Up and down, rain and shine

I took very few phone photos this day due to rain and being an obstinate late adopter of phone technology (I’m out here for a reason). The great part was that the rain didn’t start until we had gained most of our elevation. I suspect we were just in a cloud.

We climbed up Cape Falcon and there was typical headland mud to deal with but also crazy overgrowth. I wonder what the trail will look like in even 2 weeks. We had to part the vegetation with hands and poles.

The trail meanders a lot in this area and we took a few breaks to help us get through it, mentally as much as physically. But it stopped raining and that was awesome.

Soon we were descending, our day made easier by the closed Neahkahnie Mountain. This mountain is the high point of the OCT but has been closed since a 2020 storm. We instead hugged Highway 101.

Getting back on the beach, we could look north to see all of Neahkahnie and where we had walked. Cool.

We reapplied in Manzanita and made it to Nehalem Bay State Park’s hiker biker camp. It was superb.

Ecola continued, Hug Point, and a long hot climb

The day started pretty perfectly with a descent down Tillamook Head to a beach where several movies were filmed.

We again encountered epic mud, though significantly less elevation gain, so it was easier to get through. I still was alarmed by the environmental damage. Luckily, after a short roadwalk connector, we were back on the beach.

Cannon Beach was hopping, but not as busy as I had feared. Generally the beaches have not been crazy busy.

Our challenge of the day was to time our beach walk with the tides so we could get through several pinch points only accessible with low water.

The most noteworthy is Hug Point, where the trail is on the last remnant of an old coastal road blasted into rock. This spot needs to be crossed within an hour of low tide. We made it, and took a deep breath. The alternative was to backtrack to a highway and get through that way. Ick.

Julie found sea urchins.
Life along the coast is fascinating.

We made great time the whole way on the beach, enjoying the sights and the relief of navigating Hug Point.

We left the beach at Arch Cape to begin the climb to Cape Falcon. We originally missed the sign for an important turn, so Julie hacked down the weeds obscuring the sign. There are rarely signs on this trail but in a few crucial places they exist. (In other crucial places, they don’t.)

At this point in the day, I was hot and tired, running low on water, energy, and sanity. Given a complete lack of legal camping in the area, making it through is really hard.

We definitely didn’t stealth camp at a very established backcountry site in Oswald West State Park. But if we had, our day would have been about 17.5 miles.

South to Seaside and Tillamook Head

We awoke to more rain but that meant we got Peter Iredale to ourselves. It was a lot of beachwalking today and it did finally clear up. It was even nice by the time we reached our hostel.

PCO Julie

It was good to get out of town the next day. We had a lovely walk to Tillamook Head. Not all of the Oregon Coast Trail is flat or easy! We often have to ascend heads jutting out into the water. Here, gentle switchbacks slowly turned into epic mud.

It was simultaneously glorious with spring flowers, draping moss, and an occasional overlook… and heartbreaking to be in mud pits which would take years or decades to rehabilitate. At least half the trail to the summit is located violently unsustainably. Boardwalks were once constructed but have rotted and are now causing more harm than good. None of this is written to shame Ecola State Park, which is surely underfunded, or the Oregon Coast Trail Foundation, which is merely piggybacking their trail onto existing trails. Hopefully these organizations can partner to help solve the mess.

The top of Tillamook Head is magic – a WWII missile bunker is hidden under decades of lush growth. And the view of the lighthouse isn’t bad either.

There we met Casey, a northbound hiker, and Leslie who was southbound. We all opted not to camp in the shelters as they are no longer waterproof and host rodents of unusual size.

It was a day filled with pretty places and meeting interesting people.

Early days on the Oregon Coast Trail

It has been a diverse set of experiences in Oregon so far! By some miracle, despite a delayed plane and quick connection (Julie) and a toddler with a medical emergency during plane boarding (Jo), we and our $4 thrift store suitcases made it to Portland.

We took light rail to a few blocks from our hotel and got much needed sleep.  In the morning we walked to Union Station and took a bus to Astoria.

In Astoria we packed our bags, donated the suitcases, and took the most delightful cab to Fort Stevens State Park where the trail begins.

All told,  that was almost exactly 24 hours to get me from Willow River to the Oregon Coast Trail.

We climbed the observation tower, took lots of pictures, and began our hike. Due to the late start for the day, we only went about five miles to the hiker biker camp at Fort Stevens.

Hiker biker camps are the best idea ever – open spaces where there is always room for another, where no hiker will be turned away. We shared the site with an awesome biker and about 47 children from adjacent campsites whose parents felt like it was appropriate for the children to run all around our tents screaming.

