Hiking the Lost Coast Trail….A Truly WILD Coast

IMG_3714WILDCOAST- the name itself implies that we work in some of the most beautiful and remote places in the world. This last week, however, I had a life-changing experience that brings a whole new meaning to wild coast. Do you like a story with bears, close calls with mother nature, and downright adventure? If you answered yes, then read on…

My job at WILDCOAST is to coordinate MPA Watch, a statewide network of organizations that trains volunteers to collect data on how humans are using coastal and marine resources. In other words, I get to take long walks on the beach for science. Sometimes, very long walks.

I recently received an offer from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Humboldt County to establish data collection sites along the 25 mile stretch of beach known as the Lost Coast. Excited to explore one of the most remote places in California, I grabbed our Conservation Coordinator Cory Pukini, Mexico Director Eduardo Nájera, and Wildlands Coordinator Francisco Martínez Vázquez and we set off for the adventure of a lifetime. The weather forecast looked wet but we thought nothing that our team couldn’t handle…working in the remote parts of California and the Baja California Peninsula like we do.

Two flights and seven hours later our team of intrepid explorers landed at the Arcata airport and met with the charismatic and knowledgeable Justin Robbins, an outdoor recreation planner for BLM. We geared up, filled ourselves with warm pho, and got a good night sleep at the Mattole campground where we would start our journey at sunrise the next morning.

At the first hint of dawn we set out equipped with everything we would need to survive three days in the wilderness including new gear generously donated to our team by Eagle Creek and Patagonia, bear canisters to save our trail mix from impending doom, and many supposedly waterproof products that proved not to be so after several inches of rain.

That first day we hiked along eight miles of coastal terraces and black sand beaches. We passed the abandoned Punta Gorda lighthouse known as the “Alcatraz” of lighthouses for how remote it was and encountered a colony of elephant seals which Cory deemed “adorable.” We finally sheltered up river just in time for mother nature to drop about four times the amount of rain as was originally forecasted.

Much of this coast is protected by the Sea Lion Gulch State Marine Reserve, one of California’s 124  marine protected areas, or MPAs. Named for the two large rocks covered with belching sea lions at its northern boundary, Sea Lion Gulch is one of the most remote and difficult MPAs to access MPAs in California. It is, however, one of the most rewarding for those adventurous enough to make the hike.

The next morning, fearing the watery worst, I cracked my eyes open to see the most gorgeous sunrise and blue skies I have ever experienced, a welcome surprise after all the rain the day and night before. Upon exiting the tent I was met with yet another surprise…a goose snuggled up against Cory through the thin fabric of his tent! He told me later he had thought it was his backpack and had been wondering why when he pushed it away in the middle of the night it kept coming back. “WILDCOAST…conserving wildlife one wet goose at a time!”

That day’s hike was probably one of the most unforgettable of my life – eight miles along coastal terrace overlooking the Big Flat State Marine Conservation Area (another MPA), rolling trail through pine forest, babbling brooks, and a herd of deer. We even ran into some surfers who claimed the waves were so good here that they hiked 12 miles with their surfboards to reach it. We stayed the night in a little driftwood shelter other hikers had left behind near the beach.

On day three we woke up before dawn to try to beat the high tide through a four mile stretch of narrow beach and sheer cliffs. An unexpected storm moved in drenching us yet again, and adding to an already high surf that made hiking the beach an adventure to say the least. We literally hopped, skipped, and jumped our way through eight and a half miles of beach, a warm shower and delicious pizza beckoning us at the end of the trail. Cory and Eduardo saw a fairly nonchalant black bear meandering along the beach (which is normal behavior in response to humans as long as you do not try to feed them). I napped in the rain and contemplated the almost complete lack of trash on the beach or the trail (recycling, using reusable bags, bottles, and containers, and disposing of your trash properly is one of the best things you can do to protect the beach!). Francisco donned a trash bag like a poncho in an effort to take some amazing pictures. Then, finally, after three days we made it.

Hiking the Lost Coast was an amazing experience that really brought home the reason why we at WILDCOAST do what we do, but more than that after rock hopping and timing waves for 25 miles I gained a whole new respect for the majesty and power of the coast. It truly is a wild place that deserves both our admiration and protection.

The WILDCOAST team was able to set up four MPA Watch transects in two MPAs (our first MPA Watch sites in the North Coast!), offer advice on interpretation and enforcement, and make some great new partners and friends. While not for the faint of heart (or slight of ankle strength), the Lost Coast offers an amazing experience for anyone with an adventurous spirit and love of the ocean.

By Angela Kemsley, MPA Watch Program Coordinator

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