The North Olympic Coast
I entered into the planning for this year’s backpacking trip with friends with some trepidation. They wanted to do a coastal trip and we have always talked about venturing into the Olympic peninsula so why not put together a 5 day trip along the coast. This area has been referred to as the “Wilderness Trail“. Of course in the last year I have had a fabulous experience on the West Coast Trail and a harrowing experience on the Lost Coast Trail, so I was not in need of another coastal trip.
Plus the planning and logistics tend to be my responsibility so I knew dealing with permitting through a National Park and coordinating transportation to this part of the northwest could be a real pain. But the rewards of coastal backpacking are worth the effort.
My other worry related to the unexpected difficulty in hiking on the coast. You will have extreme obstacles, you will navigate low tide passages and you will slip and fall. My greatest worry did relate to the slip and fall and thankfully we did not have a trip altering mishap, however, there may be some surgery required to repair some body damage.
Working with the Olympic National Park permitting process did have me concerned, but I was pleasantly surprised to connect with caring parks service employees who helped me put together a successful itinerary that started at the Makah Shi Shi trailhead with an exit at Rialto Beach. 33 miles in 5 days is not a backpacking challenge anywhere except along a rugged wilderness coastline. Getting past low tide required points did not prove to be a real problem although it does dictate your schedule. Climbing up and over inland passages via the help of ropes was fairly cool. Taking in the breathtaking views justifies everything.
Normally we like to travel to our trailhead the night before and have a serious meal with beverages, wake up to a hearty breakfast and then hit the trail. Of course that is because we would always do a backpacking loop. This trip was a point to point which requires dealing with a shuttle. My buddies borrowed bear canisters at the Quinault Forest Ranger Station which was sort of on the way to the Rialto Beach car drop. Parking at Rialto is all part of the Olympic National Park services, parking at Shi Shi requires a nightly fee paid to one of the local private parking options.
And then there is the 2 hour drive between the trailheads. So on Monday, August 1st, all worked out to get us on the trail in time to knock off about 4 miles and set up camp at the south end of Shi Shi beach.
This week brought us the lowest and highest tides of the season but unfortunately the low tide for Tuesday was at 6:06 and we needed to get past a number of difficult passages beginning with Point of the Arches. Based on the map and information from other trip reports I concluded that Tuesday was going to be our most difficult, and it was.
The combination of rocky low tide only passages, rope climbing to get to inland passages and dangerous boulder hopping, we all agreed that this stretch from Point of the Arches to North of the Ozette River was the most challenging.
Wednesday morning we were again forced to get on the trail early to wade across the Ozette River and pass a number of low tide points as we round Cape Alava.
Wednesday was a sunny day with more easy beach walking then boulder hopping which we utilized to recharge our tired bodies. Our campsite on the Sand Point beach allowed for a serious beach campfire to watch the sun fall into the ocean. We actually had cellular access at the point although very limited.
The next day took us past Yellow Banks and Norwegian Memorial to camp at Cedar Creek. Another beautiful day of hiking with plenty of amazing scenery, but plenty of difficult footing. It was also a day of fog rolling in out of nowhere and then burning off. The Cedar Creek campsite turned out to be very nice with the added uniqueness of a fully exposed Privy with an ocean view.
By now on our trip we had sustained some injuries, one in our party did injure his shoulder on a fall but nothing serious enough to hold us up. But I would like to emphasize that coastal hiking is not all perfect beaches. Here are some photos showing some of the hazards.
The final night’s campsite between Chilean Memorial and Hole-In-The-Wall was again awesome sleeping on the sandy beach. We never really had any great sunsets but we had plenty of sun silhouettes. Plus we typically had amazing tidepools (see slide show) to explore every night. The Sea Anemone in the rock was particularly unique.
The final hike out took us past Hole-In-The-Wall and Split Rock.
Overall the trip was another Epic adventure for old guy backpackers. I wish that it was more remote, but it is good that day hikers do have access. If you want a great coastal backpacking experience the Olympic Coast is a great option, but the ultimate coastal trip would still be the West Coast Trail.