Alaska Cruise: Skagway, White Pass Railway, and Laughton Glacier Wilderness Hike

7:15am: Funneled by the narrow Lynn Canal, near gale force winds (according to the Beaufort scale) and driving rain met us as we met Rylan, our guide from Packer Expeditions, for the 8-mile 9-hour round trip hike to the Laughton Glacier.

Skagway Forecast

Looks like rain

We walked through downtown Skagway (population ~1000) to meet our train on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. While once a bustling gold rush waypoint, today Skagway has little reason to exist beyond inclusion in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and its catering to hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer. Many come simply to ride the precariously perched narrow gauge railroad into the Yukon dating from 1899. The more foolhardy hear The Call of the Wild, abandon the tracks, and venture deeper into the last frontier.

The train slowly wound its way up White Pass over narrow trestles and past varied signpost stops, such as Denver where you can spend the night in a boxcar by the side of the tracks and hike various trails near Skagway. Our stop was a little over 14 miles up the pass where we disembarked in the rain (but less wind) and to start our hike.

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Rent this caboose from the Forest Service for $35 a night.

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Falls from railway

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Glacier stop. Don’t miss your train…

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Leaving us behind

We started our hike through easy flowered meadows of fireweed and Devil’s club and lush and dampened green temperate rainforest trails before starting a more arduous ascent into the sub-alpine region. Along the way, we were reminded of the wilds in which we hiked by the bear scat and bear markings on a tree along the trail.

As we climbed the terrain changed and became steeper and more rugged. We traded the muddy trail of the valley below for rocky gravel and boulders. The trail all but disappeared and we were left to follow in single file footsteps of our guide Rylan towards Laughton Glacier.

Arrival at the glacier brought us chills. It was cold. We were soaked. People were wringing out their hats and gloves as we prepared for the next portion of our hike by affixing our crampons to our hiking boots for another 30-minute hike up the glacier.

Hiking on the glacier was easier than we anticipated as the crampons provided more secure footing on the ice than our boots did on the boulders.  We stopped about halfway up the toe of the glacier for a quick lunch. And it was quick. To stop moving to was to get cold. The rain, the wind chill, and the glacier-effect of sitting on a massive block of ancient ice made the effective temperature hover somewhere in the upper 30s. We quickly downed our ham sandwiches, a Snicker’s bar with a quick cup of cocoa to muster enough energy to hike further up the toe for a better view of the ice falls, the vertical portion of the Laughton Glacier, and some interesting features.

After hiking different portions of the glacier we started a rather quick descent. Everybody was cold and wet and wanted to get off the glacier. My thumb was frozen. There was a kid from the cruise hiking in tennis shoes and sweatpants who was soaked to the bone.  We made it back to the railway and took refuge from the rain in an old railcar on the side of the tracks while we awaited our train back to Skagway.

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The hike was pretty difficult with rain, wind, and cold making it harder. Even so, while shivering our way back to the ship we all felt a sense of accomplishment and awe in having stood and hiked upon a glacier that 100 years ago extended close to where the train dropped us off and picked us up again after the hike, and was predicted to be completely gone in another 35-40 years.

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Cruise Ships, and Glaciers, but no Bears, oh my! Alaska Cruise: Juneau/Mendenhall​

About eight years ago we embarked on a Carribean cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. And we swore we’d never cruise again. So, how is it I find myself aboard the sister-ship Norwegian Pearl on a cruise to Alaska? A loophole in our agreement. Tawny had never been to Alaska before and always said, “I’d only ever do a cruise again if it was to Alaska”. I agreed because it seemed an easy way to see Southeast Alaska and Glacier Bay, much of which is only accessible by plane or boat. When we asked our daughter if she’d like to accompany us her reply was a swift, “Um,…No”.

And so here we find ourselves departing Seattle on a ship we can see from our deck on a 7-day cruise to Alaska with a few close friends and leaving our daughter behind.

Tawny and I each had our own agenda for the cruise:

  1. Tawny: See glaciers
  2. Marc: Photograph bears
  3. Both: Relax w/friends

We had already pre-purchased our excursions and amenities to achieve these goals. In Juneau, Tawny would be going with our friends to visit Mendenhall Glacier, while I’d be heading on a bear and wildlife adventure via floatplane. We had also purchased the “Adult Ultimate Beverage Package”, a “3 Meal Specialty Dining Package”, and the “Thermal Suite Spa Pass”, a trifecta of drinking, eating, and relaxation.

