Just a Walk on the Beach

Backpacking in Olympic National Park, Washington - August 2006

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On the Boardwalk
Todd, Steph and I started our trip with a 5-day trek along the rough and remote Olympic coast (longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower 48 states). To just reach the ocean at Cape Alava, one must take a three-mile hike through dense forest from the trailhead at Ozette Lake. Most of the hike is along wooden boardwalks that preserve the plants and prevent the trail from turning into a ever-gooey river of mud.

Black and White
Deep fog covered the coast during our first night at Cape Alava. From there, we would pack north for ten miles over the next two days to reach the remote Shi Shi Beach ('shy shy') and the famous rock formations at Point of the Arches. We were shrouded in fog for most of journey north - rarely being able to see more than a 100 yards ahead or behind.

Ghosts in the Fog
The fog made it difficult to get a sense of surroundings. Cliffs, trees, and rocky 'sea stacks' would first appear as dark silouettes and slowly come into focus as we approached.

Life on the Rocks
We spent our second night on the beach at Seafield Creek before tackling the rough final stretch to Shi Shi. At Seafield we had the whole beach to ourselves and only saw a handful of people all day. Just north of camp, rocks and tide pools hold one of richest collections of coastal life in the US. We saw colorful sea stars and anemones by the dozens and hermit crabs by the hundreds. A bald eagle buzzed our camp on the way up and seals played off shore during our return trip.

Home in the Jungle
Behind the beach lay a dense jungle fed by ocean mists and mountain streams. Olympic National Park has the only temperate rain forest in the United States. The camp at Seafield Creek had no facilities, so finding a clear spot to dig a 'cat hole' in the morning was a bit of a challenge. Gosh... I hope that wasn't poison ivy!

Cold Water Coast
North of Seafield camp, the coast gets progressively rougher. Sand and gravel beaches give way to long stretches of slippery rock.

Rocky Road
It got worse as we approached Point of the Arches. Rocks give way to truck-sized boulders that had to be climbed over and around with 40 pound packs. In several places, the ocean goes straight against the cliffs and forced us to climb the slopes with ropes and cut overland. Other places could only be passed during brief windows when the tides were out. It was much rougher than we expected. People have died here (mostly caught by tides - though a multitude of other options exist). One three mile stretch took us four hours to cross.

Safe at Point of Arches
We rounded the last rocky bend at Point of the Arches less than 20 minutes before it would have been cut-off by the rising tide. Point of the Arches is a two-pronged row of rocks, spires and small islands that dramatically jut out into the water south of Shi Shi Beach.

Backpacker's Beach
Our reward for the long journey was the remote and pristine Shi Shi Beach - once the most isolated beaches in the lower 48 states (now somewhat more accessible by an alternate overland route - wimps!). The beach is a mile long and we shared it with only four other groups. We camped by the shore and warmed ourselves with a fire of driftwood.

Setting Sun and Rising Tide
After nothing but dense clouds and fog for the last two days, the skies finally started to break in the late evening, giving a broader view of Point of the Arches and polishing the waves with sunlight.

Last Light of Day
The sunset at Shi Shi Beach was one of the most beautiful that I - or the seagulls - have ever seen.

Moonrise on Shi Shi Beach
As the last rays of the sun faded, the moon tried to break through the remaining clouds. The wet sand made such a good mirror that sky and land looked nearly the same.

Clear Skies Ahead
We woke the next morning to blue skies and bright sunlight - the first of our trip. Features that had been just dark shadows the night before, now took on new details (me at Point of the Arches).

Same Trail, New Views
We had to return by the same ten miles of rugged coast to reach Cape Alava and the forest trail back to the car, but it was a completely different hike under clear weather. Rock formations that we had not even seen in the fog on the way up dominated the views on the way back.

Father and Son
Just north of Seafield camp, the two rocky pillars known as father and son guard the shore like a distant lighthouse. We were never able to see them during the trip in.

Boulder Lake Mirror
From the coast, we traveled inland to the high snow-clad mountains of the Olympic range. We spent two nights at beautiful Boulder Lake, a steep 6 mile hike up Boulder Canyon. We had the lake entirely to ourselves during our first night and most of the second day. Well, we were not entirely alone... fish constantly jumped in the water, two young deer fauns played by our camp, curious Grey Jays visited each afternoon and the entire shore swarmed with buzzing dragonflies. After the rough coastal hike, it was nice to just lounge, swim, and pick huckleberries.

Gods of Olympus
Before retiring to the small resort town of Port Angeles for hot showers and hot meals, we drove up Hurricane Ridge road for a view of the mountains and the towering peaks of Mount Olympus. For our first night back in civilization, we went in search of fresh seafood only to find that this tiny port town has more Mexican food restaurants than Phoenix and the only two seafood places were booked till late in the evening. Our first 'real' meals in over a week were had at the "China First" discount dinner buffet. Sigh.