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.