Before arriving in Juneau we’d have two nights and a full day-and-a-half to bide our time exploring the ship. We leisured ourselves in the spa (best views on the boat are from the sauna), lost money in the casino, attended an “Art” raffle where we won a few bottles of champagne and four “$100 Bid Credit Certificates” (which we determined were a scam for the following day’s Park West “Art Auction”). We whittled away the hours with ample eating, drinking, and playing of board games in the velvet ensconced Bliss Lounge. And spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get our stateroom balcony door fixed.

The door to our cabin balcony couldn’t be locked, and therefore would open and close with each to-and-fro the Pacific Ocean waved at our ship.  It took us two days, eight formal complaints, and this video to explain the situation and finally get the issue resolved.

Cruise problems aside, one thing everybody loves about a cruise is the assortment of towel animals, a virtual terrycloth Noah’s Ark. Our cabin steward Gerry not only helped us get our door fixed and left our room spotless, he’d also playfully place a towel whimsy upon our bed during turndown service each night.

Unfortunately, the night before arriving in Juneau I received an envelope next to the towel elephant left on our bed:

“Shore Excursion Notice – Tour Cancellation: BEAR & WILDLIFE VIA FLOAT PLANE”

“Dear guest, we regret to inform you that the above tour for Juneau has been canceled due to lack of participation.”

I was pretty disappointed. My main goal for this trip was to photograph brown bears fishing for spawning salmon and this was really my only opportunity. While there were other bear excursions offered in ports such as Ketchikan, they were for the much smaller and more common black bears. I reluctantly rebooked my excursion to join Tawny and our friends on the trip to the Mendenhall Glacier.

We arrived in Juneau a little early and had to wait for the 4000-passenger-1100-foot-long-behemoth Norwegian Bliss (the 9th largest cruise ship in the world) to leave port before we could dock.

We disembarked in a light, Juneau rain and waited for our tour bus to drive us up the glacier. Nestled in the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, Mendenhall is beautiful, even in the rain. We walked Nugget Falls Trail and Photo Point Trails to take in vistas of Mendenhall Lake, Mendenhall Glacier, and Nugget Falls.

As the rain increased we headed over to the Steep Creek Trail to see if we could see black bears fishing for spawning salmon. Unfortunately, large portions of Steep Creek Trail were closed for the seasonal return of salmon. While there was a large viewing platform from which to watch bears, there were no bears to watch there that day. While disappointing, seeing the spawning salmon struggling up the shallow creekbed to complete their lifecycle was pretty awe-inspiring and the scenery was spectacular.

We visited the visitor center to learn more about the glaciers while we waited for our bus back to Juneau. While there were no bears for me and it was raining during our hike, Mendenhall was a stunning and educational destination for an afternoon excursion.

Once back in eagles-wherever-you-look Juneau we took some time to walk around the downtown area a bit (which is pretty touristy) before ducking out of the rain and into The Hangar on the Wharf for dinner. Housed in what was once the original humble home of Alaska Airlines we each had formidable baskets of Alaskan halibut and chips before returning to our ship for an overnight sailing to Skagway, and our next adventure.

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Run Aground and the Hermit of Matia Island

With several pieces of ceramic art safely aboard we cast off our mooring and began leaving Orcas Island in our wake. Earlier in the day, we had heard there may be strong winds that night so we were headed to Patos Island Marine State Park (the northernmost of the San Juans) for a safe anchorage for the night. My father handed the helm to Tawny as he went below to listen to the weather report. Wendy and I were already below preparing lunch. It wasn’t but seconds later when Pangaea lurched to a decisive and grinding halt. Below deck, we went sprawling about the cabin. Somehow the three of us simultaneously filled the companionway as we quickly made our way to the cockpit. “What happened? What did we hit”? There was widespread panic and confusion. The feeling of being on a sailboat when you’ve run aground isn’t one you soon forget.

A trip to the bow revealed we had run aground and hit a rock off Point Kimple.

