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Unfinished Business: The Lost Coast Trail, California

The Lost Coast Trail is a 60-mile stretch of desolate parkland that borders the northern coast of California. The trek is typically broken into two sections: The northern 30 miles, which is traditionally done as a multi-day backpacking trip because it must be timed with the coastal tides, and the southern 30 miles, which is known for its high hills, towering trees, and slippery slopes.

A few years ago, Max and I tackled the northern half as my first backpacking trip. Since that trek, I've dreamed of going back to complete the trail in its entity. I loved the feeling of lugging my bag across the empty black sands beach with no one in site except Max, feeling so wiped by the time camp was set that a 7pm bedtime sounded dreamy, and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean breaking against the cliffs while the sun set in front of us. We were the only people who existed in those moments.

If it sounds too idyllic, it is. The northern section has become so crowded that it's now permit-only. The southern section is still open to the public sans permit, and has become much more popular as a result. Over Memorial Day weekend, it was expected to be popping.

Aside from the crowds, I quickly became aware of how different the two sections are. While the northern half of the Lost Coast Trail made me fall in love with backpacking, the steep and immediate climbs in the southern section had me seriously doubting my abilities.

Overlooking Shady Dell, Lost Coast Trail, California

We departed Friday after work, and while we got a late start on the trail, we still beat a lot of the weekenders -- it felt like we were the first people on the path. Thanks to a monsoon-like winter in California, the outdoors are wonderfully lush right now. The trail was overgrown; unfortunately with poison oak, thistles, and stinging nettles at every step. It was impossible to get into a comfortable groove.

At points, we couldn't even tell which way to go, and on more than one occasion, we realized were were following a game trail instead of the footpath.

Clearing Thule elk from the "trail," Lost Coast Trail, California

Our plan was to start hiking from the south, cover 12 miles the first day, head as far north as possible the second day, and then start working our way back to the car by Memorial Day. But the overgrown trail turned into a complete bushwhacking thrashfest that put us far behind schedule immediately. The steep uphill and challenging downhill climbs made us both regret the weight in our packs.

Redwood grove, Lost Coast Trail, California

After covering a mere 5 miles the first day, we set up camp, didn't move it because we'd lose it to the crowds, and reassessed our plan.

Our weekend turned into a day hike to Little Jackass beach for some beach bouldering, Spades around a campfire at Anderson Creek, and reading in our hammocks to the sounds of crickets chirping. It ended up being a wonderfully relaxing vacation.

Little Jackass beach, Lost Coast Trail, California

Beach bouldering at Little Jackass, Lost Coast Trail, California

We may have ended up covering only 7.5 miles of the southern section, but we got a bunch of recon on the trail and a weekend with one another. We learned valuable lessons about when in the season to attempt the trail, when to start during the day, and how much to carry.

Lost Coast Trail: We'll be back... perhaps as our first fastpacking trip.

Lost Coast Trail, California

Towering foxgloves, Lost Coast Trail, California


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