Thursday, November 29, 2018

Help guide completion of the Oregon Coast Trail

Wouldn't it be nice to route the OCT past Harts Cove, on the north side of Cascade Head (and cut out a bunch of highway walking in the process)? It can happen!

FIRST THE DETAILS:
If you're as passionate about the Oregon Coast Trail as I am (well, that's a pretty high bar: let's say if you're interested in helping guide its future development), clear your calendar and attend one of three public open houses Dec. 10 (Coos Bay), Dec. 11 (Tillamook) or Dec. 13 (Portland) designed to gather public input for the Oregon Coast Trail Action Plan, the most robust effort to date to identify and close gaps in the OCT. DETAILS HERE

BACKGROUND:
If you're hiked the Oregon Coast Trail, you know the trail is already complete(ish). Like, there are still places where the trail requires you to walk where people weren't meant to walk (mainly, the shoulder of US 101). There have been several efforts over the years to close these "gaps," which add up to roughly one-eighth of the total trail distance, by my count. Every now and then a little progress has been made (construction of another trail segment to get folks off the highway).

Then in 2017 the Oregon Legislature got serious and passed House Bill 3149, which directs the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to lead an effort to "develop an action plan to complete the Oregon Coast Trail." That effort is now under way, led by the talented Oregon State Parks Senior Parks and Trails Planner Robin Wilcox.

This series of meetings is the first opportunity for the public to see the status of this project and to provide input. I plan to attend the meeting in Portland Dec. 13. (It's the shortest drive from my home in Eugene. And it's not on my birthday.)

Robin has done her homework. She's been out in the field and she's been gathering input from lots of trail users. And she is developing a fine appreciation for the challenges and the opportunities out there to get this trail whipped into shape. I hope you can make it to one of the meetings. At least consider signing up at the project's home page to receive project updates as this effort evolves.

MEANWHILE, SOME SHAMELESS PROMOTION: 
The new edition of my book Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon is out; makes a great gift to parents! I'll be at the Oregon Historical Society's Holiday Cheer book event this Sunday, Dec. 2 from noon to 4; it's free. Stop by and say hi!

I had some great views and met some interesting characters on my long hike along the highway shoulder from Humbug Mountain to Nesika Beach. But I still would have preferred to not be walking on the highway.


Monday, August 20, 2018

A week-long section hike in the Oregon Dunes and beyond



My friends Paula and Mile just spent seven days hiking the OCT from Florence to Floras Lake. They had hiked the northern half (Columbia River to Florence) last October and had intended to pick up the southern half this summer but stopped short due to injury (tendonitis). But up to that point they really enjoyed this week-long walk. If you’re looking for a more remote OCT section hike that includes some undeveloped camping (as well as, in their case, motel and hiker-biker camps), this is a good one.

Four main takeaways for me:
  • ·        Beware of ticks in the marshes along the Oregon Dunes in midsummer.
  • ·        Avoid camping at the RV park in Winchester Bay if you can.
  • ·        Preschedule your cab rides or be prepared to wait.
  • ·        Do your best to hit every coastal river mouth at low tide, because sand volume fluctuates from year to year and even through the season, and you never know which ones will be easy (or hard) to cross.

Oh, and the bus system works well getting to and from (and up and down) the coast.

Here’s a secondhand day-by-day account of their trip:

DAY 1: FLORENCE TO CARTER LAKE. After taking a bus from Eugene to Florence, they walked the highway/road to the beach at the south jetty and headed south down the beach. They were surprised (as I was, hearing about it) how high the Siltcoos River was—nearly waist-deep. Which is a good reminder of how unpredictable the coastal river mouth depths are. Took the trail through the dunes to Carter Lake Campground for the night.

DAY 2: CARTER LAKE TO WINCHESTER BAY. Continued down the beach to the Umpqua South Jetty and got a boat ride across the bay mouth—prearranged—to Winchester Bay. Spent an unpleasant night camping in the RV campground there (other guests were doing Johnny Cash karaoke until late into the night); they tried to get a motel room but the town was booked solid. Presumably they filled extra water bottles here, anticipating a night of camping in the dunes.

