In the long summer days my thoughts often turn to the mountains, the forests, the waters and the solitude and immediacy such places reveal. Traveling day after day under one’s own power, truly being in these places and seeing the surroundings at a pace that you can absorb them, following a schedule of one’s own inclinations, and being able to respond to the inscrutable exhortations of your soul.
This year everything of course is uncertain, fraught and requiring balance between one’s own needs and not adding to the problem. The outdoors has been a refuge for many in these times, but as one of diminishing options you often see self oriented behavior at these places. How then to respond responsibly to the call to pilgrimage? There are of course other constraints of circumstance and these led to my having only a week for this trip which adds other limits. Seeing how busy trailheads, campgrounds, easily visited places are I knew I had to get more off the beaten tracks. A week wasn’t really enough time for a bikepacking trip, which had been my initial inclination, especially without being able to utilize public transit. I settled then on a backpacking trip, my first one in years.
My path has been heading toward backpacking for awhile now. I found that on standard bicycle tours you just didn’t tend to get “out there” enough. A lot of overlap with car camping in a way as you stay primarily at car camping campgrounds (of course you don’t have to, wild camping is often an option). I moved into bikepacking which really does get you “out there.” Riding the Great Divide I was right in the mountains, on ridges, climbing passes on dirt roads and so on. But even then you could see the hiking trails going right to peaks, hugging the edges of cliffs, crossing log bridges, hiking in rivers, right on narrow ridge lines. So I knew I’d eventually end up backpacking again.
For a first backpacking trip in thirty years (!) I knew I shouldn’t be too ambitious. Likewise I wanted to be where there was a lot of space and where I could get away from crowds. Of course I have found that once you get about two days away from a trailhead, where you need to be able to carry days worth of food and necessities, where you need to filter water, where you can’t drag your kids along, the crowds vanish. For this trip I settled on Washington’s Wilderness Coast. Olympic National Forest contains a large stretch of the Pacific Coast and it is very remote, spacious and rugged. These are popular places to visit in the summer as the hike out to the beaches is relatively flat and you can drag your kids along. A few miles north or south along the coast gets overnighters but once you get about ten miles away there are only few people on miles of coast and coastal forest. Especially mid-week.
I worked out my trip reserved it on the National Park reservation site (you can reserve a whole backcountry trip online now, which is something great to come from this) and got myself prepared. I was able to use much of the gear that I had been gathering for snowshoeing–much of it purchased with short backpacking trips in mind. My pack isn’t large enough for a weeks worth of gear and food, but on the wilderness coast you have to have a bear canister. So I put all my food in the bear canister, strapped it to my pack and then I was fine. My pack wasn’t even overstuffed.
Day 1: Whidbey Island to Lake Ozette Campground
On Sunday, August 16th I caught an early afternoon ferry to Port Townsend and undertook the long drive out to Lake Ozette. There were tons of people on the Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry and PT, always a massive tourist draw in the summer, looked about as packed as ever. Most people masked, but lots of “rugged individualists” asserting their peculiar misinterpretation of “freedom”. I chose not to spend any time in PT and drove straight on. I stayed on HWY 101 through Port Angeles and then turned onto 112 which follows the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Not far from Clallam Bay I turned onto Ozette Lake road and wound through the trees until I entered the National Forest and camp to Lake Ozette.
Reaching Lake Ozette I turned into the small campground and found one site open. I quickly grabbed it and set myself up. I had a new tent that I had gotten for bikepacking and this was the first time setting it up. It went up easily and I have to say this is probably the best of the tents I’ve gotten. Just the right size, easy to put up and the poles are short for ease of storage on a bike. Basically it is a backpacking tent with short poles, so great for double duty. Next to me was a large group of young teenage girls on a trip with the Y. They were just learning the basics of backpacking and were also being careful to keep masked and physically distanced. Good to see the next generation getting out on these trips and learning the joys of the outdoors. I walked around the lake a little and checked out the trailhead and the process of parking for a week and other logistics. Then it was into the tent for reading and sleep.
