|Location: Gwynn Creek and Cooks
Ridge loop hike, Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, Suislaw National Forest, south
of Yachats, OR
Access: From Yachats, drive south on Hwy 101 2.5 miles and turn left into the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center parking lot. Trail begins at the east end of the lot near the Host Trailer.
Trail: Cooks Ridge to Gwynn Creek to Oregon Coast loop of 7 miles and an elevation gain of about 900 feet. Moderate hiking on a well-defined trail through forestland.
Maps: My 1984 USGS Yachats quad doesnít show the trails, so I prefer the USFS-produced "Cummins Creek Wilderness and Cape Perpetua Scenic Area (~1:30,000 scale), available for sale at the Visitor Center for about $3
Fee: $5/daily pass or $10/weekly Oregon Coast Pass
August 15, 2007
After spending a wonderful, sunny day watching the surf crash on the rocks at Devilís Churn, and chasing sand crabs in the receding tide at Neptune Beach and checking out starfish clinging to rocks at low tide at Bob Creek Wayside, we finally got down to serious business and parked the car along Cummins Creek near the Oregon Coast Trail TH. It was about 4:00, and we figured to be hiking for a couple of hours before setting up camp at higher elevation. With lightly-loaded packs, we started off on the trail that wound through gnarled spruce trees and waist-high sword ferns as it paralleled Highway 101 going north. The air was a perfect temperature, and I was glad to be in the woods. Andra had been talking about coming out to Oregon for months, and I definitely agreed it was nice to be here. After about a quarter mile of easy walking, we crossed a bridge over Gwynn Creek and intersected the Gwynn Creek Trail just beyond. Not far to the west, down a faint path, lay the Neptune Beach parking area. Continuing on takes one to the Cape Perpetua visitor center, and turning east led us up the Gwynn Creek ravine. We headed up the gently sloping trail, chatting and enjoying the great experience of walking outside. I hear reports of backpacking being in a decline and I just canít understand why. Iíve never met anyone who backpacked who didnít absolutely love it. I suppose itís good for me that not everyone does it or I would never be able to find campsites! On we walked, and before long I noted down near the creek channel a lovely looking flat spot in a clearing amongst the ferns. I almost suggested we check it out, but we seemed too close to the road, having walked only about a 1/4 mile. So, on we went, rounding bends in the trail and a chattering stream in the deep cleft of each ravine. Very soon I spotted another nice flat spot in near the creek, and I couldnít help but go check it out. It was so nice, even though we hadnít hiked very far, we decided to set up our tent there. This didnít take long, and then we were left with the question of what to do for the next 3 hours until dark. We didnít really want to start off on the loop hike around Cookís Ridge, but sitting in camp for 3 hours didnít sound to exciting either. So, we simply hiked back to the car, which took about 30 minutes, and drove a few miles north to Yachats and had an easy dinner of cheese, summer suasage, crackers and Doritos while watching the waves crash against the rocks. A man and his two sons were out in the waves body surfing. Having waded in the waves at Neptune Beach earlier in the day, I cannot imagine how they were able to swim in such cold water. After our dinner, we headed back south and drove up to the Cape Perpetua Lookout where we had the place all to ourselves. We walked along the short trail to the stone lookout and enjoyed a few brief moments of sunshine before the sun dipped behind a growing cloud bank and everything that had been orange turned blue. The wind picked up and it was chilly, making it hard to smile and stand still for the camera on timer mode. Still, we managed. Out across the water, a dull ray of sunlight peeked through the clouds and lit up a patch of ocean to a dull, cold blue. It was beautiful and sorrowful at the same time. As the forest rapidly grew dark, we briskly walked back to the car and drove south a few miles to the Oregon Coast TH and hiked quickly back towards camp in the fading light. At the bridge, we noted that several bikers had stowed their bikes and were already in their hammocks nearby. We arrived back at camp just as it was approaching too dark to see, but we never needed our headlamps. We rolled into the tent and enjoyed our books for half an hour before going to sleep.
August 16, 2007
By 12:00, we were at the Cape Perpetua visitor center, spreading the tentís rainfly out over the top of the car to dry it in the sun. After picking our fill of blackberries growing wild nearby, we started off up the Cookís Ridge Trail, where we encountered more lush coastal forest, consisting of uncounted ranks of skyscraping spruces and hemlocks over a sea of ferns bathed in dappled sunlight. We passed by the Discovery Loop and stayed on the Cookís Ridge trail as it led uphill, steeply at times. At intervals benches were situated near the trail, and at almost every one, we stopped to take off some layer of clothing deemed too warm to continue wearing. The humidity was near 100%, and I was soon dripping sweat from my brow. Every 2 minutes, I was wiping my face with my bandana. At the Gwynn Creek junction, we were near the high point of the trail some 900 feet higher than the trailhead. I noted that there were 4 distinct fern species that I could pick out. The sword fern was the most abundant, and obvious, growing in massive clumps like small palm trees. The deer fern was the smallest and perhaps the best looking, and the only dimorphic example I noticed. In the sunnier locations, bracken ferns grew to stately heights near chest level. The rarest fern, though still pretty abundant, is a fern that I believe is called a chain fern. It only seemed to grow in the wettest places, such as in the perpetually-wet soil right next to streams, where it grew to a height of 3-4 feet. This chain fern had the most complex branching pattern. There may have been more species, but those are the ones that were abundant enough to capture my attention.
We continued on, now on a slightly declining trail grade, through a section of forest in which there were about 4 incredibly huge trees. The boles of these giants were scarred black by fire, and the first branches were so high up, positive ID was impossible without binoculars. I suspect they were hemlocks, due to the reddish color of the bark, but they could well have been spruce. Down we went in the Gwynn Creek ravine, until at last we came to the spot where we had camped the night before. Kind of a strange way to arrive there. Passing that by, we continued on to the junction of the Oregon Coast Trail, and took it north along Highway 101 towards the car. On this trail, we caught nice glimpses of the ocean and Neptune Beach, and were treated to a view of the spouting horn, only slightly impeded by the graceful arching bridge over Cookís chasm. We arrived back at the car about 3 hours after we began, and the tent was dry. We picked a few more blackberries from the vines nearby, then hopped in the car and headed south for more adventure.
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