DAY 3: WINCHESTER BAY TO TENMILE CREEK. Continued down the beach to the mouth of Tenmile Creek. Here they bushwacked inland into the marsh, looking for a campsite. It was gorgeous, they say, but they couldn’t find a decent place to camp, so they returned to the beach—and found themselves covered with ticks. After picking off the ticks, they settled into a campsite in the dunes about a half-mile south of Tenmile Creek (off the beach, outside of the plover restriction zone).

Camp kitchen in the dunes
DAY 4: TENMILE CREEK TO NORTH BEND. Continued south to Horsfall Beach access. Attempted to get a cab from here to North Bend/Coos Bay, but all the cabs were busy and—long story short—they wound up walking all the way into North Bend, where they got a motel room.

DAY 5: SEVEN DEVILS ROAD TO BULLARDS BEACH STATE PARK. They prearranged a cab for early this morning (8 am); it arrived promptly, and they had the cab drop them off along Seven Devils Road. (So they skipped Charleston/Cape Arago entirely). They walked the road (paved, then gravel, then paved again briefly) back to the beach at Seven Devils State Recreation Site. They timed their start to get around Fivemile Point at mid-low tide. They continued down the beach to Bullards Beach State Park hiker-biker camp, which was full to bursting with both OCT hikers and US 101 cyclists.

HIker-biker camp, Bullards Beach State Park

DAY 6: BULLARD BEACH TO NEW RIVER BIVOUAC CAMPSITE. They walked into Bandon and resumed walking the beach south. They had no trouble crossing New River (only one outlet now, and barely a trickle when they crossed; again, you never know about these coastal rivers) and camped at the BLM bivouac site north of Floras Lake and loved it (using water they carried from Bullards Beach).

DAY 7: NEW RIVER CAMPSITE TO FLORAS LAKE. They continued down the beach to Floras Lake. From here they walked out to the town of Langlois (on US 101) and caught a bus north to Coos Bay, where they spent a night in a motel before catching another bus back to Eugene.

Had they continued, they would have encountered more wild camping opportunities at Blacklock Point and a hiker-biker camp at Cape Blanco. Not until Port Orford is there bus access (via Curry Public Transit).


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thinking about the Oregon Coast Trail while hiking the Coast to Coast Trail


I recently returned from hiking the Coast to Coast Trail across northern England—the one that cuts through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors in a not-very-straight route of nearly 200 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. It was it was challenging (we chose to do it in 13 days of walking from 7.5 miles to 24.5 miles per day; you can take more time and hike shorter days), occasionally it was miserable, and often it was heavenly. If you’d like details, I kept a trail log on Instagram, starting with the photo of three pairs of boots in the Irish Sea.


You will see many sheep on the C2C. You may see elk on the OCT.

Of course I thought a great deal about the Oregon Coast Trail on those long days of nothing but walking, comparing this trip to my solo backpack down the Oregon Coast Trail. Each trail is truly epic in its own way, and each has distinct challenges and rewards. On both trails the scenery is spectacular, though I know some people get tired of the sameness of the moors mile after mile, just as the 40 miles of uninterrupted beach walking along the Oregon Dunes can get monotonous.

Here’s what struck me the most, comparing my experiences of thru-hiking the C2C and the OCT:

Pluses and minuses of the Coast to Coast Trail


It’s fair to say that wayfinding, weather, and trail condition are worse on the Coast to Coast than the Oregon Coast Trail. The Lake District is notorious for rain, and while you can hit bad weather on the OCT, it tends to be good hiking weather during the hiking season (April-September). The C2C requires constant wayfinding (we used two maps and GPS and still had issues a few times), while it is virtually impossible to get lost on the OCT. And while the trails can be rocky (and rooty) on the OCT, they’re nothing like the steep, slick rock gullies that count as trails on parts of the C2C. On the other hand, the OCT requires constant attention to tides (to get around headlands, to cross small rivers and creeks) and planning for crossing certain major bay mouths by boat.



