Thursday, September 10, 2020

'Closed'? Maybe, but still hikeable in sections

So you know the OCT was officially closed to thru-hikers this year, right? To the extent that Oregon State Parks can close it: the agency closed several state parks (not even toilets and water were available) and closed all 10 (if my count is right) state park hiker-biker camps along the OCT, from Fort Stevens to Harris Beach, which made it difficult to attempt a thru-hike or even a section hike in some cases.

 Difficult, but not impossible.

I have heard from several hikers who managed to hike part or all of the OCT this season.

Cheryl Lund had already hiked the OCT from the Columbia River to Siletz Bay as a four-year participant in CoastWalk Oregon; she decided to celebrate her 60th birthday in August by getting a motel room in Yachats and using public transportation to shuttle to trailheads to the north and south, hiking 60 more miles of the OCT and putting her nearly at the halfway point toward finishing the entire trail.

In July Heather Fischer and a companion hiked the stretch from Paradise Point (north of Port Orford) to Face Rock south of Bandon. "The wind was annoying at points, but the timing of tides was worth going northbound," she wrote. "We had a great hike, saw more seals than people, and got to chat with the snowy plover researchers." She also did some create problem-solving, like arranging to leave a car at a nearby RV park (for a small fee).

Doug "Shaggy Doug" Viner sent me a report about trail conditions in Boardman State Scenic Corridor (much obliged!). I don't know where he started or whether this was part of a short or long hike, but cheers, Doug.

My friends Paula and Mike Ciesielsky reached (closed) Crissy Field and the end of the OCT yesterday. It was their third OCT section hike: first they hiked to Florence, then to Floras Lake, and this year from Floras to California. Sounds like they had a great time (but this is as good a place as any to note that the trail at the south end of Whaleshead Beach has slid and is now quite a treacherous scramble until you get to solid ground). The smoke came in on the second-to-the-last day, so thick that Mike had to use his headlamp to read--at 11:30 am. Wow. Congrats, Paula and Mike!

Last but not least, Brandon Tigner, the north coast stewardship coordinator for Trailkeepers of Oregon, managed to conduct a first-person scout and trail assessment of the entire OCT. Which he needed to do, COVID or no COVID: maintaining and building new sections of the OCT is a central part of his job. His Summer 2020 survey of the entire OCT will benefit future OCT hikers for years to come. He was accompanied by his wife Alix Lee-Tigner. They started hiking immediately after their wedding, which means, yes, it was also their honeymoon. Congratulations, Brandon and Alix!

My new book Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail won't be out before the 2021 hiking season, but I should have my website updated with lots of good info that will help you stay safe, have fun, and stay off the highway as much as possible.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A hard NO on hiking the OCT in 2020

None of this is possible in 2020: hugging strangers you meet along the OCT, or even camping at hiker-biker camps (this is South Beach State Park)

I finally got the information I needed to make a clear recommendation to those seeking to thru-hike the Oregon Coast Trail in 2020:

Don't do it.

Why? Well, there is the general recommendation to not travel far, to stay close to home, especially as I write this (late June), with COVID-19 cases spiking statewide, including in Lincoln and other coastal counties.

But the unavailability of campgrounds is the clincher. Because much of the OCT goes through developed areas, because you can rough camp in only limited portions of the OCT, the availability of campgrounds is key, both for sleeping and for toileting. Here is the campground situation:

Most coastal state park campground are open. But they require reservations.

No hiker-biker camps are open. They aren't likely to reopen this hiking season. State Parks has a policy of not turning away people who arrive by bike or on foot, but it is unclear how they are going to honor that policy given that hiker-biker camps are closed.

Due to several state budget cuts, several key state park campgrounds are closed, some until the end of July, some until the end of the year. That means, among other things, the water is turned off and the restrooms are closed. Some of these are in key locations where there isn't an alternative for many miles. They are (north to south):

  • Devil's Lake State Park
  • Beachside State Recreation Site
  • Carl G. Washburne State Park
  • Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
  • Cape Blanco State Park

Most or all county campgrounds seem to be open. Most federally managed campgrounds (such as at Cape Perpetua in the north and Oregon Dunes National Recreation area) are also open, but they require reservations, and services may be limited. The few that offer hiker-biker areas probably still will.

Those are the details. Here's the big picture. The availability of potable water, toilets, and drop-in campsites along the OCT is essential for a successful OCT thru-hike, and you just won't be able to count on them being open this year. Much of the fun of an OCT hike is stopping in at coffee shops and chowder shops and microbreweries, but even where indoor service is now provided, it's just not a good idea at this time.

Look, if the OCT was entirely in undeveloped public land like the Pacific Crest Trail is, it would be a different story. But no one (in their right mind) is hiking the PCT this year either.

You could consider a section hike along the Oregon Dunes, rough camping along the way, but you'll need to carry water. Winchester Bay Charters can ferry you across Winchester Bay, and you can fill up on water at one of the campgrounds there. 

Let's hope there's a vaccine by next spring. Meanwhile I strongly urge you to delay your plans to thru-hike the OCT until 2021 or later.