Photos from this day: Ozette Backpacking Trip Day 1
Day 2: Lake Ozette Campground to Yellow Bank
I always appreciate on these trips that I can get up naturally with the rest one’s body requires. Of course I’ve gotten used to getting up quite early, so while not exactly the crack of dawn I was up before most of the campground. This did allow for a leisurely morning, which I prefer. Of course this ended up being a bit too leisurely as repacking my backpack, having breakfast and all the rest of breaking camp had me at the trailhead after 9am.
It was an overcast morning, but there was already signs of it breaking up as I hit the trail. The parking lot at the trailhead was packed with cars, but I knew many would be leaving today and many more would just be camping at the beaches just off the two trails from Ozette. Indeed there was, as I headed out, a thin stream of returning hikers. The trail from Lake Ozette to the beaches are mostly flat and often on boardwalks. These are very narrow and one party typically has to step off the trail to allow people to pass. Most people pulled up a bandana or other facial covering as we passed each but of course not all.
I took the trail to the more southerly beach as I intended to just keeping hiking south to get away from the popular, more accessible beaches. It was three miles through the coast forest, first wetlands by the lake but then more into the woods. A nice cool hike in the morning clouds; I enjoyed this walk in the woods. Definitely was feeling carrying a pack this heavy for the first time in a long time. But it wasn’t too long before I reached the edge of the ocean and the trail paralleled the beaches for a time. There are placed to camp in the woods next to the beach and at the southern extent a small creek, red with minerals. I filtered some water and also refilled my “dirty bag” as I wasn’t sure about a water source at my destination. Then it was on to the beach.
With all hiking on the coast you have to mind the tide and I was familiar with the tidal chart and I had a (paper) map that showed the amount of feet required to round a point. So if a point needed 7 feet to safely round and there was going to be a 9 foot tide, well you needed to round it at mid-tide or lower. So if your hike required you to round multiple points, which most days did, you needed to plan accordingly and set out early enough. Typically I set out at low tide and had about four solid hours for the days hiking but up to around six that I could safely make the crossing. This first day, as noted, I was running a bit late and I ended up rounding the last point to Yellow Bank with the tide lapping at the rocks I had to clamber over.
Hiking on the beach is very mixed. When it is hard packed sand it is flat and easy. But on the rocky points you sometimes would be clamoring over rocks that hours before had been underwater. Other times it was bouldering, or walking through mats of seaweed, or walking on rocks from pebble sized to volleyball sized. Much of this was very hard on the feet and ankles, always twisting and sliding out underfoot.
On this first day it was hard packed sand, then softer sand and then there was two sections of a point to round. There were solid rock that were dry toward the cliff edge but then wet and seweed strewn toward the water. The first section was straightforward, walking on rock around tidal pools and sometimes climbing up and over. I grew up on the rocky beaches of the Puget Sound so this is second nature. The big heavy pack both makes you top heavy but also pushes you into the ground. The final stretch of the day was around rocks and the tide was quite high. There was one point where we were able to take a natural tunnel through the rocks. A couple just ahead of me and myself rounded this at probably the last half hour or so that you could.
This area had a bluff that ranged from nearly sea level to forty or more feet above the beach. There was camping on dry sand above the tide line and also in the woods on the bluff. I Camped in the woods up in a high bluff that required pulling yourself up on ropes. There was only four other groups camped along this maybe half-mile long beach so it was really well isolated. There turned out to be two small creeks that ran to the beach so I carried that extra water for naught. I setup and spent time both just sitting on the bluff looking out and walking on the beach. Incredible surroundings of big sea stacks in the water, the continually rolling ocean and mists and clouds coming and clearing. Constant change from moment to moment. A great place to contemplate the impermanence of all things.
Photos from this day: Ozette Backpacking Trip Day 2
All photos from this trip: Ozette Backpacking Trip photo album