We awoke in Port Angeles and had a leisurely morning sorting out our gear, taking stock of our food, buying and repackaging our resupply, and finding our way down to the transit center. To stay on schedule we planned to take the bus to Forks, WA and then find our way to the coast the following day.
Right on schedule we hopped on the bus to Forks, a little over an hour ride. Forks is a small town with a vast logging history and more is recently known as the town that author Stephanie Meyer used as a setting for her Twilight books. A lot of the town was quiet when we were there – a recommended burger joint “Sully’s Burgers” was closed, much to our disappointment. However, the Twilight museum was a happening place, with a line stretching outside the door! The Twilight museum was of little interest to us, so we called around until we found somewhere to camp and walked ourselves to our home for the night.
Overnight rain moved in and we woke to the gentle pitter patter on our tents. It didn’t appear to be letting up, so we packed up our wet gear and walked our way back into town. We made quick stop at the laundromat to try to dry out, but found it rather inhospitable so we didn’t spend any more time there than necessary. We found our way to a café to have some breakfast and charge our phones and found ourselves sharing an alcove with other folks from Minnesota! It really is a small world.
We had some time before our afternoon bus out of town so we spent some time at the library and then at a local park letting our gear drip off. It seemed like a lost cause, but each little droplet off the tents was one less in our packs! Finally it was time for our bus out of town. We were the only people on it, and the youth who was the driver agreed that he could let us off at the intersection of Oil City Road. Our plan was to hike/hitch the last 11 miles or so to the ocean from there.
We took off on the bus (it is the best way to describe it, he drove very fast, clearly having the twists and turns of the very curvy road memorized). Shortly after swerving around an emergency vehicle, our driver pulled into our drop-off point. Thankfully it was a short bus ride – I think we were both feeling a little ill!
We started our way down Oil City Road. Our plan was to either walk all the way to the coast and then try to find somewhere to camp, or to stop about halfway down the road at a campground. Luckily, we had only walked about two miles when a couple picked us up and brought us all the way to the trailhead. What luck!
A short distance down the trail, we got our fist glimpse of the sea. Even though we hadn’t hiked every step of the trail between Glacier National Park and here, it was still a welcome sight. I can only imagine the feeling of accomplishment those who do hike the whole trail must have when they finally reach the ocean.
We had made much better time than expected, so we had to wait a bit for the evening low tide before we’d be able to make it around a rocky point and then to the campsite we planned to stay at. We reached the point and decided the waves lapping over the slippery rocks were too high. We could wait another hour for true low tide, but we also found a passageway through the rocks – a hole we could clamber through and then pass our packs through, cutting off our wait and the sketchy rounding of the corner.
We were feeling pretty clever – we had made it past the first pinch point! Then we discovered what the guidebook meant by its “rope ladders” into the highlands. Thick fixed lines with sketchy, sometimes busted wooden boards stretched from the beach into the rainforest. Hand over hand we clawed our way up through the slippery mud and up into the humid forest. I found myself thinking “I hope these ropes are connected to something up there…” before trusting all of my body weight to them. Our campsite for night one was a flat area cut into what I describe as “the jungle” in my journal.
We were tucked into our beds that first night and darkness had fallen. There was great crashing through the woods and we called out…was it a bear? Something else? Two hikers came stumbling through, looking for their group they had gotten separated from. We hadn’t seen anyone and offered they could camp with us if they didn’t connect with them, and they thanked us and stumbled on. We never heard anything more on this, so we assumed everything worked out!
Over the next few days, our adventure took us through dense forest, up and down slippery fixed lines, on sandy beaches, and scrambling over rocky ones. There were a surprising number of other groups out – some with small children. While navigation was fairly easy, it seemed an intense section of trail for little ones!
Sometimes we were able to camp up in the woods, but often camping happened along the beach. Many of the designated campgrounds had been impacted by a storm a few years back. We heard a lot of, “well, there used to be a campsite there, but then a storm came through and dropped a bunch of trees on it.”
Luckily, beach camping worked well enough since there were ample rocks to help us put up our tents. We were also fortunate enough to get some afternoon sunshine most days so we had a chance to dry out our gear dampened from the sea breezes.
About halfway through our beach adventure we needed to cross the Quillayute River at the town of La Push, WA. It’s a big river, so our guidebook gave the options of spending the better part of a day walking the road up to a bridge that crosses the river or finding someone to hire to give you a boat ride across.
We walked into the town of La Push, WA, to opt for the second option. Hiring a local to take us across seemed a much better option, or at least a lot more fun than a road walk.
When we got the the harbor, there was no one in sight. Our guidebook made it sound so simple – just find the harbormaster and have them help you hire a fishing boat. However, it was unclear where one would find the harbormaster – there were no signs anywhere.
Sometime around now a bird pooped right on Jen’s head (see the photo below).
Then we saw two people and a dog walking our way from the docks. Humans! With a boat! Maybe they know where the harbormaster is!