It rained pretty much all evening and all of the night and was very cold but we didn’t die.

The plot twist

I don’t really want to hike the Continental Divide Trail.

When I accepted my previous job in 2015, I was planning a Continental Divide Trail hike. The job meant delaying the hike indefinitely, and for six years I used every bit of vacation time to hike shorter trails in the west or south to become a well-rounded hiker. I needed to meet the west on foot because I had spent over a year backpacking in the east – it was the west’s time. I hiked in western mountains, in western desert, in western bentonite clay, and in western smoke.

I went on my spring trip this year because I wanted to knock a few trails off my list (check!), see if I can still do the things I need to do (yes! but now featuring slightly more pain!), and I wanted to visit the Appalachians.

I had forgotten how much being in the east feels like going home. It had been eight years since I last hiked in those lush mountain forests. I love them. I have missed them. They made me ask: Why hike the Continental Divide Trail? Because I feel expected to? Every hiker eventually gets there? It’s an impressive achievement? Because I wanted to in 2015? Those don’t feel like good enough reasons.

I am not sure I want to be in the west for half a year. I also don’t want to be away from family for so long. On top of that (and I know this really does not matter, but it somehow does) I want to finish whatever I start. I have some unfinished trails already (thanks, COVID!).

My summer hiking buddy Julie and I concluded that we would have more fun on a trail I had never envisioned hiking: the Oregon Coast Trail, a 425-mile trail from Washington to California. We should also have time to hike the Timberline Trail (circling Mount Hood) while we’re out there. Later in the summer, I’ll head to Montana and Idaho via train to roadtrip to national parks with friends.

“But Jo, you just wrote about loving the east yet you’re going west?” Yes, but for 7 weeks this summer, rather than 5+ months of CDT. I will come home in late summer to visit loved ones and regroup.

Then I will return east, back to my beloved Appalachians, back to the mountains where I feel at home.

September might bring me back to this rock.
Or it might not.

Bartram Trail story and advice

Rabun Bald from Scaly Mountain

It’s hard to put into words how much I enjoyed the Bartram Trail, even with a crazy climb or two. I wrote up my Bartram Trail experience here, and I compiled some Bartram Trail advice here for those who may want to hike it someday.

What stands out to me is the solitude I enjoyed, the plentiful water (with one big exception), and the joy of expansive mountain views. The Bartram Trail is the southeast at its most notorious and at its best, all rolled into one.

A small rest

I returned home to Minnesota a few days ago after a wonderful roadtrip with my parents, including a visit with my Aunt Sharon, catching up with gistrailblazer one more time, and visiting four (!) wilderness areas.

I am slowly getting caught up to “real life.” People who have spent time on a trail recognize that our accepted version of “real life” and what’s actually real are very different things.

Here is a summary of the Foothills Trail with a ton of pictures, so if you’re interested in learning about this trail, you can check it out. The Bartram Trail and the Smokies will be coming later. “Nebulous future.”

I have big plans for the rest of the year: I could call these plans a whim, a plot twist, a wild card, or a calling. Or all of the above. More details soon.

Bartram Trail complete!

Yesterday I competed my thruhike of the Bartram Trail! Last time I was at Cheoah Bald was November 2010. Views are much nicer in April.

I love these mountains.

The Bartram was wild, rugged, and occasionally brutal. There are good reasons it was on my wishlist since 2010!


I’ll write more about it later this spring. For now I’m focused on my upcoming Smokies trip. My itinerary looks awesome; the weather looks horrific. Can’t wait.

Good old Ledbetter Creek.

I’m enormously grateful for those I met along the way, especially the maintainers, Debbie with water at Jones Gap, Chica and Sunsets, and the awesome section hiking couple whose names might have been Christie and Don… but might not have been.

Onwards. Or rather, upwards.

Bartram Trail Halfway Point

Technically, mathematically, I’m over half done with the Bartram Trail, having hiked 57 miles since gistrailblazer dropped me off at the southern terminus on Sunday. But with the 2 gnarliest climbs still ahead of me, the remaining 41 miles are likely to be harder than what I just did. So we’ll call it halfway.

I guess most trails have a Wolf Rock.

The Bartram Trail has been on my dream list for a decade, and for good reason. It’s rugged and wild and gorgeous. And pretty interesting.

As usual I have too many photos and stories to share at the moment. I’ve enjoyed a super easy 3.5 miles today followed by a glorious afternoon at Chica and Sunsets Hostel. They are amazing.

I hope the 2nd half delivers less interesting weather – I endured a 12 hour deluge and a night of 40mph winds – not concurrently at least.