Cascade Head Scenic Experimental Forest, south of Neskowin on the Oregon
Access: From Neskowin, drive south approximately 3 miles to FR 1861 (on the right), which is not labeled, but is the only road near the crest of the hill. It has a gate that should be open from July 16-Dec 31. Take this road about 4 miles to the end, and park. The road is closed January 1 - July 15.
Trail: Moderate, parts are pretty strenuous. Obstacles on trail, muddy conditions probably always in effect. Forest Service labels the trail as 2.7 miles, but that depends on where you stop. Seems more like 2.0 miles to the meadow, but perhaps 2.7 miles to the point in the woods beyond overlooking Neskowin.
Dogs: No mention of dogs, so apparently allowed.
August 12, 2007
Andra and I had hiked in the Cascade Head Research Forest two years before, but on the inland side. While planning this trip to Hart's Cove I was intrigued to find that no USGS topographic map I could find covered the area completley. The westernmost slice of the head is "off the map".
After eating a light, no-cook dinner of chips, coke, summer sausage, crackers, cheese and apple at a picnic bench near Proposal Rock in nearby Neskowin, we hopped in the car around 5:30 and drove south along Hwy 101 to what we believed to be FR1861. It wasn't labeled, but there weren't too many roads leading into the forest in the area, so we took it. We headed west on a winding road through gorgeous temperate forest with towering spruce and hemlock trees draped in moss, all shadowing an understory of chest-high sword ferns and mosses. Frxx dead-ends at the Harts Cove TH. There was only one other car in the lot when we arrived. We packed just what we would need for one night, taking along minimal food since we had already eaten dinner. Then we were off at around 6:45.
The persistent cloud cover that had shrouded the coast all day began to break up, and orange sunlight glinted through the trees as we followed the trail down a long series of switchbacks that lead down a west-facing slope. The light was otherworldy. Several times I stopped just to admire the color of the light. Andra commented what a pain it was going to be to go back up all the switchbacks on the way out in the morning. The trail crossed a creek via a nice wooden bridge, then flattened out and headed west through a veritable tunnel of vegetation. I was enjoying every step. We passed the owners of the only other car in the parking lot on their way back up to the TH and talked with them briefly about their hike. Who wouldn't have a good time here?
We reached a bench that faced northwest, and in that direction we could see an open meadow on the cliff overlooking the ocean. Presumably, the trail ended there. Between us and the meadow lay a patch of ocean we would have to go inland to get around. So, we started hiking east and downhill towards the next stream crossing. The sun was shining under the clouds by this point and casting a fantastic light. I was aching to get to the meadow and take photographs before it got dark. So, we hiked quickly.
From the bench onward, the trail is not very well maintained, and we had to clamber over numerous logs and branches to continue. Sometimes it was more expedient to crawl on hands and knees under a log, but as the trail was muddy, I avoided this as much as possible. It had obviously rained in the area recently (shockingly, I know) and every fern frond and thimbleberry leaf was dripping with water. Since the path was so narrow that you couldn't help constantly brushing the plants on either side and above, we naturally got very wet in a hurry. Luckily it was warm enough to not matter. Plus, with the sun sinking fast, I was only focused on getting to the meadow as quickly as possible. We reached the second stream crossing where the bridge was washed out. There was no problem walking right through the thin, shallow stream, however, and we were soon heading west again toward the ocean. We began to hear the barks of sea lions from the rocks below, although the dense forest precluded us actually seeing them. From the racket they created, it sounded like there were lots of them down there. Andra was a great trooper and hiked along at breakneak speed in front of me. Nevertheless, I grew impatient, and passed her to jog the last 200 meters of the trail to the open meadow. Upon arriving at the meadow around 7:30, I opened up my tripod and began snapping away. I had perhaps 15 minutes of golden light before the sun dipped below the ocean horizon. Even after that, however, the clouds glowed red and we enjoyed a magnificent sunset from our cliff-top perch. Then again, it was all downhill or level walking.
