Hiking Humbug Mountain

By Richard Wiens/Wescom News Service September 19, 2012 10:14 am

The views from Humbug Mountain are caught only in glimpses through the trees, but the spectacular coastline more than makes up for the parcity. Richard Wiens/Wescom News Service
The views from Humbug Mountain are caught only in glimpses through the trees, but the spectacular coastline more than makes up for the parcity. Richard Wiens/Wescom News Service
Climbing Humbug Mountain is exhilarating. So why the grousing from the first two groups of hikers we met as we went up and they went down? Turns out not everybody buys Ralph Waldo Emerson’s contention that “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I actually used that line on a red-faced member of the second party we encountered after he complained, “there’s no view from the top.” Full disclosure: For all I knew I was just quoting Aerosmith at the time. Regardless, it’s a truism especially apropos to this journey.

I’ll admit, when Humbug Mountain first came into view shortly after clearing Gold Beach on the drive north, it did look like a heckuva destination jutting westward into the Pacific.

And later in the day, as we gazed southward at the wooded behemoth from the spectacular perch of the Redfish Café in Port Orford, we took no small satisfaction in having reached its summit.

In between was a 1,700-foot climb featuring a lot of sweat and occasional ocean views that would be much more dramatic if not for all those pesky trees in the way.

Even though you can see the mountain coming for 20 miles, it’s easy to make a wrong turn seeking the starting line. Resist the temptations of the day-use area and the campground entrance; the trailhead parking is north of both of those.

I appreciate a strenuous route that doesn’t dilly-dally, so the immediate uphill stretch lined with ferns and maple leaves seemed just right. We were quickly above the highway noise, and close-in views of blue water kicked in within six minutes.

The downhill whiners didn’t faze us because we’d made this climb once before and knew there was no you-can-see-forever experience waiting at the top. That was four years ago, however, and frankly we’d forgotten how enticing some of the ocean glimpses are along the way.

Indeed, after 20 minutes that only seemed straight uphill, the Port Orford headlands stretched out majestically to the northwest through each clearing. By then we had reached the loop portion of the trail and selected a right turn for a steeper but shorter trip to the top (1 ½ half miles to the right, 2 miles to the left).

The constant climb was relatively straight along west-facing ridgelines for a while, then veered easterly through a series of switchbacks studded with old-growth Douglas firs doing pretty good redwood imitations. Maintaining a sense of direction was difficult — at one point I thought I was glimpsing the Pacific to the south, but I was just turned around.

In fact, there is only one southward ocean view on this hike. It’s at the summit, which overlooks a grassy meadow, and it’s underwhelming. Still, any disappointment would be silly, despite the mountain’s moniker. It’s an accomplishment to get there, and a bench makes for a nice picnic spot.

That summit, by the way, is reached by a short spur off the loop trail. There’s a sign at the junction, but it merely points to the west and east portions of the loop. You’ll know which way to the top, however: up.

Munching lunch, it was hard not to conjecture about how good the views would be if not for the prolific forest. Think journey, not destination, and enjoy the well-earned ease of the downhill completion of the loop.