Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tahkenitch Dunes Loop

This has been one wet winter and yeah, I know I've been saying that a lot lately. "But O Awesome Hiking Dude" you answer " I read your blog and look at your pictures, you've actually been hiking in sunny weather" Touché, and thanks for reading the blog and looking at the pictures. But the truth of the matter is I've just managed to coincidentally catch rare single sunny days dividing solid weeks of rainstorms. But winter will eventually have to heed our pleas of "rain, rain, go away" and disappear until winter comes round again, which will probably be in another month because in Oregon, it only rains 18 months out of the year.

We should all hike like dogs!
The first such heeding of pleas took place mid-March when Dollie, Luna (our dog), and I enjoyed what was an unbelievably gorgeous day, especially given the wintry and watery context. The following weekend, I'd be leading my innocents (also known as the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club) on a hike in this area and wanted to scope out trail conditions before that hike. Uncharacteristically, I was being responsible. Anyway, since the route called for two wades across Tahkenitch Creek, I really needed to lay eyes on the creek to see if such a thing was even possible, considering the amount of rainfall this season.

Diametrically opposed
The three of us set out on the trail on the aforementioned glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky, not that we could even see the sky from the amply shaded footpath wending through the forest. The trailside vegetation was bursting at the seams and the trail tunneled through the burgeoning spring growth. Luna seemed like she was really beginning to understand the concept of walking on a leash so with some trepidation, I took it off. She behaved and generally was able to handle her newly won freedom as she remained within eyesight and obeyed voice commands. Now if I could only get Dollie to do that!  Anyway a "Good doggie" for Luna!

The Grand Canyon of Tahkenitch
Once the dunes were crossed and the forest re-entered, there were a few winter-related travails to overcome. The winter rains had filled up the marshes behind the beach foredunes to the point of overflowing. All that water has to go somewhere so a small creek formed and ran across the trail. The soil here is all sand so that small creek in no time had carved a veritable Grand Canyon of the Tahkenitch. Not only was it relatively deep and abrupt, fallen trees had tumbled into the ditch, filling it with brushy skin-clawing and eye-gouging debris. We met a backpacking group with sad faces heading back, and they advised us there was no way to get to the beach. Sounded like a dare, so we continued on and scrambled across the ditch. It really wasn't all that bad, just a tad bit tedious.

Just after that, the trail disappeared for good under a couple feet of water and Luna took her four feet into the standing water and splashed in happy delirium. Dollie made it plain her two feet were not going in there so a perfunctory bushwhack to Tahkenitch Creek was performed, followed by a scramble down the abrupt bank of the creek. Or in Luna's case, a leap of canine ecstasy took her right into creek with a loud splash and joyous yip and there she was, a little black dot bobbing in the stream, being carried away in the strong current towards the ocean. The creek was probably chest deep in places and with the current moving as fast and strong as it was, a new route for the following weekend's hike entered the planning stage. Thankfully, Luna managed to scramble back to shore before she reached surf line, in case anybody was wondering.

Bye storm, hate to see you go...not!
A week later, I led a dozen trusting souls into the woods and we were off and hiking. It had rained a fair amount of on the drive over from Roseburg but the storm was breaking up by the time the hike began. When the route broke out onto the dunes, sunlight danced on the beach far ahead while tall clouds shaded the open sands.

It's a Richard Hike!
The phrase "It's a Richard Hike!" was bandied about upon arrival at the new creek and newly eroded brush-filled ditch. So, just to be mean, I led them further down the trail where it disappeared under two feet of water and said "Now THIS is a Richard Hike!" Then I let them know they'd been pranked before they started crying, and led the short bushwhack down to Tahkenitch Creek.

Wildness at high tide
It was high tide at Tahkenitch Creek and it was a wild place where ocean and creek collided. Waves were breaking every which way and there was not a lot of room to walk between rampaging creek and tall sandy cliff. Rachel was ahead of me by about 20 yards and she turned back to monitor our progress behind her. One should never turn one's back on the ocean and behind Rachel, a rather belligerent sneaker wave was coming in fast and furious with malevolence in its heart. I emphatically pointed at the wave in warning (It was a little too noisy and she was a little too far to yell back and forth). Rachel smiled sweetly, and waved, thinking I was taking a photo or something and the wave kept roaring in like a bull lining up an unarmed bullfighter. So now I flap my arms a little, point at my eye, point even more emphatically at the wave and still Rachel smiles sweetly and waves some more. Really unclear on the concept, as they say. So now I point with both arms, jump up and down and then it clicked, Rachel looked behind her, sees the wave about to smite her, and takes off running in panic with nary a sweet smile or friendly wave. I didn't get to see the outcome as I too had to run from the same wave. Lindsay and I clung to the sandy cliff like spiders on a living room wall while the mini-tsunami swirled below. Upstream, I could hear shouts of alarm from the rest of the group as they spotted the sneaker wave running up the creek. When next I saw Rachel, her legs were soaking wet as she obviously did not outrun the sneaker wave.

Stella certifies this pond
After a wonderfully lazy lunch on a sunny beach, we backtracked to Tahkenitch Creek. The tide had crested and already there was more room to walk. Fortunately for Rachel, there were no more sneaker waves sneaking up while smiling for the camera. Everybody was in the mood for a few more miles so we grabbed the faint path running across Tahkenitch Dunes to Threemile Lake. Here it was all soft sand and the warm enjoyable sun on the beach transitioned to cold gray clouds that threatened rain. Small ponds filled in the dimples between dunes and I'm always surprised to see water collect in sand, I figure it should just seep into the seemingly porous soil.

Threemile Lake 
Threemile Lake was full to the point of overflowing, just like a bladder on 50¢ Beer Night. It was so full that the body of water might have actually been three miles long and living up to its name. The black water with dark clouds encroaching from above created a rather portentous atmosphere that delighted the camera-toters in our crowd.

One out of two hikers use the bridge properly
A one-railed footbridge crossed the lake's outlet and water lapped at the bottom of the bridge. Normally the wooden bridge spans a 10-foot deep channel there so it was definitely different to see the water level so high. Cattail reeds collected at the bridge, creating the illusion of solid ground surrounding the wooden footbridge. Splash! Jeremy's dog Stella was suckered in by the reeds and was unpleasantly surprised to find erstwhile solid ground to be cold water, instead. A panicked swim to shore brought her to safety and some amused humans.

Leaving Threemile Lake behind, it was time to say goodbye to the beach and sand dunes as the trail climbed up and over a forested ridge before dropping down to the trailhead. Green was the dominant color as moss covered everything that did not move. Creeks and trickles ran across the trail and slugs joyfully slithered in the fresh new growth. Rough-skinned newts were spotted crossing the trail here and there and kind-hearted humans gently relocated them off-trail. And in a sign spring has finally arrived, trilliums were in bloom

Tahkentitch Creek, you've been a wonderful host!
So, even though this wound up being an ad-lib route of a hike, we all had a good time and did not feel like we missed anything by not wading across boisterous Tahkenitch Creek. But watch out for those sneaker waves! For more pictures of my scouting trip to Tahkenitch Creek, visit this Flickr album. For the club hike a week later, visit this one instead. Or visit both!


  1. Got to love that high water and them there sneaker waves! Now that all have been exposed to a true Richard hike, will they join you again?

  2. It takes a lot more than a sneaker wave to put me off a Richard Hike! But perhaps we'll coordinate some hand signals prior to the next one?

  3. This has been quite the wet winter! Glad you found a route that worked for your hiking club.