Run Oregon: Pioneer-Indian Trail, Mt. Hebo area, Siuslaw National Forest

28 Feb
The clouds were rolling in at the summit.

The clouds were rolling in at the summit, which sits at 3,153 feet — a climb of about 1,400 feet from the Hebo Lake Campground.

There were some wet, sloppy areas along the Pioneer-Indian Trail on my late February run, but this is definitely a trail worth visiting.

Hebo, Oregon, is just 30 minutes or so north of Lincoln City, and the trail takes off from the Hebo Lake Campground, just a few miles further up Forest Road 14.

The Pioneer-Indian Trail runs 8 miles from the campground to South Lake, which offers dispersed camping. I ran just 5 miles of the trail, making for a 10-mile out-and-back workout. I’ll have to run the entire length of the trail another day. The trail never strays too far from Forest Road 14, and many folks leave vehicles at both ends to avoid the out-and-back hike.

Mount Hebo vertical

Mount Hebo elevation profile

From the Hebo Lake Campground, the trail climbs steadily for 4+ miles, winding through Douglas fir that were planted in 1912 after a massive fire. The trail is mostly single track, covered alternately in rocks, roots and forest trash. Hikers do share part of the trail with equestrians.

I saw just a couple patches of snow, but they say that the roads can become impassable due to snow in the winter. Traffic signs say the road is not maintained in the winter. Officially, the high point is 3,153 feet, although my GPS registered 3,159. The campground was situated at about 1,750 feet, which means the trail averaged a 6.5% grade.

Forest Service map, Mt. Hebo area trails


Lincoln City to Hebo map


The top of the mountain features a long, open meadow; the temperature dropped noticeably, and there was nothing to stop the wind.

The trail itself gets its name because it was originally the route for Indians and then settlers to cross the Coastal Range from the Willamette Valley.

On a clear day, you can see the Cascade Mountain Range to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west or Tillamook Bay to the north. But there were enough low-hanging clouds during my visit that the view was limited.

Getting there: To reach the trailhead at Hebo Lake Campground, head 24 miles north of Lincoln City to Hebo. Turn east on Highway 22 and go just .2 miles to the Hebo Ranger Station. Turn right before the Ranger Station, and take the winding Forest Road 14 a little more than 4 miles to the campground. On the day I visited, the campground was closed, so I parked along the road, and ran to the trailhead, which was only about a quarter mile.



Steady rain changes trail, but training run still possible

15 Feb
Cummins Creek Trail on Jan. 23, 2016, (left) and on Feb. 14. A little rain turns the trail into a shallow creek.

Cummins Creek Trail on Jan. 23, 2016, (left) and on Feb. 14. A little rain turns the trail into a shallow creek.

It’s amazing the difference a little rain will make on an Oregon coastal trail.

I made my second visit to the Cummins Creek Trail in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area in the past month (the first run can be found here). I had planned a different trail run for Sunday, but there was a fairly steady rain overnight — nothing heavy, just the typical Coastal Oregon rain. And since it was still raining in the morning, I decided to revisit a trail I did know rather than risk a trail I didn’t know.

The narrow, rocky single-track near the highpoint of the Cummins Creek Trail was running with water on Feb. 14, 2016.

The narrow, rocky single-track near the highpoint of the Cummins Creek Trail was running with water on Feb. 14, 2016.

It misted or sprinkled on me throughout the run, but for the first hour or so, the trails didn’t really show any negative effects. Under the towering pines, the forest floor was needle-covered and soft. In flatter areas, the water accumulated in a series of small puddles. But in the steeper sections, the elevation change resulted in water running down the middle of the narrow, rocky, single-track trail.

In fact, one area (shown in the photo above) had turned from a rocky trail in January to a shallow, rocky stream in February. Faced with a 20-yard stretch of rushing water, I wasn’t sure how I’d get down the trail and stay dry. But I found a nearby branch — like a walking stick — and I thought I could pick my way across the high spots. And that worked for about two steps, until the branch shattered, plunging me into the running water. Oh, well. If you’re worried about getting wet, you’re in the wrong place.

