Welcome back to Member Monday! We continue our theme on “Summer” with a piece from Writers Forum board member, Jen Higley. Jen recently backpacked the lost coast in the good company of her mother and their dogs. Today she writes of the wonders they beheld. Welcome, Jen!
The Wonders of the Lost Coast
by Jen Higley
Summer in northern California marks the beginning of travel season for many, and few places are more refreshing than the coast. Cool breezes, frequent moisture and lush green growth are just a few of the things that make the coast the opposite of the rest of California in summertime. But for those craving adventure this summer, you needn’t look further than the Lost Coast in the King Range Wilderness.
The Lost Coast is a beach-loving camper’s paradise, with campsites for those in motor vehicles, on horse-back, or those adventure lovers who strap all their supplies on their backs and set out for those patches of coastline accessible only on foot. Hike along the beach, watch seals play in the surf, set up your tent with a view of the ocean and listen to its tales all through the night.
Idyllic as it is, the importance of having a travel plan must not be understated. There are a few things to keep in mind when on the trail to coastal camping bliss.
The Lost Coast Trail moves to and away from the beach at appropriate intervals, for the safety of hikers. Enjoy the soothing sound of the powerful Pacific when hiking on the beach as you push through deep, silky soft sand with only everything you need to survive four days in the wilderness to weigh you down. You’ll have plenty of time to absorb that marvelous maritime air when traversing miles of sand moving a foot and a half per step. Plenty of time.
Moving inland, you get the beautiful ocean view from a shore bird’s perspective, as parts of the trail climb quite high with no obstacles such as railings, stout shrubs or anything else you could hold on to blocking your view. And while you’re up there, with those magnificent shore breezes, take care to lean in to the hillside being traversed, as only the ocean and its accompanying sharp rocks and rip-tide would be there to stop a stumble.
There is no shortage of wildlife on the Lost Coast. You will be living for a time in that mystical habitat where ocean life meets terrestrial, the sea lions and otters sharing the beach with bobcats, coyotes and bear alike. While one must take care to watch out for potentially harmful wildlife when camping miles from the nearest town and well out of wireless range, most campers are spared unpleasant animal encounters by taking simple precautions, such as storing their food in bear-safe canisters and not stepping on the rattlesnakes. The bother of insects is reduced by the exfoliating winds, but you’d be prudent to check your gear and body for ticks at the end of each day. If you take along a faithful canine companion, check him also, as full-body fur can harbor a few dozen more ticks than you’d think.
Plant life along the Lost Coast is a sight to behold for botanists and common flora enthusiasts alike. In early summer, you’ll pass wildflowers, century plants, and herbs such as mint, all equally obscured by the vast swatches of poison oak. Trailhead signs encourage hikers to learn to recognize and avoid poison oak, but if you fail to dodge the fresh, oily growth that narrows the path to four inches wide in places, just rinse any exposed and most certainly contaminated skin at one of the many creeks and streams along the trail—and pray.
Weather on the Lost Coast can be breathtakingly perfect. However, in a climate known to accumulate 200 or more inches of rain in a year, it is not uncommon for a hiker to experience some moisture. Take care to pack your sleeping gear in water safe bags, as this will help you avoid a night of obligatory insomnia to stave off hypothermia. Another reason to protect your gear from moisture is the grand ocean itself. Some sections of this twenty-five mile trail are impassible at high tides, so one must carry a map and plan the day’s hiking accordingly. At times, a hiker will neglect to consult a tide chart and be quite surprised when a pristine wave suddenly bashes her against the rocks, which is particularly distressing when there is no possible way to leave the beach for a mile or two in either direction. Should you find yourself in such a predicament, you can hike to the safety of the nearest creek drainage, or perch on any high rocks in the area while waiting for the tide to recede, as it always does eventually.
As I’m sure I have conveyed, backpacking on the Lost Coast is a unique and amazing experience for the novice and seasoned backpacker alike, and can be enchanting fun for the whole family. Knowing your route and packing conscientiously are the keys to a safe and grand adventure in this wilderness like no other. On a personal note, I have never returned from the Lost Coast without longing to return. It’s true.
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