Twig Adventures

PNT Day 59: Life’s a Beach in the PNW

Sunday, August 28th, 2022, 0615-1900
Hoh River/Diamond Rock to Chilean Memorial, WEBO mm 1231.6, Section 10 Olympic Coast
23 miles, Gain 2460′, Loss 2450′, elevation 15′

What an amazing night on the beach! I slept so soundly to the rhythm of the surf…the most perfect white noise machine ever made. Also, my concern over excessive condensation proved untrue. I couldn’t believe it when I woke to a mostly dry tent. I don’t recall ever having a dry tent when pitched fully exposed on a marine beach. It’s just not supposed to happen and especially not in the PNW. And as far as I could tell, no critters came by to raid my food. It’s funny that the Everglades NP raccoons are so notorious for their beach marauding (it’s personally happened to me on numerous occasions) but it’s here in ONP that I was required to carry a bear canister. I guess in ENP, my kayak has served that purpose, where most mornings I would find sandy footprints all over it, especially around the hatch openings. Raccoons know exactly where to search for food and have even been known to open or chew through hatch covers. The Everglades raccoons are said to have PhD’s in finding and opening stuff, namely kayak hatches. Seemingly the ones in ONP are not as educated…maybe that’s in part thanks to the bear canister requirement.

Just as I was waking, I noticed a solo backpacker walking quietly past. She did a double-take towards my tent, then muttered a polite “sorry”, out of concern for her headlamp beam bothering me (it didn’t). I should have recognized my hiking companion of so many weeks, but her profile and voice didn’t seem familiar. Costanza correctly identified her (Wolverine of course) and I’d later learn that her pack looked so much bigger in the dim backlight because she had her bear canister strapped to the top. Regardless of who she was, this gave me goal of catching up to someone in the morning and the advantage of following her foot prints, pointing where to go. I was also anxious to take full advantage of the morning low tide and to see what beach hiking on the Olympic Coast was all about. I packed quickly and was soon testing the waters, so to speak. I was pleased to find a very wide open beach following around Diamond Rock, a headland that requires a 2′ or lower tide (pro tip: the Far Out App lists the tide requirements for all the headlands…just click on the ‘hazard’ waypoints to find the info). Comments on these headlands often indicated just how much one could push their luck with regards to the tide levels, but Diamond Rock seemed to be one that didn’t have a lot of wiggle room. I was surprised to find that my passage required little rock-hopping (this would come in abundance along the more northern stretches the next day). In fact, it was almost all hard-packed sand. Perhaps if the tide had been higher, it could get trickier. But I found easy stretches of uncovered sand farther ‘out-to-sea’. The tide seemed really low and made for perfectly calm and stress-free conditions in the early morning fog. I didn’t even need to get my feet wet from tide-pools or slip-and-slide over barnacle and seaweed-encrusted rocks (again, this would all come later).

I very much enjoyed this 2-mile beach introduction and shortly came to Jefferson Cove, where an abrupt switch to a 3 mile overland stretch through dense forest was about to commence. The beach ended at a cliff, where a sketchy rope ladder with wooden steps ran precariously straight up. Some of the steps were broken or missing. Not a problem, as I had plenty of seamanship skills to apply to this situation, hearkening back to my teenage years as a Coast Guard cadet. I’d climbed hundreds of feet to the very top of the rope rigging and mast of the sailing ship Barque Eagle. I’d also used Jacobs ladders in abundance to board and disembark boats and ships…sometimes in seas and even once or twice as a drunken sailor coming back from a port call. I figured I could easily handle this ladder, even with a pack on. Sure enough, in no time I’d shimmied my way to the top. It also helped that conditions were about as dry as they ever get, so I can imagine it gets more spicy when things are muddy and slippery. A few more shorter and less steep sections followed, some with little more than a rope assist. I’d had a lot of practice at this sort of thing from hiking and climbing trails in Hawaii, so this also felt pretty natural. I’d been advised to carry gloves to protect my hands from the chafe of the ropes, but at not time did I feel this was necessary. I know from rowing crew that my hands are pretty tough and rarely get blisters. Perhaps gloves would have been nice when picking along the barnacle boulders (in the likely event that one slips and goes down) but they would have been overkill for me on the ropes.