I’m learning more about the navigational abilities of my Suunto Ambit2. If you can find GPX versions of your trails, you can download those onto the watch, and let it guide you. TrimbleOutdoors has been a good source of GPX files; I had to sign up for a trial membership to download a few, and I haven’t yet decided that I want to pay the $30 annual membership. might be another good source, but it, too, has a membership fee.

Cape Perpetua vertical

Cape Perpetua elevation profile, Cummins Creek loop


A trail runner in Oregon striving to be an Oregon trail runner

1 Feb

Running has been a big part of my life for a dozen years or so, but in the past two years, I’ve become hooked on trail running. I love the variety of the trail itself, the challenge of the elements and the beauty of the outdoors.

Until two months ago, Keokuk, Iowa, was my home base. I spent countless hours running the hills along the Mississippi River, and recently, I added the trails at Geode State Park, which offer some fun single-track around a scenic lake. From this training, I was able to run several 50-mile races, including one in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and a 100-miler, as well as a number of marathons.

But my new home in Lincoln City, Oregon, will take my training to a new level. Today’s run in the Drift Creek Wilderness illustrates the difference in the two locales. A 7-mile trail run around Lake Geode in Iowa resulted in about 875 feet of vertical — 125 feet per mile. Today’s 7.5-mile run on the Horse Creek North Trail was good for 1,700 feet of vertical — 225 feet per mile.

Horse Creek vertical

Horse Creek elevation profile

Geode vertical

Geode Park elevation profile

And while the total vertical is one thing, the sustained ascents and descents are an even bigger difference. The trail around Lake Geode constantly rose and fell, but it was difficult to find a sustained climb of more than a half mile. Contrast that with Horse Creek, which dropped — and subsequently climbed — 1,400 feet in 2.25 unbroken miles.

If you’re training for a mountain trail race, which is my favorite kind of race, you need to prepare for unrelenting climbs or descents.

The first time I ran the 50-miler in Wyoming’s Bighorns, I was unprepared for the vertical. The first 18 miles is a steady downhill, and one climb rose 3,000 feet in about 3 miles. You can’t train in Iowa for those conditions. The following year, I added plenty of repeats on the biggest hills that I could find, but it was still a poor substitute.

So while I explore the many trails of Oregon — and particularly those in the nearby Oregon Coast Range — I’m learning many lessons that will help me become a true mountain trail runner. Today’s lessons included:

  • Being ready with a back-up location. I had planned a run around Olalla Reservoir, owned by the Georgia-Pacific lumber company. But when I arrived, I found the gate was locked and a sign warned off visitors due to a low water level at the reservoir. Uncertain if the prohibition extended to the surrounding trails, I headed off to another location.
  • Following a route on my GPS watch. Last week, I missed two turns while running the trails at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. This week, I had downloaded the GPX file for the run to my watch. The Horse Creek trail is an out-and-back trail that is easy to follow, but it still gave me a chance to work out the kinks in following a route on my Suunto Ambit2.
  • Embracing the rike. Yes, “rike” — part run, part hike. There’s no way I’m prepared for a 2-mile uphill of 1,400 feet. And frankly, after a 10-week layoff in training, I’m not even ready for an uninterrupted run of 6 or 8 miles in the mountains. But a steady rike keeps me on the trails and extends my distance.

I’ve taken a number of hikes in the surrounding mountains since my arrival in mid-November, but today’s run was just my second true trail run. And all I can say is: Bring on the Oregon mountain trail runs and the lessons that come with them.

For an animation of the run, which also includes some photos along the way, watch this:

At long last, let the Oregon trail runs begin

26 Jan
The ridge along the top of the Cummins Loop Trail at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats.

The ridge along the top of the Cummins Loop Trail at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats.

Never did I imagine that it would take me 10 weeks to recover from my first 100-mile ultramarathon, but — maddeningly — it has.

I moved to Oregon just two days after completing the Tunnel Hill 100 on Nov. 15, and at that time, I thought I would be cruising the Oregon trails within 3 weeks, 4 weeks tops. In the meantime, I have taken a number of gorgeous hikes — like Drift Creek Falls and Harts Cove — and a few short runs on the streets of my new home of Lincoln City. But I haven’t hit the trails in earnest … until this weekend.

