Saturday, February 5, 2022

Cape Arago

The signal light turned green and I stepped on the gas. In response, my Jeep gave a small shudder and feebly inched forward as fast as a beetle with two legs. After hearing the prognosis from the vehicle's physician, we made the hard decision to authorize a death warrant for our long-term faithful servant. Naturally, I was devastated, so much so that Dollie and I happily purchased a brand new vehicle the very same day. And as I parked my new ride at the trailhead on what will be the first of many such drives, I cheerily sung to myself "I'm a Soul man!" mostly because I'm now the proud owner of a brand new Soul.

Heigh ho, it's hundreds of hikers we go

Hiking and the driving-to thereof, are good for both my soul and Soul, and we parked with a bright cherry red splash at Sunset Bay State Park. This hike to Cape Arago and back was a South Coast Friends of the Umpqua Striders venture, which is what you call a cooperative effort between Friends of the Umpqua and sister hiking club South Coast Striders. The superb weather and scenery ensured a large turnout and all hikers present at the trailhead had plenty of old and new hiking friends with whom to bond with.

A secret beach at low tide

I've hiked in the Cape Arago area when the weather's been nasty and belligerent but on this day, it was downright balmy as the day dawned as sunny and bright as a granddaughter's smile. Lest we get too comfortable though, a chill breeze made sure to ruffle both windbreakers and the ocean's surface and at the start, I didn't see anybody hiking without jackets or extra clothing layers.

Norton Gulch lured some hikers down for a visit

With so many hikers (around 30!) what could possibly go wrong? Plenty really, but the worst of it came when the hikers in front, who did not know the route like us grizzled vets, made a right turn at the first junction and began to head down into Norton Gulch and I figured everybody just wanted to visit the gulch where it meets the sea. They made it about halfway down before stopping and asking me which way we should go. So amusing to see approximately 30 hikers turn around and backtrack on a narrow trail.

Low tide

High tide

It was low tide at the Cape Arago environs, the retreating ocean exposing reefs and rocky shoals to the airy elements. The booming waves at nearby Shore Acres are famed the world over but on this morning, they were barely making a ripple. The wind-driven whitecaps out to sea were larger than the waves lapping against the shore like a thirsty cat at a water dish. However, the ocean patiently bides its time and will once again rampage against the coastal ramparts come high tide.

Panorama of Simpson Reef 

From the gardens and viewpoints at Shore Acres, the coastal trail dipped in and out of the forest, sideswiping iconic landmarks such as Simpson Beach, before winding up at Simpson Reef Overlook. At the viewpoint, tourists and hikers alike can observe the sea lion bacchanalia and debauchery taking place on Shell Island. Replete with fishy smell, all that barking, belching, and farting was kind of like a gathering of through-hikers, but without the backpacks or hiking poles.

The forested path heading up to the Pack Trail

I'm not bragging (oh, but I am!) but I've lost weight lately and where I really notice the difference is when I'm hiking uphill. There is no direct trail from Simpson Reef Overlook to Cape Arago and one can either walk along the road to the cape, or cross the road and take the forested path leading to the Pack Trail. That particular path is a steep one but my lighter new and improved self just charged uphill, nearly as quick as a brand new Soul when the light turns green. Whew, did that ever feel good!

Lunchtime view

The coastal woods, fed by the perpetual fog at the cape, were predictably lush and verdant. The earthen track wound through the trees while numerous clumps of green ferns flanked the footpath. After reaching the Pack Trail, which is actually a gravel road, it was a short drop to Cape Arago herself, where we ate lunch while admiring the view of the sparkling sea and the rugged Oregon coast running to the south.

The sea was a bit more agitated on the way back

On the hike back to the trailhead, high tide was beginning to roll in and the waves were now a lot more entertaining than they had been earlier. We (John, Merle, and I) would see a huge wave break in spectacular explosive fashion, so cameras would be readied and then we'd wait...and wait...and wait for the next large wave. It apparently is a Cape Arago truism that waves are only spectacular when you aren't pointing a camera at them.

Pictorial definition of whitewater

The cool part about going home after the hike is I got to drive my new car all over again. Unfortunately, John and Merle took the occasion to pepper me with technical questions that I did not know the answers to, other than "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it has a motor". My ignorance of all things automotive was further exposed at my first fuel purchase when the attendant asked me to pop the gas tank lid open. Crap, how do I do that? Shaking his head in condescension and with a smirk on his face, the dude showed me where the lever was down on the floor by the seat. Hiking is so much easier!

A wall of solid rock, exposed by the low tide

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

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