The bluff leveled off and I followed an extremely soft and loamy trail through the dense ferns and trees. It was so dark and the ocean seemed miles away, as I couldn’t even hear the surf. It was obvious a trail crew had recently done a lot of work in this section, cutting back the ferns, improving the tread, and sawing through some giant downed trees. I was most grateful for their efforts, as it made the trail such a breeze. I hummed along in a fun roller-coaster sort of way, just tearing through the landscape. I could barely imagine how slow my progress would have been were there no trail, so it felt like I was going even faster than humanly possible. Were my Twilight super-speed vampire powers kicking in? Maybe so. I viewed myself as more of a deer springing along, enjoying the bounce from what felt like a foot of loam pushing back on every step, propelling me forward. It was like traveling over one of those soft artificial playground surfaces. Much fun.

I was so engrossed in the magic of my movement that I was a little startled when I suddenly noticed a person in front of me. I’d caught up to Wolverine just as we were about to head back down to the beach. We hadn’t hiked together since Hurricane Ridge and I was happy to fall into a rhythm with her once again, chatting about the trail and things we’d seen. We were both feeling very lighthearted about the finish line, most likely only a day away from this point, depending on our luck with the tides. We also discussed a grand plan for a second PNT finish atop a great mountain, to be revealed in a later post-script blog. I learned that she’d camped just up the beach from Costanza and me, but was likely already asleep or at least inside her tent when we came by. We hadn’t seen her tent behind the driftwood, which was a shame because it would have been nice to share some beers. Neither of us knew where Funk and Quetzal were but we hoped we’d all meet up somewhere along the beach in the next day.

We dropped down onto the beach via another rope assist and easily crossed Mosquito creek via some nicely spaced rocks, keeping our feet dry. Along this stretch, we started to encounter more and more hikers and backpackers. The first group was slowly trying to hop-scotch across the creek as we flew past. It seems like most start from La Push and only go as far south as this point for an out and back trip. I guess the 3-mile overland stretch and passage around Diamond Rock have a reputation for being difficult, not to mention the shuttling that would be required to go from the end of the remote road at Oil City to the next access points near La Push. As thru-hikers, we get a taste of it all and without a need for shuttles…until the very end that is. We also started to see some elaborate beach camps, complete with rubbish furniture and decorations. Chairs, swings and forts are regularly fashioned out of all the jetsam and flotsam by bored campers waiting for the tides. There were also some huge piles of trash, collected by visitors and the park rangers, arranged to be removed at a later time, probably via helo.

buoy rope swing…I gave it a try of course

Some might think that this trash is left behind by hikers and backpackers but sadly, it all washes ashore. I’ve seen first-hand the magnitude of the problem, having witnessed trash and gear being dumped overboard from the fishing vessels I was an observer on. I also traveled through large parts of the Pacific gyre on my NOAA ship, seeing bits of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s horrific what we’ve done to our planet, so tragically polluting our own ecosystem. In the mountains, I can shelter myself away from the worst signs of this catastrophe…a large part in why I like to spend my time there. But it’s impossible to ignore walking along a beach or waterway these days, even one as seemingly pristine as the ONP coast. It’s a wonder that park staff can keep up with the plastic trash at all. Even the most remote beaches like those in Alaska, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and the Mariana’s all have tons of plastic on their shores. The beaches in New Zealand were by far the cleanest I’ve visited in a long time, only because of the location of those islands away from the greater world population centers (much of which are in the Northern Hemisphere). The plastic is on it’s way there too, I’m sure. It’s too sad to go on about so I’ll just stop.

The miles passed quickly as we followed a pattern of beach walking, climbing over a short headland and back down again. Repeat repeat repeat. It may sound monotonous but it was actually really fun. By 10 am or so, I found myself already past my permitted campsite for the night, Scott Creek. I’d covered the distance from the Hoh River so much faster than I’d anticipated, plus the perceived threat of the rising tide had been a non-issue. Obviously I wasn’t going to be sticking to my permit and from what I’d read and heard, this was pretty much understood when it comes to the the beach hiking in ONP. As long as one at least pays for their allotted nights, it doesn’t matter as much where they end up. And I’d paid for an extra night, given the uncertainty around the tides. In retrospect, I spent close to $80 for all the permits in ONP and only ended up being in my designated campsites for 3 nights (Upper Cameron, the Olympic Hot Springs/Boulder Creek, and Hoh River) out of a total of 5 nights in the park (the other 2 were at Hyak Shelter–nobody else there, and Chilean memorial, with plenty of room on the beach). But I’m only explaining, not complaining…the money at least goes to a good cause.