Costs for backpackers the OCT and C2C are about equivalent; inn-to-inn walking is more expensive on the OCT. Backpackers might sneak in some wild camping on either trail, but generally they’ll be staying at developed campsites for a (mostly small) fee. Lodging is reasonably priced on the Coast to Coast; it crosses remote rural England, and other than the touristy Lake District, much of the route transits areas where the C2C has been an economic boon. In contrast, the Oregon Coast is already a very popular tourist area, and the hiking season (determined by weather and river levels) is high season. It’s not as expensive as the California coast, however, and you can save money by looking for modest lodging without an ocean view or hiking in spring or fall. If you want to save money.



The highway shoulder walking on the Oregon Coast Trail is a bummer. Though we did have to dash across a four-lane motorway, nearly all the road walking on the Coast to Coast (and there was plenty, as on nearly all long-distance walks) was on quiet lanes or on gravel roads that are no longer open to vehicles (like the one above). The least palatable parts of the Oregon Coast Trail are several long stretches of walking on the shoulder of US Highway 101. The short stretches, such as are required to cross major rivers on convenient bridges, aren’t a big deal, but walking 5 miles (or more) along the highway is a non-starter for many people. (You can always either call a cab or catch a bus if you prefer.) Fortunately Oregon State Parks has begun work on a robust master plan for the OCT seeking doable alternatives for those road stretches; more on that in a blog post this fall.



Sophisticated infrastructure has evolved to serve Coast to Coast hikers, far beyond what’s currently available on the Oregon Coast Trail. Campsites and inns are located all along the C2C (though long days of walking are sometimes required). We even managed to score scones and tea mid-hike several days (twice in one day). My C2C guidebook lists 19 outfitters offering lodging reservations and luggage transfer for do-it-yourself “self-guided” adventurers like us, as well as eight outfitters offering guided treks. There are currently no commercial outfitters (that I am aware of) offering reservation service, luggage transfer, or guided treks on the Oregon Coast Trail. The OCT does have wonderful inexpensive hiker-biker campsites well spaced along much of the route, but there are still some gaps, especially at the far northern and southern ends of the route. Same with lodging: tons of lodging options most places, but a few gaps, especially south of Port Orford on the south coast.



As I mentioned, Oregon State Parks and its partner agencies are working to improve the OCT; I suspect within a decade all the big “gaps” (i.e. highway portions) will be replaced with off-road trail. But coastal businesses could be helping too. A few additional lodging options in key places, some private campgrounds offering hiker-biker campsites (like Wright’s for Camping in Cannon Beach), luggage transfer and reservation services could be making OCT hikes more doable right now, especially for long-distance hikers from out of state and out of the country, whom I believe already constitute the majority of OCT thru-hikers (just as on the C2C; we met almost no British hikers but lots of Australians).

Despite its shortcomings, the OCT is hikeable right now, if you’re willing to do some planning and be a little flexible.

NOTE: I’m thinking about offering a logistics service (lodging reservations, luggage transfer, and boat shuttle where needed) for a roughly two-week stretch of the OCT in June 2019, from the Columbia River to Newport. Still need to do some legwork to see if it can work. If you may be interested (in those dates, or others, in 2019), contact me.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Yet more updates for 2018



DeWayne Gibson and Dustin Powell just completed the OCT and sent me some timely updates on trail condition; I've added them to my 2018 OCT update. Here is the latest version.

The great news is that Crissy Field State Recreation Site at (nearly) the California border now has  trail register where OCT finishers can sign in and be celebrated! Took many years, but they finally got it. Since DeWayne and Dustin were the first to sign, the staff at Crissy Field actually called the local newspaper, which sent out a reporter who wrote a story, amusingly headlined "Hikers Complete Oregon Coast Trail."

Not sure where they got that estimate of 15 people a year completing the OCT (based on nothing; obviously an underestimate), and that last paragraph is just random and goofy. But I thought other OCTers might enjoy. Good to see the OCT getting some notice!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Better Way to Lincoln City

JUMP TO MY MAP AND DIRECTIONS that show you how to cut off 2.2 miles of highway shoulder walking north of Lincoln City.


The official  OCT route from Neskowin to Lincoln City is, shall we say, troubled. I keep hearing that discussions are under way or plans are being made to improve the route over Cascade Head and, thence, over the Salmon River and back to the beach at Lincoln City. Right now the official route involves many miles (8 or 10, depending) of walking on the highway shoulder. I keep hoping someone (USFS) gets it together to actually do what needs to be done to reduce the highway walking here to a minimal 1 mile stretch needed to cross the Salmon River estuary:

1) Negotiate an easement with the private neighborhood at the south end of Neskowin allowing legal foot traffic up to the top of South Beach Drive.

