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.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Hiking the OCT--maybe--in 2020

UPDATED MAY 30, 2020

Oregon is starting to reopen. That means that hiking the Oregon Coast Trail may be possible in summer 2020 after all. Here are some things to think about as you consider your plans.

Most, but not all, coastal state parks are set to open June 9, but HIKER-BIKER SITES WILL NOT BE OPEN INITIALLY. Check Oregon State Parks FAQ page for details; even if a park is listed open, keep reading to see if hiker-biker sites are open. I would not advise undertaking an OCT thru-hike unless all the hiker-biker campsites are open.

Restrooms may be limited. One of the things that's been done to keep Covid-19 from spreading is closing public restrooms. Access to public restrooms is pretty important on the OCT. But in many places, if the restrooms are closed, portapotties have been brought in.

Be prepared to carry water. With many restrooms closed, access to potable water may be more limited than usual, so you may have to stock up more. Unknown when that may change.

Boat shuttles should be happening! This is the key, IMO, to a successful OCT thru-hike. Jetty Fishery at Nehalem Bay has reopened and is shuttling hikers across Nehalem Bay. Garibaldi Marina isn't quite there yet but hopes to be offering ferries across Tillamook Bay by July; it may be just 1 or 2 people at a time per boat, however, to maintain distancing. Winchester Bay Charters is in business and available to shuttle hikers across the Umpqua, and they're still offering to connect hikers with outfitters in Coos Bay for shuttles there. I don't know if they have done that yet (it's something Annalisa said she'd be happy to try at the end of last season), but give her a call: it would beat many miles of highway shoulder and sidwalk through North Bend-Coos Bay.

Grocery stores are open. Plan to wear a face covering into the grocery store. Coastal restaurants are slowly reopening, though many are still takeout-only.

Lodging is reopening in many places. Coastal innkeepers would love to have your business.

Basically it looks like an OCT hike will be doable this summer, particularly if you live nearby and don't have to travel too far to get here (which is still being discouraged). But I would think in terms of starting no sooner than July 1. Make sure Oregon State Parks has reopened all of its coastal campgrounds. It should go without saying that you should stay home if you feel ill or have been exposed to anyone with the virus, but there, I said it. Carry and use hand sanitizer and a face covering when you enter grocery stores or any indoor spaces. And keep your distance from folks. Don't be a spreader, and don't get sick yourself. If people keep following the rules and there are no new outbreaks, it could be a great year for an OCT trek after all.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Should you hike the OCT this year?

Hiking from Lincoln City to Depoe Bay in early March--back before everything changed.

UPDATE 3-23-20: after hoards of vacationers descended on the coast for spring break, cities and counties all along the coast took action to close hotels and vacation rentals and order tourists to return home. All campgrounds are closed--public and private. Basically, it's time to "stay in your own terrain," as this article in High Country News puts it.

This changes everything.

How might the covid-19 pandemic affect your Oregon Coast Trail thru-hike plans this year? Spending a month walking on the beach and over coastal headlands rather than cooped up at home probably sounds pretty awesome. But the Pacific Crest Trail Association is recommending hikers postpone or cancel their thru-hike plans on that trail this year, to keep themselves and the community safe. That’s probably good advice for the Oregon Coast Trail too, at least early in the hiking season. (Governor Brown would definitely prefer you stay home.)  Here are some considerations specific to the OCT:

FOOD. Typically OCT thru-hikers resupply in grocery stores along the way rather than sending supply boxes ahead. Grocery stores are open and that’s still possible, but it requires you to come into contact with people who could be carriers of the virus.

MORE FOOD. Part of the fun of the OCT is being able to stop at cafes, restaurants, brewpubs along the way. At this time all these establishments are closed in Oregon except for take-out. No idea when that might change.

TRANSPORTATION. A big part of the OCT experience is getting boat shuttles across bay mouths or, alternately, taking a bus or cab around the bay to avoid a long highway shoulder walk. Some of these small outfitters might still welcome your business, but some might be shut down, and again, contact with people=risk. Also bus schedules are being cut way back.

CAMPING. Another major feature of an OCT thru-hike is the opportunity to camp at hiker-biker sites, mainly in Oregon State Park campgrounds. But they’re all shut down at least through May 8. Get updates from Oregon State Parks.

GOING  COMMANDO. With careful planning, carrying plenty of food/fuel, and doing all your camping on the beach (some of it not exactly legal) or dispersed on public lands such as the Oregon Dunes, you could maybe pull off a thru-hike with minimal contact with other humans. But that means you'll be shitting on the beach or in the dunes, not to put too fine a point on it. Restroom accessibility, on a trail that is constantly ducking in and out of civilization, is part of the OCT's charm, but restrooms all along the beach are currently closed to keep from spreading the virus. A bunch of OCT hikers crapping on the beach would not be charming. 

Wow, thanks being such a bummer, Bonnie! Hold up. No one knows how long these virus-related restrictions will last. It’s possible things will ease up in mid-summer, or late summer, or September. The PCT is a five-month undertaking, but a fit hiker can easily finish the OCT in under a month. It's quite possible you could still pull off an OCT hike this year, just later in the year. Certainly you will be enthusiastically welcomed by coastal cafes, campgrounds, etc. once they reopen. North Coast Land Conservancy still hopes to undertake its annual CoastWalk Oregon three-day walk in September; cross fingers!