Finally, my muscles and joints no longer ached, and the ligaments in my knee were less inflamed — not perfect, but good enough to test on the trails.

For weeks, I’ve been like an impatient child paging through the Sears Wish Book and pining for Christmas day. Except in my case, I’ve been clicking through digital calendars of Oregon trail races. As a child, I’d write out my Christmas wish list, complete with corresponding page references in the Wish Book. In the past couple weeks, I put together an Apple Notes listing of area races, complete with dates and distances. Talk about growing older but not up.

Located on the Pacific Ocean, Lincoln City offers 7 nearly uninterrupted miles of beaches that invite walkers and runners, and I have done a couple of beach runs. But it’s the adjacent Oregon Coast Range, covered in Sitka spruce and Douglas fir, that has been my siren song for 70 days.

It was hard to pick among the many options, but the 26 miles of trails at the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area held the most allure, plus they were in an area that I had not yet explored. And they did not disappoint.

Forest Service trail map

Forest Service trail map

Cape Perpetua is located about 52 miles south of Lincoln City on Highway 101 and 3 miles south of Yachats (pronounced, Yaw-hots).

South of the Visitor Center, there are several looped trails, offering different choices. I headed south on the Oregon Coast Trail and then went east/inland on the Cummins Creek Trail.

The Oregon Coast Trail parallels Highway 101 and offers glimpses of the ocean crashing against the rugged shore. Pine trees provide a canopy above and a tangle of roots cover the single track below.

The Cummins Creek Trail also accommodates mountain bikers, so it’s wider and rock covered. I didn’t see any bikers on my run, but I saw a number of hikers. According to my Suunto Ambit2, the trail rose from a low of 23 feet above sea level to nearly 1,240 feet in about 3 miles, with most of that climb coming in the last mile or so.

Including the extraneous jog down the coast, the trail measured about 9.6 miles.

A few words of caution about the trails:

First, the trails are fairly apparent, but route-finding can be a bit tricky at times. I missed the turn from the coast trail down the Cummins trail, heading too far south along the coast. If you’re heading south from the Visitors Center, it makes the turn east on the Cummins trail on a small rock road. There are signs at most trail intersections, but still…

And second, there are enough interweaving trails that it’s easy enough to take a wrong turn. I read about another hiker/runner who took a wrong turn and went several miles out of her way. I, too, took a wrong turn and headed back down the Cummins Creek Loop Trail — when I actually meant to head north and hook up with the Cook’s Ridge Trail. The resulting mileage was about the same for me, but I did more of an out-and-back run than I had intended.

Despite a couple of unintended challenges, the many trails at Cape Perpetua offer a variety of options, and I look forward to exploring every one of those options in the coming months.

♦ ♦ ♦

There’s a parking area at the Visitor Center, but it is a $5 fee for a day pass. For $35, I purchased an annual Oregon Pacific Coast Passport, which is good for many sites up and down the coast, including Drift Creek Falls, Yaquina Head and Marys Peak. I’ll be frequenting all of these spots, so the annual pass makes sense for me. There is also a small, free parking lot up that rock road where the mountain bike trail begins.

On the trip home, I stopped for a burger and beer at Brewer’s on the Bay, located inside the Rogue Ales Brewery on the Newport bayfront. Great beer, great burger, great service. This is one reason I run — and I’ll run even more if it means a return trip to Brewer’s and Rogue beers.

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Hike Oregon: Harts Cove

4 Dec

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The hike to Harts Cove is an easy one — mostly downhill on a good trail that was marred in November by just a couple of muddy spots and washouts. The hike back out is when you’ll pay for the satisfaction of seeing a stunning ocean vista, watching the waves crash into a hidden cove and listening to the barks of unseen sea lions. 

The trail descends 800 feet in about 2.5 miles from the trailhead to a meadow that overlooks Harts Cove. It would have been another 150 feet down to the shore; while the main trail to the overlook was easy to follow, finding a path down to the shore was not so easy, and I decided to pass on that trip on this chilly but sunny early winter day.