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These were unfamiliar waters and in hindsight, we should have consulted a chart before leaving the harbor. We were stuck, unable to reverse our position. Wendy went to check the bilge and make sure we weren’t taking on water. We weren’t. We were lucky. It was also a flood tide and a rising tide floats all boats, even those on rocks.

Tawny was understandably upset. My father reassured her with a San Juan mariner’s adage: “If you sail in the San Juans you’ve hit a rock. And if you haven’t yet, you will.”

It was about 10 or 15 minutes of rising tide, rocking the boat, and revving the engine in reverse before we were able to set ourselves free. Undoubtedly, the nearly 8,000lb lead keel would have some battle scars, but she’d live to sail another day.

We continued on our way to Patos Island passing a small school of blackfish along the way. I had never been to Patos Island and was looking forward to exploring the trails around the historic lighthouse. Unfortunately, the only decent anchorage on Patos was small and crowded. It was too risky to try and anchor in such a narrow bay with a strong current.

We headed on to nearby Sucia Island, the prized center jewel of the marine state park system. Sucia is the main island and a collection of finger islands and other nearby islands make up the varied anchorages and miles of fossil-laden shoreline to explore. We found a safe haven in Fox Cove for the evening.

Instead of exploring again the familiar shores of Sucia we decided to head to nearby Matia Island, another member of the Washington State Marine Parks and a nature preserve I had yet to explore.

Matia has an interesting history with the story of the Hermit of Matia Island wherein 1892 Elvin Smith squatted on the island hoping he could lay a homesteading claim. He was a sole resident there for some 30 years before he was presumably lost at sea. However, his boat and his body were never found. Some say his ghost still haunts the waters and woods on an around Matia.

Having recently run aground we didn’t want to risk tying to the dock in what looked like shallow waters. Instead, we grabbed a buoy and rowed ashore to explore the old growth cedar forest and pristine coves around the small island.

After our day hike, we departed Matia and flooded with the tide toward Eagle Harbor on Cypress Island for the night. It was a noisy and bouncy anchorage given the boat traffic and banging of the mooring buoy on our hull. But the dinner, drink, and dominoes were fine. We awoke to clouds Wednesday morning as we headed back to the Port of Anacortes where my San Juan Sabbatical came to an end.

 

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Ceramics in the Forest and Forest Ceramics

Monday we ebbed our way towards West Beach Resort to find Orcas Island Pottery. My father Mac and his wife Wendy, although local to the San Juans had never heard of West Beach Resort. So, finding the resort and the location of Orcas Island Pottery was the adventure of the day. We had the tide against us, so we hugged the deep, rugged and remote northwestern shoreline of Orcas to try and catch a back-eddy to compel ourselves forward.

The dock at West Beach Resort was too shallow to accommodate Pangaea, so we moored at a nearby buoy and rowed ourselves ashore. The resort (dating from 1938) was cute and quaint, with little rustic beachfront cabins, boats, and fishing gear for rent, a small store that sold hand-scooped ice cream and beers on tap.

We considered a frosty beverage on a sunny day, but we were on a mission. Instead of a beer, we asked for directions to Orcas Island Pottery. They pointed us in the right direction and we started up the hill out of the small resort in search of Old Pottery Road.

We had been told it was only 1/4 mile, and perhaps it was to the turnoff to Old Pottery Road. But the gravel road was from there was long, winding and grew cool and dark and cloaked us in foreboding shadows, some of which had wings. An unkindness of ravens followed us into the forest. A dozen or more flit and hopped from branch to stump and branch again. Many remaining unseen. Their distinctive caws taunting us in an attempt to drive us from their forest.

Deeper still into the forest, perhaps 3/4 of a mile from where we began, a sign finally read, “Faint Not, The Pottery is Near”. And it was. We stepped through a small gate leaving the conspiracy of ravens behind and into a bright and sunny garden of flowers and pottery displayed outdoors on tables and benches and within outbuilding across the grounds. It was awe inspiring. Magical.

Further still was the magic of an incredible treehouse built on the property that captured the imagination of my inner child. I can only imagine the fun of the children lucky enough to grow up with this in their backyard.

We searched around, and there amongst the picnic tables and studio buildings displaying varied artist, was the work of our daughter’s favorite, Sean Forest Roberts.

