Oregon trip – day 2 – Heceta Head Lighthouse and Hobbit Beach

I was super excited to get out and do some hiking, since I don’t get to do much in Tampa and the little hiking I get to do does not include hills – seriously, not even like large piles of dirt.  It must be the fact that I grew up on the side of a mountain, surrounded by mountains, but I love mountains.  So, I couldn’t wait.  We dropped Debi off at her work around 8:30 am then headed out to the Oregon coast to do a hike I was very excited for – Hobbit Trail.

I was searching for hikes in the Eugene area a few weeks ago so I’d be prepared for when we got out here.  I looked, in particular, for hikes that you could do with kids.  Most such hikes are for young children (i.e., 5 to 10), not for toddlers, but I figured that’s about all I could manage anyway with an extra 25 to 35 pounds on my back.  One website recommended an Oregon coast hike called the Hobbit Trail.  The description said that it was a short hike down to a secluded beach on the coast and that the trail was like a Hobbit hole – the trees and shrubs were so dense above the trail that it was supposed to be like a tunnel.  That just sounded cool to me (and I love me some fantasy references, so I had a hard time resisting).  Additionally, the website noted that there is a famous lighthouse near the trail, which seemed like a good dual purpose trip from Eugene to the coast – cool hike and a visit to a lighthouse.

According to the hike description, you could park in a little turnout on the side of US 101 and just hike the Hobbit Trail, but in case that failed, the site also mentioned you could park in the Heceta Head lighthouse parking area and hike to the Hobbit Trail, then hike the trail from there to the beach.  The site did note that parking at the Heceta Head lighthouse cost money, but it was only supposed to be $3.00, which seemed like a small price to pay (actually $5.00 now).  Toren was very accommodating; he fell asleep almost immediately after we dropped Debi off and stayed asleep the entire drive.

I originally tried to find the pullout so we could hike the Hobbit Trail directly and not pay the parking, but I’m actually glad I couldn’t find it because of the hike we ended up doing.  After failing to find the pullout (the trail marker is on the west side of US 101, the pullout is on the east side, so you can’t see the trail marker easily from the pullout unless you know exactly where to look), I turned around and headed back to the Heceta Head lighthouse parking and parked.  Apparently the Heceta Head lighthouse is quite the visitor’s attraction as the parking lot already had a dozen cars in it when we arrived (around 10:00) and by the time we left (around 2:00) it was completely full.

And what’s not to like about the lighthouse?  Here’s the view from the parking area:

my poorly combined panorama from the parking area of the Heceta Head Lighthouse (click for a larger view)

Even the beach at the parking area was beautiful.  I was excited.  And Toren was ready to go for a hike.  It was a beautiful day, about 70 degrees, little wind, with perfectly clear skies.  Everything looked great.

We quickly hiked up to the lighthouse (about a 1/4 mile hike).  The view from there was really stunning.  Here’s a shot looking back toward the same beach in the panorama:

view of the beach/parking area from the lighthouse

Best of all, the whole area was fenced in and well manicured (as you can see in the photo below), so I could set Toren down and let him walk around.  He didn’t do much walking, but he did get down and play a little.  Some of the friendly people I met also volunteered to take a picture for us:

Toren and me by the lighthouse

Here’s a photo of the lighthouse:

Heceta Head Lighthouse

I also snapped a photo of Toren standing by the base of the lighthouse:

Toren at the base of the lighthouse

I thought it might be the case that there were tours of the lighthouse, but I actually didn’t look to see as I was there to hike.  But it turned out there was a tour right around 10:50, so we waited around for the 15 minute tour which takes you all the way up to the top (well, almost).  It is a working lighthouse, so you can’t actually go into the lamp room, but you can see it from just below it.  It was cool and informative.

While waiting for the tour, I found what I was looking for – a trail map.  It showed where I was and it noted where the Hobbit Trail was located:

this is actually a different version of the same map; the one by the lighthouse was stained and not easy to read, but they are virtually identical (click for a larger version)

Based on the map, I could follow what looked to be a relatively short trail to the Hobbit Trail, then follow that to the beach.  When I asked the tour guide if that was the correct path, just to make sure, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, “You sure you want to hike it?  It’s straight up all the way.”  I laughed and told him I did a lot of hiking.  He gave me a weird look, but confirmed it was the right path.

