A few years ago, in mid-August, four friends and I set off down the beach from the mouth of the Mattole River. This short hike into the Northern California coastal wilderness offers plenty of stunning scenery, wildlife watching, and no crowds. Renown for its deep sand, disappearing trails, steep climbs, and isolation, the Lost Coast would not seem a likely choice for a lazy weekend. If you pack light, though, and bring some good hearty food, and don't hike too far, the Lost Coast makes a great trip, even for first time backpackers.
Staying on the hard-packed trail is hit or miss most of the way. Where the beach is narrow, the trail disappears and the black sand is the only option. This is bad for walking, but good for sleeping. Because it’s black, the sand absorbs heat all day, and keeps you warm all night.
Three miles down the shore, we made our way around the narrow base of the cliff at Punta Gorda just as the tide began to roll in. The abandoned lighthouse was soon in sight, along with a couple of driftwood beach shelters. Our tents snuggled perfectly inside the larger shelter, with plenty of room left for cooking and stretching out. We had our camp made, boots off, homemade corn chowder on the stove, and were napping on the warm sand in no time.
The wind calmed down after sunset, and the Milky Way arced across the clear black sky. After some mandatory marshmallow toasting and s'mores scarfing, we settled into our bags for the night. A couple of hours later, we were startled wide awake.
"Git!" There was a crash, followed by some bad words and a flashlight beam flailing around the shelter like a deranged lighthouse. "Get out!" And another crash.
I stuck my head out of the tent just in time to see the behinds of two raccoons disappearing through the driftwood walls of the shelter. Debra’s rock throwing had worked.
"Stupid raccoons.” Debra was holding a flashlight in one hand, pulling her fleece coat over her rear end with the other.
“Now I can't find my damned pants. Stupid raccoons."
After some more choice words and stumbling around in the dark, snickers from the tents had erupted into laughter. “You left them in here." Deb disappeared back into her tent, where her husband Rick had found her pants.
“Good night Deb.”
The next morning was misty, but not cold or windy. The mist evaporated by mid-morning, so we took the short walk back to the lighthouse with binoculars, coffee, and biscotti. The spiral staircase leads up into a tiny lightroom, where it’s easy to spot sea otters bobbing in the kelp, and sea lions and harbor seals playing in the waves. Overhead, red-tailed hawks hunt above the cliffs.
The rest of our day was spent watching birds, tide-pool hopping, reading, and telling stories around the campfire. There were no rocks thrown that night, or any other disturbances. We returned home with fond memories, and time spent with good friends. The deep sand and stupid raccoons were left far behind in the mist.