We bought several pieces of ceramics by several artists. As we were having them wrapped up we mentioned our daughter’s interest Sean Roberts to the person working in the store and she said, “You know, his studio is just down the road, right next to West Beach Resort.” Given we had bought so many pieces, and considering distance back to the resort, she graciously offered to give us a ride back to the resort.

We walked along the beach past the rustic cabins to the turnoff on Enchanted Forest Road. As we approached the studios of Forest Ceramics on we were greeted by two frisky blurs of black toy poodle puppies and their owners chasing after them. We introduced ourselves to Sean Forrest Roberts and Valeri Aleksandrov who were gracious enough to invite us into their enchanting studio where they shared their processes and techniques and showed us many of their experiments and completed series of art. We were lucky enough to have them sell us several pieces on the spot.

What started as a quest to find a simple pottery store turned into a spontaneous day of collecting art and meeting some of the artists behind them.

We returned to the resort for that cold beer and then rowed ourselves back to Pangaea with many fragile packages in hand.

 

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San Juan Sabbatical

Five years ago, at the start of my third (15-year) sabbatical, I started this blog with a sailing trip in the Sporades Islands of Greece. At the outset of my fourth (20-year) sabbatical is seemed appropriate I update Sabbatikos with another sailing adventure.

We left Cap Sante Marina in the late afternoon of Saturday, July 28th on the good ship Pangaea (in her 40th year) and timed our departure with the 5pm start of the Around Guemes Island sailing race.

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Around Guemes Island Race start

 

We never intended to finish, but the direction of the race down Guemes Channel was the direction we were going and the only planned agenda we had. Pangaea needed simply to start the race so she’d continue to earn points for the Anacortes Yacht Club summer series, of which this race was included. We left the race as the fleet rounded Guemes and kept our heading straight on across Rosario Strait towards Lopez Island. While it was a sunny day, the Strait brought a biting cold wind off the ocean, but we found shelter from it in our night’s anchorage in Swifts Bay.

Sunday morning we pulled anchor and ferried ourselves on towards Orcas Island‘s West Sound. We had no clear itinerary but thought it would be a good place to explore for a few hours. We took advantage of the Orcas Island Yacht Club‘s dock and went ashore for a walk.

 

In West Sound, we noticed a sign for Orcas Island Pottery pointing North, but no indication of how far it was. We thought that might be the gallery associated with an artist our daughter (an accomplished ceramicist herself) really likes. A few months ago we had been in Fairhaven near Bellingham and had happened upon Good Earth Pottery. Upon entering the gallery our daughter exclaimed, “OMG! That’s Sean Roberts work. I follow him on Instagram! He’s my favorite artist! He lives in the San Juan Islands”. We thought perhaps we could go there and find a piece as a gift for her. But how far was it? Tawny did a little sleuthing. She called Good Earth Pottery, confirmed the artist was named Sean Roberts, and then called Orcas Island Pottery to confirm they had his work and their location. They did! Unfortunately, they were a good 5 miles walk from West Sound. They told us if we were traveling by boat we could dock at West Beach Resort and we’d find them within an easy 1/4-mile walk.

While West Beach Resort was only a short 5 miles by road, it was several hours by sailboat and more than we could take on that late in the day that was growing hotter. We decided to spend the steamy afternoon at nearby Massacre Bay and find anchorage behind Skull Island for the night. Yes, you read that right. In 1858 a group of northern Coast Salish tribes wiped out a seasonal Lummi camp at the head of West Sound. The resulting namesakes for the bay and several small islands (including Victim Island) entomb in our memories the bloody event. We escaped the heat by exploring the shoreline by kayak and resting ourselves under the shade of the “African Queen” canopy.

 

As the sun set, we enjoyed dinner, drink, and the warmth of a late July San Juan evening. It was a perfect night and perfectly still. I spent a long hour late in the night sitting on deck wrapped in a warmth of eerie stillness and bathed in the light of a nearly full moon pondering the ghosts of Massacre Bay. Tomorrow would be a new day and a new adventure as we now had a destination and a quest to find the work of Sean Roberts at Orcas Island Pottery.

