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The Lost Coast of CA: Waves of Unusual Size and Force

California is a long way from Salt Lake City so I decided to fly from DC out to San Fransisco and rent a car and meet the crew there instead of endure the 12+ hour drive. After about a 4 hour drive north, I found myself in Shelter Cove, CA. A small town right on the Pacific Ocean with a resturaunt or two and a landing strip. How many days of the year could they actually use the strip with all the marine fog in that area? I don’t know. But it was there and very well maintained.

Shortly after I arrived, the SLC crew got in and we dined at the Shelter Cove Restaurant. Food was good as I recall. But the view and sunset was to die for! Now I know why people lived here.

We made camp on the beach just north of town. The beach was small rounded stone and it was actually quite comfortable. We needed to stay there in order to get our bear canisters and back country permits at the office in the morning before our LONG drive to our starting point, about 30 miles north.

The next day we set out for the backcountry office and got all squared away with our bear canisters and tide charts and everything we would need for our adventure.

Since we needed a shuttle, we all piled into Brad’s Jeep and drove north. It was just a 30 mile hike, but due to the roads and mountains, the driving distance was a little longer – 43 miles. But this was not your typical 43 miles! Instead it was a nearly two hour constant twistiest turniest most winding road you have ever been on. I don’t think there was a single straight section the entire way. Forget about passing anything. We were all exhausted and ready to barf at the end of it!

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Once we finally got to the Mattole River via Lighthouse Road, we suited up and started down towards the beach. We saw our first sign warning of us of the dangers ahead. We loved this sign. What was a sleeper wave?


Later we would see signs for other types of waves of “unusual size and force”. How big were these sleeper waves anyway? I knew from the maps that we would only have a few feet of shore between the ocean and the rocks. Should we be worried?

For now, we just continued on down the beach. It was a wide beach up and we saw all sorts of seals and starfish and other stuff on the way. After maybe a mile or two we reached the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. We climbed around inside and enjoyed our lunch.

After lunch we continued on for a while until we hit our first section of beach that would need to wait for low tide. Had we gotten an earlier start, we might have made it without delay, but given the time of day, we had to wait it out for about 3 hours. Luckily, Brad brought a new game called Settlers of Catan, traveler edition! I watched David, Kyle and Brad play a game. They were very into it. Lots of trading of cards and building stuff. I thought it was a cute game but I was more into exploring around. It would all change later.

After the tide began to go out, we packed up and tried to get around the headlands. We did not really give it enough time though and the travel was tricky and fun. One person would go up ahead and try and get around a rock in between waves (of unusual size, remember). For the rest of us behind, we would watch and take pictures or a movie for entertainment while the first guy attempted it. But then the first guy would vanish behind that next rock. What was on the other side? 100 more yards of rock? Some sand/beach?

So the next guy would go and find out that it was just more rocks and lots of waves! By the time we got to our camp for the night, we were all soaked. Good thing it was foggy and damp for our clothes to dry out over night  – not!

The next day we continued south exploring abandoned structures and old ranches along the route. The hike was generally easier and we did not have any issues with tides to deal with. We got to camp early and it was nice and sunny. After relaxing on the beach and catching a few rays, we hunkered down for some serious Settlers. I played my first game and started to realize how adicting it was. We played well into the evening by the light of the green L.E.D.

After hiking several more miles on the third day, we made camp near a small river that exited the hills and joined the Pacific. Like most of the trip, we were into our camp by about 2pm which left a lot of time for exploring or playing around. The guys started making a damn with the soft sand/rock. I watched for a while and waited till they had a nice damn going. Then I walked up stream and shot a few pictures of some wild flowers. On the way back I had a quick idea. I would create another damn above theirs. It did not take much time before I had the stream totally blocked above. The water literally stopped flowing and as I walked down stream to the “lower damn” I recall them wondering aloud “What happened to the stream?” It vanished! I smiled.

Then it was on to more Settlers. I think Crockett had had enough of listening to us screaming out trades. He saddled up his running shoes and went running up above the clouds. This was one of the first years of his ultra running career. He was getting pretty good at it, but none of us had any idea what it would become.

On the final day we made our way the last few miles south towards Shelter Cove. Strange things were written in the sand. Messages from the Lord (of Catan).


Once we got to our other car in Shelter Cove it was time to pile everything into my tiny rental car and drive back to our starting point. We took the bigger “main roads” this time and that saved a little on the vomit index. Once we redistributed our gear, the guys headed east to Salt Lake and I went back to San Fran to meet up with some friends before my flight back home.

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