You’ll cross Cliff Creek and Chitwood Creek along the trail. On this day, a small bridge over Chitwood Creek was washed out, but the creek is small at this point and was still easily crossed without the bridge.

All in all, the scenery was spectacular — including Chitwood Creek falls that spill into Harts Cove — and the trail is easily reached from Lincoln City. This is a hike well worth your time.

Getting there: Head north out of Lincoln City on Highway 101. From the intersection of 101 and Highway 18, go another 4 miles, which will be shortly after mile marker 102. Look for a gravel road to the left — Cascade Head Road 1861; there will be a yellow gate at the road. From Jan. 1 to July 15, the gate will be closed, keeping vehicles off the road. From the gate, go 3.5 miles to the end of the road, where you’ll find the trailhead.

Harts Cove vertical

Harts Cove elevation profile

Hike Oregon: Drift Creek Falls

28 Nov

A 240-foot long suspension bridge that hangs 100 feet over Drift Creek and overlooks the falls is the highlight of this relatively easy hike. The groomed path that leads from the trailhead to the falls is wide and accommodating, but you will descend more than 300 feet in the 1.5 miles or so it takes to reach the falls.

On the return trip, you can take the north loop, which is not as wide or as well groomed and will add about .7 miles to the hike.

The trail is in the Siuslaw National Forest. There is a fairly large parking lot at the trailhead, and there is a good vault toilet there.

To reach the trailhead, head south out of Lincoln City on Highway 101 to mile marker 119. Turn east at Drift Creek Road. In about 1.5 miles, you’ll come to a “T” intersection. Turn right. Proceed for about a quarter mile, take a slight left onto a narrow, one-lane blacktop road. Follow this for 10.3 miles to the trailhead parking lot. This is a good road, but winding and narrow and there is two-way traffic. The way is well marked with signs to Drift Creek Falls.

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100 miles is not that far? Well, yes and no

22 Nov
Dave Rogers, left, and I near Vienna, Ill., after completing 26 miles of the Tunnel Hill 100.

Dave Rogers, left, and I near Vienna, Ill., after completing 26 miles of the Tunnel Hill 100.

Karl Meltzer is a liar.

Harsh words, I know, but I was feeling harsh at mile 76.

Meltzer, a prolific ultrarunner, is known for famously uttering, “100 miles is not that far.”

On Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8 a.m., I set off on my first 100-mile ultrarun, the Tunnel Hill 100 trail run in Vienna, Ill. And for most of Saturday, I agreed with Meltzer. But in middle of the night, when Saturday turned to Sunday, I knew 100 miles was damn far.

I had selected the Tunnel Hill race, I told my friends, because it was the easiest 100-miler I could find — as if any ultra of this distance could be “easy.” The race was about 5 hours south of our home in Keokuk, Iowa, in the tiny town of Vienna (pronounced “VY-enna”), about 25 miles north of Paducah, Ky.  It takes place on a converted rail-to-trail, which means the grade is gentle or even flat.

I couldn't have met my goal without the help of my wife, Barb, who ran 50 miles in the process, and my daughter, Laura, who hiked 24 miles and crewed for us.

I couldn’t have met my goal without the help of my wife, Barb, who ran 50 miles in the process, and my daughter, Laura, who hiked 24 miles and crewed for us.

As we ran out of the town’s city park in the chilly air, I made a concerted effort to dampen my pace. I am definitely not a fast runner, but I was trying to run even slower than normal. I knew I couldn’t afford to expend too much energy in the first hours of the race. I had outlined a plan for the race that called for me to complete it in 27 1/2 hours, but truth be told, I had no idea what it would take to finish or how long it would actually take.

The race has a 30-hour cutoff, which equates to an average of 18 minutes a mile. I took my best guess at my endurance and pace, and figured I’d start at a 13-minute pace and tail off to a 20-minute pace by the end. I knew the race would take its toll, and I wanted to be realistic.

The start/finish line was located in the middle of the course. You leave Vienna and head south for about 13 miles, hit the turnaround at the Barkhausen Wetlands Center and head back to Vienna. From there, you head north about 12 miles, reach a small turnaround and return to Vienna from the north. That gets you 50 miles, so you repeat the whole thing to record 100 miles.