 

 

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San Juan 4th of July Getaway

We set sail from Anacortes and left Fidalgo Island in our wake as we sliced through calm cold waters of the San Juan Islands upon the good ship Pangaea.  We adjusted our sailes and pointed our compass towards Deer Harbor on Orcas Island. It was July 3rd, 2017 and we had heard fireworks would come early to Deer Harbor. Since it was our anniversary we thought it a fun way to celebrate the occasion.

By midafternoon we had dropped anchor in Deer Harbor on a beautifully sunny and unexpectedly warm Pacific Northwest day and with ample time to row ashore and explore the small marina, parks, and businesses nearby.

The evening sun ushered in dinner aboard, with ample wine, and evening games played as we awaited darkness enough to enjoy the fireworks. Sure enough, that evening produced a good old-fashioned small town fireworks display from a barge in the harbor that didn’t disappoint.

Having celebrated ‘Merican Independence a day early, we considered perhaps the best way to celebrate our independence on the 4th would be to head to the decidedly independent (and quiet) Stuart Island. Stuart Island sits at the footsteps of Canada, just across Boundary Pass and the Haro Strait and has a long tradition of independently minded characters who have populated it.

We sailed into Prevost Harbor and were lucky enough to find a space at the Stuart Island Marine State Park dock. This gave us the convenience of being able to easily disembark to explore Prevost Harbor by kayak before exploring Stuart Island by foot. In doing so, we quickly discovered the treasure chests of Stuart Island where for a small contribution we secured ourselves some pirate’s booty.

Near the first chest and atop the hill at the end of Reid Harbor Road is the original one-room schoolhouse (now the Teacherage Museum) and the current schoolhouse which still functions as the only school for the few young residents of Stuart Island.

Follow the signs as you continue upon Reid Harbor Road another half mile or so and you’ll come to Turn Point Road where yet another half mile will bring you to Turn Point Lighthouse.

We brought a picnic lunch with us and ate at a small table outside the historic 1893 home of lighthouse keeper Edward Durgan before touring the building. After the tour, we visited the small museum in the lighthouse itself whereupon we learned the history of nearby Suicide Bluff before spotting a majestic pod of Orcas rippling by.

We hiked back to our boat and upon the way had a random chance encounter with a colleague from California who just happened to be kayaking the San Juans for holiday. Drinks and dinner ensued. It was a perfect moment of synchronicity to punctuate an otherwise already perfect day.

The next day we sailed to Lopez Island and Spencer’s Spit State Park where we knew some friends would be camping for the holiday weekend. We hoped to catch up with them. We were lucky to see several seals and seals as well as favorable winds enough to set a spinnaker on our way.

We dropped anchor just north of the spit between Frost Island and Lopez. As we rowed ashore we saw our friends camped along the beach. They sent hoards of teens out to greet us and we sent libations and snacks ashore with them. The result was a fun-filled evening of a campfire, camaraderie, Jiffy Pop and so much S’more.

 

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Olympic National Park Day 3: Toleak Point to Third Beach

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We slept in a bit and awoke to a marine layer. I lit the fire, made some coffee and took out the map to plot our hike out to the rendezvous point where Tawny would pick us up between 2-3 pm.

Shit! The map showed four headlands between Toleak Point and Third Beach that must be passed at low tide. Not only that, I hadn’t calculated the distance we needed to travel, estimated at about 6 miles. It would be our longest hike and it was getting late. I consulted the tide table. Double shit! High tide was at 12:31 pm. It was already 9 am. “Clara, wake up!”.

We quickly packed up our site and started run-hiking with our packs (lighter, but still heavy) towards Strawberry Point (pictured above). We didn’t have time to enjoy the view as you literally could see the sea rising across the sands and rocks. We were in a race against tide and time.

We hustled on to the first headland, Giants Graveyard.

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As we round the headland we paused to take in the headstones laid across Davy Jones’s LockerAnd then we saw…no…we smelled the carcass of a gray whale long since beached on the shore. How apropos, given our location at the Giants Graveyard.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t have more than a few minutes to explore the remains. The smell and the rising waters propelled us on to round the next nearby headland. We had to time and dash past the waves around some fallen trees wetting our toes. We needed to get to another close by headland and then on to Scotts Bluff

We could see our next headland through the fog. A daunting sheer cliff known as Scott’s Bluff. If you make it to Scotts Bluff at low tide you can walk the tideline past it in about 10-15 minutes. If you don’t (and we didn’t) then you have to hike inland up and over several hundred feet of Scotts Bluff with loaded packs – a detour of 35-40 minutes a steep and precarious descent at to return to the beach.

