Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cape Blanco

The weather had been wet and cold and it'd been three weeks since I'd last set foot on the trail. The need to hike was fast becoming a medical condition. Fortunately, the weather gods decided to bestow favor upon us waterlogged Oregonians by giving us a sunny, albeit cold, day on the last weekend of 2012. Not wanting to appear impolite by spurning the sunny gift, Maggie The Hiking Dog and I headed to Cape Blanco to work off some post-Christmas dinner calories with an 8.7 mile hike.
Castle Rock, seemingly sitting in a field
The shadows were still long in the morning sun as we got off to an early start. Sallying forth from the historical Hughes House at Cape Blanco State Park, we strode across a grassy pasture alongside the Sixes River. Castle Rock, a prominent rocky island, appeared to be sitting in the middle of all the grass as the ocean was not yet visible. Maggie, totally in her element, splashed happily in the large puddles on the trail.

View to the Sixes River
We eschewed the beach walk on this particular hike, heading instead uphill on the Oregon Coast Trail. A muddy climb up a wooded bluff took us to a nice view of the mouth of the Sixes River. It was interesting because two months earlier, John and I had camped at the mouth of the Sixes and we had crossed back and forth across  the Sixes on a sand bar damming the river. However, that was then and now the Sixes was carrying a lot of roaring water through the demolished sand dam.

Trail tunnel
Staying in some incredibly dark woods atop the ocean bluffs, the trail basically cut across the neck of Cape Blanco. After a mile or two, the trail spit us out of the coastal forest and offered us a nice view of windswept and grassy Cape Blanco jutting out into the ocean with the famed lighthouse affixed atop the cape like a New Year's party hat on a drunk reveler.

Beauty at the campground
Bypassing the lighthouse (been there, done that) because we had more miles to hike, we crossed the headlands, covered with a dense growth of wind-stunted salal, before re-entering the woods. A short walk brought us into the hiker and biker camp at the Cape Blanco Campground. Maggie and I walked through the campgrounds where campers exclaimed "How cute!" followed by much head patting and chin scratching. I think Maggie was jealous I was getting all the attention.

The only thing needed for a beach hike was a beach
Disappointment awaited us at the beach as the tide was high with waves rolling up all the way to the end of the paved road from the campground. The beach was covered with an ankle-breaking pile of logs and debris at least 10 yards wide, leaving no sand to walk on.  Would this be a prematurely ended hike or would this be instead a Richard Hike? That was the question.

Maggie explores an upside-down stump
I answered the question by waiting for a wave to recede and then running or walking fast before the next wave rolled in. As the next wave came in, Maggie and I would then seek safety on top of the log piles and then repeat the whole process over again when the wave receded. While the going was slow, we did manage to cover about half a mile before finding easier going on the dunes behind the log piles.

Tsunami debris
There has been so much driftwood piled on our beaches this year, it may be from the tsunami in Japan. There was plenty of obvious tsunami debris such as pop and water bottles but most of the debris consisted of logs, indeterminate pieces of lumber, and a gazillion little pieces of plastic. Some of the debris, like flip-flops, plastic baseballs, and baby rattles, were profoundly poignant and tragic. I picked up a water bottle, imagining a pair of hands placing the bottle into a shopping cart, the hands' owner at the time being totally unaware of the disaster that would befall northern Japan. Just an ordinary household item, lying on an Oregon beach, brought here by such a horrible tragedy.

So, between dune-walking, wave-dodging, and log-hopping we made slow and steady progress on the beach towards a tall and sheer cliff. At the cliff the sand petered out altogether, marking an unexpectedly early encounter with the Elk River.

Let's hike across the Elk!
According to my maps and guidebooks, the mouth of the Elk River should have been further south. But a water laden river goes where it wants to go, and the Elk has migrated north by running right under the cliffs paralleling the shore line. A sandy island across the way was not an island at all; upon closer inspection the island instead was the spit of sandy beach on the other side of the river.

The Elk River meets the ocean
The official Oregon Coast Trail calls for walking across the Elk River to which I reply "Are you freaking kidding me?" The river was wide, deep, turbulent, and running fast and strong. No way. Maybe in the summer, but there'd have to be a lot less water in it.

The beach is made entirely of wood

The river clashed violently with the ocean, causing waves to form with no rhyme or reason. The waves came ashore unpredictably from all angles and directions and I kept my head on a swivel as there was precious little sand to stand on. A large wave erupted forth for no apparent reason and I hopped atop the driftwood pile. The wave kept coming and the pile began to shift and move with ominous cracking sounds.  I learned a new skill: doing a speedy 50 yard dash atop moving logs. When the wave receded, it was time to leave: the mouth of the Elk River was indeed a very dangerous place.