The meadow itself was situated about 200 feet above the ocean, sloping down unbroken to the south about 500 meters to a rocky dropoff into the cove. From the edge of the dense forest, the meadow streched west perhaps 100 yards unbroken, then conifers broke it up a little as it sloped to the west about another 100 meters before dropping off into the ocean. To the north and northwest, thick woods hemmed in the grassy plain. The grass in the meadow was very tall, almost chest high in places, but Andra found a spot of grass that had been flattened, presumably by other backpackers, so she pitched the tent while I photographed in the dying light. There was no wind, so the sounds of the sea lions in the cove wafted up. Still, however, we could not actually see them.
The shirt I had hiked in was dripping wet, so I changed it and laid it over the domed tent rainfly. As dark folded over the meadow, we got in the tent and slept a nice, relaxing night away in the cool ocean air.
August 13, 2007
The following morning I got up at 7 and went walking around in the woods near the tent. The sky was perfectly clear and blue, though the sun hadn't yet peeked above the phalanxe of conifers on the east side of the meadow. I could discern a faint trail in the forest, and I followed it for about 500 yards, then decided to wait until Andra was up to go further. Everything was soaked from the heavy dew overnight. The tent sagged with moisture, and my shirt that I had set out to dry was even wetter than on the night before. Interestingly, I noted from my brief walk in the forest that everything was very dry in there. I suppose the trees caught the dew. Things to remember for next time. I found a dry rock to sit on and read for half an hour before I detected stirring in the tent.
With Andra up and about, I pulled down the food from where it hung in a nearby tree and we ate a breakfast of Clif bars and water. Fine dining on the Pacific Coast. The sun was peeking above the trees at that time, so I pulled my wet shirt off the tent and hung it in the spruce tree nearby that was already in the sun. We got back on the trail and walked north into the woods. I believe this trail goes all the way to Proposal Rock, but we didn't take it that far. Instead, we ditched the trail after about 200 meters and sallied forth west into the ferns to get to the cliff edge. In these thick woods, this was no easy feat. We had to get over downed logs 3 feet in diameter sitting a couple of feet off the ground, wade through chest-high ferns and dodge slippery logs hidden in the decaying vegetation underfoot. We did reach a nice vantage point looking out to sea, however. Gorgeous place. From the northern end of this cliff we could clearly see Proposal Rock to the north.
We hiked back to camp, and Andra wanted to try to watch the Sea Lions We walked south downhill as far as the trail would go before it curved due east into the woods. To continue further south would require plunging into grass above the waist that was laden with water, and neither of us wanted to begin the day by getting soaked. Unfortunately, without getting closer to the shore, we couldn't quite make out what were rocks and what were sea lions, though we could pretty well tell where they were located.
Back up near camp, the sun had reached the tent, and a steam was floating off the rainfly as it dried. We sat and read in the warm sunlight, enjoying the distant sound of waves crashing and sea lions barking. Once the tent had dried sufficiently, we packed everything up and left by 9:00. We may as well not have dried the tent. Since it stuck out from my pack, it quickly gathered enough water from the vegetation lining the trail to soak it thoroughly. We took the hike back at a much more leisurely pace, stopping often to admire the views from the trail or listen for sea lions below. We never did see them. I snapped off large branches of thimble berry plants that were obstructing the trail as I walked. I steered clear of the raspberry shoots, however, those thorns hurt. We stopped for a long while at the wooden bridge where I took long-exposures of the rushing water and ferns. We enjoyed the bench overlooking Hart's Cove. I tried counting the number of switchbacks on my way back up the last slope to the car, but lost interest before getting there. I can tell you it is more than 10, perhaps many more, depending on your definition of a switchback.
At the car we shed our packs and changed into dry shirts before eating a light lunch. Two cars pulled into the parking area as we were lunching. I lost my temper after I misplaced my knife. I hate it when that happens. Turns out I had placed it on the rubber gasket surrounding the trunk when the trunk was open. The crazy places I put stuff. Shortly after, we loaded up and drove off to our next adventure.