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.