Lost Coast Trail Backpacking Day 1

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When I decided to venture out to the  southern section of the Lost Coast Trail, I knew the drive would be long. But because I left home quite late, it was dark when I reached Legget and the intersection where 101 and 1 meet after 9 hours of driving. My plan was to start from Usal Beach, hike all the way up to the north end of the southern section, which is Nadelos Campground, and then turn around and hike back to Usal. Out and back. Simple plan.

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Some might ask why I didn’t shuttle, and I had two reasons.

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One, the shuttle costs too much. We didn’t look into it closely, but it was supposed to be $75 and up, based on one of the blogs that we came across in research. It could’ve saved us time, like the blogger stated, but time to do what? Of course, if someone has only 2 or 3 days to complete the trail one way, like the blogger and his buddies did, then, it may be an option. However, that wasn’t the case for me. I had a whole week to work with and also had a couple of hikes to consider afterwards, such as a day hike in Yosemite, if I wanted to. Nothing was carved in stone, and yes, I could’ve shuttled in and finished it in two days, but my heart wasn’t in the idea. Besides, I didn’t arrange any shuttle service leading up to my departure nor have time to look into how it works, so I never had an intention to consider it.

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Two, I really wanted to immerse myself in the wilderness by completing the whole thing in my terms. I also wanted it to be a solo trip (although it didn’t start out that way), and I had a chance to do it. So, I did it, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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When I reached the supposedly entrances to Usal Beach at two different areas, they were not open. Or I simply could not find the right entrance to Usal Beach as it got real dark. (Later once I got back home, I verified this with a King Range park ranger whom I corresponded by email that it was not easy to find it at night.) So, after driving up and down on 1 for close to 2 hours in vain, I decided to drive further up to Nadelos Campground instead and to start my backpacking trip from there. After another hour of driving northbound on 101 and then via windy roads, I got in, found the campground, parked the car and called it a night. (No, I didn’t set up my tent. I slept in my car.)

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Next morning, I got up, enjoyed my breakfast and got my gear ready for the first day of the journey.

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Originally, a group of six of us planned to go to Yosemite. But the meadow fire broke out and it turned everything upside down – anticipation, preparation, discussions and expectations. And most of all, under a bit of anxiety, we had to come up with a plan b fast, and eventually, we settled on the idea of backpacking the southern section of the Lost Coast Trail. It was brought up once before, so it was a somewhat familiar destination that we talked about. However, because of how a few of us wanted to combine this opportunity with something else, we ended up splitting into smaller groups to go separately. Yura and Leanna, who were going to come with me in my car, couldn’t join me at the last minute, so it naturally became a solo road trip. Or a solo road trip at first. And except for when I was joined by Ana-Lisa and her friend Scott for a couple of hours in the earlier part of the first day, it became my solo backpacking trip.

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I’d like to point out that Nadelos Campground is managed by the BLM.

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And those trail camps (Wheeler, Little Jackass, Anderson, etc.) with toilet facilities along the trail inside Sinkyone State Park are managed by the state park although I highly doubt that they are really taken care of due to lack of staffing.

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Once Ana-Lisa and Scott reached Needle Rock, where the Visitor Center is located, they paid the fees via Self Registration and turned around to make their way back to Jones Beach Campground to spend the night. And from then on, my solo trip began.

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The southern section of the Lost Coast Trail is 28 plus miles long. In terms of distance itself, I almost thought to myself a few times that I could finish it in 3 days if I did it about 18-20 miles each day (and then join either Ana-Lisa and/or Yura for their Half Dome day hike in Yosemite), but by the time when I reached Wheeler Campground where I spent the first night, I realized that I had a lot of ground to cover next day in order to complete it in 3 days.

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However, I went off trail too many times to take photos, and at the end of this trip it became a 4-day journey, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It feels like I know the trail pretty well.

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The atmosphere was completely different from the high Sierra or our typical Southern California weather in and around San Gorgonio/San Bernardino, San Jacinto or even San Antonio (aka Mt. Baldy) mountains, where I backpacked, hiked and peak bagged on almost weekly basis. It was rather humid, and the forest is very lush, green and dense.

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It was not cold and the temperature didn’t drop much at night, either. It totally reminded me of the Great Smoky mountains, where I hiked several times when I stayed in North Carolina for a few months several years ago.

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The views of the Pacific Ocean were just amazing from any part of the trail once the bottom of the Chamise Mountain was reached.

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The creeks are flowing with an abundant amount of water, and elk and deer are everywhere.

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I had a very close encounter with a male elk because his herd was close to the trail (although they were actually on the other side of a creek) and I happened to hike by them. The male elk was on my side of the creek, and he was agitated by my presence. That was when it became a too close of call.

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Thankfully, a group of college graduates showed up (almost out of blue) on the other side of the trail, which took the male elk’s attention away from me, and I was left alone. He decided to cross the creek and joined his herd instead. However, I could tell he was constantly watching me till I completely went out of sight.

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No bears were seen, and it made sense as to why bear canisters are not required in the Sinkyone State Park, which is where the majority of the southern section of the Lost Coast Trail lies.

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A lot of ospreys, pelicans and gulls in the sky.

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Also, I caught a glimpse of wild turkeys.

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One of the reasons why I made so many stops and took so many photos is that it truly is an amazing place to be. These photos don’t do justice. My words can’t describe enough. One must go see himself/herself how overwhelming the experience is.

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The days were still long enough that I was able to hike till almost six, and I didn’t have any problem pitching my tent when the night was settling in at Wheeler Campground.

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It was the same campground where I spent another night (3rd night) on my way back from Usal Beach, which is the south end of the trail. It was close to the water stream. Very wide open and flat. And yet it was far enough from the beach in case ‘Tsunami’ hits.

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Of course, at every sea level area is a Tsunami Hazard Zone anyway, it doesn’t really matter. If a Tsunami really hits, not only the beach campground but also Wheeler Campground would be wiped out anyway. Part of me just didn’t want to set up my camp right by the ocean like the college graduates did. Besides, from the beach campground where they camped, they had to walk close to about 1,000 yards to get to the stream near Wheeler. So, it was fine by me. And I kept the entire campground to myself for the night.

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I might’ve considered staying at Bear Harbor Campground, which was the campground before Wheeler, but I really wanted to gain some ground on the first day, so I went on. But, I thought and still do think that Bear Harbor is the prettiest campground along the trail.

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Especially, it has a little cove where it gets medium high waves, and I saw two kayakers surfing there. I could’ve even swum there for a bit if I decided to settle there when I walked by.

At the end of the day, my Gaia app told me that I hiked 18 miles, including all the off-trail walks. Oh well, little did I know about how fun climbing up and down the next 4 hills was going to be before reaching Usal Beach next day.

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About H Peter Ji Photography

I am a photographer. My photos have been sold on EyeEm, Adobe Stock and ShutterStock and also featured on ViewBug and G+ Landscape Photography Community, and via Death Valley National Park Instagram and Facebook. My work is the natural byproduct of my love for outdoors - backpacking, hiking and camping in nature.

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