11/17/2010 07:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Exploring California's Lost Coast

Reporting from Sinkyone Wilderness, Calif. -- --
The wind roared like a Roosevelt elk in rut. Rain smacked into plank walls like waves breaking on rocks. Down the bluff, the Pacific surged and heaved.

What bothered me, though, was the scurrying in the rafters. We had found shelter after hiking through a downpour but apparently were not alone in this drafty seaside barn in Mendocino County's Sinkyone (pronounced SINK ee yoan) Wilderness.

A muffled plunk sounded inches from my face, the only part of me not encased in a mummy bag. Struggling to free an arm, I groped for the flashlight.

A mouse, stunned by the fall, stared back at me. Some of its fur stood up in wet spikes, like a neo-punk 7-year-old.

This definitely wasn't what I had in mind when I cashed in a few vacation days and headed north.

The plan had been to skirt the edges of the Lost Coast, known in backpacking circles for knee-destroying downhills and long stretches of sand impassable at high tide. This part of the California coast, 60 miles of remote shoreline in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties about 200 miles north of San Francisco, is so rugged that engineers had to route the coast highway inland. High bluffs plunge into the Pacific, waves of fog break on black sand and creep inland, and bear and elk roam woods so wet they qualify as rain forest.