There is a portion of the northern Californian coast so rugged that the famous California Highway One admits defeat, and goes around it. This isolated area, known as the Lost Coast, offers a spectacular 24.6 mile backpacking adventure through the King Range National Conservation Area. The sandy, rocky route clings to the tiny space between the Pacific Ocean and the steeply uplifted North American Plate. Several sections of the Lost Coast Trail (LCT) are so crammed against the cliff that they disappear twice a day, victims of the rising tides. Getting through these 4 mile stretches requires tide tables, but do not read them with your back to the sea, lest a sleeper wave takes you off to permanent slumber.
The Lost Coast Trail can be navigated northwest or southeast. Most hikers, however, choose southeast, hoping to have the prevailing winds at their back. Unless you are willing to do an out and back, the greatest logistical challenge seems to be getting back to your car. The drive between the two main trailheads (Mattole and Black Sands Beach) takes approximately 2 hours. You can drop your car at one end, hike to the other, and hope to hitch-hike back to your car. The remoteness of the roads makes this option a bit dicey. With two cars, you can drop one at each end. However, after the hike, going back to get your other car could cost you close to 3.5 hours. I have also heard some clever people break into two groups, hike in the opposite direction, and exchange car keys midway through.
The most popular option, though costly, is to hire a transport shuttle. You can drop your car at Shelter Cove, take a park approved pre-paid shuttle to Mattole Trailhead, and walk the Lost Coast Trail back to your car. This is the option we have selected.
Rules have changed, and you can no longer get a walk-up permit. We got our backcountry permit through recreation.gov, for $10. Although you do NOT have to camp in designated sites, most backpackers congregate near the many freshwater streams seeping from the Kings Range. For the permit, you do need to identify which camping zone you expect to be in each night, though I am not sure how strictly this is enforced. During permitting, you may be surprised by a couple of rules. Each person must carry a bear canister. Since this costal area is so remote, black bears frequent the shoreline, scavenging. The most surprising rule, however, is that you must bury your human waste in the intertidal zone (wet sand area). Most of us are used to burying human waste 200 yards from water, but here, you practically have to be waist deep when depositing your waste. We certainly hope the remoteness means few people will have to bare witness.
Tomorrow morning three of us will drive from the Bay Area, in hopes of catching our 1:30 pm shuttle from Black Sands Beach to Mattole Trailhead.