Cape Blanco at the end of the day
The trip back was pretty uneventful as the tide had receded enough to allow us to walk on the beach with just the occasional wave chasing us up into the logs. As we headed back to the car, the shadows lengthened and we enjoyed views of the cape, Castle Rock, the Sixes River and all points in between. It was a nice way to close out 2012.

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Cape Blanco photo album in Flickr.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cape Arago

It's weird starting a hike at 2 P.M. 
We've been hiking at Cape Arago so much that one December day several years ago, Dollie and I changed it up a little by beginning the hike at 2 P.M. in order to catch the sunset at the cape. Whipping out our headlamps after an awesome sunset, we detoured through the famed Shore Acres garden, festooned with lights during the Christmas season.

The crew, B.H (before headlamps)
The next year, I heard a chorus of "Take me, take me" and this hike has wound up being sort of an annual event, depending on the weather and whether enough praises have been sufficiently sung to me. The latest installment took place this last December when 9 hardy headlamped adventurers set out on the trail at Sunset Bay State Park.

The hike is shorter, now

Seeing as how we started mid afternoon, the sun's rays were already slanting through the forest as we started. The trail followed the cliffs along the rock shore and much gawking ensued at the scenery. Suddenly, we came across a fence barring our way...huh?

The cliffs were wowier
I don't know whether it is from climate change or from heavy storms, but our cliffy trail was now in the ocean as there has been quite a bit of land loss in the ever shrinking state park. What remains of the former trail lies on the other side of the fence and a new trail system runs through the woods and is nearly not as "wowy"  (is that even a word?) as the old trail.

Looks like petrified sea lions
Minor quibble though, as the trail eventually worked it's way out on top of the cliffs but at a reasonably safe distance from the edge. We could still enjoy the mild waves (it was low tide) rushing over the shoals and the rock formations below.

The wave show
The waves were putting on a better show as we entered Shore Acres State Park; we paused briefly to check out the scene from the whale watching observation building. Further south along the shore, we could see the rocks and islands of Simpson Reef, the barking of the sea lions carrying faintly on the sea breeze.

Spring Break for sea lions
After some ups and downs from cliff to beach and back to cliff again, we reached the parking lot of the Simpson Reef overlook. The sea lions were congregating on Shell Island for a sea lion bacchannal and other pinniped debauchery. They were probably having a wet-flipper contest, judging by all the raucous barking on the island. 

Kyle Bush fans
The sun was getting low, so we hightailed it to the cape, walking down to the North Cove overlook for a closer look at the sea lion colony. There was plenty of barking, grunting, belching, and farting; it was kind of like a NASCAR race without the race cars. And the slightest breeze wafted the pungent aroma of "eau de sea lion" into our unsuspecting nostrils.

End of the day
The sunset show was now beginning, so we killed time watching the day come to an end. There was a bank of clouds that diminished the sunset somewhat but nonetheless nobody felt disappointed, or if they did feel disappointed they were kind enough not to complain to the hike leader.  

Good nighty
Heading back to Shore Acres as the night became more nighty, headlamps were eventually donned. From my vantage point at the rear of our group, we looked like giant fireflies dancing in a conga line. An orange glow in the trees ahead signaled our arrival at Shore Acres and the other reason for doing this hike at night.

Welcome to Shore Acres
Shore Acres is the former estate of timber magnate Louis Simpson, no relation to Bart or Homer. What remains of the estate are the formal gardens and the caretaker's cottage. And this time of year, the place is decked out in full Christmas light glory.

Reflecting pond
Every branch on every plant, bush, shrub, and tree was wrapped by lights of every color. The brown muddy waters of the reflecting pond were transformed into a mirrored wonderland of twinkling lights while neon frogs hopped across the pond. The cottage was equally bedecked with lights and offered hot cider to cold visitors.

Walking through the gardens while breathing sideways
We regrouped at the entrance and took a short cut that, most unusually, was a kinder and gentler short cut. The temperature had dropped and our breaths hung visible in the cold air. Those of us with headlamps learned that the beam of light lit up our vapor and, in effect, blinded us. Lois stated that she learned a new skill:  breathing sideways.

Cottage at Shore Acres
Arriving at our cars at Sunset Bay, we snickered at the long line of cars on the Cape Arago Highway, each waiting their turn to enter the parking lot and see the lights at Shore Acres. Avoiding the traffic would be another reason for hiking to the Shore Acres gardens.

For more pictures of this scenic hike, please visit the Flickr album.