Coquille Bay to Tonga Quarry
After the emotional and mental fatigue yesterday, we sleep the sleep of the satisfied without an alarm set. I wake up with the light, but doze on and off and just appreciate the sensation of existing in a painting. I love camping on the beach! The sound and spectacle of the surf, the changing colors on the water, sleeping on sand. We pack and dawdle, brushing our teeth while watching the waves. The rain starts as a light mist as we leave the beach, and is screened by the foliage as we regain the forest. Prana tells me about a book he started reading last night, with shady government operation set just north of Carbondale, IL. The bends and turns of the trail hold rivulets and falling streams. The tread is as mindless as a paved sidewalk, leaving the attention free to simply admire.
Eventually the mist thickens until it is dripping off the trees, and the rain picks up in unison. The umbrellas are deployed. Once they are unfurled, they are in service without respite for the rest of the day. The rain imperceptibly builds and builds until it is an unwavering downpour, but it falls straight down in big musical drops, the temperature is not cold, there’s not much wind; it’s unpredictably pleasant to be walking through the storm.We planned poorly in the sense of not being able to open our packs without drenching the insides- we can’t get food out, or the map, which is thin paper anyway (back to paper maps, hurrah!). The trail is gentle enough the h-anger never descends, and well marked enough one couldn’t get lost if they wanted to. All of the inconvenience is more than worth the trade off for how the deluge transforms the world. We hike through a diffused green glow, every crease in the land beginning to run with clear, giggling water.
With below average mileage slated for today on a premium trail tread, we indulge in the side spurs to lookouts and coves. We descend to Stillwell Bay, fed by a beautiful creek.
The track dead ends in the ocean, the rocky beach inundated by highest tide; perhaps at low tide one can maneuver to view the stream-course, which sounds full of cascading water. The sign advertised a picnic table, but I can’t figure out where that would be. We pass the junction with the Inland Track, which we will hike back from the top of the coastline to complete a loop. The trail is spouting with water- how much more rain is the high country getting than down here?
We detour to Yellow Point Lookout, where there’s not much to be seen. At the fork between the high tide and low tide trails for Torrent Bay, a sign announces Watering Cove on the low tide track. Watering Cove was a place I really wanted to explore due to the arches I had seen pictures of, however, we are compelled to take the high tide track, as the ocean won’t recede until the evening. “Maybe we can come back and hike here again, or sea kayak out to it after the trail,” Prana suggests. It’s probably just as well, I can only use my camera in a limited capacity in this weather, and the forest is flooded in beautiful light while the coastline is flat and obscured. We head high. It is the perfect choice.
The trail leads up through stands of Manuka and my favorite silver puffball moss. Looking down on opaque turquoise color of Torrent Bay is incredible. I am fascinated how none of that water will be there below half tide.
We keep anticipating coming upon a shelter of some kind, either man made or natural, but we never do. We cross the Torrent River on a bridge and reach the turnoff for Cleopatra’s pool. The ten minute side trip follows the gorgeous river up to beautifully sculpted granite ledges and shields. At the base of the cascades is a huge, round, waist-deep clear pool. A few other people are here, carefully picking their way across the swollen tributary to reach the pool edge. Only one person goes in for the swim. I take some photos and ask, “is it cold?” “No, not cold,” the swimmer replies. And suddenly all the other people are gone. “Are you going to swim?” asks Prana, jokingly I’m sure. But I’m as soaked as I can get, so I take off my shoes and socks, prop the umbrella over my camera bag, and slide into the pool. It’s chilly enough to elicit a sharp squeal, but not too cold. After a few minutes, Prana follows suit, taking his clothes off to properly squeeze them out in the clean water a few times. The bottom is covered with large, clean, smooth stones that give a delightful massage to the feet. The rain pours down. The air feels warm. This is a perfect moment.
Still unsure of how the flooding in creeks and rivers behaves, we swim for five or six minutes before we reluctantly pull ourselves out. When I hear ‘flooding’, I imagine an unheralded flash flood; and while that probably is not be the case in this ecosystem, I would hate to assume incorrectly. We don our packs, giddy and dazzled and invigorated, and skip back to the main trail.
I can’t stop smiling so hard that it intermittently boils over into giggles. What a day! There are more people passing on the trail than I would have thought for weather like this, some beaten down, some reflecting the same aliveness that has infected Prana and me. Two small kids in oversized rain jackets march dutifully in front of their mom, and the little girl heaves a long, drawn-out sigh of the oppressed. “You’ll remember this when you’re older and love it,” Prana quietly advises them as they pass.
Cleopatra’s pool is sadly the last picture I am able to take for the day. The rain graduates to a full bore deluge, and maintains that status unwaveringly. I don’t dare to have the camera out, plus my fingers are too pruny, the air is too humid, and there is not a square inch of anything to dry the screen of my phone with. Good god, if the sky is drowning us here, on the sunniest coast in the country, what in the world is it like right now up in the Richmond Ranges? I don’t even have a guess. I don’t think I want to.
The trail has transformed into a river itself, and we spend the rest of the day basically walking through a waterfall. The path is ankle deep in clear running water, and gushing cataracts pour in every few feet from the uphill side of the trail. It is indescribable.
