Post-hike Flotsam

I’ve been home a couple days now, or I guess 36 hours since the car pulled up to curb and I looked at my house and thought “Is that my beautiful house?” and I looked at my goats and thought “Are those my beautiful goats?” (They are, much to my amusement, both shorter and wider than I remembered. Sid is haughty as usual, and Myshkin is angry. In that, nothing seems different.) If you’ve ever come back from a long backpacking or bikepacking trip, you know the disorientation that attends stepping back into your life. You adapt faster than you ever thought you would. At the same time, something ineffable is different.

I unpacked my gear and that process definitely is interesting. While on the trail, every single thing I had mattered the world to me. I carried it all on my back some 1200 miles. That’s love. That’s a relationship. Now that I’ve undone the tight organization of my pack, each of those precious items has been tossed into bins in the basement where I won’t be handling them daily anymore. I now have lots and lots of things, clothes and a kitchen full of pots and a chest full of blankets, and none of them matter to me in quite the same way. None are so critical to my survival.

But but but. I’m so happy to be home and to watch the rain drum on the window from the dry side. I lucked out with weather crossing the peninsula, as it started to rain day after finishing, but the rain is no longer my concern, at least not with quite the same intensity. Therein lies the real difference: the life of hiking is one of grit, survival, intensity of experience, with soaring highs and treacherous lows. Home is more mild across the spectrum of experience, and the mildness is easier to sustain over the long term I think, but also easier to sleep through. Hiking makes you pay attention. It breaks you down a little bit, or at least those parts of you that are less awake to the world.

This will be my last post to the blog. I’m so grateful for all the comments of interest and support. Maintaining this blog was one of the real joys of this hike for me. Thank you for reading! Also, in the next week or so I’ll be putting up a page on the website for future PNT hikers with more detailed information about the trail. I chose to leave much of that out of the blog because I was writing for a more general audience, but I want to give some summary information that might be useful for those planning a PNT hike. So, if you are interested in a thru-hike of the trail or a section hike, check back soon!

Day 65: The end

Awake before dawn even becomes an idea in night’s mind, the full moon orange and low over the ocean, it turns out its much darker out than I thought it would be. I packed by headlamp and began a slippery, treacherous rock section of beach in the white circle of light thrown by my headlamp. It was slow, much slower than it would have been in daylight, but I wanted the buffer of time because of today’s high noon tide. Eventually the world brightened and I was able to switch of the lamp, and before long I had rock-hopped all the way to Yellow Banks and another sandy stretch of beach. I made it through the headlands that required a sufficiently low tide and then took a four hour break on a beautiful soft sandy beach in the sun. I had tea, I took a nap in the sand, I walked barefoot in the surf, I sat and thought about things. It was a perfect break. Once the tide rolled out, I shouldered my pack and hiked the rest of the way to Cape Alava.

I rested in a grassy campsite listening to the surf. Here we are, I thought. At the end. I had long enough with that for it to become profound and alien, the way a word will in your mouth if you repeat it over and over, and then my husband and mom arrived, their voices floating down the bluff to greet me first. Dan brought a feast in his backpack, a spread of deli salads and baba ganouj, cheeses, and a bottle of champagne. We ate, laughed, talked, and listened to the sea lions on an off-shore island have their own conversations. It was a great finish. Great.

20130919-143817.jpgOcean ocean everywhere

20130919-144009.jpgSeabird silhouettes

20130919-144108.jpgWhale skeleton


20130919-144907.jpgMy peeps at the end

Day 64 is my last full day

Well, sort of. It’s my last full day in my established rhythms of hiking alone. Tomorrow evening my mother and husband will be meeting me at Cape Alava, the official endpoint of the trail, but Cape Alava is a three mile hike from Lake Ozette. The three of us will camp together tomorrow night on the beach and then hike the three miles inland together the next day.

I had a nice day of hiking today. I woke up very early and found to my delight that its much brighter here on the beach before dawn than it is in the woods. I made the mistake last night of facing my tent to the ocean, even while my inner wise tent pitcher hemmed and hawed about it, and then woke up to a dreadfully wet tent and sleeping bag in the morning, the damp ocean air getting trapped in my tent all night. So I had to pack up a wet tent and wet sleeping bag, but I was able to get it all tidied up and on my back in no time. I had a few miles off beach, on a trail and then a road, to get to the little beach town of La Push, which sits right at the mouth of the Bogachiel River where it meets the ocean.

