Saturday, April 5, 2014

100 Stair Beach

100 Stair Beach

My partner grew up in the Portland area and her family had a tradition of going to the coast and of going rock hunting.. Because of this, she has been bugging me for months to go to one of her favorite little beaches to do some Agate hunting.

Well, this weekend was finally the day. The weather was going to turn sunny for a day and we both had a little bit of time to kill, and besides, it was her birthday!! (Well, at least the same month as her birthday). So we threw some snacks and some extra jackets (always bring extra jackets when you go to the Oregon coast) into the back of the Action Adventure Mobile, and off we went.

Our target beach is call 100 Stair Beach. You will never guess why it is called this. I actually counted 132 stairs (though the height and step size are varied and in some cases arguable), but I guess it would not be such a romatic notion to call it “One Hundred and Thirty Two Stair Beach”. The beach is out on Cape Meares just a little south of the Cape Meares Light. In previvous seasons we would have gotten there by going north around Cape Meares on the loop road. But the road was washed out by landslides a year or so ago just North of the Light and they haven't got it fixed yet (perhaps they can't fix it). Anway, you have to go South around through Oceanside to get to the 100 steps.

The Spring flowers are starting

Not sure what this little tunnel was for.... Perhaps to get out of the rain.

The steps down look like they were put in by private groups over the last 60 years. The are just wood and dirt steps, with a few drift wood based benches and such along the way.

In truth, 100 steps isn't all that many. Just 5 or 6 floors in a normal building. But those steps will get you from a small fading sign on the side of the road (with parking for like 10 cars) down to a really wonderful and picturesque little beach. Since this is an Agate hunting beach (and evidently a pretty well known one) I knew there had to be a stream or two emptying onto the sand. In fact, there was a stream or two, but very little sand. This is good, because we were not sand hunting, we were rock hunting. And if you want to find big agates, you have to look in stacks of big rocks.


Is that an Agate?

Right where the cliff ends the strip of rounded volcanic rock starts. Hundreds of thousands of flat egg shaped black rocks that stretch up and down the beach to the headlands at either end that define this little cove. Just off shore is a rocky cliff island. During low tide you can walk to the island. I don't see any way to get up on top of it, however. Too steep. I think the local authorities would frown on such an exercise anyway. Don't want you tromping around and upsetting the nesting avian life.

My partner and I had worn our 5 fingers wet shoes so that we could walk through the water and stones without hurting our feet. We may have been better off in our kayak dry suit booties, as the water was cold and the stones were hard. Our feet got both numb and bruised at the same time. We first walked along a little spit of sand. My partner told me that her biggest fear was that the recent storms would have stirred up the sand and pushed it up over the rocks. When that happens the entire beach is sand. Which is nice and all except for the absense or Agates. As it was, things were looking pretty good for our hunting experience except that the tides were ill timed for that day and had already started back in. Ideally you hunt for agates in the retreating surf. Not the charging-in surf.

We were not alone on our beach. There were a number of kids and adults out there. Most of the kids were carrying big plastic buckets. Buckets that they carried in such a way as to suggest that they were not light. i.e. buckets full of rocks.

My partner asked one boy what he was collecting. He gave her an incredulous look and said “We are finding Agates”.
“Have you found any?”
“Oh, yeah. Lots”
“Can you show me one?”
At this point he put down his bucket and started to dig through the gloves and socks on top. Then he stopped and said, “They are going to be on the bottom and too hard to get too.”.

“That's OK,” I chimed in. Then I asked the important questions, “How big are they?”

“Oh, the big ones are about the size of marbles. Lots o small ones, though”

OK, So, we started our own hunt. My partner said that she had never found an agate on the South side of the island before. So we slugged over to the North side and began our search. We started finding some small ones pretty much immediately.