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We kept moving as quickly as we could. There was one more headland ahead impassable at any tide – Taylor Point. We’d have to take an overland trail about 2.5 and climb to just over 300 feet. But before that inland trail was one large rock that could only be passed at low tide. We didn’t make it in time.

We thought we’d be stuck there for around six hours waiting for the tide to go do. No cell reception. No way to contact Tawny and let her know we’d be late. Then we saw a rope hanging off the rocks. It didn’t look like an official trail, but we thought we’d check it out and see if we could get over this huge rock and get to the trailhead.

Luck! We were able to ascend the rock and scramble down the back side with the help of another well-placed rope.

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The Taylor Point trail seemed to never end. We relaxed our pace and took a long break. We were exhausted from the brisk hiking but had no more tides to worry about now. We were home free. Only about four miles to go.

The trail was largely uneventful but beautiful through cool and earthy smelling old growth coastal forest. It held some daunting ladders to descend, but the prospect of a warm shower nudged us along.

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At the end of the trail, we hit the south end of Third Beach. It would be a sandy hike to the next trailhead. I turned on my phone. Success. A signal. I called Tawny and found she was still en route with a 2:30 pm ETA. It was about one-o-clock. We’d made it and would have plenty of time to rest and hike the last 2 miles.

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We rested at the Third Beach trailhead for thirty minutes or so. Ate some snacks and drank our water to lighten our packs. The marine layer started to lift and the sun came out to warm the beach. Day hikers were arriving for picnics on the beach. We donned our backpacks one last time before finishing the last 1.2 miles hiking through the woods to the parking lot off La Push Road.

Tawny and her friend Diane picked us up right at 2:30 and we drove to a nearby National Park Ranger station to drop off the bear box we borrowed before heading back to Seattle. We drove 101 North past Lake Crescent and on to Port Angeles to treat ourselves to a Blizzard and fries at Dairy Queen. We had earned the calories.

We drove on past Hood Canal and into Poulsbo where we stopped at Sound Brewery for pizza before catching the Bainbridge Island ferry at sunset back to Seattle.

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Olympic National Park Day 2: Mosquito Creek to Toleak Point

Day two I awoke to atrophied pain across my whole body. I creaked myself out of the tent and set a fire to warm myself in the 6 am daze of a foggy coastal morn.

We packed up our site by 10 am. Today would be an easier hike than yesterday and my tired muscles and bones welcomed the prospects of a walk on the beach. We needed to make Toleak Point today, a distance of only about 4.5 miles, mostly on the beach. We did have some inland hiking but only with an elevation gain of a few hundred feet. Today tides wouldn’t be an issue. It seemed promising.

We hiked about 2 miles along a beautiful stretch of sunny beach which we had all to ourselves. But eventually, the beach ended at another impasse and we had to ascend into the wilderness to circumvent the inaccessible headlands of the Coast.

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We had to climb some ropes up and down the rugged terrain. We also had some trouble hiking across Goodman Creek (which you have to cross 2x). It was confusing and we lost the trail for awhile before we eventually picked up the scent again. Doing so rewarded us with beautiful views and vistas of the Washington Coast.

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Eventually, we found ourselves in sight of a great expanse of beach below us with Toleak Point on the horizon.

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We descended to sea level and made the mile or so long hike along the beach to find a camp site near Jackson Creek (a sorry excuse for a water source that made me glad we had both a water purifier and an ample supply of iodine).

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We set up camp and hammock in an envious spot which we quickly made a home. After settling in we relaxed in the sun and sand of a lazy afternoon.

There was a low tide that day and I made my way out to Toleak Point to explore the tide pools for sea creatures and seaweed that reminded me of times along the Pacific Coast with my mother as she collected samples of the sea for her Master Degree in Marine Biology some 37 years earlier. A pleasant memory complete with the salty smells of ocean decay.

After ample exploration, we cooked a proper meal and headed back to Toleak Point in time to enjoy a spectacular Pacific Sunset.

