Friday, November 11, 2016

Cape Arago Perimeter Trail

On occasion I lead hikes for the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club. And since the club hikes Cape Arago coastal trail on a weekly basis (or so it seems), I thought I'd change it up a bit by taking the club on a new (for the club) hiking experience. A year or so ago, I'd been exposed to the Perimeter Trail, thanks to my South Coast Strider friends who showed me the route. However, there are several trail intersections on the loop and as I sat on the living room sofa ruminating on the twists and turns of the trail, several questions came to mind: "Was that a left or a right turn on the Pack Trail?" "Left or right on the gravel road?" Clearly, if I wanted to complete the hike with the same amount of hikers I started with, I needed to better familiarize myself with the route. And that is why a week before the scheduled hike, I found myself on the Perimeter Trail with Luna, who came along for some leash training.

The old entrance to Shore Acres Estate
After a short walk through a misty forest on the "short cut" trail to Shore Acres State Park, I followed the park roadway to the Cape Arago Highway. The trail begins on the inland side of the highway and would be impossible to find if one did not know already where the trail was. There is no sign and no obvious trailhead, although someone did tie a pink ribbon to a tree to mark the spot. For some reason, the pink ribbon reminded me of hiking buddy Lane, who may no longer be a buddy after he reads this sentence.

The Perimeter Trail heads uphill
Anyway, after parting the brush and getting on the trail proper, it was a brisk uphill climb along a creek that was totally hidden by the thick jungle that grows in the coastal woods. Ferns and coastal huckleberries were everywhere, the wet fronds making sure my pant legs got wet too. Fallen trees and forest duff were decaying everywhere, thanks to the wet clime.

Eat this and feel curiouser and curiouser!

And thanks to all that decaying biomass, mushrooms of every size, shape, and color were sprouting profusely along the trail, my hiking pace slowing in indirect proportion to numerous mycological delights entertaining the camera. White-dotted red fly agaric was a common sight and I wondered why a toxic and psychoactive mushroom has to look as enticing as an Easter egg or large candy.  Talk about false advertising!

Lichen "flowers"
After a mile or so of brisk climbing, the trail leveled out in an oddly sparse forest comprised mostly of waist high coastal huckleberry bushes and dead trees. Some of the snags showed fire scars, leading me to surmise that a fire had swept through here many years ago. Because of the open terrain, sun-loving reindeer lichen grew in thick patches upon the ground. Also, because of the lack of tree cover, rain pitter-pattered on my hat brim, I hadn't really noticed the rain while hiking underneath the thick forest cover.

A small galaxy of mushrooms
The trail seemingly zig-zagged for no reason but what it was actually doing was following the stair-step boundaries of Cape Arago and Shore Acres State Parks. In particular, what it meant for me was that I had to leave that wonderful level trail and descend down to a creek drainage. What's wrong with that? Well, after reaching the creek drainage, the path then climbed out of the creek drainage. And what's wrong with that? Well, after climbing away from the creek, the trail crested a forested ridge carpeted with emerald green moss, dropping steeply down to another creek crossing. And what's wrong with that? Yup, had to hike uphill away from the creek. Up and down, up and down, that's what happens when the trail follows an squiggly arbitrary line on a map.

Leafless alder trees along a creek
There used to be an old road leading from timber magnate Louis Simpson's Shore Acres estate to Arago Peak. Nowadays, the old road bed does duty as the Arago Pack Trail and the first of three turns (left, for those keeping notes)  was made onto the Pack Trail. The trail was wide and fairly flat as it followed a forested ridge. Moss carpeted the forest floor and you could almost see forest gnomes scampering between the trees. Luna probably wanted to scamper too, but she was hampered by being tethered to her forest gnome of an owner.

Trail through the greenery
After a half-mile or so, the route intersected with the Arago Peak Trail. Not wanting to add 2 or more miles to the hike, I turned away (right) from the peak and toward Cape Arago itself. The trail dropped in a hurry and best of all, the what-goes-down-must-come-up rule did not apply in this case. Luna and I stopped for lunch at the group picnic area and she ate her lunch quickly, followed by most of mine. After a brief rest, made briefer by the arrival of a light rain, we continued down (left turn!) a gravel road to the paved Cape Arago day use area, replete with bathrooms, parking lots, and picnic tables. All the good progress Luna had made with walking without yanking the leash flew away on the ocean breeze due to all those people and dogs in the day use area. So many noses to bump and so many butts to sniff. Dog noses and butts, just to clarify. Luna was the only one of our party doing any sniffing, too, to further clarify.

Not your basic wilderness hike
Well, now that we arrived at the cape, this was all familiar territory to me. A short road walk delivered us to the Simpson Reef overlook where all the barking seals reminded me of our recent election, for some reason. Maybe it was the unintelligible cacophony, or maybe it was the foul stench wafting on the breeze, I'm not really sure. From a hiking standpoint, the reef overlook marked the resumption of actual trail as a dirt path ducked into the coastal forest above the dramatic cliffs that make Cape Arago so special.

The sea at war with itself
It seems like every time I visit Cape Arago, there is a little less of Oregon to hike on, making our new motto "Come and visit Oregon, before it disappears entirely!"  The pace of erosion seems to have accelerated over the last 5 years or so, I suspect rising sea level and climate change to be the culprit. North of Shore Acres, a substantial portion of the trail system has had to be rerouted inland and before long, they are going to have to reroute the trails south of the park as well. 

Shore Acres coast on a gloomy day
But the land meeting the sea provides for some scenic drama as wave after wave dashed against the cliffs and rocky shoals. The tide was fairly low so the waves weren't as thundering as they can be, but the camera was clicking away anyway. The sky was dramatic with swirling clouds competing with sun for control of the sky. The clouds eventually won out. 

Golden glow

The loop route was then closed by several miles of scenic coastline hiking as the day darkened. Cape Arago is always a fun place to hike and that held true for this day as well. And now that I am in total command of all the trail lefts and rights, the day was a total and unqualified success. Plus, Luna was so tired she slept all the way home. Not having your ears licked as you drive also qualifies as an unqualified success. 

Clouds painted the sky
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

1 comment :

  1. Love the mushroom photo! I visited Shore Acres State Park for my very first time last April and hiked from the mansion site to the sea lion overlook. Really liked the place, and hope to be back next spring.