As a very small, niche group of people in the backpacking world are aware of, I hiked the northern section of the Oregon Coast Trail last week with two backpacking lady crusher friends: Julia “Rocket” and Becca “Little Skittle.” I was delighted when I learned people had been following along on our sloppy adventure, until my dear partner Jeffrey “Legend” Garmire informed me “You didn’t have any competition. Nothing else was happening last week for people to follow along with.”
Anyway! Guess I’m not popular!
But for those who witnessed the mess, it was apparent the three of us did not perfectly execute our section hike—in the planning or in the actual hiking. Before the comments section gains steam, I’m going on record to say that we have a collective 10,000 miles of backpacking experience, are adaptable, have great attitudes, and our mistakes were the type you laugh at in the moment. Nothing serious. That said, do I recommend heading out on a five-day backpacking trip with such little planning? No! I do not! Do your research and avoid the following five mistakes we made with this trip.
1) We hiked the Oregon Coast Trail in November
Clearly this was not an oversight, since the entire plan was to hike on the OCT in November. We understood that the Oregon Coast Trail is very much a summer trail, but somehow still wound up here?!?
Since one of my life goals is to be perceived as the Queen of Self-Imposed Suffering, I enthusiastically tapped out a message along the lines of “The weather will be awful but I love Type II fun xoxo see you soon.”
The reality is… not that? I hate rain. I hate being cold. But I want everyone to think I’m tough, so I played it off like I couldn’t wait for the sufferfest, and then panicked as I stuffed every waterproof item in my gear arsenal into my pack.
As it happened, we lucked out with the weather. We had a day and a half of rain, a lot of cold and windy miles, and plenty of cloud cover, but it could have been worse. If you’re planning a section or a thru-hike of this trail though, do it in the summer.
2) We didn’t know the section or talk through the route
Our criteria for a backpacking trip was simple. We had a week in November to hike, so we needed a trail at a lower elevation that wouldn’t get snowed in, a location that wasn’t too remote, and a distance we could shuttle. If that was the only metric for success, we nailed it! But that was literally the only thing we planned.
Upon arriving in Oregon, it turned out we had all thought the other people were researching the trip. We knew we were ending in Seaside, but didn’t know where we were starting or leaving the car.
As we piled in for the drive, we typed in confused search phrases like “what is 100 miles south of Seaside,” or “towns Oregon Coast Trail” and then plugged the results into Google Maps until we figured out that Lincoln City was about the right distance for reaching Seaside by foot in five days. Since we didn’t even know the section we were hiking, we didn’t know how to plan for it. Which brings me to…
3) Closures, trail damage, and highway walks oh my!
The afore-mentioned lack of section planning meant we were committed to the 100 miles of OCT between Lincoln City and Seaside. We got a lot of messages from people amped on different sections of the OCT... none of which we were on.
As we scrolled through the trail descriptions, we figured out we were on Section II, which was known for several things, including the “longest road walk on the entire OCT.” The first night we trudged in freezing, pouring rain in pitch dark on the narrow shoulder of a highway, with cars blowing by at 70 miles per hour.
We were also on and off the shoulder of other roads and highways, and when we skipped one of the more dangerous road walks, we were dropped off by our hitch at a closed trail section due to storm damage. Insert five more hours of road walking here.
Have I mentioned the closed campsites yet? Luckily attitudes somehow never flagged. There’s a lot to be said for good company, folks.
4) Note to self: Check gear before carrying it for five days
There’s this fun phenomenon where the more you’ve done an activity, the more relaxed you get about subsequent plans involving said activity. I brought a tent that Jeff had previously pitched every time we took it out, a phone on its last legs, no app or map for navigation, and a battery pack that had two days of life left in it.
As the trail plunged into darkness on our first day, Becca realized she had left her headlamp charging in her car, and when we set up camp in a downpour, the panicked yells of “IS MY TENT FLY INSIDE OUT” and “HOW DO THESE POLES WORK” made it apparent none of us had any experience with our new tents, at least not enough to set them up in the dark in a downpour.
We had been focused on waterproofing our gear and carrying enough dry bags to float out to sea, but my tent pitch was such an atrocity I ran the risk of losing some serious trail cred.
5) The route was more confusing than we anticipated
We adapted quickly to this oddball of a trail, but there wasn’t a ton of cohesive information about the OCT, so we didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t a straightforward signed trail, but consisted of linked-together trail sections, beach walks, and detours through adorable coastal towns.
It was a wildly varied, truly beautiful trail, but without Julia randomly having a little-known app from the UK that happened to have the GPS track for the OCT, we would have been pretty hosed. In the 75 miles we wound up hiking, we saw only four OCT signs. There were unmarked intersections, places we had to leave the beach or get cliffed out, and a lot of places where we didn’t keep track of our location well enough, and then had to backtrack through marshes, beaches, and steep, roundabout alternates.
I wouldn’t change the experience for anything, but if you’re planning to thru-hike or section hike the OCT, be prepared for challenging conditions in the off-season, some route-finding, and a totally unique experience.