I like looking for agates. It is very soothing. You need to position yourself such that the sun is at an angle where your shadow doesn't fall on your search area, bend over and get close to the sand, and then empty your mind off all thought and let the shiny clearness of a wet agate find YOU. And then when you find one...... scrape around in that area a bit looking for more, because agates travel in packs.

Oh, one more thing. Since you are hunting for agates on the west coast, in the afternoon (so the sun isn't blocked by the cliffs), you are going to be hunting with your back to the sea. You are going to be hunting with your back to the sea, right at the edge of the land water boundary on an in coming tide. Since you are tightly focused on the agate finding function, sooner or later a bigger than average wave is going to come up behind you and, if it doesn't just knock your face in the sand, it will get you very wet. Deal with it. Perhaps bring a spotter. And bring a spotter than will warn you in a manner other than pulling out her camera and waiting until you get drenched. (Editor's note, notice who's in the photos getting drenched, and who must be wave spotting for whom)


So we are hunting and hunting. Getting a lot of tiny little things. Then I find a place where I find like 5 pea sized rocks in a row. Oh, what a find. I run over to my partner to show her how amazing I am. She looks and agrees that I am truly amazing. Then she shows me her hand. She has twice as many marble sized ones. DAMMIT.

“This isn't a contest, you know, Jon. Why do you feel you have to measure the size of everything?”

Easy for a person with the largest Agate to say.

We searched our way down the beach almost to where it ended in the cliffs. Then we walked away from the shore a bit to where the rocks got big enough to sit on and eat lunch. The wind was cold, our feet were cold, but the sun was out and the rock we sat on was warm. I also earned extra points because I had remembered to bring one of those chemical hand-warmers and I gave it to my partner to warm her poor, cold, agate hunting hands.

Wow, since you bring it up, I think I will take this opportunity to talk about this great hand-warming technology. I like these things because they are such cool science. They consist of a sealed bag of supercooled liquid. When a crystallization site is provided (by the clicking of a metal disk) the liquid quickly solidifies and the phase change brings about a release of heat. The heat lasts for about 15 minutes, but after it is done, you can reset the reaction by putting the (now solid) plastic bag into a tub of boiling water until the crystals melt. Then you let them cool and you can do it all over again.

The chemical mix used in these things is a supersaturate mixture of Sodium Acetate. I got this particular one for Christmas (I think it came from Urban Outfitters). I have other ones, but this is by far the nicest.

Ok. Sorry. Engineer Jon got out there for a minute. Where were we? Oh yes, romantic lunch on the beach with our slowly warming hands and feet.

The tide was starting to come up high enough to endanger our lunch spot, so we packed up and headed back down the beach again. We were trying to head back to the car but we just couldn't resist stopping and looking for agates as many times as our backs could stand it. Got hit by a couple of more waves. Got our pants pretty wet. But my partner came up with the find of the day with a huge golf ball sized agate. (I have pictures !!).

Look at that Rock!!

By the time we got back to the stairwell, our feet were once again very cold and they were also very sore from walking on the larger rocks. Ouch. But up the stairs we went.

I could feel the heat leaching back into my toes as we drove back around the peninsula toward Tillamook. We stopped at our favorite little hole in the wall restaurant, the Pacific Restaurant. A quaint little place built into an old strip motel. But the food is tremendous.


  1. “This isn't a contest, you know, Jon. Why do you feel you have to measure the size of everything?”

    Ha ha, Intel is still inside you Jon ("go big or go home")! "Size really doesn't matter" say the ladies.

  2. Hi! Can you tell me, is there a little tidal pool to the left of when you get down on the beach? Over a path between two huge rocks?? I've been looking for it for years. I think this is it, but I have to know that there is a tidal pool there that can only be reached at low tide. Thanks!

    1. Hey Irish, Thanks for reading my blog.
      I have never been to this location at really low tide so I do not know about the tide pool.
      However, I think I would doubt it. I also don't think there is a path between 2 huge rocks, unless it is way over the left of the beach (I have not explored over there).