Captivating Cape Alava
I'm just finishing this up at home in Amesbury, having already finished the trail a few days ago. Sorry about the timing of the posts, just catching up from being on trail with no service. Here is the PNT from Forks, at the Bogachiel River trailhead, to my finish at Cape Alava and Shi Shi Beach:
After a night in town I was ready to hit the trail, and once again had to say my goodbyes; Samaritan, Windu, and JB were hitching to La Push, avoiding the southern beach walk altogether, while Tiny, Brainstorm, Zucchini, and Roadie were cutting off a section that continued south to the the mouth of the Hoh River. Wanting to delay my finish as long as possible, I had decided to hike the entire stretch when I had arranged my permits for the peninsula back in Port Townsend. This necessitated an extra 9 miles of gravel road but squeezed in some extra shoreline as recompense, an exchange that I thought worthwhile. I bade farewell to everyone after getting breakfast, and started walking the road out of town while trying to get a hitch. Luckily I got picked up by a tourist couple from Indiana who drove me the short distance back to the trailhead, where I once again set of on a logging road, eager to reach the coast.
After several uneventful hours winding southward through clear cuts and, ironically, over several creeks which I anticipated having to ford once the trail went north on the beach, I finally started getting a whiff of the sea breeze. The trail headed for the ocean paralleling the lower Hoh River on Oil City Road (where there is neither oil nor a city. Go figure). Finally, the waves burst in to view at the mouth of the estuary, where the turquoise water of the glacial river formed a lagoon behind a massive stand of driftwood before at last tumbling over the stony beach. It felt liberating to be done with my final road walk and to once again be overlooking the water. From here it was only a matter of hiking the beach; while the trail was still not without its hazards and challenges, the purity of having only one direction to follow was refreshing after the Byzantine morass of paths that required navigation in the previous weeks.
Coming to the mouth of the Hoh River
Driftwood piles near the mouth
Sea stacks and marine layer from the river
I started north, picking my way over slick patches of seaweed covered stone around Diamond Rock, the tide just about at its lowest. Thankfully, my timing through this section worked out impeccably as I would receive two low tides while it was light out each day, a fact that the ranger who helped plan my itinerary made me aware of. That being said, the trail quickly cut up off the beach to avoid some impassable headlands and stayed high along the bluffs, pressing through rainforest and mud. The dense vegetation and intervening cliff muffled the road of the surf, so one could almost forget their proximity to the coast were it not for the salt air. Eventually I reached my camp for the night at Mosquito Creek, which was thankfully devoid of its eponymous insects, as well as its... creekiness. The watercourse was stoppered by a gravel bank before seeping in to the ocean, giving it the appearance of a huge, still tide pool and making a ford unnecessary as I could just walk across the stony levee. I had the site to myself and enjoyed the sunset from atop the bluff.
Driftwood root structure and sea stacks
Tree roots grown over a stump, which then decayed away
Sunset from Mosquito Creek
My next morning was chilly with a marine layer hanging offshore and the sea stacks plowing through them like galleons. After "fording" another low-flow creek I stopped for a snack on the beach as the eclipse rolled overhead. Given that I didn't have the requisite glasses, I just took in the eerie light as it lowered like a veil over the horizon. The discovery of a whale skeleton farther up the beach only added to the strangeness of the day as the composition of the shoreline switched from sandy, easy walking, to a rocky, slippery mess, and every permutation in between.
The reason why I get up so early to hike
Sunlight through the mist
Marine layer breaking over a headland
The sky during the eclipse
My location during the eclipse highlighted by the sun's crescent through a pinhole camera (not as cool as I was hoping, but oh well)
Whale skull (probably an orca)
Eventually I arrived at the last bastion of civilization before ending the trail, the small Indian reservation town of La Push on the Quileute River. I resupplied for the final few days, picking up some beer in the process for a little celebration at the terminus before heading to the marina, where the guidebook recommends yogi-ing a ride across the estuary. The harbor master graciously ferried me to the other side, informing me that he had taken the rest of the crew from Forks across earlier in the day. With the tide at full, the path along Rialto Beach became increasingly submerged, and I took to using the gargantuan driftwood washed above the waterline as a highway of balancing beams. Fortunately the going became easier after passing a natural arch called Hole-in-the-Wall and eventually I arrived at Norwegian Campsite, where a small memorial commemorates the wreck of a foreign ship in these perilous waters. To my surprise, Tiny, Brainstorm, Zucchini and Roadie came walking down the beach after me; they had taken an off-trail hiatus while waiting for the tide and I had passed right by them. Reunited again, we camped together near the monument and watched the sun set behind the clouds hugging the horizon offshore.
