Lost Coast

Lost Coast Round Two (film)

On round two of the Lost Coast I decided to take along the Canon AE-1.  I thought about bringing the 7D but it's so bulky and there's such heightened risk of damage that I decided to go with the more durable film camera.  In the end it turned out great.  I got to practice shooting film all week and never had to worry about the camera getting a little banged around.  As nice as digital is, this time old school durability was the better choice.

Starting out at the Mattole River trailhead.  Not sure what Bentley is doing here, perhaps he was still adjusting to the weight of his pack.  More likely he was just messing around.

Beach at the mouth of the Mattole River.  Sunset, looking north.

Driftwood at Mattole Beach.  We camped here on our first night at the BLM campground and endured mighty offshore winds that nearly blew the tent down.  But the wind meant no fog which in turn meant incredible visibility all the way up and down the coast, visibility that lasted all week long.

Trail marker with Punta Gorda in the distance.

Hiking south the wind was at our backs the whole way, often at gusts of up to 35-40mph. On the beaches the bursts blew sand so hard that it stung the backs of our bare legs and hurt enough to make us stop walking to wait out the gust for the sharp sudden pain.  It was less viscous on the packed earth trails though some of the more severe gusts did feel like they might knock us over.

The morning of the third day was once again windy and clear.  I woke early and couldn't go back to sleep as the wind was blowing the wall of the tent in my face, so I hiked down to the beach to watch the sunrise.

View at sunrise up Big Creek Canyon toward our camp.  The canyon was wide at the mouth but mostly rocky creek bed, so we hiked up and set down for the night back in the pines.  In the evening we saw a bear across the creek up on a side hill foraging for berries.  He disappeared into the brush and luckily didn't visit us later in the night coming after our food.

Sunrise on the pines.

That morning the light was so good that I couldn't stop taking pictures.  I finished off a roll of film and had to quickly pop in another roll before I lost the good light.  While I was changing rolls the wind kicked up so much that I noticed right offshore great columns of wind bearing down on the ocean, kicking up twenty foot tall sheets of sea spray that moved outward in large expanding circles across the surface of the water, before they finally dissipated or blew inland and up the cliffs.  I tried, but couldn't quite capture it on film.

Trail moving up off the beach onto hard pack.

We didn't see as much sea life as last time as the only negative tide all week occurred at 4am on our final night so we missed out on good tide pools, though we did see two dead rays washed up on the beach.  This one was fully intact but the other had its wings chewed off, probably by gulls or pelicans.

Look close and you can see a seal balancing itself on the rock taking in some sun. With just my film camera and one lens I couldn't zoom in as far as I wanted but this guy deserved a photo regardless of how far away he was.

On the final night the northerly winds subsided and a warm inland breeze began to blow down the canyon into our camp.  We stayed out on the beach watching the tide come up until after 10pm.  It was so warm we didn't even have to make a fire.  Finally, when the stars came out, we retreated into our tents for the night and in the morning hiked the final five miles into Shelter Cove.

The Lost Coast

It's been two years since I took these photos along California's Lost Coast, but this June I'm going back.  I haven't decided whether or not to take a camera on this next trip.  It's such a weight burden to add to an already heavy backpack and I'd run the risk of breaking something along the way.  Last time I lost a lens cap and had to fashion a new cover out of a sock and rubber band.  It worried me the whole hike.  Maybe I'll take a little film camera just for fun, something durable and more lightweight than my 7D.

The entire twenty four mile trail from the Mattole River trailhead to the small town of Shelter Cove runs right along the beach, which varies from wide sandy stretches backed by open meadows, to rocky shorelines in the shadow of 700 foot cliffs.  We took our time and did the hike in four days.  That allowed us ample opportunity to take hikes inland and explore the backcountry our away from the beach.  We felt like conquistadores setting out into a new world.  I can't wait to do it again in a month.

A few miles down the coast from the Mattole River we encountered the Punta Gorda Lighthouse.  Long abandoned, this lighthouse was (and still is) one of the most remote along the Pacific Coast.  When it was in operation in the early 20th century no proper road connected the lighthouse to the cities and highways of inland California.  Building materials for the lighthouse and its appendages (several outbuildings and two Victorian style homes for the light keeper's family) had to be highlined to the shore on cables that ran from the beach out to a large schooner anchored offshore.  Its remote location made it one of the least desirable assignments for a light keeper and many referred to it as the "Alcatraz of Lighthouses".  Today only the shell of the lighthouse still stands as the other buildings were razed after the lighthouse was decommissioned.

During the summer months it's almost always foggy along the trail, though with little wind it doesn't get too cold.  Occasionally the sun would burn through in the afternoon but only for a few hours.  I didn't mind the fog.  It gave life to the landscape, made it mysterious and ever-changing.  I felt like I could take a hundred photographs at the same spot, and as the fog obscured and revealed little bits of landscape before me, no two photos would be alike.

Almost all the land along the trail is part of the King Range National Conservation Area, which means it's all government owned.  But there are a few patches of private land, most of which have been owned by the same families for generations--long before the government designated it as their own.  Most of these plots have simple cabins on them that the owners use as summer homes or weekend getaways.  In the whole twenty-four mile stretch of the trail there are maybe three or four cabins, all of which are reachable only by primitive jeep trail, boat, helicopter or small plane.

The tide pools are plentiful along the trail.  Starfish, Sea Urchins, Mussels, Starburst Anemone, Sea Snails--they cover the exposed rocks in great clusters at low tide.  The entire coastline is teeming with life.  We saw Sea Lions and seals basking on the rocks offshore and one morning came across bear tracks in the sand just outside our campsite.  Luckily he didn't actually come into camp, though we had all our food closed up in bear proof containers, which are required for all hikers.

The whole area is unbelievably pristine.  When engineers set out to build California's coastal Highway 1, they had no choice but to cut inland at the Lost Coast.  The terrain was too erratic, the cliffs too steep, the canyons too dramatic to reasonably provide a path for a highway.  So they left it alone, and thanks to that the Lost Coast escaped the population boom, the tourism, and the general overcrowding that has been eating away at California's wild lands for the last 150 years.