Wednesday, 05 July 2023, Olympic Peninsula
Sitting here at Swan Bay of Lake Ozette, only two miles or so off Washington's far northwest coast. The sun has pushed the temperature into the 80s, but a breeze off the lake keeps me cool. A shadow racing across the ground gets me to look up in time to see a hawk glide by. No sound but that of the wind breaks the silence. And not a person anywhere near in this far corner of the lake, in the furthest corner of Olympic NP, to break the spell of this enchanted place.
Ah, the vagaries of fate. As John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans." Plans like the notion to pack a long stretch of the Wonderland Trail. The original fevered dream of doing all 93-miles had shrunk to a 17-mile pack, with only half on the Wonderland. But even that proved a stretch!
After lunch today, I called up the Rainier Wilderness Info Center to make sure that the road to Mowich Lake would be open. "Because when I called weeks ago, they couldn't guarantee when they'd have it cleared of snow. Since I'm doing the Spray Park loop on Monday, I wanted to know I can get there."
"We're opening the road this Friday, so that's not a problem." She hesitated, then asked, "Were you planning on hiking the whole loop?"
"Yes, I am." Or so I thought.
"Oooh, not good. The bridge over the Carbon River, between Ipsum Creek and the Spray Park Trail, got washed out. We do NOT recommend people try to ford the river." A pause, then she added, "They sent an email this morning that they'd work on it 'soon', but their best guess is to finish late next week or the week after."
That certainly wouldn't help me. We chatted a few more minutes before she proposed an out-and-back hike. My first day would be short, only two miles to the Eagle's Roost camp, then another four-to-five miles to my scheduled Cataract Valley camp on Tuesday, and out on day 3. This would drop my mileage from 17 to ~13 miles, and save me 2500 vertical feet of climbing - at the cost of most of my much-anticipated Wonderland Trail. Given that I had grown steadily more fearful that my original plans could overwhelm me, this provided a large measure of relief, and renewed my confidence that maybe I could do this.
However, some plans never need changing. Two years ago, in the early stages of designing this challenge, I quickly assigned unique, nowhere-else adventures to several parks: riding mules into the Grand Canyon; taking an airboat across the Everglades; walking a catwalk across the New River Gorge; tide-pooling in Olympic NP.
The ranger at the Hoh Visitor Center got excited yesterday when I told him I wanted to check out the tidepools . on Wednesday. "Great choice!" he said as he grabbed the tide chart. "Tomorrow morning low tide hits at 8:50, and it's at -2.9', so you'll see a really wide stretch of beach." He recommended starting at Rialto Beach, then I could head over to Second Beach, supposedly the most scenic of Olympic's beaches. NOTE: do not confuse Second Beach with Beach 2, which lies twenty miles further south. Same thing with First and Third beaches.
Per his suggestion, I arrived near 8:00, before the parking lot filled. I followed the path to a break in the wall of bleached driftwood,
and walked onto the wide beach. The waves broke well out to sea, rolling slowly onto the end of the sloping sand. A light fog blew in from sea, draping the coastal forest and the driftwood in a blanket of white.
The beach first offered smooth rocks that corralled small pools between their sides and the upslope sand. The water slowly drained to chase the retreating waves - not a prime scenario for tidepools. My first critter sighting was a starfish spread out in a pool, trying to ignore the young girl grabbing at it.
The pools got more numerous as I walked further, but still I only noticed starfish -
not a really enegetic animal. A bit later, though, I began noticing anemones - bright green spots opening up to show a plethora of tentacles. Still not the vibrant pools teeming with life that I seemed to recall from my time living in California.
The retreating water carved interesting patterns into the sand, with intricate veins to drain the excess water. It would all disappear when the next wave hit.
But keep going, keep going. Finally I came across rougher rocks lined with barnacles, with crevices in the rock where water could pool without draining. I identified a promising pool, found a place to park my butt, and waited.
There! i saw a smidgen of movement. As I kept watching, I saw several tiny creatures - crustaceans or fish, I couldn't tell - none larger that a fraction of a fingernail. They darted back and forth between strands of seaweed.
I could now pick out likely pools and wait patiently to see the life within.
In one long, narrow pool, I watched a tiny crab resting against an exposed edge of rock. As I waited, it put out a tentative claw and moved an eighth of an inch toward the center. Next came another weak move, another fractional creep to the center. Thenaburstofactivity, and he shot over to shelter under a piece of kelp on the far aide. Rusty made it! He gets to join the club!
More beach beckoned; I kept moving along until I reached Arch Rock.
When I found a good pool, I'd stop and watch the drama of life unfold.
After well over three hours, I called it a morning and headed back to the car, now over a mile away. Residual coastal fog still clung to the trees above the beach even as the clock neared noon.
After lunch and my call to Rainier, I switched gears. I'd seen the turnoff for Lake Ozette, and despite the distance (an hour drive from US101), I decided to check it out. The road was scenic and mostly empty, passing a recreation harbor where I could see Canda across the strait.
The main attraction of the lake - besides boating, I suppose - is a 9-mile loop hike called the Triangle - 3 miles to the beach, 3 along the beach, and three more back.
After yesterday's rushed Hoh hike, I passed on this one, contenting myself with a few photos and relaxing in the breeze.
On the way back to my tent-cabin, I purposely overshot it in favor of late-day photos at Lake Crescent.
Since my first visit there over a dozen years ago, I've considered it one of the most beatiful lakes I've seen.
Then it was back for the second night in my tent cabin at the Sol Duc Retreat, the eclectic grouping of tent cabins, tent sites, and cooking alcoves off the grid. Unless you have explicit instructions on how to find it, you'd never know it was there. (I found it on airbnb.com.) A perfect spot to escape to.