When we got in contact with Nicole we were intrigued by the request she sent us – the Lost Coast Trail and Lares Trek. We were unfamiliar with both and after some research, we were amazed by what we found – more trails for our ever-growing bucket list 😊. While she didn’t grow up in a hiking family, Nicole found her passion for the outdoors after college. Her husband is her best hiking buddy and together they try to escape their busy lives and jobs as often as they can.
The Lost Coast Trail can be found along the rugged and hidden coastline of California, USA. The trail passes along deserted beaches and leads you over clifftops with mesmerizing views. Some parts of the trail are only accessible during low tide, so some expert navigational and tidal knowledge would be extremely beneficial to embark on this fantastic journey.
The Lares Trek can be found in the magical mountain ranges near Cusco, Peru. The trail leads you through the breath taking Lares Valley and will give you a true Andean Culture experience, while passing through traditional communities. It also traverses parts of the Sacred Valley and is becoming more and more popular as a fantastic alternative to the traditional Inca Trail to visit the mesmerizing Machu Picchu.
Let’s not wait any longer and dive into the interview!
To start, would you be able to tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a Pediatrician specializing in Neonatology (I work with babies in the NICU) and I practice in Southern California. My husband, who is my best hiking buddy, is also a doctor- he’s a surgeon training to specialize in Transplant Surgery. We’re both from San Diego, CA, born, raised, and educated in beautiful Southern California our entire lives. I love to travel and explore new places, foods and cultures; I’m a voracious reader; I like practicing pilates; I’m a big (American) football and baseball fan; and lastly, whenever I get the chance, I love to get outside and play.
How did your passion for hiking and the outdoors start?
As a kid growing up, my family didn’t hike and camp very much at all, so I didn’t know I loved hiking and the outdoors so much until after college, when my now-husband and I started first exploring more of Southern California with friends- going on short coastal hikes, camping on Catalina Island, etc. The more we hiked and got out of the city and suburbs and into nature, the more I realized what a beautiful, expansive world we live in and the more I wanted to be immersed in it. I loved the challenge of leaving your creature comforts at home and camping and I also loved the simple pleasures of fresh air and a starry sky- things I never get to see in the city.
You and your husband are passionate hikers and have hiked the Lost Coast Trail and Lares Trek. What fantastic achievements! Both trails might not be too familiar; could you tell us a bit more about the trails and your experience?
We did the Lares Trek while we were both in medical school. It is an alternative multi-day trail to the much more popular and well-known Inca Trail. Fewer and smaller groups take this route, and it starts and ends at a higher altitude than the Inca Trail. We read that this trail offered gorgeous views because of its higher altitude and a chance to feel closer to the environment and its local people on a trail that is less overrun with tourists. The altitude was definitely challenging at first but the views and feeling of accomplishment when you reached the top of a ridge were so well-worth it. And it’s a day shorter and doesn’t book up as quickly!
The Lost Coast Trail is a 25-mi hike along a stretch of Northern California coast that is too rugged and remote for the Pacific Coast Highway to reach. Because of that, the wilderness here has been largely untouched. This is the most recent hike we did and it was absolutely amazing. This trail had my favorite campsites that I’d ever spent the night in. The landscape is jaw-dropping: coastal forest comes right up to cliffs that drop into the raging ocean. There’s some brutal stretches of hiking on rocks, but even despite that, we had the best time in this isolated wilderness.
The Lost Coast Trail honors its name as it is often earmarked as a hidden treasure on the California rugged coastline. So how did you come across the trail?
I honestly had no clue this trail existed until my husband brought it up, and he doesn’t even remember how he heard about it! Whenever our busy schedules allow for several days in a row to take off, we either like to travel internationally or go on a multi-day adventure. Since the pandemic severely limited our choices for the first option, we decided to go tackle this hike. The more I read about it and delved into the idea of it, the more fascinated I became with the challenges, the logistics, the planning… and the rewards! I love planning logistical details, so I was in such a happy zone researching everything that needed to be done to make this hike safe and successful.
The trail comes with its own set of challenges, such as during high tide, large parts of the trail disappear. How did you experience the trail? And how did you prepare for these challenges?
As I mentioned above, I love logistical details. I dove into maps- printed, online, topographical, from the Bureau of Land Management and different blogs and outdoor websites. I went on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website and learned how to read, use, and create tide charts for our specific location and days. I measured distances and approximate times to cover those distances on Google Maps and various websites. I looked for alternative plans in case we got stuck, and places we could wait out the tide in higher ground along those stretches. I read so many different blogs and descriptions of the trail from as many people of different hiking/outdoor abilities to get a more complete view of what to expect. I tend to be a worrier and find comfort in knowledge, so I researched as much as I could to make sure we got through safely. And we did! And we loved it! The first 4 mi stretch that is impassable at high tide was much longer than we had anticipated. We thought we were through it when really we were just around halfway through! Turns out navigating the rocky beaches made for MUCH slower going than we thought. By the time we got to the creek at the end of that stretch, the tide was coming up, and between waves we had to quickly scurry around some rocky points that jutted out. That was a little stressful! The next 4 mi stretch we were very prepared, knew what to expect, and got through it very quickly with a consistent pace.
