Backpacking California: Lost Coast Trail, Part Two, Randall Creek to Shipman Creek to Black Sands Beach

Signage is minimal, but the trail itself is easy to follow.
Just be careful; there's still quite a bit of private land.
Tread respectfully.
In last week's trip report, we covered getting to Mattole Beach and hiking to Randall Creek. This week, it's time to tackle the rest of our Lost Coast Trail adventure to Black Sands Beach and beyond.

Day Two: Randall Creek to Shipman Creek

I woke just before my alarm went off at 6:30am on the second day. Our goal was to get past the third section of impassable-at-high-tide terrain (four miles between Miller Flat and Gitchell Creek with plenty of time to spare, and to get out of camp before the other folks who'd joined us throughout the evening had packed up. I broke out a Mountain House Breakfast Skillet and Barnie's Coffee Kitchen coffee extract, boiled water, and chowed down after packing up.

We left Randall Creek just after 8:00am and got to Spanish Flat quickly. The trail had taken us up over a small hill and continued through knee high grasses, wildflower stands, and across streams surrounded by lush greenery. It was incredible to see how the landscape changed mile to mile.

It was also a wonderful reprieve from the sand, small pebbles, larger pebbles, and giant boulders we dealt with on the trail on the first day. (We also missed a key overland route just past Sea Lion Gulch; be sure to check out The SoCal Hiker's piece about this section. I wish I had memorized it!) We were able to move significantly faster on the wide, flat trail, part of which used to be an old road, covering almost eight miles before we stopped for lunch.

It felt so unbelievably great to be on flat land. It felt like we were flying!
We took a quick lunch break just before noon at Big Flat after passing a beautiful, well-kept private home, complete with a plane and private makeshift runway. (Remind me to make friends with the landowners before a return trip.) After starting the third section of the trail that would be impassable at high tide, we found ourselves at Shipman Creek two miles later staring at a perfect, relatively deserted campsite around 2:30pm, just past mile 10 for the day.

We knew we had three miles to cover to get out of the impassable at high tide section with Buck Creek in between, but given how busy our campsite got the previous night, we decided to settle in at Shipman Creek. With almost six hours to kill until dark, we kept ourselves busy with naps, camp chores, firewood gathering, and quick baths in Shipman Creek while more hikers arrived. It was my favorite of our two overnight destinations; the noise of Shipman Creek and the ocean drowned out the voices of other campers, and there was enough space to make it feel more private.

Nearing our destination for the night...sand as far as the eye could see!
By the time darkness fell, two couples and a large party with three tents had joined us on the north side of the creek. I couldn't count the number of parties on the south side, but saw at least four tents set up. As the last arriving party set up their tents, a huge gust of wind picked one of them up and nearly blew it into the ocean; entertaining to watch, but a warning from Mother Nature to attach everything to the ground as quickly as possible.

We watched deer along the hillsides and saw a whale breach out in the water as we ate dinner, sat around a campfire, and talked into the night. I chowed down on a Mountain House Italian Pepper Steak dinner. Though freeze dried meat can be rubbery, I was pleasantly surprised by the pleasing texture. The taste was also on point; another highly recommended meal.

Pretty much the best view from a campsite ever, amirite? Shipman Creek on the left was our water source.

Day Three: Shipman Creek to Black Sands Beach and Beyond

Though I dreamed of cheeseburgers while I was chowing down on oatmeal on our last morning of the trip, it was, as it always is, a little sad. With the promise of  "civilization" only a short seven miles away at Black Sands Beach, I knew once we got back to the cars, we'd have to start the transition back into the real world. Being able to turn my phone off and completely check out is one of my favorite things about backpacking trips. It can be uncomfortable being out of touch, even for a just few days, but it's also so refreshing. All I have to worry about it eating, sleeping, walking, and taking it all in.

Friend Katie leading the way out of camp on our last day under bluebird skies. We couldn't have asked for better weather.

Though we had three miles of impassable-at-high-tide trail to cover right at the beginning of our last day, we got a relatively leisurely start because high tide wouldn't hit until later in the afternoon. We walked along the sand the entire day with a few sections of boulders punctuating the seemingly endless beach. We passed cliffs that, at high tide, drop straight into the ocean, springs spouting water directly out of the hillside, and the campsite we didn't hike to at Buck Creek.

Large rocks came into view in the distance after an hour and a half or so, signaling that we were in the home stretch. I'd taken a photo from the hill at the top of Black Sands Beach and immediately recognized the landscape as soon as we got close enough. The sand made going slow, but we were used to it at that point. We arrived at Black Sands Beach two and a half hours after leaving camp that morning.

Our crew nearing the end of the trip.
Packing the two cars with ten peoples' worth of gear was predictably complicated, as it had been before we left. We drove straight to Fort  Bragg in hopes of catching our first post-trail meal at the North Coast Brewing Company. Unfortunately, we'd come a little too early in the season; only half the dining room was open and we were looking at an hour wait. A desperate search led us to Cucina Verona, the only establishment with room for a party our size that was willing to serve us mid-afternoon on a Sunday.

I chowed down on the burger I'd been waiting for, and we were off to Santa Rosa to overnight before heading to San Francisco the next day. Luckily, Santa Rosa is home to the Russian River Brewing Company, which made up for our not getting into North Coast earlier that day.

Even though it's been a week since I got home, I'm still finding grains of sand in my Scarpa Ignite shoes and longing for cool nights sleeping in a tent on the beach. Stay tuned for my third and final post, tips and tricks for hiking the Lost Coast Trail based on what I learned from being on it, coming next week!


Jeff Hester said…
Great photos! We made that same stop at the Russian River Brewing Company on our way down, too!