Friday, July 7th, 2023, 0645-2100
Tillamook Head Backpacker Camp to Manzanita
26 miles, Gain 3500′, Loss 4300′, elevation 30
The reason for such a short day yesterday and a ridiculously long one this day had everything to do with tides and where to sleep. I needed to hit the low tide for the upcoming stretch of beach, which was in the morning. Because of the waning full moon, the tides were also rather extreme, meaning one of the lows each day was at a negative level, 1-2 feet below the average low. This was significant, since it meant I might be able to walk the beach farther than the official route. It’s mentioned in the guidebook and also was reported by a hiker named Trailcrew. I met him on the Hayduke and and had been following his excellent trail reports for many years and trails…the PNT for example. I’d recently become friends with him on the socials as well, so he’d been showering me with lots of helpful advice on the OCT and BFT.
There was a -1.5′ tide at 10:15. Trailcrew said he was able to slide by the numerous headlands 2 hours before the low, so I set off early to arrive at Indian beach by 7:20. The trail down the south side of Tillamook head was very well groomed and I enjoyed easy walking. An interpretive sign gave information about the local history and listed all the movies that had been filmed in the area: Goonies, Kindergarten Cop, Point Break, and of course Twilight. I’d been reading all the signs along the way, relishing in the touristy nature of the coast. I was here to discover as much as I could as I walked, not to make big miles…although one can sometimes do both.
The beach was gorgeous, with perfectly sculpted waves breaking on a white crescent wedged between 2 rugged headlands. Usually this is bad news for thru-hiking but I had to at least try to see if I could get around the point. There were a handful of early risers enjoying the lovely break and I was envious from my surfing days. But my hiking fulfilled my present passions and I was eager for the challenges ahead. Bald point had me scrambling over some pretty interesting and tilted surfaces. At first there was a little use trail but it cliffed out at a washout on the other side. I turned to descend straight down to the beach through some big, wet and slimy boulders. I was afraid of each slippery foot placement and thoughts of knocking myself out and being consumed by the tide crossed my mind. I ended up placing my sit pad on a boulder and butt-scooting \ sliding down with my pad as a sort of sled. I landed upright on the beach but it was rough enough to dislodge my water bottle. I hadn’t even considered what I would do if I had to backtrack. All this when I could have just stuck to good trail all the way to Ecola or Chapman points. I guess the OCT had been too easy and I needed some Hayduke-style excitement. Knowing that others had gotten through spurred me on, plus the coastline was gorgeous, full of offshore sea stacks and sea arches. Seabirds of every kind were fluttering about: cormorants, pelicans, murres, guillemots, oyster catchers, eagles, ospreys and gulls. I’d done a lot of similar shoreline-picking in Hawaii and Washington, so the risks felt familiar and fun.
Next I needed to get around another unnamed point where the sea still hadn’t retreated enough. Climbing over the point was out of the question…sheer cliffs. Waves were still breaking on the point but rolled in low and slow, suggesting a sandy shoal at the edge of the point. I decided to try to wade past, so I changed into my camp shoes and emptied my pockets, storing my phone in my pack. I couldn’t see around the rock, so I didn’t know how far I’d have to wade or how deep it might get. Good thing I took some precautions because the waves immediately soaked me up to my hips. I was pretty concerned about taking a swim for a few seconds but I kept my pace and emerged on the other side, only half wet. More then I bargained for but still by my own choices. I could have just waited for the tide to go out more but I prefer action over waiting. I was rewarded with some of the best beach walking ever. The rock formations were so scenic and dramatic, I was in awe. And I had the whole place to myself! These remote beaches see very few human visitors it seems, obviously due to the challenges of getting there.
Taking a break from the obstacles, I had some time to check out the prolific intertidal sea life clinging to the rocks. I found the most amazing compilation of giant muscles, anemones, and sea stars. I saw similar tidepools and rocks in Olympic National Park but this one area impressed me the most. I could have spent hours picking around there but alas, the tide waits for no one. There were many more low tide points that I needed to clear miles down the beach, so I had to take advantage of my window for the day. As I rounded Ecola Point between 2 giant buttresses, I finally saw a man with 3 corgis. I figured my troubles were over, otherwise, how did the corgis make it? And what was with all the corgis I saw on the beaches all day? Turns out there’s an annual Corgi Beach Day the last week of June, so I guess there were just a lot of remnant corgis hanging out. The weird things you see and learn thru-hiking. The corgis did not mean I was in the clear though, because they’d apparently come down a side trail. I came to another pool of water at Chapman Point, this time just a residual tidal lake, no waves. I jumped in without giving it much thought and surprise surprise, it was deep, coming over my belly. Plus there was somehow a current pulling at my feet. I took a few nervous steps and finally found high ground. Again more than I bargained for but doable.
