Friday, January 11, 2019

Oregon Coast (Near Floras Lake)

I really should know better. It's not like this hasn't happened before. But the lesson here, dear readers, is that one should ALWAYS respect the ocean even though the respect isn't necessarily mutual. The sea is ever ready, willing, and able to merrily smite complacent or inattentive hikers, Exhibit A being this hike on a half-sunny half-stormy day.

The dividing line
Several  years ago, Dale, Lane, and I backpacked the longest continuous beach stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail and our first night was spent at a very crude and primitive campsite next to the New River. So, I figured I'd revisit the campsite by way of Floras Lake on an out-and-back beach hike. What a great idea and what could possibly go wrong?

A great start to this hike
The day was crisp and clear and the sky shone a bright blue with all the sparkling clarity winter air engenders. With a skip and a whistle, I set out on the trail and my mellow was immediately harshed by a warning sign. Literally, it was a rumpled note tacked onto the trailhead bulletin board. Sounding ominous and dire, the notice advised that the beach conditions were way too dangerous due to high surf. However, my inner paralegal noted the sign was dated yesterday and did not mention, cite, or allude to this current day, leaving me a legal loophole large enough to hike through. Based on a) nothing bad ever happens on a clear day and b) if there was a surf warning for today, the note would have said so, and c) those warnings don't ever pertain to me anyway; I decided to ignore what in hindsight, was very prescient advice.

Say bye-bye to the nice trail!
Accompanied by my own sense of delusional infallibility, I stepped around the sign and started hiking. The trail to the beach was underwater from a rain-swollen Floras Lake and I merrily splashed through the extended puddles before peeling to the north on a path I'd never been on. Halfway through a grassy expanse behind the beach foredunes, said path disappeared under several feet of standing water. Sheesh, but the grass made bushwhacking (grasswhacking?) easy and in short order, I found another path leading to the beach.

Belligerent wavery

The ocean was angry. There is no other way to describe it. The waves were booming and frankly, were somewhat on the large side. However, due to the recent storm action, the beach sloped steeply into the ocean which meant that while the waves were large, they didn't run up the beach at all, being effectively deterred by simple slope geometry and gravity (vector cross products and coefficients of static friction too, for the mathematically inclined). 

Shoreline turbulence
The fact the waves did not run far up the beach meant that I could get really close to them and take some awesome pictures of the thundering surf wanting to eat me. Laboring under the misapprehension that I was safe and secure, progress along the beach was slow while the photography was fast and furious. It was time for Master Poseidon to teach Richard a lesson.

Booming waves, as far as the eye can see
The camera was pointed northward along the coast, with my eyes and concentration totally affixed to the scene in the camera viewfinder, when a movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention. It was whitewater in the air, coming in about waist high, and moving faster than a cheetah on a rocket. My mind analyzed the situation and quickly deduced that the airborne water brigade was the leading front of a speeding wave. Obviously, my mind works slower than a speeding wave because before I could take evasive action, I was in it.

The violence of the onrushing water was unexpectedly shocking, for that wave enthusiastically clouted my backside like my abuelita did after catching me in a fib. My hiking pole was rudely snatched out of my right hand and I staggered like a punch-drunk boxer (or even a drunk boxer, for that matter!) in a desperate attempt to remain upright. The outcome of remaining upright was very much in question at that point. I'm proud to say that in a nanosecond, I took firm and decisive action which consisted of raising the camera skyward with my left arm while crying out to the heavens "No, not the camera!" Priorities.

The breach into the New River
The surf quickly retreated, thanks to the steep slope of the beach and I retrieved my hiking pole from where it had been deposited. From that point on, I hiked on the crest of the beach foredunes, soft sand be damned. Truth be told, the beach foredunes were not very tall, and there was a reason for that, which became evident when the New River curved close to the beach. 

The New River on a winter morn
The foredunes are formed by European beachgrass growing next to the beach. As windblown sand collects around the grasses, the dunes grow in height, eventually getting to be 15'ish feet tall. However, on the small strip of sand separating the New River from the beach, there was no grass growing at all. Why? Because the rampaging ocean had clearly breached the dune, running into the New River itself. And here I was, hiking on the precarious sandy perch between two bodies of water that could hurt me if they put their minds to it.

The Coast Range rises on the other side of the New
On the plus side, there was no impromptu hydrologic engineering while I was there and the scenery was fantastic. The wide river glinted in the morning sun and the coastal range rose up in the distance, seemingly coming close to touching the sky. On the ocean side, the noisy waves were a bright white in the early sunlight. Maybe nearly getting drowned was worth all this, but not really.

Clouds start scudding in
I didn't get very far north, not even getting remotely close to the primitive campsite. The walking was tedious, consisting of fighting for footing in soft sand and wading through hummocks of beachgrass. But no way was I going to hike down on the beach! The tide was definitely incoming and it was a logical presumption that hiking conditions would become increasingly challenging. I called it good after several miles and turned back to the south, in the direction of Floras Lake and Blacklock Point.

Not a question of if, but when the rain would start
A storm was undoubtedly blowing in from the southwest and skies quickly became dark with ominous clouds. It was time to quickly hoof it back to Floras Lake but instead, I hiked even slower, taking photo after photo of increasingly belligerent surf and cloud cover. I'm glad to report that there was no more hiker-smiting by the ocean although it did start to rain just as I reached Floras Lake.

Stormy view to Blacklock Point
So the lesson here, dear readers, is always make sure your camera is waterproof! Heed the warning signs, too.

Floras Lake as the day went gloomy
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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