2) Brush out the existing rough trail from there through Siuslaw National Forest land that hooks up to the Hart's Cove trail (see Day Hiking: Oregon Coast for details of how you would walk that trail to Road 1861 and options from there to the intersection of US 101 and Three Rocks Road.

3) Let go of the moratorium on walking Road 1861 from July 15 to Jan. 1. C'mon, the peregrine falcon that nests on the cliffs here was delisted in 1999.

4) From the south side of the Salmon River bridge, either negotiate with Westwind Stewardship Group to allow hikers to walk their road and to cut a short connector trail around Camp Westwind OR build a connector trail through Siuslaw National Forest land. In either case, that connector trail would hook up with existing trails to take you to Road's End State Recreation Site, where you can return to the beach.

This should be easy, but apparently it isn't. Maybe because of the protectiveness of the agencies managing Cascade Head Scenic Research Area? I get that. But people, we're talking about 1) a major trail (the OCT) that the Oregon Legislative has decided is a priority and needs to effectively be completed, and 2) accommodating thru-hikers, who are the user group that arguably has the LEAST impact on the forest.

My book makes suggestions for how to, unofficially, get over Cascade Head to get the best views, the least highway walking, and the best overall experience. But then you still have 4.1 miles of highway shoulder walking to return to the beach. Here is a way to cut out more than half of that. I don't know why I didn't figure this out sooner: most of the route appears in a map in my book. But that land (and those trails) had just come into public ownership when I was wrapping up the new edition of the book and things were sort of unclear. Also I didn’t understand what the road access would be off US 101. Now I get it.


There is almost no signage on this route, but the trails are all on public land managed by either City of Lincoln City or Siuslaw National Forest, and it's not confusing. This route is 0.5 miles longer than just hiking the highway shoulder. 

Looking back from the start of the trail (driveway?) at top of N. Clancy Road
The only sketchy part of this route is the 15-20 footsteps you take at the top of N. Clancy Road on what appears to be a driveway. My maps indicate that this is all on Siuslaw National Forest Land. It’s possible that the very start of this trail is actually on a private driveway, however (hence the “No Trespassing” sign you will see on the gate you must go through). I have tried to clarify this issue with the appropriate land managers but have not had a response. Yet. In any case, literally not more than 20 yards are sketchy ownership-wise. Go forth, hiker.

Where driveway curves left, you go right on a trail (an old road).



Friday, July 13, 2018

An under-the-radar option for camping in Cannon Beach



This is a belated shout-out to a great camping option for OCTers passing through Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach has lots of lodging, most of it at the high end $$-wise, but not many options for backpackers. In fact, one (this one). There is no camping on the beach adjacent to the city limits of Cannon Beach or Arch Cape, nor adjacent to state parks (Ecola, Arcadia, Hug Point), which really limits your options. (I’m not a big fan of beach camping anyway). But depending on your schedule, you are going to need to sleep somewhere in the roughly 30-mile stretch of the OCT between the backpacker camp atop Tillamook Head and the hiker-biker camp at Nehalem Bay State Park. There is a private campground at the north end of Cannon Beach called Sea Ranch, but tent sites are $40 and are often booked in advance (no hiker-biker option there) .

Anyway, I vaguely knew about Wright’s, near midtown Cannon Beach, but it’s only open in the summer (Memorial Day weekend through mid-September) and I never got around to checking it out until now. It’s actually pretty awesome. Very small (maybe 20 sites), tents only, under tall trees, family-owned since 1959, a short walk from the beach. Funky in a super family-friendly way. Toilets, showers, and even a laundry room. They don’t advertise a hiker-biker camping area on their website, but they have one. It’s small, but they seem to make room for whoever shows up. It’s a short walk to great beer and coffee and other amenities in midtown. They charge $10 per person.

