difficult. Awe inspiring, but defeating at times. Freeing, but at some points I felt trapped. It was an experience that will stay with me forever, and I'm proud and happy that we did it!
Know the tide tables well in advance, if you don't you can end up in a life or death situation
Map out your camp locations, important to camp high above the water
Bring booties for your dog, there are a lot of jagged rocks to climb over and their paws will get cut
Make sure you are an experienced backpacker or that your leader is
Be prepared for wet or rainy weather, we were lucky and didn't have much but it's very common to rain on this coastline