Walk a beach, and climb a mountain

You can do it all in one day at Humbug near Port Orford
Humbug Mountain, viewed from Port Orford, rises 1,756 feet from the ocean.Courtesy of Paul Hadella

My wife and I are sitting on a bench at the top of Humbug Mountain, facing into a stiff breeze. After trekking two and a half miles uphill to reach this spot, we had hoped to look down upon the Pacific Ocean to ponder its vastness and beauty.

But a phalanx of skinny trees is blocking our view, and we are left, instead, to watch dozens of grasshoppers scour the grassy slope between us and the trees for their lunch.

The best view, we now realize, was about a mile below the summit. At a clearing in the woods, we gazed north, our eyes following five miles of curving coastline to the fishing village of Port Orford and its sentinel-like headlands, known as Port Orford Heads. Beyond those land masses was another — Cape Blanco, the westernmost point on the Oregon Coast.

The signal from the Cape Blanco lighthouse was clearly visible from our perch on Humbug Mountain, more than 15 miles away. The lens in the tower has been casting its white beacon of light since 1870.

We witnessed a bald eagle engaged in an aerial skirmish with another big bird, while a smaller bird circled the action, like the referee in a boxing ring. The eagle shrieked at its rival, saying things that undoubtedly would have shocked polite company, if translated.

If we had known that another mile of strenuous hiking would bring us only to this grasshopper picnic, would we have pressed on anyway? Definitely. Who can resist scaling a mountain to its uppermost point, just so you can say that you did?

Besides, there aren't many places where you can walk the beach and climb a mountain in the same day. You have to grab these chances where you can.

Granted, reaching the Humbug summit, which stands at 1,756 feet above sea level, is hardly a Himalayan feat. Nevertheless, Humbug is the highest point in Oregon to rise directly from the ocean.

Local Native Americans called this impressive landmark Me-tus, while early white settlers knew it as Sugarloaf. According to the Oregon Blue Book, the mountain received a new identity after an error caused an 1851 exploring party — authorized by William Tichenor, the founder of Port Orford — to become lost. This resulted in the name Tichenor's Humbug, apparently because the mistake was brought about by false talk, or humbug. The name later changed to Humbug Mountain.

What makes Humbug a mountain, while other coastal promontories are known as capes or heads? A geologist would probably say that the key is how it was created.

Or maybe it simply has to do with appearances. From Highway 101, Humbug certainly looks "mountain-ish" with its prominent peak and sloped sides. Capes, on the other hand, tend to be flat across the top.

One thing's for sure: it sounds more impressive to say that you've climbed a mountain.

For your hike to the top, be prepared for a thigh-burning, aerobic march through a coastal rainforest of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and western hemlock. Beyond the din from the highway, tune your ears to the sounds of nature — songbirds trilling in the bushes, wind rustling through the treetops, water rushing downhill in Brush Creek.

After one mile, the trail reaches a junction, where you can go east (2 miles) or west (1.5 miles) to the summit. The vicious, legendary Columbus Day Storm of 1962 blew down scores of trees along the west route, which didn't reopen until 1993.

The trailhead, with parking lot, is well marked from Highway 101. Maximum hike: six miles round trip.

That evening, my wife and I walked to the beach from the campground at Humbug Mountain State Park to watch the sunset. Waves crashed into the jagged rocks at the base of the mountain. As the sun slipped beneath the horizon, a brilliant three-quarter moon rose from behind the mountaintop — where we had sat just a few hours earlier — looking like a sand dollar with a little piece missing.

It was a magical ending to a beautiful day on the Oregon Coast.

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

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