Once in La Push, I made my way to the marina where I found someone to take me across the river, since there is no bridge. Fishing season is picking up now, and the marina seems to essentially be a fishing center. I was driven across in a little fishing boat and dropped less than ten minutes later at the jetty on the other side.

From there I had a day of gorgeous beach walking, interrupted by a three-hour break to wait for the tide to go out so I could pass a headland. Working with the tides is one of the features of beach hiking that makes it so interesting. There are places that can’t be crossed if the tide is too high: you simply must wait. Watch the gulls. Count grains of sand.

The beach is filled with all kinds of interesting things. Broken bits of dock, floats in all kinds of unnatural colors, styrofoam hunks, a surprising number of shoes (without pairs), sometimes big metal objects that heap out of the sand. Then there’s all the natural stuff: drift logs, birds of all kinds, starfish and sea anemones, bull kelp which gets thrown on the sand at high tide and has an air-filled bulb on the end that
makes the most delicious popping noise when stepped on, and lots and lots of rocks. The rocks create an interesting feature of hiking the coast, because long stretches of the beach will sometimes be nothing but bouldery, slippery, seaweed covered rocks. It’s much slower than the sandy stretches of beach, but its quite fascinating kinesthetically. Each movement is calculated with great focus, each step a small puzzle of weight, momentum, and traction. I get into a groove on the rocks, a groove broken by the few times I fell pretty hard. Tomorrow there is quite a lot of rocky beach walking, and I need to time it around the tide just right. The full moon is coming up and the tides with it: tomorrow’s high tide is 8.8 feet and right in the middle of the day, so I need to get up early and do a bunch of my hiking before then, wait for it to pass, and finish up later in the day.

20130919-142251.jpgA particularly nice sea stack



20130919-143643.jpgBeach sunset

I finally reached the Pacific! Day 63

I love this ocean. I love these rugged, unforgiving beaches with their wild sea stacks and rocky headlands. I love walking in the sand, feeling its structure crumple under the press of my toes. I love how peeing in the sand makes a small hole, rather than splashing pee on my shoes.

I’ve hiked Washington’s coast a number of times, it turns out. In fact, the very first backpacking trip I ever went on was to the section of coast I’ll be hiking tomorrow and the day after. I was in college then, and my working knowledge of backpacking was extremely limited. I wore logging boots and carharts and borrowed all the gear. I didn’t have a ground pad. But I loved every difficult inch of that hike, even the end when it poured rain and I had to get on my motorcycle, soaking wet, and drive home three hours in a storm. This coastline remains some of my favorite backpacking miles I’ve hiked.

I left Forks this morning resolute against the weather. It was drizzling and the landscape had rain clouds clinging to it like lint. When I talked to my mom and mentioned feeling a bit blue about all the rain in the forecast, she told me to “take it like a mushroom”, advice that I don’t really understand and yet find oddly and wildly comforting. (Another of my mom’s unequalled lines: that first backpacking trip on the coast, I told my mom afterward I had seen a dead seal. Did you try to drag it, she asked. Try to drag it? Why would I do that, I replied. Well, she said, aren’t you curious how heavy it was?) In all, though, I needn’t have worried so. It rained steady all morning as I navigated the logging roads through various stages of clear cuts to a way trail that would take me to the beach. By the time I made it to the beach, the ocean now a song in my ears, the rain stopped and the rest of the day was just perfect: overcast, beautiful sky, good visibility, and dry.

20130919-132929.jpgFirst view of the ocean

20130919-133049.jpgDead seal which, when I mentioned to my Mom this time, she asked “Did you try to drag it down the beach?”

20130919-140159.jpgRock, sand, and surf

Day 62: Forks

I was up early again, this time intentionally, and hiking just as dawn seeped into the forest. I wanted to get to Forks as early as possible because the forecast for the day was for thunderstorms after 11. After I reached the trailhead, I had five miles of roads until Highway 101 and I was able to get service and check the weather again, which now said the thunderstorms were producing ground strikes and to head in if the thunder rolls. All morning the thunder rolled, and even in the light I could see flashes, but thankfully no ground strikes. It rained with determination, and I hurried along my little road feeling like an ant beneath the whimsy of the skies. I made it to the highway and hitched in less than a minute. Bad weather will do that.

In Forks I got my permit and bear can from the ranger station (food is required to be stored in bear cans on the coast), went the store, and even managed to get into the laundromat where a guy who has a racehorse ranch said I appeared to be limping as I walked up. In the last few weeks I must have heard that comment five or six times from strangers. Once, while walking on a road near Anacortes, a man pulled up on a motorcycle and offered me a ride because he said he saw me limping along and felt sorry for me. I don’t notice the limp, myself. I think it’s in my left ankle from all its storied trouble, but its become so integrated into my stride that its wholly unremarkable. Still, funny to be reminded again by the racehorse rancher. Don’t put me down, I said. I still have good miles left in me.

