Saturday, May 10, 2014

Umpqua Spit weekend

Years ago, I took co-worker Lisa on a hike to Umpqua Spit and boy did that ever turn out to be a Richard Hike! We had it all: strong winds, horizontal rain, high tide, storm surges and sneaker waves that filled up Threemile Creek and cut us off from the car. That was Lisa's first hike with me and amazingly, we enjoyed other hiking adventures after that memorable outing, probably because no one ever told Lisa she could just say no. From that first abortive hike on Umpqua Spit, I came back with newfound religion about hiking in stormy weather on the beach and I never returned to the spit again.  To be frank, I'm scared of Umpqua Spit.

Halfway across Threemile Creek

However, when snow forces one to scratch a weekend backpack trip to Hyatt Lake, then the coast warrants a second look. The forecast for Saturday morning called for rain, winds, and thunder. However, all that was supposed to ease up by 11 o'clock with the weather becoming increasingly nicer. Since high tide was going to crest at 10 o'clock, I began my hike at noon and it was "hike on!" And since the spit's point is one of the few places on the Oregon coast that I have not yet been to, it was "spit on!"

Cue the horror movie music

I caught a lot of rain on the drive to the coast but once there, it was a gloriously sunny day with white puffy clouds forming just off shore and just on shore. The strip of beach was a cloud free zone and it was nice to get sunburned again. The next six miles were a beach walk with only sanderlings and sea gulls for company. I probably was not good company, judging by the feathered panic at my arrival to the respective flocks minding their own business at the shore's edge.

Puff balls in the sky
Clouds and blue sky were a recurring theme, particularly a low bank forming just off shore, looking like a spilled jar of cotton balls seen in medical offices the world over. The clouds hovering over the nearby town of Reedsport were much larger, towering up into the sky like a wedding cake Godzilla. I have no idea what I'm saying, but let it be noted that much photography ensued.

The jetty rocks!
Past the three mile mark, an otherworldly low dark line on the horizon was my first view of the rock jetty that shepherds the Umpqua River into the Pacific Ocean. Visually, it was a way to track my progress as I neared the jetty, my basic end destination. And over an hour after the first view, I arrived at the formidable rock wall that both contains and constrains the mighty Umpqua River.

Feel the hay fever
Setting down my pack on the sandy beach, I explored the jetty upstream a bit, following a jeep track through what would have otherwise been an impenetrable forest. It was a perfumed forest, redolent with the sweet odor of Scotch broom which was blooming everywhere. Waves were marching up the very wide Umpqua River and I had a nice view of the Umpqua Lighthouse spinning its top on the other side of the river.

Behold the mighty Umpqua River
I have to brag about my campsite, a viable candidate for Best Campsite Ever. I pitched my tent on a small flat spot atop the foredunes, with my humble little home for the weekend perched on the narrow sandy crest like a medieval castle overlooking serfs and peasants laboring in the hot sun.  From my living room window I enjoyed a magnificent view of the beach, jetty, and river as the sun sank in the sky. As day slid into twilight, the tide was coming up the river and the Umpqua was not a happy Umpqua where river outflow met the incoming tide, it was a seething and roiling boat-eating mess of angry water.  Impressive, when seen from the relative safety of the jetty rocks.

The sun eventually dropped behind the clouds, which appeared to leak golden light like a tattered tent with a Coleman lantern in it. Eventually the gold turned to orange as the sun finally sunk behind the horizon. A short hike up the jeep track resulted in some photography of the twinkling lights of Winchester Bay as the beam from the lighthouse swept overhead. This whole day is why we hike.

Threemile Creek, on the return leg
The next day dawned cold and foggy and I struck camp with numbed fingers. Once the sun rose, the fog dissipated and it was a pleasant but anticlimactic 6 miles back to the car under cloudless sky. After wading across shallow Threemile Creek, I arrived at the car with a great sense of accomplishment, particularly in view of the first Umpqua Spit storm-loogie of an experience. As the president and sole member of the Umpqua Spit Conquerers, I hailed myself by heartily shouting our motto: "Veni, vidi, et conspuetur", which means "I came, I saw, I spit"

This is why we hike
For more pictures, please visit the Flickr album.

Be it ever so humble...


  1. Looks great at the beach and sounds like a nice hike as well. We have been busy lately with house projects and have only hiked some common local trails. Hoping to get out Memorial Weekend to hike Wagner Butte and maybe Grizzly Peak too.

    1. Yup, that was a fun way to spend a weekend. Wagner Butte is on my list, but I have to take Ray because he's never been. This Memorial Day, I'm backpacking on the Lost Coast so I'll have to Wagner (along with every other place on my list!) in June. Holy cow, is it going to be June already?

  2. Wow, some of your best photography (as a whole) to date. Especially fourth one down. Anne