Thursday, August 6, 2020

Thors Well

Cape Perpetua coast
0.6 mile loop, 100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy, rock-hopping necessary if you visit tidepools
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no pass required

Officially known as the Captain Cook Trail, this short hike visits an exceptional stretch of the central Oregon Coast in the Cape Perpetua Special Interest Area. One of the best known features from this hike is Thor's Well, a feature along the rocky coast best seen at high tide, but the tidepools and coastal views here provided plenty of interest at low tide as well. The trail itself is paved and easy to do, but reaching Thor's Well or the tidepools will require rockhopping across uneven terrain.

Thor's Well is in the Cape Perpetua Special Interest Area of Siuslaw National Forest, just south of the town of Yachats and not too far from Newport, Oregon. Anna and I visited while driving up along the Oregon Coast to Seattle. From Yachats, you can reach Thors Well by following US 101 south around Cape Perpetua, passing the sign for the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center. Shortly after, there is a sizeable but unmarked parking area on the ocean side of the road; a sign at the far end of the parking lot indicates a bridge crossing Cooks Chasm. This is the trailhead; park here. If parking here is full, you can also park at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center nearby and hike over, although parking there requires a Northwest Forest Pass or $5 day use fee.

A paved trail left from the north end of the lot, quickly coming to an unmarked intersection. We took the left fork here to hike this short loop clockwise. The paved trail exited the forest and made three short switchbacks as it descended the coastal bluff. Here, a side trail, initially still paved, descended off to the left, dropping towards the coast via staircases. The official trail ended at a platform just above Cook's Chasm, a deep cut into the rocky coastline, but social trails branched out from here onto the rocks.

If you come here after having hiked further north or south along the Oregon Coast, you'll immediately notice that the coast here is quite different. There are no sea stacks here: just a rocky basalt coast that's remniscent of... Hawaii? If you thought so, you're not crazy: Cape Perpetua has a unique geology as a shield volcano that's since been eroded by streams and waves into the landscape of coastal headlands and rocky shelves by the ocean that you see today.

From this side trail, there was an excellent view of the deep gash of Cook's Chasm. Every half minute or so, a strong wave would push into the chasm, sloshing violently against its sides as the narrow passage funneled the wave higher and higher before it finally crashed and dissapated. A notable feature on the other side of Cook's Chasm is the Spouting Horn, a blowhole where water funneled up Cook's Chasm erupts into a geyser of seawater. Unfortunately, we were arriving at low tide; the Spouting Horn is usually only active around high tide.

Cook's Chasm
Both the chasm and the Captain Cook Trail- the official name of this hike- are named after British explorer, who sailed the HMS Endeavour in his three journeys through the Pacific. Cook established European contact with Hawaii and sailed the Northwest Coast during his third voyage, during which he named Cape Perpetua. 

We crossed the rocky shelf along the coast via social trails and rock hopping to reach Thor's Well, a collapsed sea cave on the shelf. The sides of Thors Well was coated in mussels and barnacles, which survived from the seawater that pours over during high tide and the constant spray from waves entering the cave from below. At low tide, the scene is interesting but not terribly remarkable: waves rush in through sea caves below and then crash on the rocks at the bottom of the well. At high tide, the well becomes a unique sight: seawater rushes onto the rocky shelf from large waves and then drains into the well, making it seems as if this hole were draining the ocean. Due to the timing of our trip, we only saw the area at low tide; to catch the most spectacular action at Thor's Well and Spouting Horn, check tide tables for the Yachats area before coming.

Thor's Well
Leaving Thor's Well, we made our way back to the concrete landing and then returned up the staircases to the main trail. Back on the main, paved trail, we headed north along the loop, staying just above bluffs along the coast. After crossing a small bridge, another path broke off to the left, heading down to the coast. We took this spur trail as well, coming to an area of tidepools where we spotted hermit crabs, fish alevin, barnacles, mussels, and sea anemones. While Thor's Well and Spouting Horn may be best viewed at high tide, the tidepools and their interesting marine life are only accessible at low tide. Views of the high headland of Cape Perpetua with its many layers of basalt were very impressive as well.

Leaving the tidepools, we followed the trail uphill and turned right at the next junction to continue the loop; the trail straight ahead went to the visitor center. This stretch of paved trail stayed slightly back from the coast and then passed through some forest to return to the trailhead.

This is a short but very enjoyable hike along a geologically unique stretch of the Oregon Coast. Thors Well is the key attraction here at high tide, but come at low tide and you can still enjoy the views of the dramatic coast while seeing the lifeforms that live in the area's tidepools. Far closer to Portland than the more secluded seaside spots to the south, you should expect more visitors here, but this is a highlight of the coast and worth a stop even if you do have to deal with more people.

No comments:

Post a Comment