One year ago, Sheetal, Pritha, Alap and I successfully completed the Havasu Falls hike in the Grand Canyon. One could hardly claim it was roughing-it-out hike. Especially with parties all around our campsite. The toughest part was the climb back that had a severe elevation gain on a never-ending series of switchbacks with the sun laughing at our backs. And yet as with all successful journeys, the pain in my thighs and the memory of the impossibility of walking on that path has faded. All I remember is the sweet end. And so with that satisfying memory, the four of us embarked on the Lost Coast trail.

The Lost Coast trail is in Mendocino county (Sinkyone National Park) and is roughly where Highway 1 couldn’t go. About half a century ago, the route would have been busy with horses and timber folk. Tree coverage was decimated with the intensity of lumbering but now that the business is over the trees breather easier. The area is also home to hundreds of elk due to a successful breeding program. The trail is actually two parts: the southern end from Usal campground to Needle Rock Visitor center (or some may end at Whale Gulch). The northern trail continues up from there and the trail consists of a lot of pebbles, beach hiking and a book of tide tables is a must!

The southern section is approximately 20 miles and for the average hiker 2.5 days is enough to cover it. For the rest of this entry consider everyone but Alap to be very average hikers managing bit more than a mile per hour. I will say right now, that this hike is neither easy and yet most definitely not impossible. There is a gain of approximately 12,000 ft but across 2.5 days and 20 miles.

Not really knowing our endurance levels, we didn’t start our hike early. Rather in classic Bengali fashion we had a good breakfast, leisurely drove our way to Legget and finally endured a one hour bone wrenching dirt road to Usal campground. That last one-hour is actually 5 miles and I assure you that a faster speed is not likely possible. We had planned a one way hike to Needle Point visitor center and booked a return ride with Lost Coast Shuttle for 1pm on the 3rd day. The return trip is about 2.5 hours and two sections are horribly bumpy. This hike keeps on giving. The shuttle is pricey but it saves you much time.

We finally started our hike around 3.30pm-4.00pm. Too late I hear you, I and everyone else say. I agree. The hike started out with a lot of ‘oohs’ ,‘aahs’ and ‘awesome’s but quickly fell to a gritted teeth, quiet and steady hike. Despite my trusty weather resistant Fuji XT1, I was usually too tired to think of taking a photo. It was 5 miles of very arduous climbing to reach Anderson campground. Anderson is a small campground (more like a clearing) that could fit about 4 camp sites if you tried. I would avoid it. There are some more private spaces for a single tent around on the trail (you can camp anywhere really) but if you are group, well I say: march on. We reached Anderson at about 7-8pm at night. I was fading, exhausted and we were greeted by a bachelor party that was getting ready to be loud. A group of boys with an inflatable sex doll cannot stay quiet for long. But don’t infer the trail is crowded. It is hardly so – the path is clear but in many cases you’re shoving bushes out of the way and no one around. We grabbed some food, I discovered a new found love for Cliff Energy Bars and with Sheetal calling Sherpa spirits to my aid, the energies kicked in. It was getting dark, the headlights were turned on. Well everyone else’s save mine: I could not recall the compartment I stored it in. The reader can clearly see how basic my hiking skills were (and still is). As darkness overwhelmed us (and it does quickly because the trees tower above you), our path became more indeterminate. Now was one of the times I am thankful there were fellow hikers.

One soul showed us the way and I’ve never been happier to see an “Entering Tsunami Hazard Zone” sign before. The entire path lacks mile markers. So the happy hiker should just hike till they reach the end. I was quite stoic about this till my legs, toes, shoulders and entire being felt otherwise. The only sign you have that you’re reaching the beach(our campground) are the hazard signs and the clearing of vegetation as the ocean approaches. Why such relief? Uphill can be overcome by getting into a regular stride, but a downhill can be like a snake bite for your legs if you suffer from any leg pain or possess horrible hiking shoes (like I did) and every step is a one of agony. I exaggerate. Not everyone’s problems go downhill.

Ultimately, we covered 7.5 miles on the first day. We pitched our tent (shout out to Last Minute Hiking from where I got our tent at the last minute. Word to the wise: air your tent out before using), heated our food and crashed. We awoke to the waves crashing at the beach, a handful of tents and the beautifully endless ocean. Yoga was performed and ablutions executed to the audience of sea otters. Can it get better? There were fresh mussels for the picking too, but not by us.

And Day 2 to Wheeler began, with us losing our way. Easy to lose your way if you buy the world’s most useless hiking map from Amazon (“MAP Californias Lost Coast Rec (Wilderness Press Maps)”). Don’t buy it. Please. The route is straightforward. On Day 2 when you leave the beach, walk back the way you came. Just around the first water closet/shed you’ll see path to your left climbing up the hill. Take it. Don’t look ahead. Take it and climb. Climb and keep climbing. You’ll reach the end I assure you (and do take in the precipitous view at the top) and then walk down, again up and finally down to Wheeler after about 5 miles. Sheetals knees were busted and my toes gone, so we stayed the night there. And glad we did. We had campfires, we drank, we laughed , and we admired the view. We did what good Bengalis do – ate, and slept.

Staying here the night left us a bit worried as it left us with 4.5 miles to Bear Harbor and a final 2.7 miles to Needle Rock to be covered by 1pm at very measured pace. On Day 3 morning, Sheetal and I packed our bags and swiftly hauled ass along what we felt was the prettiest section through the giant redwoods overlooking the ocean all the way to Bear Harbor. There are several streams on the way(carry a filter and iodine pills) and I hear when there is plenty of rain you might need to wade through knee deep streams. Not us. We’re in a drought. Bear Harbor itself is very pretty (It is a nice camp site too), and we stretched for a comfortable half an hour before setting of on what we were told was an easy 2.7 miles. By easy we all thought flat. But easy is hiking code for easy uphill. Except for Alap, all of us were cursing the language of hikers and their skill levels. If this is not your first hike of the day, be prepared it is an uphill (to be fair, the easiest of the lot).

And we made it. Once again, 4 weeks later all I remember is dropping my pack to the sweet view of the Needle Rock visitor center overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

P.S. No dogs allowed. And though it’s mixed opinion on whether a bear canister is required no bears joined us.

Pay for the camping at Needle Rock Visitor Center: it’s 5 dollars/person/night.

The pictures were taken with a a XT1(16mm/1.4 - color fringing when wide open,otherwise an excellent lens), a Sony RX100 and a Nikon DSLR (Alap’s).

bellytimber n. food, provisions