To get there, walk down the beach from the mouth of Ecola Creek to the next primary beach access just north of Haystack Rock (look for a road and creek hitting the beach). Wind through the motel complex here to the main road through town (S. Hemlock St.), follow it 3 blocks south to Sunset Boulevard. Follow Sunset Boulevard a short distance east; after going under US Highway 101 you’ll see Wright’s straight ahead on the hill.
There are actually two designated hiker-biker sites, adjacent to each other, and apparently Wright's is working on creating a third. If they get overwhelmed with hikers or bikers on any given night, they'll find a spot for you somewhere else on the property. Each site has one picnic table (but no firepit).


Friday, June 1, 2018

Your 2018 OCT update

Short Sand Beach from Cape Falcon Trail, on the north coast

As in the past, I've collated all the updates I've accumulated (and corrected mistakes, and landscape alterations, and wisdom from other hikers, etc.) and put them together in this document that serves as a supplement to my 2015 Day Hiking: Oregon Coast. Have a great hike, and let me know if you have any intel to share with other hikers! It's a beautiful day in Oregon, and the river levels are nice and low. Should be great hiking now through September.

2018 OCT trail update

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Solving the Camp Rilea Problem: OCT Day 1




UPDATED 7/8/18

Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center is located along Clatsop Beach on the northern Oregon coast (adjacent to roughly miles 5.8 to 8.8 of the Oregon Coast Trail). Last summer I learned of a 2015 agreement between the Oregon Military Department and Oregon State Parks that allows the military to close the beach adjacent to Camp Rileameaning, 3 miles of the Oregon Coast Trailwhenever they are conducting live weapons training or for "other military exercises." These closures are not infrequent; they occur several times a month, year-round, sometimes for several days in a row. (Most likely closure days: Friday and Saturday, especially in summer. Could be any day of the week.) Turns out Camp Rilea has been doing day-long closures of the beach for many years (the camp's been there since 1927, certainly predating the Oregon Beach Bill); this 2015 agreement was an attempt to put some boundaries around those disruptions to public beach access, requiring the military to provide at least 24 hours advance notice of closures via a website. It also allows vehicles to transit that stretch of beach for 15 minutes at the top of every hour that the beach is closed (not enough time for hikers to walk the 3 miles, however). In fact, the agreement doesn't even acknowledge the existence of OCT hikers; it accommodates vehicles (this being one of just two significant stretches of Oregon beach where driving is still allowed) and even agrees to not do live weapons training during clamming tides. But the agreement makes no accommodation of any kind for hikers. Hikers have, in the past, been forced to wait (up to all day, or several days) or to make a long (unnecessarily long) detour. There was a website where hikers could check to see if the shooting range currently is "hot" (meaning, the beach is cosed), but there was no advance notice provided.

UPDATE: A revised website (new URL) now indicates both current and projected range status and provides a phone number for more information:
www.oregon.gov/OMD/OTC/CampRilea/Pages/home.aspx

Frankly I don't understand how these beach closures are even legal under the 1967 Oregon Beach Bill. I appreciate that soldiers need live weapons training, certainly. I just think that this is the wrong place to do it today, for a bunch of reasons, and the legal justification I was given doesn't make sense. Given the investment other state agencies are making in improving and promoting the Oregon Coast Trail (and the ever-increasing use of the beach by the public), I hope the state agencies that are charged with enforcing public beach access and promoting use of the Oregon Coast Trail restart a dialogue with the agency that is routinely closing the beach to the public.

The agreement between Oregon State Parks and Oregon Military Department accommodates clammers--but not OCT hikers.
However my main interest is in helping OCT thru-hikers deal with this inconvenience, and after a series of emails and meeting with Camp Rilea Training Site Manager Todd Farmer, things seem to be improving (begnning with that new website, above).

ADVANCE NOTIFICATION
Before you set out on the OCT, check the website.

LIMITED CLOSURE AREA
Col. Farmer has acknowledged that the camp doesn't always need to close all three miles of beach; with certain weapons training they need to close only 0.75 mile of beach, which a thru-hiker can early transit in 15 minutes (as cars are being let through at the top of the hour). I don't know if these smaller closures have begun, and I don't know if there will be any indication of them on the website, but it's a start.

HITCH A RIDE
If you are stopped, and vehicles are being stopped and let through at the top of the hour, consider trying to hitch a ride through. Most of the vehicles on the beach seem to be pickup trucks, making it easy.