Tomorrow I head out, hitching back down to where I left the trail. I have about 12 miles of logging roads and a short way trail to reach the coast, and then the ocean will be there in front of me. The forecast is quite rainy tomorrow and the day after, which makes me a bit anxious, but rain or no, I expect to walk into Cape Alava on Wednesday afternoon! These are the last days ahead

Out the Bogachiel on Day 61

I tried to sleep in this morning but again I just found myself alert by 6 or so. I stayed in my sleeping bag watching the pink light of dawn in a band around the sky like a thick belt, listening as the birds got up and then the bees, buzzing around my tent. Finally I got up, packed leisurely, and headed down the trail. I was up high on the western edge of the mountains, winding down a ridge that would eventually drop me to the north fork of the Bogachiel River. I took advantage of the cell signal being up high presented and called Dan, talking with him for a bit while I walked down the trail.

The forest changed with the elevation, finally becoming a temperate rainforest of moss-cloaked maples and giant spruces and cedars. The maples have already been losing leaves, and I walked through a papery fall orange and crunchy trail for much of the day. The Bogachiel grew and roiled along in the valley near by. It was a peaceful hiking day, much easier than any of the other days in this section have been. I’m camped right next to the river, a few miles from the trailhead, and tomorrow I’ll break camp early and head for Forks. The weather has held strong for my crossing of the mountains, quite amazing for September in the Pacific Northwest. Tomorrow it breaks, reverting to rain again, or at least so says the forecast. I’ll spend tomorrow’s rain in the shelter of town, and then only three more days and I finish!

20130915-160459.jpgThe Bogachiel River from my camp

Day 60: High Divide

I was so tired when I woke up this morning, but I find sleeping in difficult out here, and even though I was technically beyond the closed area, I was still suspiciously close, and I wanted to be further away in case anybody came through, though I probably needn’t have worried. That corner of the park seemed fairly deserted as I climbed another pass, crossing into the Sol Duc area of the park. In contrast to the morning, it was full of people, backpackers and day hikers both since its both beautiful and easily accessed. I was able to watch the park helicopter move out toilets all day (in high use areas of fragile backcountry, they use removable toilets, kind of plastic toilet boxes that get helicoptered in at the beginning of the season and back out again at the end). And in the midst of all the climbing, descending, climbing, descending, the views were superb. I was quite tired all day, mentally and physically, and am looking forward to a good, full sleep tonight.

20130915-160149.jpgIncredibly orange mushrooms

20130915-160228.jpgMt Olympus from the High Divide

20130915-160301.jpgLooking into the Seven Lakes Basin from the High Divide

20130915-160334.jpgMy high camp had a nice view to the west

Day 59 on Hurricane Ridge (and then way down)

I woke up in the dark this morning and started packing by headlight. I had a long day to hike today, and I’m not a fast hiker but I like to give myself lots of time on those bigger miles days. I was out of camp by sunrise and immediately climbed another pass, but it was not nearly as hard as the climbs yesterday. Even so, I’ve been surprised by how hard the hiking has been in the park. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t had over 4000′ in climbing, and the trails are often quite steeply graded. I’ve been managing it okay, but my hiking (and climbing) muscles are tired even after two months of thru hiking.

After the pass, I arrived at Obstruction Point Road, which followed a high ridge all the way to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. The ridges in general today were amazing, view-saturated, eye-ball-strain-from-staring beautiful, helped again by another stunningly clear and sunny day. At the visitor center, I got food from the grill, terrible food but not nuts or pasta so I was good. I also fixed my permit, since I was a day behind schedule, and then was yelled at by the ranger for camping at Moose Lake without calling despite my protestations that I was in the back country and couldn’t call. I know this park can be overrun by visitors, and the rangers are there to protect the park, but it frustrates me enormously that so many of them are jerks.

After the visitors center, I had a brief paved tourist trail to view point, and then a long 5200′ descent off the ridge down to the Elwha Valley. I think that may be the longest continuous descent on the entire PNT, and it happened in six sweet, viscous miles. I haven’t mentioned this before because I got tired of complaining about my feet here, but the second toe on each of my feet is capsulated, meaning the joint in the ball is inflamed and my toes are all stocked up like tree trunks. Little tree trunks, but still. They are inflexible and fairly painful, and downhill makes it worse from the increased pressure on my forefoot, so you see why I mention it now. The long descent to the Elwha was hard on my little toes, and mind numbing, and between those feelings, I went into a kind of dream state for the descent until the dissociated quality became too much and then: music. I put my headphones on with some good music and danced my way down the hill. I mean that literally: I was shaking and grooving and waving my trekking poles around. My backpack, because of how it sits on my hips, is kind of like a really big booty, but one that goes all the way up my back to my shoulders, and I was working it too. It was awesome. It was effective. I miss dance, I realize, desperately.

At the end of the day, I had the night hike of the closed area. I waited at a car campground right on the edge until dusk, and then shouldered my pack and slipped past the car barricade onto the road. Six dark miles later, I’m out of the closed area and camped, exhausted but it all went over without a hitch. The moon was mostly unhelpful, hid behind a ridge most of the time, but when I caught glimpses of it I was happy. It felt like a companion on the walk.

20130915-155812.jpgView from Lillian Ridge

20130915-155850.jpgMe and Mt Olympus

20130915-155930.jpgIt’s all impressive views from up here

Day 58 over Lost Pass, Cameron Pass, and Grand Pass

Yes, lots of gorgeous passes today, crossed on trails set at some of the steepest grades I’ve seen on the PNT. In the case of Grand Pass, my trail gained 2400′ in 1.7 miles (that’s crazy steep, if you’re not used to trails). Because of the National Park permitted camping system, I didn’t have far to go today which is a good thing. I was able to take my time, enjoy long breaks laying in the sun on the tops of the passes, and still make it to my campsite by 4pm.

Tomorrow promises to be a much longer day, especially because my route goes through the area of the park where the dam is being removed from the Elwha River for salmon habitat. Technically the area is closed to public entry, and this year the PNT has been indignantly rerouted way out to Highway 101 and back in again. I certainly don’t want to do the reroute, and my current plan is to night hike the six-mile part of the trail inside the closure. It means I’ll be up late tomorrow, since sunset is around 8:30pm.

Today was again blissfully sunny and beautiful, iif even a tad on the warm side but I loved it. I kept thinking about how miserable these climbs would be in the rain. I’ve seen a few more people today, and they tell me the weather should hold until Sunday, at which point rain could be on the way. I feel almost rain traumatized, since I can’t hike without thinking about what it would be like in rain instead, and I’m sort of terrified at the prospect of rain while I hike the coast.


20130915-155411.jpgCameron Pass

20130915-155443.jpgThe start of Cameron Creek

20130915-155534.jpgThe view from Grand Pass

20130915-155627.jpgOlympic marmot

Day 57

Last night I slept in the old three-sided trail shelter at Boulder Camp, hoping to avoid waking to my tent covered in condensation. It worked out, since in the morning I and my sleeping bag were dry, and the meadow around the shelter was soaked. I didn’t sleep well though, bothered at first by the inevitable mice that infest such shelters, and then later being kept awake by my own rapid-firing mind. I’m often pretty good at quieting myself down, but this time my thoughts were too loud, too turbulent. I slept some, but when I got up at 6:30 I was already tired. Within the first half mile of hiking, in the subdued gray hues of morning, I heard something, a deer or elk maybe, being killed in the drainage below my trail, a kind of strangled cry, then silence, then another cry. The sound was wet, garbled, and a little disturbing.

I had only 0.7 miles to enter the park, and then a steady climb up rugged peaks to a pass while the sun slowly crested the high ridges around me. The climbing felt serious to me, steep and sustained, but I know that as far as climbs go for this stretch of trail, the one this morning was practically nothing. After the pass, I descended 4500′ to the Dosewallips River, and I’ve been climbing it’s drainage ever since.

The Olympics are a beautiful range, dressed in greens of trees and meadows, laced with mossy streams. The weather today was startling, in that it may be the first day on my entire trip where there were never any clouds in the sky, and the steady deep blue against the mountains was a dramatic contrast. In all this beautiful country, there seem to be no people. I saw only one other hiker today.

I made camp around 5, early but a natural place to stop. While my pasta cooked I sewed up my new hat, which tore almost in half the first time I wore it, but I’m hopeful the patch job will keep it together. As soon as I had eaten, hung my food, and set up the tent, I was in it. It’s one of my favorite moments of the day.

20130915-154932.jpgThe view from Constance Pass

20130915-155033.jpgSmall waterfall in the Dosewallips River valley