After inspecting the seashore from the town nestled in the middle of California’s Lost Coast, it was time to explore the mountains that rise up from the coast. These mountains are the reason that this stretch of prime waterfront land is “lost” (to development). From Shelter Cove we drove up the winding mountain road that I previously attempted on my bicycle. At the top we turned left onto the unpaved King Peak Road to head into the mountains toward the Lightning Trailhead.
John chose the Lightning Trailhead because it is the shortest approach to King Peak, the highpoint of the range. We continued with our plan to hike to the highpoint, despite the weather forecast of rain the next day and drove the 16 mile unpaved road to the trailhead. This drive turned out to be quite the adventure.
The first third of the road is well maintained and leveled, up to Horse Mountain Campground, but the road gets pretty rough after that. John has maneuvered our 22 foot Sprinter van-home over many a rough road, so we took the rough road in stride, not thinking twice about it. Until the first stream crossing. A stream crossing, in the van!
Now, stream crossings are the bane of even the most experienced hiker. Most trail stream crossings are easily traversed, by rock-hops or fording, but eventually the venturesome hiker will run into a stream that is too high, too swift, too dangerous to cross. But most drivers do not encounter such obstacles. The stream we encountered was just a small trickle of a stream, easily stepped over on foot, but in a large van it was much more challenging. The stream was narrow, but deeply eroded for a road.
Even a small trickle of water can erode a significant depression into a dirt roadway, a trough deep enough that it is not possible to drive the van directly through. If we tried, the tires would descend into the basin, and the bottom of the van would press into the roadway. Dragging the van’s undercarriage on the ground risks damage to our water and sewage tanks, or even to the van itself. To cross over the stream, John used leveling blocks as a movable bridge. We do not have enough blocks to set up as a bridge across the stream, so he had to inch through the trough, driving onto a column of blocks, then getting out, moving the back set to the front, driving onto the next set, and so on across the small stream. I sat, white-knuckled in the passenger seat, trying not to think too hard about what the stream would look like on the way out, after a rain storm.
There were four stream crossings altogether, two minor and two more difficult. Only one required the leveling block puzzle bridge on the way in. John managed to drive across the other three with carefully-chosen angles, utilizing the protruding rocks in the stream beds. We didn’t think to take pictures of the process on the way in, but we did document it on the way out and I will not make you wait to the end of the post to see the visual depiction of this hair-raising adventure. The following pictures were from our exit drive.
Amazingly, we made it to the trailhead with only some scratches, on the front of the van. When we started the drive, I had thought we would check out the trailhead then go back to the nearest campground to stay. Nevermind that plan, there is no way we would make that drive again! So we planned to stay at the trailhead the night before and the night after our King Peak hike, then drive out, not go back and forth.
As promised, we awoke to a rainstorm. Not to be deterred, we set out hiking clad head-to-toe in rain gear to walk the 9.8 mile loop from Lightening Trailhead, past Maple Camp, up to King Peak Summit and back to the trailhead. The trail was well-maintained and easy to follow through the fogged-in forest. We encountered a surprising number of hikers – two at Maple Camp who were just finishing a late breakfast when we hiked by and a couple large groups near the peak, but most of the trail we had to ourselves. Except the banana slugs, who were out in high numbers. John had ample opportunity to observe these giants of the slug world for the first time.
I like the isolating feeling that hiking in the fog gives – it creates a sense that the world does not exist beyond the five feet around you. Of course, I love a good view and don’t want to hike in fog all the time, but the moist gauzy air has its own rewards. John, however, was having none of it. John is usually cheerful and optimistic, but he would not appreciate this day. After all the trouble of driving down the 16 miles of unpaved rough road to get to the high point of the mountains, he wanted a view. A view of ocean, mountains, and rolling pastures, not a view from inside a cloud. He was decidedly grumpy. I offered that we stay another night and hike it again the following day if it were clear, but he also wanted to get the drive out over with, so we did not stay. We drove a horrendous road and hiked to the highest peak, where the land rises more than 4000 feet straight out of the ocean, but did not get the expected reward for the effort.
Driving out from the trailhead we had two options – to go back the way we came, or take a different route that was about the same distance to civilization, in the direction we were headed (north). When we came to the intersection, John took one look at the narrow winding road under the low canopy of trees and opted for the devil we knew over the unknown road north. It turned out to be the right choice, as the man we met on the road informed us that the road gets even worse down that way.
Driving over the streams the other direction turned out to be even harder than heading in. Luckily, the water wasn’t noticeably higher even after the rain on the previous day, but the angles of the banks were worse. As we were inching across the worse of them, another car pulled up behind us. Since the guy had to wait for us to get through, he jumped out and started offering advice. Our worse moment in this escapade occurred with this audience.
Just past the last of the stream crossings, we came to the entrance to the Horse Mountain Campground. I had hoped we could stay there, but the entrance dropped steeply down over very rough road, it may even require a high-clearance vehicle. We had enough rough road adventure, and continued down the relatively smoother road. We decided to stay once more at a trailhead and hike the Horse Mountain Creek trail the following day.
May 3-5, 2014