The California Coastal Trail Whole Hike of 1996

ON NATIONAL TRAILS DAY, June 1, 1996, six hikers rendezvoused at the Oregon-California border to begin a hike of nearly 1200 miles along the spectacular, diverse California coast to Mexico. When they completed the trek three months and three weeks later, this remarkable journey became the first group hike of the entire California Coastal Trail. Hundreds of coast lovers joined the six “Whole Hikers” for anywhere from a few miles up to half the CCT. They included Coastwalk organizers, trail activists, housewives, mothers, students, reporters and four published authors. Donald Murphy, then the Director of California State Parks, hiked the first eight days. That first day more than three dozen supporters came to cheer them on.

Of the six who planned to do the Whole Hike, remarkably all six succeeded.* These four women and two men ranged from 44 to 68 years of age, came from all over California and included one Oregonian. Some of them were lifelong hikers. One even described herself as “Not a hiker at all,” but that would change by the trip’s end. In fact the Whole Hike was a life changing journey for virtually everyone involved, and this marathon walk would forever alter the public perception of the California Coastal Trail. This book grew directly from that Whole Hike.

Without numerous support people both on and off the trek, the Whole Hikers never would have made it. Most notably the Ford Motor Company provided a grant and two support vans. Volunteer drivers helped shop and cook, meeting the weary hikers at the end of each day to shuttle them to campground, hostel or community center for the night. One van pulled a trailer with the heavy gear, so hikers could carry only a daypack.

The group walked 1156 miles in the 112-day trek along California’s varied shore. They averaged a bruising 12.4 miles a day, not counting 16 rest days. Twice the group covered 20 miles in a day, the longest being 21 miles from Surf to Jalama Beach on the Santa Barbara coast, but the hardest being the 20-mile day from Palomarin at Point Reyes National Seashore up, down and around the rugged Marin Headlands to the Golden Gate Hostel overlooking San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Their brisk pace covered 15 miles or more on a dozen days. The most frightening experience? Chest high waves swamped the hikers at a low tide-only point near remote Cape Mendocino, then the incoming tide trapped them for four hours in a tiny cove. There the drenched, demoralized hikers huddled by a smoky fire and wondered if their luck had run out barely a tenth of the way through their ambitious trek. But the group escaped to become closer and more determined.

Highlights? Too many to mention, but they included backpacking the Lost Coast through southern Humboldt and northern Mendocino counties, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, rounding Point Conception, and completing the thousandth mile at Santa Monica in Los Angeles County. But the biggest thrill of all was walking up to the Mexico border on the 112th day, each of the Whole Hikers proudly knowing that she/he had completed the Journey of a Lifetime, walking the entire California Coastal Trail.

The event won the Trails for Tomorrow Award from the American Hiking Society, one of ten given, and the Trail Merit Award from the California Trails Conference. In late 1999 California Governor Gray Davis picked the Coastal Trail as California’s Millennium Legacy Trail, a national honor. Also in 1999 a solo runner became the first to run the entire CCT. The 55-year-old Kent Bien finished his run in 81 days. Several others hikers made CCT long distance treks that year, but no one else claimed to have done the whole trail.

*One hiker completed the final 300 miles on his own.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols