Ozette Beach Backpacking – May 2013

I didn’t take any pictures for this post. That’s because my camera was in my pocket, not my double-garbage-bagged backpack, when I wound up chest deep in a stream deceptively masquerading as just a little dip in the beach. In last thirty seconds or so, I’d lost one flip flop (yes, I was backpacking in flip flops), one trekking pole, the sand felt like it was being sucked out from my feet, and surf from the next wave looked like it was coming it at eye level. I lost the other pole and flip flop scrambling out. My two friends found a circuitous route over some fallen logs and we reunited, duck-taped some socks so I could keep walking, and pushed on until it was obvious that we’d overshot our intended campsite. By the time we’d supped and crawled into our sleeping bags it was 2am. Our Ozette beach backpack had started on a moonlit beach at 10:30pm and was off to an adventurous start.

The tide was out the next morning as I jogged back the measly two miles to the parking lot to get an extra pair of shoes. We proceeded through the Hole in the Wall into a wonderland of mist shrouded off-shore islands, tidepool studded headlands, firm beaches, and heavily treed bluffs. Tide charts from the ranger station let us know when it was safe to round a headland with getting stuck with water at our ankles and no accessible land. The map marked a maximum passible tide for each headland which meant that you had to know which headland you were rounding to know when it was safe. A bit of misinformation from a boyscout troop we passed confirmed a bad map reading on my part so of course we wound up on a low tide only headland during a rising medium tide. Panic isn’t something you usually have to worry about in backpacking. That’s because you’re not weighing whether to a series of deepening tidepools with the open ocean to your left, a featureless wall to your right, and rocks which are clearly below the high tide mark behind you. Then you cross that pool and discover that the beach which just came into view doesn’t look like the one one the map. It looks more like the one which the ranger had said you probably didn’t want to be on during high tide. It turns out that we would have been OK but it felt safer figuring that out from a perch just large enough for the three of us plus packs from which rocks had slid (there thereby provided us a route up to it).

When the determination that the beach wouldn’t disappear coaxed our cowering party down from the safety of our perch, we decided to make a fire because what better way could there be to pass a time on a drizzly day? In practice, we just wasted the tinder we’d brought but it was nice to have warm hands and pretend that our socks were less wet. Moving on, we made incredible time on the beaches and crawled on the headlands. In some places, ropes had been dropped from the bluffs overhead to make it possible to pass where headlands couldn’t be rounded. This added even more variety to an already resplendent and diverse hike.

At the next rising tide, we had the prudence to not unintentionally get stuck on a headland. Instead, after bolstering our adventurous spirit with a lot of Nutella, bagels, and processed meat, we intentionally made it as far as we could, eventually getting stuck in a small cove about fifteen feet across. Our progress that far had the feeling of a children’s game of lava monster. We’d wait for the surf to run out, then dash out to where we could get a grip on the rock between us and the next cove. Usually, we’d have a “lead climber” make the short scramble first, then toss a pack up each time a wave went out, dashing back up the beach when the surf came rushing back in. We finally gave up cove hopping like this when a handhold gave out during a route-findng climb and someone fell a few feet. Thankfully they landed feet first and on sand. Sometimes though, it takes a little warning to inject a responsible amount of sobriety into childish ebullience.

Waning light found us flying over a long beach deepened by low tide. Mystical, wild rock formations topped with surprisingly healthy vegetation, just a few hundred yards mocked my lack of swimming attire. It’s inaccurate to use superficial words like “magical” or “enchanting” surface over emotions with the veneer of captivation. I remember my chest straining with desire and longing as happens when ruminating too long on a love interest not present. Nature astounds me from time to time with it’s power to evoke emotions so powerful I would otherwise assume they reserved for human intimacy.

The next morning we changed into the our last clothes untouched by the past two days unrelenting damp and drizzle. We hiked out over the boardwalk cut through soggy forest, a necessity which prevents to the constantly immediate sense of adventure from letting up until the car is in sight.

One-way hikes are wonderful in that that you don’t spend half the time re-experiencing what was once new and is now not. They are bittersweet in that the extra car which was left at the point of departure requires splitting the group up at the moment most ripe for the pleasant rehashing of exciting memories still vivid by the warm, soft atmosphere carrying you back to real life.






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