So, after the tour, Toren and I loaded back up and headed up the trail (it starts just below the lighthouse).  Turns out it’s not straight up – it’s switchbacks up a very steep hill.  It’s steep, but manageable.  And the elevation gain is quick.  I stopped once or twice to catch my breath as it was a bit more than I was expecting.  But, it was soooo  worth it!

As I worked my way up the hill, there were occasional spots where a short side trail (20 feet or so) would take you out of the thick forest and right out to a vista that was just amazing.  Here’s an example:

view from a side trail

That’s a tiny little beach (not Hobbit Beach) about 400 to 500 feet below the trail.  The trail is behind me about 15 feet and there was this little hole in the forest to look out over this.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Oh, and the forest was beautiful too.  Old trees with thick growth at the top kept out most of the sunlight and the moss and light undergrowth made it feel like an old forest.  Add to that the well-maintained trail (with wood chippings, making it very soft and a joy to hike) and I was in heaven: great views from the trail and on the trail itself.  It was stunning.

At the very top of the hill, you finally see this vista:

Hobbit Beach from the top of the hill

There’s actually a bench right here so you can sit and just soak up this view (there are many benches on the trail, but this one was particularly well-placed).  That’s Hobbit Beach, where we were headed.  It’s an enormous beach that runs quite a ways into the distance.

It was right about here I saw the only other hikers – two women – I saw on this part of the trail (I saw more on the Hobbit Trail).  They were panting pretty good coming up the other side.

From here, Toren and I made our way down the other side of the hill and eventually found the Hobbit Trail, which links up with this trail.  With my nifty GPS phone, I tracked the entire hike and added a waymarker so people can see exactly where the Hobbit Trail starts:

From where you pick up the Hobbit Trail to the beach, it’s actually quite short – a 1/2 mile is all. And, frankly, the Heceta Head Lighthouse trail is more beautiful, but the Hobbit Trail did live up to its name with some very cool hiking as well, including the famed Hobbit hole portion that opens onto the beach:

the Hobbit Hole portion of the trail; this portion opens right onto the beach

I took a quick shot of Toren and I right after I shot the above:

Toren and I in the Hobbit Hole

You can see my headphone in.  I listen to podcasts while I hike, but only in one hear, so I can talk with Toren at the same time (yeah, it’s multi-tasking, but it’s what I do).

Here’s Hobbit Beach:

looking south, at the hill we climbed
looking north; the beach was almost empty

While the hike was a bit more strenuous than I had planned (because of the elevation gain), I was feeling pretty good.  I wasn’t sweating too much because of the weather and had just seen some amazing vistas and was surrounded by beautiful scenery.  I periodically looked back at Toren while hiking to make sure he was okay, and he seemed fine (though, look a bit closer at that picture above).  But, as it turns out, he wasn’t.  Here’s where the story takes a dark turn…

I took the pack off and set it down in a little alcove in the cliffs to avoid the sun and wind.  As I undid the straps to pull Toren out, I saw his chin quiver.  I grabbed his arms and they were freezing!!!  While I was staying plenty warm because of the hiking, Toren was basically in the shade (the backpack has a sunscreen) and wasn’t doing much besides turning his head here and there to see what he wanted to see.  Given the slight breeze and the temperature, Toren had gotten really, really cold.  I started to freak out!  I was thinking this could be really bad.  He was very cold (he was still alert) and we were over 2 miles from our car on a nearly abandoned beach.  What’s more, outside of the trees, the wind was quite strong.  Once I pulled him out, I immediately hugged him close, and tried to figure out what to do.  It was about 12:15 to 12:30 at this point and Toren needed to eat as well.  I hadn’t brought much along as I didn’t think we’d be hiking that long (I underestimated the steepness of the hike) and figured we could stop at a restaurant on the way home.

