Saturday, February 20, 2016

Top 8 reasons why to not hike the OCT in winter

Siletz Bay in February (through my windshield)
It’s kind of tempting: while the Cascades are snowbound, why not do an off-season thru-hike on the Oregon Coast Trail? What’s a little rain?

Consider “Dave” (I don’t actually know his name), who wound up at my friend Pat’s house in Gearhart last Sunday, Feb. 14. It was late afternoon when he wandered into a cafĂ© seeking warmth and wifi, and the owner—after chatting with him—called Pat. She knew that Pat is part of the Warmshowers community, a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. If anyone ever needed hospitality that wet afternoon, it was Dave.

“He was sopping wet,” Pat says—after just one night and a day on the trail. His preparation seemed to have been Wild caliber: a tarp but no tent or ground cloth. A pack weighing in at more than 50 pounds. Too much heavy food—including 11 glass jars of almond butter (“They were on sale,” he told Pat). She dried him out, helped him decant his almond butter into ziplock bags, and sent him on his way the next day—he was eager to continue—into weather that would range that week from balmy to pounding hail and torrential rain.

You might get away with a decent section hike in winter, depending on the section. But the frequency of crappy weather is only one reason to not hike the OCT in winter. Here are my top 8 reasons to plan your OCT thru-hike for late June through September.

It’s lonely. No one else in the hiker-biker camps. No one on the beach. Sad.

Windfall is a pain. You may still run into trails blocked by fallen logs (and brush) in summer, if trail crews haven’t been through yet. You definitely will in winter or spring. Sometimes it’s easy to get around, and sometimes it’s not.

High tides can be very high, to the point where the beach just disappears. And sneaker waves are frequent.

Snow on Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach
It’s cold. True, it rarely snows on the Oregon Coast, and it can be quite warm (nearly 80 one day last week), but you can run into pretty cold weather which, combined with the prevailing wetness, is a recipe for hypothermia.

It rains. A ton. On average, 11 to 14 inches a month November through March on the north coast. In summer you’re likely to get some rain over the course of your thru-hike, but not a lot.

It can be dangerous on headlands. High winds during winter storms can send branches and whole trees toppling.

There’s no simple way across the bay mouths. In summer it’s easy to flag a passing boater or prearrange a ride with a charter boat operator. In winter, boaters are inside by the fire. Where you should be.

The mouth of New River: easy to wade in July, impossible in winter.
The wade-able rivers are too high to wade. This is the main reason why you ought to wait until summer to thru-hike the OCT. By late June, all the creeks and rivers are typically at their lowest level and many can be waded, certainly at low tide. In winter they’re so high that you have to find a bridge across them, which can mean long detours off the beach and onto Highway 101. Which sort of defeats the point of a thru-hike on the beach.

(Did I mention that the new edition of my hiking guidebook includes everything I know about thru-hiking the OCT?)