ALTERNATE ROUTE
In the past (like, last summer) soldiers stopping OCT hikers were insisting that hikers backtrack 2.1 miles to the Peter Iredale beach access in Fort Stevens State Park and, from there, wind through the park and take surface streets until they were south of Camp Rilea, a pretty horrible detour that robs you of one of the coolest parts of the entire OCT (the long, long Clatsop Beach walk). This is totally unnecessary, as Col, Farmer agreed. He told me he will instruct his people to point hikers to the
preferred alternative: exiting the beach on Delaura Beach Lane, which runs along the north boundary of Camp Rilea. From here walk quiet roads, 0.5 of busy US 101, and two miles of the Fort to Sea Trail alongside cow pastures and over a couple of dune swale lakes on cool footbridges to return to the OCT at Sunset Beach. This detour adds 2.3 miles to your OCT hike, making it a reasonable alternative. There are some massive potholes at the western end of Delaura Beach Lane;  I could not get through in March without overtopping my boots (or worse). But by early July I was able to skirt them competely.

Here is a PDF of the preferred Camp Rilea detour map and directions. I suggest you download it to your phone or print it out and have it with you on Day 1, just in case.

If you follow these guidelines but still have any trouble at Camp Rilea, I would be interested in hearing from you about your experience. Hopefully that won't happen. My thanks to Col. Farmer for taking the concerns of OCT hikers seriously when he learned about them and for agreeing to make the needed adjustments.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Back in Business

Love this suspension bridge on the trail up the north side of Cape Lookout.

Hey folks, I got locked out of the blog for awhile (for technical reasons that are boring) but I'm back in and eager to share a bunch of info. I had hoped to have a detailed mile-by-mile guide to share in time for a couple of April hikers I know of to use, but that's probably not going to happen. But be looking for the following and more, coming soon:

New official interactive map coming. It was supposed to be out in January, or February for sure.  Oregon Coast Visitors Association has taken it on. I haven't seen it yet, and frankly I have some doubts about how thorough.accurate it will be (mainly because they didn't consult with me about it, seriously!), but it has to be better than the old official Oregon State Parks map. As soon as I hear that it has launched, I'll share.

Camp Rilea: This can be a huge problem on Day One of the OCT if you happen to start on the wrong day: National Guard camp at around Mile 7 has begun stopping hikers (at gunpoint) if the military happens to be doing live fire training (or anything else that they think would be more fun/easier if they could clear the beach of people). This has become a huge issue that several of us are working on; not only are state parks and Oregon Military Department not providing the notification they agreed to provide (in a 2015 agreement), but it's clearly a violation of the Oregon Beach Bill. Long term: hoping to get this agreement canned or at least seriously amended. Short term: I plan to post instructions for how to deal with this if it happens to you.

CoastWalk Oregon: I was going to post about this wonderful event again, but it filled up this year in something like two weeks. But keep it in mind for the future if you want a fun three-day intro to the OCT, and for a good cause. CWO will start over at Mile 0 (Columbia River) in 2020 (or maybe 2019). In the future I'll be better about giving advance notice for when registration opens (now that I'm back to blog access).

The big picture: Overall there is a huge surge of interest in the OCT by state agencies in a position to finesse it. Maybe the huge surge in hikers in summer 2017 is one reason, but also it seems like the OCT's time has just arrived. State agencies (more than one) are taking a serious look at gaps that need to be filled and are working on solutions. Certain gaps are getting real attention, finally (like the horror show of highway shoulder walking from Cascade Head to Lincoln City). I'll share as I learn more. Everything takes more time than it should, IMO. But I see real progress on the near horizon, which is great.

England bound! I plan to hike the Coast to Coast Trail in June (St. Bees to Robin Hood's Bay). I mention it only because I think it may provide a good model for how self-guided inn-to-inn hiking (possibly with luggage transfer) could be done on the Oregon Coast as well. I'll share applicable lessons learned.

Mile-by-mile guide (more detailed and easier to use than what's in my book): One of these days I'll get it done (just in time to update it, no doubt). We'll see. In any case, please buy my book (Day Hiking: Oregon Coast), which is about the best thru-hike guide currently available.