Mattole River to Big Flat, September 3rd 2005.

When we arrived on Friday, everyone went out to look at the surf at the Mattole Beach. This beach has a reputation for being a nasty dumping beach, a difficult place to launch a kayak. We all agreed that the beach looked doable and committed to go the next morning. We had to commit because the cars were all leaving! We camped on the beach and when we got up Saturday the waves looked even milder than before. It looked like the launch would be easy! But it took us three hours to get packed up and ready to launch and by then the waves had come back up worse than the afternoon before!

We helped each other launch one at a time by shoving them over the first wave. Waves were breaking over 100 meters from shore so we waited to make sure everyone made it. I shoved the first few people off the beach. This is triply exhausting for me because first of all I emphasize with the person about to launch and feel their anxiety over their upcoming battle with the waves. Second I feel my own mounting anxiety over my own launch but have to keep putting it off. Third, it is hard work holding and then shoving a boat out through the surf. As the "initiator" (BASK euphemism for Leader) I feel honor bound to help everyone and then I have to launch myself. By the time it is my turn I am completely emotionally and physically exhausted. This time I decided to spread the load a little bit and rest for the last few launches. I asked Dave Littlejohn shove Fred Cooper off the beach, I shoved Dave off, and this trip I had the good fortune to have Kate Deslauriers there to shove me off last. To my joy and relief, everyone (including me!) made it off the beach and through the gauntlet of breakers in one try! We had only one miss-hap: Doerta Mann discovered that half of her back-up paddle had come loose from the stern of her boat and disappeared during the launch. We had no way to call the two on the beach and ask them to look for it. (Next time a radio between the boats and the beach crew would be a nice idea). As much as Doerta liked that paddle, none of us was willing to land back through the waves and go looking for it.

Despite that fly in the ointment, I was in high spirits and the sea was reflecting my state. We found ourselves in rough water with 4 foot chop and a strong wind roaring south. The sky was hidden behind a low overcast running south with the wind. I enjoyed the bouncing water and the shove the wind gave us in the direction we wanted to go. Several times I stopped paddling for a while to warm up my GPS and discovered that I was moving at 3 miles an hour even I was not paddling! Don Fleming estimated that the wind was plowing at 35 knots when we rounded Punta Gorda, just a few miles south of the mouth of the Mattole River. The wind was shoving the weather past the point and out to sea. We could see a sunny day under the edge of the overcast and looked forward to a calmer time the rest of the weekend.

The Punta Gorda Lighthouse is not on the point, but a mile south of it. We were well into our sunny day by the time we got there. I had been hoping that the calm swell of fall and the protection of the point would allow me to land and see this lighthouse up close. By working my way between rocks I was able to find a spot calm enough to land, but nobody else joined me. I photographed a huge buoy that washed ashore here, then ran up to the lighthouse. It is in incredibly good shape, someone has been maintaining it! The spiral staircase is in perfect shape and I climbed up into the cupola to take pictures from the highest point. The light itself is long gone and the cupola is empty. The glass window panes are also missing and I took pictures through the matrix of empty iron frames of my friends waiting out at sea for me. Then I ran back down and launched quickly so I didn't strain their patience.

Previous years I had done BASK paddles in the southern half of the Lost Coast because that area has rocky shores, steep cliffs, caves and arches. This northern half has its own soft beauty with rolling hills, golden with the dry grass of fall, interspersed with forested valleys that each invited us to land and camp for the evening. But after a stop north of Spanish Flat for lunch, we continued on. Andrea Wolf and Kate Deslauriers were hiking in to meet us at Miller Flat.

I recalled from my last trip in this area that Miller Flat had two sandy points that provided some protection from the swell. I farther recalled being surprised that the second and smaller point had milder waves behind it, so I headed there first. However that beach was rocky and had huge waves dumping on it during the larger sets and did not look the way I remembered. Fred Cooper convinced me to turn back and land behind the first point where we found an expected calm spot in the cove to land. I went for a walk around the second point to explore and search for the hikers. Here I found things very different than I remember. I suspect that the winter storms have been re-arranging things. The two sandy points are not the same as before and we actually landed very close to where I did 5 years before.

We set up camp very close to the water faucet sticking out of the sand that I had been directed to the last time I was here. It had been destroyed by a forest fire, but replaced by the people who run the nearby private lodge. We talked to a forest service employee who was camping on the beach, and they had not passed Andrea and Kate on their way in from Shelter cove. It turned out that those two had decided to take it easy, wait for the high tide to pass, have fish and chips for lunch in Shelter Cove and didn't start the hike until 1:00 PM! Then they discovered that the hike was not the easy seven mile hike on a sandy beach that I had promised them. Instead most of the "beaches" were made out of ankle breaking cobble stones that were difficult to walk on. They didn't drag into camp until around 7:00 PM! They spent the next day resting and recuperating for the hike back out on Monday morning.

All text and images Copyright © 2005 by Mike Higgins / contact