The Lares Trek is a beautiful trail in Peru and is sometimes referred to as a secret and less-traveled alternative to discover the mesmerizing area around Cusco and Machu Picchu. Why did you choose to hike the Lares Trek, and what was your experience?
We liked the idea of doing something a little different, something that wasn’t quite the beaten path. There was plenty of availability in the dates we were looking at, so that allowed for travel flexibility. I was also really intrigued that this path takes a higher route in the mountains and offered some beautiful views of the surrounding valleys without the crowds that I think could potentially accumulate on the Inca Trail at that time of year. We ended up loving our decision- it felt like we got to see a different side of the Peruvian countryside than so many others got to see, but with the same end reward of getting to Machu Picchu.
Even though you prepared well for the trails, did you encounter any (major) challenges that you would never have thought of beforehand?
Nothing major for either trail that was completely unexpected. I think advance research helps a lot.
For the Lares Trek, I knew altitude could potentially be an issue but didn’t fully appreciate it until I felt the effects on our first night. We had spent 2 days in Cusco before our hike and felt fine but that night on the hike I woke up with my heart racing, feeling short of breath and jittery. I was able to fall back asleep and thereafter felt like I had acclimated, but I was a little surprised that I felt the symptoms so acutely.
For the Lost Coast Trail, one thing I never really thought about was how multiple days of hiking on the beach- ranging from loose sand to picking our way through and endless stretch of smooth, round medium-sized rocks- can take such a toll on your ankles, knees and hips, even if you’re healthy and work out regularly.
What are your best memories of the trails?
I think that there are few more rewarding things in life than the expansive, jaw-dropping, beautiful views you get after a long hard, hike. You work so hard for hours or even days; your body is aching, your legs are burning, your pack is heavy, you’re sick and tired of slogging over sand and rocks, and you’re running out of breath. Then- just as you’ve just about had it…that view welcomes you. The view of the roaring ocean, the soaring mountains, a coastal prairie, or the remains of an ancient people. That’s always my best memories on a trail- that reward.
In particular, for the Lares Trek, I distinctly remember loving the traditional food and drinks we shared with our porters and the unexpected proximity we got to have to people and villages in the mountains. It felt like we were truly sharing this land with its people.
Before starting on the hike, you must have probably gone through your gear checklist a dozen times. While every trail is unique and needs its own preparation, what were the significant differences in your gear list and preparations for both trails?
For the Lares Trek, I really learned how to utilize layers in the way I dressed. Nights could get pretty cold, but then you can quickly work up a sweat as you’re trekking uphill. And you can’t often stop whenever you want to because you have a whole group to keep up with, so packing lots of layers was key for that one. For this hike, we were part of a group with porters so navigation was taken care of.
For the Lost Coast, though, as I mentioned before, I brought all types of maps. Most importantly, a detailed tide chart I printed out for the days we’d be hiking. I also had a waterproof map of the region, and map and general tide chart we got from the ranger who dropped us off at the trailhead. I also made a summary of all the blogs I read describing key parts along the trail- that was super helpful for finding good campsites, finding where the trail turned inland, etc. We also brought water purification systems for all the plentiful freshwater creeks along the trail, which was really nice because we never had to carry too much water or worry about our next source. Lastly, two things are essential for this rocky beach hike are hiking poles and gaiters- we forgot to put the gaiters on for our first afternoon and got a sock full of dirt and sand!
And after the thorough preparation, in the end, did you take any gear with you that you eventually felt you could have done without? Or was there any specific gear that you wished you had with you on the trails?
When I did the Lares Trek, I was still a bit of a newcomer to traveling and to being outdoorsy, and so I brought a couple jeans which we were completely useless. I guess I thought they’d be more comfortable? That I would have some downtime to wear them? Either way, I shouldn’t have brought them!
For the Lost Coast Trail, I wished I had a portable GPS. That would have been helpful to keep track of the distances we had covered, particularly through the impassable zones. What certainly felt like 4 mi picking our way through rocky terrain, wasn’t actually that distance, and we could have been stuck in that zone.
After these amazing achievements and crossing both the Lost Coast Trail and Lares Trek off your bucket list, do you have any other trails on your bucket list which you plan to hike in the (near) future?
While the pandemic is still restricting our travel internationally, I would love to do the Rim to Rim Hike in the Grand Canyon. Also on my bucket list are any of the Great Walks in New Zealand, and hiking along the fjords in Norway.
For all those inspired by your story and experience on the trail, what is the one tip you would like to give them?
No matter how busy you are, if you make a trip or an adventure a priority just like anything else in your life, you can do it. You can put the money towards the travel, the attention towards the planning, and the time towards the trip. Like so many other people, we’ve either been short on time or money and more often both, but we planned, sometimes years in advance to make the bucket list item and actual achievement. And it was well worth it.
Nicole, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us, it was an absolute pleasure!
Do you have an amazing story about one of your trail adventures which you would like to share with the community? Please reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org as we would love to hear from you.
Jay & Maud