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Back at our site, I built a warming fire and we waited for a symphony of stars to present themselves to us, one note at a time. We saw a few shooting arpeggios before turning ourselves in for the night to ready ourselves for a harder hike tomorrow. All-in-all I slept well knowing it had been a near perfect day, the music of the stars still playing in my head.

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Olympic National Park: Oil City to Mosquito Creek

My daughter, Clara, went on an eighth-grade backpacking trip with her middle school (Explorer West) a few years ago from Oil City, Washington to Third Beach, near La Push. It was a transformative coming of age accomplishment for her; profound enough she wanted for years to share the experience with me.

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This year we finally found the time to make the trip together.

After a weekend trip to REI to procure the latest in comfort camping gear we headed to our cabin in Ocean Shores for the night to pack and provision ourselves for the 2-night/3-day 15-mile trek.

Friday morning we drove to the Olympic National Park Ranger Station at Lake Quinault to secure our backcountry wilderness permit and borrow a bear barrel to store our food out of harm’s way (a requirement for the permit) before driving North along to the coast towards Forks, WA (of Twilight fame).

Ten miles down dusty gravel Oil City Road we came to the end – little more than a wooded parking lot with a placard marking the trailhead.

We donned our overweighted backpacks, said our goodbyes to Tawny and her friend Diane and headed down the trail together.

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The trail started deceptively easily, perhaps a flat mile along the scenic Hoh River.

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But as soon as we spilled onto the Pacific Ocean it was not only an angry rising tide that greeted us but a brutal half mile or more of obtuse flotsam blocking our path.

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The Ranger at Quinault had warned us to beat the tide around Diamond Rock Shoal. She said today’s tide at 4:19 pm would barely be low enough to round the point. If we missed the window we’d have to wait until the next low at 5:13 am Saturday morning! We hustled our way scrambling towards Diamond Rock.

The rocks around Diamond Rock Shoal required bouldering across large boulders slapped rhythmically by the ocean. The aggregate rock was jagged, the sharp edges softened only by a slippery layer of seaweed attached to each boulder like an ill-fitted toupée. I slipped and scraped the length of my left leg early in the traverse. Soon after we found ourselves at an impasse. The tide was too high to round the point and the inland land to steep to circumvent the tide. We decided to cross the rocks timed against the waves. I went first. I counted out the waves…”That’s the biggest wave, probably the seventh”. I had a chance to hop, skip, and dance my way around the shoal with 65 lbs of backpack upon me. I made it. I turned to watch Clara who was rightfully hesitant as she was skeptical. She paused. She counted. She timed it and then went for it. A foot wet. A skip. A hop. A jump. Dry land. We’d made it. We took a rest of salmon jerky, trail mix, and  water.

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The next stretch of coast was easy-peasy. A lovely walk along the beach of Jefferson Cove. But remember, my daughter had been on this hike before. She knew what was coming. We walked the beach North…to the end. A wall. “What now?”, I asked. Smugly Clara pointed to the cliff wall…”Up”, she said. Before us hung a distressed rope and wooden ladder in horrible disrepair… and it started to rain…

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Feeling a sense of accomplishment upon ascending this ladder I looked down at the beach and across the ocean. “Ha!, I got you!”. No problem I thought. We hiked on and within a few feet of rounding a traverse, there was another ladder. And after that yet another! Would it never end?

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At 400 feet or more above the sea we reached the top of the trail, we would follow through the wilderness for the next 3 miles. It seemed doable, but within minutes we were confronted with this obstacle:

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Trying to minimize the mud on day one I tried jumping from a rock to a log only to cut and bruise my head by cracked my skull on a sharp branch. But we carried on and while the trek continued treacherous at times, it wasn’t without its fauna and vistas to make it worthwhile.

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Sweaty, spent, and exhausted we finally found ourselves at Mosquito Creek where we quickly found a place to put our tent within a driftwood clearing out of the wind. I reached into my overburdened pack and presented my daughter with an A&W Root Beer (and myself with a Fremont Interurban IPA) which I had snuck into my provisions. It was a well-deserved treat for a hard won campsite on the rugged Washington Coast.

We set up camp and made dinner (black beans and rice with fresh guacamole burritos). Divine.