I did, however, bring along a blanket, which I had planned to use to let Toren sleep on while we relaxed at the midway point of the hike – in this case, on the beach.  I pulled the blanket out, grabbed the bag of cheerios and the protein bar Toren was going to have for a snack, then found a leeward side of a rock that was still in the sun, and went to work.  I wrapped Toren up (which he hates, and fought, of course), sat down on the sand with my back to the wind so I could block it out, put him on my lap straddling me so his core would be next to mine, covered all but the top of his head with the blanket, then broke open the bag of cheerios inside the blanket and started feeding him.  The poor thing’s arms were still very cold and his chin would occasionally quiver.  He also had snot all over from his poor nose being so cold.  He was so miserable he didn’t even want to feed himself.  So, I would reach down inside my make shift cover and feed him cheerios while trying to block out the wind.  To add insult to injury, the wind wasn’t just cold, it blew sand around.  I blocked most of it out with my back and the blanket (I didn’t care that I was getting a little cold and was uncomfortable from the wind and sand), but some still got in and got stuck in Toren’s snot.  But I was determined to get some food into him and warm him up.  There we sat, for about 30 minutes, me feeding him with one hand and rubbing his back ferociously with the other to try to warm him up.  It was quite the pathetic scene – a 13 month old toddler, freezing on a nearly abandoned beach miles from help with only a dimwitted father, a blanket, and cheerios to rescue him.  And yet, I couldn’t help but think about how much I loved him at that moment and how sorry I was that he was so cold and it was my fault!

Luckily, my pathetic fumblings worked.  After about 30 minutes in the blanket pressed up against me with me rubbing him vigorously, his arms were warm, his legs were warm, and his head and face were warm.  Crisis averted… For the moment. Phew!

(Aside: In retrospect, I think I know why I didn’t worry about him getting cold.  The only place I’ve used the backpack is in Florida, and that’s just been since about April, when we bought it.  I only worry about him over heating in Florida when we hike because it is so hot and muggy.  I didn’t even think about him getting cold, let alone so cold that I would be worried about him.  Lesson learned.)

He was clearly warm enough after 30 minutes that he was feeling good.  He pushed the blanket off and wanted to go explore.  With him warm, I figured a little movement would do him some good, though I was still worried about him.  He couldn’t walk very well in the loose, dry sand, so I took him to some wet sand.  He loved it.  He started digging a hole:

He did this for a good 20 minutes before he decided to try eating the sand.  He clearly didn’t like the taste, but that didn’t keep him from trying it a second time, which is when I decided we should get back to the car and get him completely warmed up.  I did my best to get the sand off him (though it was still stuck to him thanks to his drying snot) and cleaned him up the best I could.

While the original crisis of Toren freezing was averted, I still had to get him back to the car, which was 2 miles away, over a small mountain (mountain to a Floridian, that is), upon which he froze the last time we climbed it.  I was worried he’d get just as cold, but I did have the blanket, so I wrapped him up the best I could after putting him in the backpack and decided I’d really push to get back to the car on the way back.  We made pretty good time, covering the whole distance in an hour.  I stopped a couple times to check on him and he was doing okay, though he was a bit cold.  He fell asleep the last 20 minutes, but was doing well enough when we got back to the car that he wanted to play.  I was going to let him, but a nasty wind whipped up, blowing sand everywhere.  So, I went with option number 2: Take him into the nearby town, find food, and look for a play area for kids.  Turns out, there was a McDonald’s with a play area.  So, we just ate there (Toren’s first time) and I let him play for a good hour before we had to head back to pick up Debi.  Here he is in one of the tubes:

Toren in the McDonald’s play area

Toren crashed on the way back to Eugene, so I thought he’d be up to going out for dinner.  Yeah, not so much.  We went out for dinner around 6:30, which is about 9:30 Tampa time.  I think he had started to adjust at this point, but it was still too much for him – he was a nightmare at the restaurant.  Though, that may just be the phase he’s in as he’s not doing very well in any restaurants at the moment.

Some additional videos added after I originally posted this. Here’s some footage from the trail of the beach below:

And here’s some footage of Hobbit Beach as you walk out of the hobbit hole portion of the trail:

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