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