As we built a fire to offset the wind and the chill of rain soaked shoes and clothes, the skies cleared long enough for a spectacular sunset. It was a Day-of-Hell and a Hell-of-a-Day. We were both so sore and tired from our grueling hike and yet satisfied we had made the first leg of our trip. At this point, we were committed. There was no turning back. In 2 days Tawny would be at the Third Beach parking lot between 2-3 pm to pick us up. We had to continue on. We took a few Vitamin A (Advil), watched the sunset, and went to bed.

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Categories: Camping, Washington | 2 Comments

Alternative Facts?

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Donald spent his first day as President worried about the size of his “hands” inaugural attendance. It was unbelievable. Having been in DC since Tuesday of Inaugural Week we saw first hand the low turn out of Trump supporters across the city. We were staying at the Marriott Marquis (attached to the convention center where the simpleton named “Liberty” and “Freedom” balls were held on Inauguration night). We ate at empty local restaurants and coffee shops, walked and commented on the deserted streets, strolled the ghostly Mall and its zombie apocalyptic atmosphere, and visited several sparsely attended museums. Throughout it all, the presence and enthusiasm of Trump supporters were dour and tepid. Even on the night of Trump’s big balls the 01%s in attendance (99% white attendees) swathed in furs and gowns had little enthusiasm amongst them. It was like the moment of trepedation at the prom in the movie Carrie (before Carrie had the bucket of pig blood poured upon her) everybody in attendence seemingly knew what they were doing was wrong but they were going through the motions regardless of the consequences.

We were with hordes of humanithy (estimates from 600k – 1m) marching in DC who were loving, enthusiastic, and united. It was a great day only made better by meeting some friends we haven’t seen for years at another José Andrés restaurant – Zaytinya. We had a great dinner (the restaurant was packed! The waiter telling us it had been near empty all week but today had been a madhouse). Then we stayed up late with our friends drinking in our room and watching Saturday Night Live. Brilliant! In particular, the segment on Kellyanne Conway was amazing. It was shocking to see her on Meet the Press the next morning telling Chuck Todd that Sean Spicer’s first official announcement as White House Press Secretary was presenting “Alternative Facts”. You may know these by their more common name: Lies. Defending Sean Spicer blatant lying to the whole world about the size of Trump’s “hands” inaugural attendance, (puny when compared to the Women’s March) was just mind-numbing. Not to mention Trump’s visit to the CIA during the Women’s March to declare war on the media and complain about his size.

We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. But we quickly figured it out. We went to the Newseum. The Newseum focuses on the First Amendment (the part about a free press) as well as the history and role of a free press in our Democracy. Freedom of speech gives Trump the freedom to lie to us, but also gives us the responsibility and moral authority to call him out for it.

The first thing we saw while waiting in line to get in (and more on display inside) were the front pages of today’s newspapers from around the country and the world. Here is a sampling of about 50 of them:

The Newseum is a great museum. It was powerful and moving. The exhibit on 9/11 moved me to tears several times (they have boxes of tissues strategically stationed around the display). I was so choked up and had to step away from the exhibit several times for fear I would absolutely sob and bawl out loud.

Another exhibit examples freedom of the press across the globe and the risks that journalists and photographers go through to bring us the truth. Many putting themselves in harm’s way or sacrificing themselves to document our story. Our Story. Our Truth. The Truth. Not “Alternative Facts”. I’d love to know where Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway deposited their souls for safe keeping before joining Trump’s team; if they had one to begin with.

There was another exhibit on the Berlin wall (with a watch tower and a section of the wall). You walked from the West Side to the East Side and experienced differences in the first (and other) amendments. It was bleak to realize how much some of the East Berlin sides sounded like Trump’s rhetoric.

I choked up again at the Pulitzer Prize winning photo exhibit (100 years old this year and 100 photos on display with commentary). I didn’t take photos of the award winning photos (using an iPhone to take the pictures just seemed inappropriate). But I did find this quote good.

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It was a great way to bring to an end a political trip of a lifetime. We joins hundreds of others (nearly the entire flight in pink hats) on our flight back to Seattle.

 

 

 

Categories: Inauguration, Washington DC, Women's March | Leave a comment

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