Tillamook Head Traverse (12/18/2016)

  • Location: Ecola State Park
  • Start: Tillamook Head Trailhead
  • Distance: 11.05 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2234 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Time: 2 hours 49 minutes (breaks not included)
  • References: Oregon Hikers

“Oh the weather outside is frightful…” Seriously though. The recent onslaught of winter weather here in Portland had us reconsidering our planned beach weekend, primarily due to the inevitably sketchy road conditions we’d encounter on the drive there. Not wanting to miss out on our next adventure run opportunity though, especially after our successful run to Opal Pool and Cedar Flats a few weekends back, we packed up the Crosstrek (which had fared very well on snowy and icy roads around Mount Hood the previous weekend) and headed out Saturday morning. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon at the Gearhart beach house, carbo-loading via Angelina’s pizza (Best. Pizza. Ever.), and awoke early on Sunday to begin our run.

With the exception of driving to Forest Park trails in Portland, the commute from Gearhart to the Tillamook Head Trailhead in Seaside was probably the shortest drive (10 minutes) to a hiking/running destination that I’ve ever had to do! We started up the trail around 9:45 am. The four miles to the main viewpoint are mostly uphill through a lush forest (reminiscent of Neahkahnie Mountain, also on the coast). As a hike, this would’ve been pretty moderate for us, but as a run, it kicked our asses. The trail conditions made it more difficult, too. Recent subfreezing temps had frozen much of the uneven, muddy surface. Instead of soft and squishy, it was like running through a sea of potholes. With numerous roots and deadfall thrown into the mix, it turned out to be quite the obstacle course. My ankles were definitely feeling pretty sore and sensitive by the end of it. On the upside, the weather was surprisingly sunny. Rays of light streaming through trees is one of my favorite simple pleasures in life. I got to experience it quite often on this day.

Trailhead in Seaside

The trail eventually plateaued for a stretch and we were rewarded with ocean views as the route snakes along the edge of a cliff. The pothole-ish terrain continued to slow our pace, but every so often we got to run on sections of boardwalk. The planks were icy, but it was still easier than running through ankle-deep holes. After a few more ups and downs, the trail switchbacks down to the log shelters of Hiker’s Camp, a sign that we were very close to the prime viewpoint. We stopped to admire the camp and peer inside the shelters. Just beyond the camp, the trail intersects a gravel road. Heading to the right would take us to the viewpoint. Of course, just as we were getting ready to make our way down , Cassie darted back into the forest, off-trail, to chase a squirrel. She’d been so well-behaved up until that point! I spent about 10 minutes bushwhacking through ferns, downed trees, and various shrubs (praying that I wasn’t exposing myself to anything poisonous!) to retrieve her. She remained on-leash for a good portion of our run after that little fiasco.

After scolding Cassie, we followed the road (1/8 mile according to the sign at the junction) to a clearing at the edge of a cliff. Although we’d just taken a break at Hiker’s Camp, we paused here for a few minutes to soak in views of the Pacific, the deserted Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (aka “Terrible Tilly”), forested cliffsides, and a secluded cove below us. I’m constantly amazed at the variety of natural beauty we encounter so close to our home in Portland. Last weekend we were playing in the snow on the northeast flank of Mount Hood. This day we were exploring the coastline, trading that sea of white for various hues of blue. I may not be a beach person, but I sure can appreciate the magnificence of the ocean.

We ran back up to the junction and considered our options for the final stretch to Indian Beach, our turnaround point. Both the gravel road that lay before us and the continuation of the Tillamook Head Trail to our right led to our destination. Although the gravel road route is shorter and (probably) far less technical, we opted to continue on the trail, which hugs the cliffside and offers more views of the ocean. It was all downhill to the beach parking lot, and the trail ended up being a lot less technical than our initial four miles. Upon exiting the forest, we had a spectacular view of Indian Beach. A few years ago, when I first moved to Portland, Mack and I spent a summer afternoon exploring this little beach. Although we didn’t walk down to it this time around, seeing it again brought back some lovely memories.

After all that easygoing downhill, it was time for another calf-burning ascent. The incline here is (or at least felt) a lot less gradual than the beginning of the route in Seaside. We alternated between running and hiking until we reached Hiker’s Camp. The trail continues to gain elevation after the camp though. I let Cassie off-leash again once we reached the switchbacks. Running is a whole lot easier when she’s not pulling me over technical terrain, and I was able to keep a more steady pace this time. When we finally reached the plateau, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we’d soon be heading downhill the rest of the way. The last couple of miles went by quickly. Although we weren’t able to fly down those hills because of the aforementioned obstacles, we still had a strong finish as we rounded the final corners and passed beneath the archway that marks the trailhead. We snapped a fun finish line selfie (making sure to include that cool archway in the background) before piling our muddy selves into the car and heading back to Gearhart for our reward: leftover Angelina’s pizza.

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