As we neared the area around Third Beach, we encountered so many people. Being that it was only about 1.5 miles from the road, most were day hikers and beach goers out for the weekend. The allure of some town food quickened our pace even more and we literally ran towards the last beach ladder, trying to beat a crowd. One man mumbled “what is this, a race?” It’s human nature to not enjoy getting passed by others, I sure do get it. But if he only knew how far we’d come and how excited we were to finish. Plus, we’d already seen how the ladders act like choke points. We’d just passed a dad trying to coax his kid down a rope assist at the last headland, frozen with fear and sobbing. I felt bad for her but saw that she wasn’t in that much trouble. Luckily there had been a bypass, otherwise we also would have been stuck. I figured this large group would be slow going up the rope ladders, just from the nature of being a large group. It also made me think back to the guy Karaoke had met in the Puget Sound, who’d told her she wouldn’t be able to handle the beach ladders and ropes. Here we all were, making assumptions about each other. But the one thing I knew for certain was that the 2 of us would be very quick and not hold anyone else up. Within a minute, we were out of sight of the group, cruising along the last bit of overland track before the road. Badass women on a mission!

Wolverine was a pro at repelling down the eroded beach headlands via rope assist

We made it to the road and enjoyed a fast road walk to a convenience store on the outskirts of the small Quileute Native community of La Push. A sure bet in finding your long-lost thru-hiking friends is to simply go to the nearest source of junk food. Of course we found Funk and Quetzal there, immersed in a pile of said items. We followed suit and compared notes about the beach as we stuffed our faces with crap and drank cheap alcohol. The 2 had been able to squeeze around Diamond Rock the night before, making it a few more miles up the beach and proving that the 2′ tide restriction does have some wiggle room. In less than an hour, Costanza also arrived and just like that, the gang was back together and the celebration was ON! We loaded up for the last day and set off to try to score a ride across the inlet. Similar to the many complicated dead-end logistics found on Te Araroa, the PNT requires a spontaneous boat ferry across the Quillayute River (I don’t why it’s spelled differently from the name of the tribe on the map, but it is). There’s no regular service offered to the public. Notes suggested just showing up at the marina office and asking politely with the dock master, as usually there are fisherman coming and going. I’d gotten lucky with such measures on the TA, but my luck ran out this time. It could also have to do with the fact that we showed up on a Sunday afternoon. Unsurprisingly, the dock master was nowhere to be found and every building was closed.

But Wolverine was determined, asking everyone we saw near a boat. We probably approached 15 different people, still with no luck. We walked to the very end of the spit near the Coast Guard Station to assess just how far across the other side was. For the longest time I’ve entertained grand ideas about inflating my Thermarest and paddling surfer-style across such water courses. But this seemed impractical and ill-advised, even given the perfect weather and high-tide. Maybe I might do such a crazy thing but no one else in the group seemed keen. I joked about “borrowing” a boat to take everyone across, dropping my pack for them to watch, returning the boat, and then swimming across. After all, I was very skilled in boat operations and used to do triathlons. There were a few derelict-looking rowboats and canoes, but still nothing much that seemed feasible. A conversation regarding my favorite puzzle about a man, a rabbit, a head of lettuce, and a fox—all needing to get across a river—ensued. Just killing time.

After wasting about an hour on this going-nowhere affair, we finally conceded. Our options were to retrace our footsteps and walk an additional 5 miles from where we stood, along busy roads and around on an upstream bridge. Or just get a car ride, if we could. I opted for the ride, which we were at least fortunate enough to find from a nice Quileute man that we met at the marina. He was very accommodating, dropping Wolverine and Costanza off at the intersection outside of town so they could connect their steps (about 3.7 miles additional for them). Wolverine had tried to reason with herself that a 5 minute and 100 yard boat ride across the inlet was the same as the car ride around, as long as she had walked to both ends of the inlet. After all, hadn’t we already betrayed our connected steps in a similar way on the ferry ride across Puget Sound? But she just couldn’t make the stretch in this instance. I thought it was pretty admirable of them both to do the road walk but I harbored not even an inkling of regret or guilt about it myself. I’d had to do many similar diversions on Te Araroa and was already accustomed to getting rides/shuttles around. This was just the nature of this path. HYOH, or swim, or kayak, or boat or drive, whatever floats your own pack.

