Hiking Cape Sebastian on a 'mild' day

The Oregon Coast Trail runs by this picturesque — and windy — Curry County headland
The view north from Cape Sebastian toward Humbug Mountain shows part of Myers Beach below. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hadella)Photo courtesy of Paul Hadella

The wind at the Cape Sebastian viewpoint, five miles south of Gold Beach, was making the seagulls fly like pirates who had swigged too much grog. It was raising white caps on the ocean, 700 feet below me, while animating the sleeves of my jacket.

Over the years, exposure to the gusts and gales has bent the branches on the short pines that grow atop this Curry County headland. On the short stroll from the parking lot to check out the long view north, I had to duck beneath the sculpted limbs and pass under them, as through a tunnel.

Under an immense blue sky on this cloudless day, I spotted Humbug Mountain in the distance — some 40 miles up the coast. I pointed my camera, struggling to hold it steady against an assertive gust.

By local standards, I was experiencing Cape Sebastian on a mild day.

"If the wind isn't a hundred miles an hour," a lady in Gold Beach had informed me, "I call it a breeze."

But by my standard, it was whipping like crazy up there.

After snapping my picture, I thought of heading back to the car. Something compelled me, though, to follow the trail — a segment of the Oregon Coast Trail — and explore.

Through a clearing in the trees, I discovered that Sebastian has a rock face. His countenance, while predominately gray, is tinged with orange and red minerals in the stone.

From behind a fence, I contemplated the sheer drop down to the Pacific. I stood there for just a few seconds before Hitchcock's "Vertigo" came to mind, and I had to step away.

At this point, my wife and daughter, who had been trooping along, decided they were tired of being treated like wind toys. They would return to the car, drive south to the Highway 101 wayside at Myers Beach, and wait for me there.

Just like that, I was alone on the cape.

In 1603, a Spanish ship from explorer Sebastian Vizcaino's fleet sailed by this prominent landmark. It was Jan. 20 — the day on the Catholic calendar devoted to Saint Sebastian. The name for the place has stuck since then.

Befitting this saintly connection, a miraculous thing happened not 10 minutes after my wife and daughter skedaddled. As the trail crossed to the south side of the cape and began zigzagging down through the woods, I rounded a curve — and the wind shut off!

Had someone flipped a switch?

The trees stopped swaying. The roaring in my ears was gone, and I could hear songbirds hitting high notes.

A Douglas' squirrel scolded me, with a nervous trill, for treading into its territory. It glared down at me from its perch on a tree branch.

The signature tree of the Oregon Coast, the Sitka spruce, can grow to be 200-feet tall, but the specimens are not particularly large in these woods. The charms are on a smaller scale, such as the solitary tiger lily that I stopped to admire, four orange flower heads dangling from its stalk.

I spotted a thin black snake, hanging like a licorice loop from a fern frond. Before I even realized what I was looking at, it had vanished.

Near the bottom of the trail, I sat on a log and watched wave after wave smack against the rocky ledge jutting from the base of the cape. Though I could have been indoors — the air was that calm around me — it was still windy out over the ocean. I knew this because the tall grass atop the massive offshore formation known as Hunters Island was dancing a wild Watusi.

Stepping off the cape at Myers Beach, I started walking toward the jagged sea stacks a mile ahead, only to be assailed by the wicked wind once again. Not surprisingly, this beach is popular with windsurfers — though only one hardy soul was testing the turbulent, churning waves on this day.

For all the ruckus blowing around me, it was still a gorgeous day at the coast, with the ocean sparkling under the sun. The white beach is so smooth and wide here, you could land the Space Shuttle on it.

It's about a two-and-a-half mile hike down from the viewpoint to Myers wayside. Maybe some day when the wind isn't stirring the sand into a stinging frenzy, I'll make the roundtrip, starting from either point. On this day, though, I was very thankful a ride was waiting for me, and I didn't have to face into the local "breeze" to go back up.

You can access Cape Sebastian viewpoint, part of the Oregon State Park system, from a paved road off Highway 101. Signs clearly mark the way, whether you are traveling north or south.

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at talenthouse@charter.net.

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