Starfish stranded at low tide (or Patrick saying 'hi')
Sunset at Norwegian Camp
The morning brought an impenetrable layer of fog and an immediate return of the challenging rockhopping. We spread out, each picking their own line across the slick surfaces and around anemone-filled tidepools before the ground flattened towards he aptly named Sandy Point. With the area shrouded in marine mist and a number of day hikers wandering around this easily accessible beach amongst flotsam and jetsam, the place had an otherworldly, post-apocalyptic feel. We continued on to Wedding Rocks, a boulder strewn point of land home to a number of hidden petroglyphs, but despite five sets of eyes looking we managed to find none of them. Bummer.
From here, our last stop was the terminus... but not before running in to even more unexpected guests. We caught up with Freebird and Raven, who had been hitching around and hiking here and there, just a mile short of Cape Alava. Our increasingly large posse arrived at the terminus, a rather unassuming spot on the beach that is actually the westernmost point in the contiguous 48 states. There is no monument and little fanfare. As thru hikers that had just spent several months to get to that exact point, we didn't need accolades; just the satisfaction of getting there despite the odds and challenges that we had overcome. It was somewhat fitting for there to be no concrete ending to this trek, as variable as it was, and it simply reinforced the fact that the hike never ends just because the map says it does.
A mist shrouded morning
Playing some soccer with beach debris
Anemones in a tide pool
Over the tidal flats
Naturally occurring bonsai form
Our celebration at Cape Alava (From left: Me, Brainstorm, Tiny, Zucchini and Roadie)
The easiest egress from the trail was to head inland to a campground on Lake Ozette, where one can get a ride back out to Forks and from there to Seattle. Roadie was taking this path, but the rest of us planned on heading up to Shi Shi beach to extend the magic for another day. Strangely enough, however, nobody else had the foresight to bring beer for the journey, despite only having to pack it out for a few days (seriously, ultra-lighters, get your priorities straight). This was a problem. While Freebird and Raven headed north, the rest of use booked it for one last hurrah with Roadie at the campground store before turning and racing back to the beach, laden with barley sodas.
Our walk continued northward in the misty dampness, but now unburdened by the need to make miles or adhere to a schedule. One final estuary ford proved to be easier than it looked despite the high tide, and eventually we reached the Point of the Arches, a rough promontory that marked the southern end of Shi Shi beach. The trail traveled over several bluffs, aided by climbing ropes that scaled the sandy cliffs and down to secluded, cave-speckled coves. A knife edged path led out to a point high above the tumultuous waters which frothed in the thrashing currents below. All this belied the calm of the beach on the other side, and we decided to walk on a few miles before picking a campsite beside Petroleum Creek (again...still no oil. Some people are terrible at naming things).
From the aptly named Point of the Arches
Logjams in a cove (Tiny for scale)
Scaling a bluff to circumvent an impassable headland
Through an archway
From our last campsite, we only had a short distance on the sand before cutting inland to pick up a road to Neah Bay, where the Makah Indian reservation sits. Luckily Zucchini is a world class hitcher, and she got us a ride at our first opportunity. We decided to head from Neah Bay back to Forks, where there were more accommodations, but not before exploring the Native American cultural museum in town. It was built to house the finds from an archeological excavation at Cape Alava, where a series of mudslides had covered and preserved a Makah village hundreds of years ago. Once we'd gotten our cultural fix, we grabbed a bus to Forks, checked in to a motel, and gorged ourselves as only hikers can.
Striking out into the mist on Shi Shi Beach
The northern end of Shi Shi
The next morning was our real parting of ways, as Tiny, Brainstorm and Zucchini had other plans. The former two had picked up a bevy of mountaineering gear and were planning on summiting Mt Olympus, while the latter had plotted a course back up in to the park. Meanwhile my mom and Ryan arrived in the morning to help get me back home and cleaned up. We did a quick hike up the Hoh River and through the rainforest, passing huge, ancient red cedars and moss shrouded oaks in the process, then down to the mouth of the river along the same trail I had hiked previously so they could see the coast. Lastly, we took a drive through Port Angeles and up to Hurricane Ridge, where an astronomer was running a stargazing tour with his home made telescope. Thankfully the weather had cleared up some so we had good viewing, but the majesty of the mountains was lost in the darkness. Finally we drove to the AirBnB Ryan had found in Gig Harbor for the latest bedtime I've had in months. It started to feel like the adventure was coming to a close.