We reach the turn off for Cascade Falls and the Falls River Track, another side trip I wanted to check out today. It’s is a steep stair step ascent of clay and granite, and a creek flushes in sculptured pool and drop perfection from one step to the next. Climbing up through the water feels like canyoneering, especially since the water isn’t muddy, but reveals all the color beneath it. Unable to check the map, we will follow this trail until we can’t, shouldn’t, or just don’t want to anymore. It contours high in the creek drainage, to cross the thundering courseway at the head and gain a new drainage. The deep roaring that echoes up out of the depths is omnipresent, sometimes loud to the ear, sometimes just felt as vibration in the chest. We cross two small creeks that are obviously swollen to multiple times their normal size, surging through vegetation on each side. There are big rocks to hop across still poking above the flow, and we continue. A low growl forms in the distance, and grows louder as we hike towards it. A sign points to Cascade Falls, the source of the thunder. We can see it’s outline through the screen of trees, the sheer mass and frothing momentum, but we can’t actually see it. We walk down to the edge of the creek and a few feet downstream until the crush of vegetation against the vertical bank blocks us, and can just see a lower corner of the falls. My guess is in normal flows one can rock hop out to mid-creek, but there’s no considering it now. Prana and I decide this is far enough for today; maybe we will revisit this when we come back.
We retrace our steps, and at the creek crossings the lower stepping stones are now submerged. We follow the trail creek back down down down down, and two hikers coming up ask “was it beautiful?” “Um, yeah,” is all I can reply. Was it beautiful? This trail is beautiful, this day is beautiful, and the falls is most likely beautiful. But I can’t confirm it since I couldn’t see it! They will have to decide for themselves.
We cross a bridge signed “Halfway Pool,” with two steps visible leading into a spuming maelstrom. What are those steps doing there? It takes a moment for the realization to sink in that this is usually a swimming hole, and one inviting enough to warrant maintained stairs. Now it is a frothing, crashing chute of red-brown water bordered by a battering whirlpool. Damn. Not far after, we mount a suspension bridge that crosses the Falls River.
I don’t know what the Falls River looks like under normal conditions, but below is it is flat, dark, and racing towards the ocean. Following its course upstream, as soon as it hits the hills, nothing can be seen but churning foam and spray until it disappears up and out of sight. There is not a single pool or current or tongue of glassy water of any size. We pass the turnoff down to the narrow Sandfly Bay, where the Falls River is disgorging itself on its way into the ocean. “I’m going to say no to Sandfly Bay for multiple reasons,” states Prana.
The walk through a waterfall continues. I yearn to take pictures of this fantastical event. The water is justing sheeting off of the hill onto the trail. Every moss clump is raining, every crack in the rock is spouting a tributary. Roars and gurgles reverberate up from below tiny bridges, where scrutiny reveals underwater rivers surging through caverns and tunnels and sinkholes below us. The earth is alive!
We cross Torrent Village, hoping for any kind of roof to open our packs under for food. All the tent sites are sitting in several inches of standing water, and all the vacation homes have strict “no tresspassing” signs posted in front of all of their glorious, unused porches. It’s a disheartening contrast. We finally just stop in the middle of the trail, tokenly under a tree fern, and stand eating the rice cakes that Prana had stowed on the outside of his pack. It’s not much, but it’s enough, and we reach Bark Bay campsite with it’s cooking shelter an hour later. Projecting the same underwater fate for our reserved campsite for tonight, we attempt to find a warden to ask about staying here, but we can’t find one. We take the opportunity to finally put on rain gear, dig out some snacks, and refill our water bottles from a filtered water spigot so we don’t have to deal with that tonight. The sign promises one and a half hours to our campsite, Tonga Quarry- here’s to blind hope it has better drainage than Torrent Bay.
Even though the tide is at its lowest point, we take the high tide track around, unsure of nature of the two rivers emptying into the bay. The first boardwalk we come to is buried under the cascading runoff from the hillside. The first river is a churning dark brown force, gushing through the exposed sand where the markers show the low tide crossing. The second river, Waterfall Creek, is jaw-dropping. A boulder looming 20 feet above the trail where the creek makes a bend away from it, is overtopped by billowing whitewater. There is no way water gets anywhere near the top of that rock normally.
We climb steeply away from Bark Bay, now overheating in rain gear, and in the undulating crossing of the Tonga Saddle we hear nor see no glimpse of the ocean. The flow of water on and onto the trail seems like it must overwhelm it at some point but never quite does. The sound of crashing surf materializes over the incessant staccato, and suddenly we are at the Quarry. Three tents are already set up in the few flat grassy areas, but a little exploration yields a flat patch of sand just above the high tide mark, just behind a waist high mini-dune. It seems unlikely, but the dune appears to block 80% of the wind coming in from the sea. Prana hates camping on sand, but it is the perfect drainage solution. The sand is coarse grained so it will brush off easily enough, and packed enough to hold the stakes, if it doesn’t get too windy. He goes hunting for granite blocks to set on each stake, just in case.
And then we are inside. Where it is not raining.
The steady percussion continues without pause on the taut roof, and we peel off all the wet things and stack them in the vestibules. We put on all the dry things, and I cook dinner while Prana reads crossword clues. I’m hungry enough to eat two dinners, likely from skipping lunch. We dunk gingersnaps in a turmeric latte for dessert, and I breathe a sigh of contentment. Mileage-wise, it was not a long day, but the lack of breaks, food, and the excess of stimulation has left me sleepy now that I’m dry and fed. We do the kitchen-to-bedroom-conversion dance, and both discover our sleeping bags are soaked. I guess I kind of expected that. I put on my jacket and pull the bag over me, glad it’s not cold, knowing my body heat will eventually dry it somewhat. I can hardly type, and put it aside for the morning. I lay in a fugue state, listening to the rain, listening to the ocean, listening to the wind. Prana checks all the corners of the tent- it is perfectly dry. This tent is fucking awesome. I fall asleep.