I really did feel good through those first 26 miles. Instead of my planned 13-minute pace, I was running closer to 12 minutes, which is still slower than my normal pace and part of the reason I think it felt so relaxed.

I had planned on running the first portion by myself, but I picked up a fellow runner, David Rogers, about 5-8 miles into the run, and talking with Dave made the time pass so much easier. Dave and I had a lot in common: tackling our first 100s, roughly the same age, empty nesters, Midwest guys (he’s from St. Louis), etc. He could have gone at a faster pace, but he was trying to be controlled, too.

I refilled my bottles and picked up Barb at the start-finish line at mile 26.

I refilled my bottles and picked up Barb at the start-finish line at mile 26.

When I ran into the start/finish area at mile 26, I hooked up with my wife, Barb, and daughter, Laura. Barb had agreed to pace me for 50 miles, which would help her reach that distance milestone and aid in my effort. She was going to run the middle 50 miles. Our daughter, Laura, was crewing for us, and at some point, she planned to run with me, too.

The next 24 miles would prove more difficult. In the first miles, I really couldn’t detect any change in the grade of the course. But just a few miles north of Vienna, it became obvious that there was a small but constant climb. The race info said it’s a 2 percent grade. That doesn’t sound like much, but 8 or 9 miles  of even a small climb becomes tiring. About halfway into the climb, my left groin started to ache. I feared that it was going to cramp, but thankfully it never progressed beyond a nagging twinge.

We saw Laura at mile 36, refilled some bottles, made the turnaround in another couple miles and headed back toward Vienna.

By the time we reached there at about 7:30 p.m., it had been dark for three hours. Sunset was at 4:45 p.m., and we wouldn’t see the sun again until 6:30 a.m. — nearly 14 hours of darkness. If a relatively flat, straight, tree-lined, crushed limestone path presents a certain degree of monotony, you should trudge along that same path in the dark.

A few miles past what was the 50-mile mark for me and 24 for Barb, she began to struggle. Her stomach was queasy and her legs sluggish. After a mile or two, she insisted I go on ahead. I hesitated to leave her behind, but she continued to insist, and I relented. I soon met up with Dave again, and we’d stick together until the 76-mile mark at Vienna, when once again we’d get separated as we both refilled our hydration and nutrition and tended to our niggling injuries.

Barb can still manage a smile after completing her first 50-miler!

Barb can still manage a smile after completing her first 50-miler!

Laura had talked about going either 24 miles with me (the last out and back of the course) or waiting until the last 10 miles. We decided that if I could get to mile 90, there’s no way I wouldn’t finish, and so she took off with me out of Vienna — mile 76 or so at about 3 a.m.

Those last 24 miles turned from a slow jog to a moderate hike. I thought I was OK as I hit mile 76 at Vienna, but as I left that last major aid station, I just couldn’t will my legs to run. Thankfully, Laura helped me pass the time.

One of my big concerns was how I would even stay awake for the 24+ hours I knew it would take to complete the race. At one point, I asked Laura to talk to me — I needed something to keep my mind active and alert. She later said she wasn’t sure what she’d talk about, but that didn’t last long. I knew I could count on Lu for non-stop conversation! We’ve been doing that since we drove across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to attend Husker football games when she was 6 years old.

My muscles got stiff and tight, and my feet developed deep blisters. But in the end, finishing the race was simply a matter of continuous forward motion. I didn’t sprint across the finish line, but neither did I crawl. And I beat my goal time.

While I’d had doubts about finishing the race before I had started, once I’d hit the course and stuck with my pace, nutrition and hydration plans, everything really fell into place. Beforehand, I’d figured it would take me 27 1/2 hours to finish. Ultimately, I crossed in 26 hours, 48 minutes.

So in the end, maybe Karl Meltzer was right. My first 100-mile ultra really wasn’t that far.

Damn you, Karl Meltzer.

Crossing the finish line in 26:48:04. It was a great feeling to be done and reach a major goal.

Crossing the finish line in 26:48:04. It was a great feeling to be done and reach a major goal.

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