The rest of the way into Cannon Beach was just ok. The beach became very crowded and all the excitement was gone, replaced with just the cold uncomfortable feeling of being soaked up to my chest. I desperately wanted to find a beach showerhead to wash off the saltwater, then warm up in a café. A public restroom sufficed, where I’m sure my transient bedraggled look and sink shower scared off a few beach patrons. I stood in front of the hand dryer for awhile, trying to stop my shivering. I’m sure onlookers felt sorry for me, yet I’d just had an amazing morning and couldn’t be happier. The line out the café steered me in the direction of a convenience store, where I heated a cheap breakfast burrito in a microwave. Good enough! I was back on the beach, ready to slay some more low tide points. I walked past Haystack Rock, the famous behemoth that makes Cannon Beach noteworthy. I didn’t even both to investigate, as I’d already seen the best tide pools earlier, free of the crowds. I was amused by all the signs and ropes the volunteers had put up around the pools and rock cliffs, trying to keep people from trampling the delicate marine life. All the offshore islands are marine preserves, generally off limits to humans and their pets. But at such a low tide, people walk out to Haystack rock by the masses. The signs and ropes all have to be set up and come down with each passing tide, presumably. I didn’t need to contribute to the problem and glided by.
I passed several more points, all free and clear of the tide, nothing but flat sand for miles. The northern Oregon beaches are strikingly wide, flat and hard-packed, perfect for walking. One of the last points was Hug point, where a road had been blasted from the rock long ago. It was fun to walk along this rough promenade. Just after, there were a series of sea caves that required some exploring. One went pretty far back. At last I came to where the official route broke off the beach, some 9 miles later. I neglected to get water before this, so I collected water from Arch Cape creek. Hikers are discouraged from drinking from coastal sources but I hoped that the run off was coming from the nearby state park and not too tainted. I filtered it of course and it tasted fine. I was still anxious to get past Arch Cape, the last tidal point. I’m not sure why the OCT doesn’t continue all the way to cove beach because I got to walk through a really cool sea arch…hence the name. I guess the tide doesn’t permit this often? Luckily all the points had been really easy since Cannon Beach, allowing my full 11 mile trek through this stretch. I sat down at noon to have lunch, enjoying an almost deserted beach and not having to worry about any more tide restrictions for awhile. The afternoon would be entirely forest trail through Oswald West State Park.
I walked up Falcon Cove Road to rejoin the OCT trail, paralleling 101. Eventually the trail broke to the west and led to the tip of Cape Falcon. A side trail led to a sheer cliff and view down to a small cove. I studied the shoreline from high above…there was definitely no clambering around these points, even at the lowest of tides. Deep sea caves were carved into some of the rocks. I loved gazing at the rugged topography, imagining myself exploring such coves with my kayak. The trail wrapped around to the other side, passing through some very dense and overgrown vegetation. I stopped at nearly every lookout, eating up a lot of time. I had a very rough plan for the rest of the afternoon. I could stop short of Neahkahnie mountain, stealth camping somewhere around Sand Beach. But I preferred to go the distance and perhaps find a stealth camp near the top of Neahkahnie. Continuing all the way to Manzanita would entail a huge day, but it was still a possibility. I kept moving and started to encounter a few day hikers. Thus far many of the beaches had been quite busy but the trails had been deserted. There was a lot of activity around Sand Beach, so I didn’t linger. There used to be a campground but it was closed when a tree nearly fell down on some campers. It was a very pretty beach, one I’d like to come back to someday.
Coming to Necarney Creek, I found that the bridge had been taken out by a giant tree. I spent 2 minutes trying to decide what to do, then spotted a tree laying across the creek. Bingo. I had to claw my way off the tree, grasping at roots to lower myself safely. Obstacle # 10? for the day. I lost count. I passed through an elk flat and a side trail to the Devils Cauldron, which I of course had to take. Around 5 pm I came to a crossing of 101 and the start of the climb to Neahkahnie, the highpoint of the OCT. The smart move would have been to hitch into Manzanita and continue the trail in the morning. I’m not that smart, so I pushed on. I was already very tired and it was getting late. At least 6 miles and 1600′ of climbing remained. It was such a tiring climb, steep in a few places so I stopped briefly to pick salmon berries here and there. I had dawdled too much for such a big day but was kind of committed once I started up. There weren’t many stealth camping options, plus just as I neared the top, the fog rolled in. My main reason for heading up the mountain in the afternoon was because it had finally started to clear earlier. Oh well.
I blew past the viewpoint at the top, as there was nothing to see. At least it was all downhill from that point. I crossed a dirt road, which probably might have worked for a stealth site. But by now, I was starting to look forward to the ease of staying in town. I had an offer to stay at the beach house another night and this seemed like the perfect circumstances to take the offer. I was so utterly exhausted, I wanted only a hot shower and meal, then to crash into a bed. Every trail has its few extremely hard days and I hoped this would be the worst for this trail. The last few miles were on an extension trail, paralleling the highway. The trail builders had done a good job to run it all the way into town, not just a benefit to thru-hikers but also the local community. I met a local couple walking their dog.
At the edge of town, the grocery store and a Thai place were a sight for sore eyes. I put in my order and shopped for some wine. I was so spent but I still had more than a mile to go to the house. I considered trying to hitch but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I stumbled through the door well after 9 pm and it was all I could do to finish off the chores of eating and washing. My god, what a tough day…all of my own doing and so much fun.