Washington

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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Categories: Camping, Seattle, Washington | 4 Comments

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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Categories: Camping, Washington | 2 Comments

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

Mount St. Helens & Silver Lake

Having planned our summer road trip during winter we found ourselves in June – just a few weeks prior to leaving – having to make adjustments to shift our trip forward a few days. We called around, adjusted reservations, and were lucky enough to find a place on short notice just a few hours outside of Seattle.

On Friday July 1st we rolled our R-Pod into Silver Cove Resort to a warm, partly shaded campsite along the canals connecting to Silver Lake. We found the resort friendly, clean, and they gave us a great spot with a few trees from which we could hang our hammock in the late afternoon sun.

Saturday we headed into Castle Rock to find a pharmacy for Tawny. She’s had perhaps one of the worst colds ever and hadn’t been able to shake it. Castle Rock is a tiny little town with a disproportionate number of antique and second-hand stores. We made the rounds and found ourselves a dozen new vinyls as well as some other gems and trinkets.

From Castle Rock we headed back up Spirit Lake Highway, past our campsite, and on towards Mt. St. Helens. It’s been just over 36 years since the volcano erupted on May 18th, 1980. I remember it well. I was about 10 years old and on a field trip on North Vancouver Island with my mother who was pursuing a Masters Degree in marine biology at the time. We were out collecting varied specimens of Chlorophyta, Phaeophyceae Ochrophyta, and Rhodophyte (or green, brown, and red algae. We were more than 600 miles away that day and at about 8:35 AM we heard a huge explosion. Some thought it may be military exercises nearby. Somebody else joked about it being Mt St. Helens since it had been in the news so much lately and it was just a matter of time. Nobody took it seriously, but somebody – perhaps my mother – said, “Take note of the time, it just may be St. Helens!” Indeed, it was. After returning home to Anacortes we learned that my father and sister said our dogs had gone crazy at the explosion (250 miles away) and that they hadn’t head the explosion. Apparently the sound wave traveled up and over major metropolitan areas such as Seattle. Days later we got a phone call from my grandmother in Tulsa, Oklahoma telling us their cars were dusted in ash from the explosion. That awesome power left a lasting impression on my 10 year old psyche. One I’ve never forgotten.

Even so, I’d never been to Mt. St. Helens and yet today I find myself unscripted and unplanned within a 45 minute drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (so named after volcanologist David Johnston, who was at the researching the mountain when it erupted).  Memorized there are his last words “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”. It must have been a spectacular way to go. Unfortunately, he remains were never found.

The devastation of the area is still evident and stark, but softened by a colorful blanket of new life flourishing in the form mountain lupine, paintbrushes, lupines, and mountain daisies.

We arrived just in time to listen to a forest service ranger give a synopsis of the events of May, 18th, 1980. The power and devastation of this mountain was awe-inspiring. Many observed in silence while trying to wrap their heads around the statistics the ranger rattled off; “Spirit Lake was swept away like a squeegee up the side of the mountain, and then dropped back to its current location 200 feet higher and twice the size than it was before”, or “They measured the mountain in the days before the eruption using state of the art equipment and over the course of 60 days it grew at a rate of 5 feet a day, one day adding over 17 feet!; they initially thought the equipment was faulty.”, or “The mountain lost nearly 1,200 feet in altitude that day i.”

We hiked a nearby trail, took in the panoramas, watched a short movie, and read the placards at the interpretive center before heading back down the valley to Silver Lake and our campsite. We built a fire and grilled our dinner over the open coals before finally making the last glow of the day, and the last glow of the coals toast our marshmallows, into to tortured dreams of impending lahars (rhymes w/s’mores).

Categories: Camping, Great American Roadtrip, Oregon, Washington | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Silver Springs Surprise

For Labor Day Weekend we took our friend Laure camping near Mt. Rainer for her birthday. We found ourselves nestled amongst old growth firs and cedars along the White River. The weather had called for rain but we hand only a sprinkle or two.

Campsite along the White River

Natural bridge and

We wanted to take a walk through the forest but weren’t sure which way to go. We decided to see if there was a geocache nearby. There was. We gathered some trinkets to leave in the cache and headed out amongst the fungi and mushrooms in search of it. It was a beautiful walk along the Silver Spring, a small natural spring and tributary that flows into the White River.

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Scariest outhouse I've ever seen.

We found Silver Spring and then followed it along a damp and softly trodden trail…

Silver Spring comes right out of a small hill

Silver Spring Creek

We came up over a little hill on the trail and found this surprise in the middle of the forest.

Gravesite in the woods

Gravesite in the woods

Decorated gravesite

Decorated gravesite

Story of Henry C. Allen

Story of Henry C. Allen

Decorated Tombstone

Decorated Tombstone

Trinkets

Trinkets and Tokens

We found the geocache which wasn’t as nearly interesting as the gravesite. But there were also many other little graves and monuments in the area. It was a a curious and moving impromptu graveyard to those cherished by their loved ones.

Horse Grave?

I love you gram...

Categories: Camping, Great American Roadtrip, Seattle, Washington | Leave a comment

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