Stormy Weather at Cape Falcon

Don’t know why…there’s no sun up in the sky…stormy weather….

When I heard the tide was in, the waves were cresting dangerously high, and the winds were near gale force, there was only one thing to do: Gas up the truck and go look at it.

Cape Falcon was the only major spot I hadn’t explored yet between Astoria and Newport, so I plunged into the dripping evergreens of Oswald West State Park. 

A steep cut bank winds through occasional specimens of old growth which are fiercely guarded by demons.

Okay, my camera just caught a Douglas Squirrel in a rather menacing pose while he was ravaging some cones but if the little beasties glared like this in real life, I’d bring more than gaiters for protection.

It’s an easy stroll to the cliffs, so you have oodles of time to admire the mycological landscaping. Dryad’s Saddles form artistic downspouts at the edges of logs. 

The Coral Fungi was my favorite, branching into elegant modern sculpture in the dark recesses between blowdowns and sword ferns. 

It came in a splendid variety… 

…often appearing in bright bouquets of multiple hues. 

This stuff was just plain freaky. It resembled the pliable cartilage of a human ear. If anybody out there knows what this is, let me know immediately and end the suspense.

With so many goodies to photograph, it took me a while to reach the northern point of Smuggler Cove. Short Sand Beach below was a terrifying spin cycle of storm surge and rolling rocks the size of my head. I skipped the usual beachcombing, having already paused at Hug Point earlier to gawk for a whole hour at the crazy wave action.

On the trail, I met a couple from Cleveland and led them out to some choice spots on the map like this excellent view of Neahkanie Mountain. 

At the edge, the wind raced up the rocky slopes to form a vortex alarming in its unpredictability. Every few seconds, our bare cheeks were strafed with course pebbles wrenched loose from the walls below. It kinda took the romance out of the view.

To quote a seafaring Viking in The Thirteenth Warrior, “No, boy, this is no day to be close to land!” Is it any wonder we didn’t see a single boat all day?

Looks more and more like The Pirates of the Caribbean the closer you get, doesn’t it? 

No sooner did I mention that Bald Eagles were like sparrows around here than a giant sparrow put in an appearance. The Clevelandites were very impressed. 

The couple gamely pushed their way with me through chest-high walls of salal to another lookout at the headland. The wind was terrifying. If it weren’t for the salal, we’d surely have been tossed off the edge like so much crumpled newspaper. We eased our way slowly down to a precipitous outcrop and settled in to munch on lunch and watch the waves. They were as mesmerizing as they were furious. 

We had to speak up to hear each other over the decibels of this storm. The wind howled and moaned above us, the weathered spruce branches hissed and clattered around us, and below us rogue waves punched the shore with such force that we could feel it like a sonic boom simultaneously in both our chests and ears.

Punchin’ in…. 

…and ebbing out. 

I was bundled up far better than my friends and declared my intention to stay until dark. They gave me nervous smiles and bid me adieu in favor of their warm, dry rental car. I lingered to watch massive curtains of rain sweep the agitated Pacific clean. 

I was feeling smug, all snug in my indestructible waterproof gear, when suddenly the joke was on me: Ka-POW! It dawned on me that being perched on an exposed rock out-cropping in a lightning storm, surrounded by water and moistened to a slick sheen in one’s Goretex shell might be foolhardy. I hastened up the rough trail only to be blinded by one of those strikes that hits so close, everything turns white and deadly silent and you fear the entire universe has stopped along with your heart. Then a noise loud enough to induce bowel evacuation explodes in your ears and you come to your senses again and resume running.

I realized I was screwed when I got to the top of the salal: I still had to cross several very open, very exposed fields in order to reach the relative safety of the forest. My instinct told me to hunker down in a small, tortured-looking stand of spruce for a while. It was warm there, delightfully warm out of the wind, and I made a sort of party out of it, downing more water and snacks for the mad dash to come. While I had a moment, I noticed the richly painted undersides of some wildflowers. 

There was a pause in the storm and I made a break for it. Powerful strikes lit up the fields behind me and each time, my legs found speed I didn’t know I had. If you want a real workout, run up a steep, muddy hill in the pounding rain while lightning crashes all around you and you desperately have to pee and I guarantee that you will push the limits of shin splints.

The rest of the hike was rather benign by comparison. With the wind gone, it became positively balmy. With the people gone, I was able to have as many conversations with fungi as I liked. This one’s called Lobster Mushroom and according to an elderly ‘shroom harvester I encountered earlier, despite its bizarre, alien appearance, it’s quite delicious. He had a whole bag full. 

Just before sundown, I had the opportunity to count some rings on a giant that took a header. It’s splintered stump is centered at the end of the log about fifty optically illusive feet away.

At the center, the tree spoke of a vigorous youth full of fast growth and massive gains with each successive year. 

By the end of its term, those years had become a study in slow persistence. Yet, even now in its “death,” it was still alive with symbiotes, parasites, slugs, snails, and a multitude of unseen creepy crawlies, all necessary to the health of the forest that nursed this tree into life over a hundred and twenty years ago. Yes, I counted. As usual, I barely made it back to my wheels before dark. I like to see just how far I can go without turning on the old headlamp and I’m proud to say I only used it once in 2010.

My reward was a new pair of boots. A small group of tourists had purchased molded rubber galoshes just to hike in and had left the whole lot stacked neatly below the trail head sign. I picked out something close to my size, threw them in the back of the truck, and drove home leisurely in a fresh change of clothes. Always bring a fresh change of clothes. Waterproof gear may keep your underwear dry but the lightning might necessitate a clean pair in the end.

October 24, 2010

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