Lost Coast – Day 1

Mattole to Sea Lion Gulch

We wake early and get on the road by 6:00 am. According to Google, our trip from the East Bay to Black Sands Beach will take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. We target the Brick House coffee shop in Willits as our first stop, but almost miss it. A new freeway bypass opened last November, so the highway no longer goes through town. We double back for our coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

Our next stop is the King Range ranger station, where we inquire about water and tides. Early in the hike, near Punta Gorda, we will experience our first impassable, a no-go area during high tide. Hearing we will not be on the trail until about 3:30 pm, the ranger checks his tide table and recommends we NOT attempt it tonight. We are confused. His table shows high tide being much earlier than the 5:53 pm ours shows. I had printed ours the day before, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website. I assume they know something about lunar cycles.

Black Sands Beach

We head down to Black Sands Beach in plenty of time for our 1:30 shuttle. We meet a couple from Georgia who have just completed the hike. They are taking the shuttle back to their car.  The woman reports no problem with ticks, but minor problems with poison oak, and proceeds to show me the rash. She advises that wherever there is adequate space along the shore, there is probably a trail to avoid the exhausting sand. I imagine wherever there is a trail, there is probably that irritating poison oak, but perhaps I am just being rash.

The driver arrives early, and since everyone expected is accounted for, we get on the road by 1:15 pm. Along the way we hear history and gossip of the Lost Coast area. It includes repeated commentary about the poor condition of the roads and how Eureka takes all the tax dollars. We learn which pot farmers are successful and which ones have gone bust. We also learn that the guys selling top soil to pot farmers are actually making way more money than anyone, including the loggers. I silently wonder if fertilizer is a viable business opportunity, of if perhaps our driver already has that ground covered.

We are on the trail by 3:15 pm and start plodding through the sand. We stop to watch vultures enjoying not-exactly-fresh pulled-seal, and to rest our alive but painfully burning muscles​. The difference in strain on our bodies, of walking in loose versus well packed sand, is amazing.

Punta Gorda Lighthouse

We cruise through what seems like a tight squeeze, but really is not. We are surprised to round a corner and see the Punta Gorda lighthouse. We have apparently passed the ranger’s impassable point, without really noticing. A couple with their dog, returning from the lighthouse, warn us of swarms of ticks on the trail, and recommend we stay on the beach. They did not, however, warn us of the massive bachelor herd of Elephant Seals snorting and flipping sand on themselves. We choose Lyme disease over being mauled by rejected and frustrated bulls. We make a wide berth, and end up on a trail that climbs and hugs the cliffs.

Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals

We eventually make our way to Sea Lion Gulch, which is fairly packed with other backpackers heading in our same direction. They must have gotten an early jump on the trail, as we have not seen them during our hike.

We find an adequate, if not completely tilted, rocky perch, and pitch our tents. We make rice and three different Indian curries. We fall asleep to the sounds of breaking waves and barking sea mammals.

Tomorrow we face a full day of beach walking.

View from Sea Lion Gulch

View from Sea Lion Gulch