Oregon Dunes

January 28, 1990

Six adventurous hikers (four Obsidians and two non-members) braved extremely high winds and rain to hike the Oregon Dunes in what appeared to be a re-enactment of “Lawrence of Arabia from Hell.” The trip had been postponed from three weeks earlier as a result of the leader sustaining a minor sprain in one of his feet. Now the re-scheduled day of reckoning arrived, with 60-mile-per-hour wind-driven sand greeting the undaunted group as they polished off the ¾-mile Waxmyrtle Trail along the Siltcoos River and turned south onto the beach. There was no doubt in our minds that this was a major storm. Not a single bird was on the beach. The ocean water was a frothy, twisted mass of white foam almost completely lacking in any other color. The fierce, relentless wind propelled an endless gossamer-shroud of fine sand across the entire width of the beach at hyperspeed one foot above the ground. The wind was so strong as we hiked headlong into it that you could lean forward and almost have it support your weight and hold you up. Ed’s rain pants were ripped to shreds within 20 minutes and Howard resembled a sorry imitation of Superman with his rain poncho in a stranglehold around his neck and flapping wildly behind him. Everyone else’s rain gear was hyper-inflated by the invasive, hard-blowing wind, causing us to resemble sandblasted versions of the Sta-Puffed Marshmallow Man. We had so far been pardoned from rain, but not for long. Climbing over the sea wall into the fore-dunes, we huddled behind small trees and shrubs to escape the wind and eat lunch. When the rain began falling (if you can call its nearly horizontal attack “falling”), we hiked inland to the dunes. These were the Carter Dunes, and although we had originally planned to hike as far south (along the beach) as the Oregon Dunes Overlook area, the wind-driven sand was so severe as to cause us to consider shortening the trip as a near-medical necessity. A few people in our group had no eyeglasses to protect them from getting sand in their eyes, and, with the arrival of rain, those of us who had glasses were quickly developing a crusty, cement-like coating of wet sand over them that made them nearly impossible to see through, necessitating their removal. We elected to high-tail it cross-country over the dunes northward, rather than return on the savage beach, making a bee-line for our access trail along the Siltcoos River. Short of our destination, the dunes terminated in a dense stand of very tall Scotch broom. We decided to try and break through to some fore-dunes on the other side. The wind was actually increasing in strength. Two hikers in our group bolted into the broom ahead of the leader and the remaining core group of hikers. They quickly got separated from each other and the rest of the group. When the leader and core group emerged on the far side of the Scotch broom “forest,” Howard and Todd were nowhere to be found. The howling wind was so loud that shouted speech was unintelligible at a distance of 10 yards and inaudible at 15 or 20. There was no way to signal the separated hikers, and climbing to high vantage points produced no sign of them. We could only hope they would find their way back to the car on their own, a likely scenario as they were both capable and experienced hikers. Michael, Karin, Ed and Carol continued northward through scattered scrub forest and fore-dunes until a deep creek and impenetrable shrubs blocked their progress and forced them to adopt a westerly course back to the beach. After 45 minutes of fighting their way slowly westward by compass through incredibly dense, 9-foot-high coastal scrub, standing in a foot of water, they broke out onto the open rolling fore-dunes and then regained the beach. Half-an-hour later, they were back at the car with Howard and Todd who had each fought their way back on their own. In spite of the weather, or in fact because of it, everyone agreed that the hike was an incredibly fun adventure. Gung-ho hikers were Todd Berger, Howard Houseknecht, Ed Lovegren, Carol Stern, Karin Thompson and Michael Cooper.

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