This was actually a great experience in learning a bit from our ride (sorry I don’t recall his name). He was employed by the tribe as an environmental monitor, taking samples up and down the coast to look for red tide events and such. He answered some of our questions about the tribe, whose land we’d had the privilege to be hiking through. I don’t talk about it near enough but so many of the beautiful places I get to hike are sacred places of Native Americans. It’s a sad and complicated issue, that of colonialism and stolen lands, and I don’t pretend to be a very good or loud advocate about it. But I do recognize these atrocities happened and continue to happen, and I do appreciate the privilege I’ve had in being able to visit and experience these stolen lands. I also very much appreciated our ride for being so kind and sharing.

We’d made it the very popular Rialto beach and were blissful as the late afternoon sun had finally broken through the foggy marine layer, blessing us with dazzling summer sunshine. We’d been able to stop for a few more festive beverages as we went by the convenience store once again, and so I had a good buzz going. The 3 of us made our way up the beach, moving slow, hoping our dedicated amigos would catch up. We played with seaweed rope boas, took lots of pictures, and marveled at the rock formations. We came to the Hole-in The-Wall, a sea arch that one can walk through so as to avoid a scramble. Supposedly it too can become submersed by the waves but was perfectly accessible on our approach. I hadn’t even noticed the tide coming up all day, and it never proved to be a problem at any of the choke points. I guess we’d timed our town visit and inlet passage pretty perfectly for when it was at its highest. We easily scooted through the sea arch, gawking at the brightly colored anemones and starfish in the tide pools. I’ve had the fortune to view the brilliant rainbow-colored tide pools near Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, but these were pretty cool too. Neon green upside down cnidarians…rad!

The day just kept getting better and better. Though the going did get tougher and tougher, a taste of what was to come the next day. I almost didn’t notice because I was having so much fun. The slippery rocks just made us laugh even more, as we struggled like young Bambi’s on ice. We took a long break at a small spring coming from the bluffs, soaking up the sun and some fresh water. The day had seemed infinitely long in the way that the time had passed so casually…so often the opposite is true in thru-hiking. I guess I’d expected to feel rushed and under pressure the whole time on the beach, trying to beat the tides and especially since this was our penultimate day. Instead, things seemed to have slowed down so I could just relax and enjoy these beautiful gifts. There was no rush really, we’d already put in the effort. We’d made it, more or less. This was our reward. I felt so blessed to have such nice and fun people around me, a pleasure since we’d all come together back around the Puget Sound. After the break, we found a whale skeleton and had our fun poking at it. True to his name, Funk picked up a vertebrae that was still rotting, getting the horrendous stench of it all over his hands. We laughed even harder. Presently we came to a beach camp that called to us. The next stretch of 3 or 4 miles had no more sites listed and was reported to be quite difficult. A distance of 23 miles, including a loooong town stop was a very respectable beach hiking effort on my part, far exceeding what I thought I would do. I was most pleased, and even more so when Wolverine and Costanza showed up. We’d spend the night and finish the next day all together after all.

Camp was again made right on the sand but kind of under some trees and close to the bluffs. It was a very fine site, where we could perfectly see the setting sun and watch otters float lazily across the bay. We enjoyed a wonderful evening reminiscing on our hikes, drinking more festive beverages, and letting it all sink in. A campfire would have been nice, but since no fires are allowed on the beach, I can’t say if a small flame or two did or did not appear. Certainly there was no trace of one the next morning. The soft drone of the ocean lulled me to sleep. What a way to finish this hike. Penultimate days always are the best. No pressures, expectations, or worries about how to finish and begin an arduous transition back into the ‘real’ world. That all can wait until the last day, mañana. This was one final day to be present, to be myself. The life of a twig.

One comment

  1. Twig, That was an amazing day for sure. So glad you are getting close to getting this all typed up.
    My wife and I camped on Second Beach one night in September of 2021 and loved it. I’m happy to read of your dashing through ONP.

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