Monday, June 29, 2009

Earn Peace on the South Olympic Coast Wilderness

I am still but a baby when it comes to hiking along Northwest Washington's coastal wilderness. This isn't like hiking in the mountains where at worst, a trail washout may detour your hike and cause delays. On the coast, you intimimately interact with the subject of your worship. The ocean fascinates you, it forms the trail that you walk on and will stop you on a scheduled whim.

I have had two recent hikes on the south coast wilderness which begins south of the Quillayute River. The "north coast wilderness" begins on the other side of the river and continues north to the Makah Reservation near Cape Flattery.

The Giant's Graveyard bathes in beautiful evening light as Jared and I head south on 3rd Beach.

Just east of La Push, the hikes start at Third Beach. It is 1.6 miles to Third Beach itself and then a series of ladders with rope help take trekkers up the steep slopes to cross over Taylor Point. The small head creates a natural barrier to human movement as it juts out into the surf. The rugged trail spends a long mile in the coastal forest, out of sight of the ocean before dropping back to a quiet cove on the south side of the head.

The trail drops to a point just adjacent to a rocky point that requires less than a four-foot tide to pass. There is a rugged overland route, up and over a 20 foot cliff and the Park Service has installed a help rope on the south slope, but one may choose to wait, With secure footsteps and a jolt of adrealene, the passage may be made in the gentle surf as long as the hiker doesn't mind getting wet to the hips.

Passing Scott's Bluff requires a steep climb with a rope help. Jared works his way up the climb above the surf.

The route option is another challenge to less experienced and physical hikers. Scott's Bluff requires a three foot tide to pass, but this statement is important. The rope is your friend. "The rope" is about a 75 foot help up an often muddy 60% slope. Even in dry weather, small seeps turn the clay slopes into mush and make uphill traction problimatic. On Wednesday, my son and I chose to avoid the rope in a driving rain by bouldering around Scott's Bluff during the lowest tide of 2009. It took us about an hour to negotiate perhaps 150 meters over slippery, slimy rocks and boulders before returning to the beach. Several times during the scramble, we vocalized that a repel down the rope probably would have been the better economic choice.

Jared makes progress on the climb.

As a warning, however, there are only a handful of campsites at Scott Creek and all of them were full on Tuesday night when you would think visitation and backcountry use would be at its lowest. Scott's Creek is just the right distance for those that start their hike late in the day We did find a small site farther back in the woods, but it was not the optimal ocean view campsite by any stretch.

Rangers will tell you that hiking on the coast will take almost twice as long as on a regular trail. Two more points south of Scott's Bluff to Toleak Point require five-foot tides or less (which is more than about 60% of the 24 hour day) From Scott's Bluff to Toleak Point, the route is a quick hour at low tide. South of the Scott Creek area is StrawberryPoint and then Toleak Point that looks a lot like its northern counter-part Sand Point (near Cape Alava on the Lake Ozette Loop) geologically speaking.

A Harbor Seal looks for food in a large tide pool at Toleak Point.

At low tide, Toleak offers great tide pools that should be enjoyed. One of my tide pool visits featured a visit from a small harbor seal as hermit crabs curiously crawled to the toes of my boots. An eagle scoped the pools for opportunity from the 60 foot rock that is Toleak Point. Wide beaches attract novice and experienced hikers at the south coasts most popular destination.

An eagle scopes the shallow waters north of Toleak Point for an easy meal.

Getting to Toleak Point is an easy 6.2 mile coast hike that is largely easy, but has challenges for those without overall fitness. Standing on the beach at Strawberry Poit or Toleak and knowing that you are in total wilderness relaxes your entire persona. The farther you get from the Quillayute River, the easier the weight on your shoulders.
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