Unfortunately they were looking for the same information – they wanted to rent a slip in the harbor. They headed over to a building they thought might be the location of the harbormaster. I remembered that we were in a town, so I could look up stuff on my phone (what a novel thought), and I found a number to call.
The conversation went something like this:
“Hi, my name is Anna and my hiking partner and I are hiking on the Pacific Northwest Trail. We are looking to hire a fisherman or any boat to take us across the river. Can you help us with this?”
(I repeat the same information in different words)
“Um…no…I don’t know what you mean. All of the fishing boats are out for the day and they are too big anyway. My friend has a kayak you might be able to use…?”
“Well, we’re only looking to go one direction across the river and we have backpacks, so I’m not sure how we’d make a kayak work. But thanks for trying to help!”
Hanging up, it looked like we were going to be stuck with taking the road around. I started to look up the bus schedule to at least get us back up the road we had already walked down.
Around now, the other two people were walking back from the harbormaster’s office. They too hadn’t been able to get their question answered (the main harbormaster was out, so there was someone else covering the office). We commiserated with them about our bad luck. However, when we told what we were trying to do, they were like “Well, we could bring you across the river.”
What luck! With one challenge: the shallowest their boat could go was into three feet of water, so we were going to have to be a little creative. They looked at the satellite view of our location to try to see what the shoreline would be like – it looked to be pretty uniformly rocky, but no big hidden boulders under the surface. The plan unfolded – they’d take us across and get us as close as possible to the far shore, and we’d hop off into the river and wade the rest of the way. Fool proof!
We hopped on the boat with the couple and their dog and they drove us the short distance across the river. They refused the money we tried to give them for their trouble and gas. They backed up the boat as close as possible to shore, using a paddle to fend off the rocks and keep us in deep enough water. Then, it was go time!
Quickly, Jen and I piled off of the back of the boat, splashing into the thigh/waist deep river. We slogged our way up onto the shore, laughing and yelling our thanks to our new friends. We had made it across the river, one of the biggest logistical challenges of our coastal trip solved!
While we’ve caught a lot of rides from strangers (aka new friends), this is the first one on a boat. It was incredible how quickly our situation changed – from looking at spending the rest of the day busing/road walking around the river to making a human connection and suddenly being on the other side. I hope our new friends know what a positive impact they had on our day and our trip! I can only hope that they were left with a fun story to tell their friends about these crazy women they helped across the river.
We walked for a ways along our new beach, eventually finding somewhere that we could change out of our wet clothes. Over the following days, we fell into a pattern of wake up, hike/climb/scramble until mid afternoon’s high tide, sit tight for a couple hours for the tide to go back down, and then continue on the last little jaunt until camp. It was so different than all other backpacking I’ve done; normally I’m a proponent of hiking pretty steadily to camp and then enjoying a leisurely evening. But, who can argue with the ocean’s timetable? No one.
The ocean and the trail kept us on our toes, with something new around nearly every corner. During many of the sections of trail, I’ve experienced the distinct feeling that this place is not for us, that we are visitors here. This was especially true on this section. I could feel the magic that is this coast and I’m so grateful I was able to pass through.
In a juxtaposition with the natural beauty there was tons of trash and thousands of buoys washed up on the beach. We picked up some to pack out with us, but there simply was too much to be able to carry it all out. Many folks traveling before us had gotten creative, building large structures out of beach logs and decorating them with buoys and other finds. Some were even artistic, but it was saddening that this was a “wilderness coast” with so much impact from humanity. Again, I was distinctly aware of the role I play, being a part of the humanity that creates this plastic waste.
We continued up the coast until we reached Cape Alava and the end of the PNT. On par with the rest of the PNT, there was no sign or trail marker to indicate that we had made it, or even what trail we were supposed to take out to the trailhead. Our biggest indicator that we had made it was the “Beach Closed Beyond This Point” sign that was stapled to some beach logs – we knew the area north of Cape Alava was closed, so this must be it!
We took some “we made it!” pictures near what must have been the end of the PNT, listening to the barking of sea lions somewhere out on the distant rocks. Then, as it was still morning, we backtracked to what we thought might be our trail out to civilization (we were right) and hiked the three miles out.
The trail heading out was pleasant, but also very full of day hikers. It was interesting to me how few of them would step aside on some of the narrower sections to let those of us with packs come through (we ended up hopping off the trail a lot as playing chicken with them seemed like it would end in disaster)…it seemed like they were sure in a hurry to get to the beach! I feel lucky that we were able to spend so many days out there so as to not be in such a rush.
One exciting part of this trail was seeing a banana slug that actually looked very much like a banana! Pure magic.
When we got out to the trailhead, we walked our way down the road a bit to a campground. There was ample campsites for us an a general store that not only gave access to showers but also a nice selection of beer! We split three to toast the completion of our trip and even got to use frosty mugs.
The next morning we caught a ride all the way back to Port Angeles with a family from Portland. They had planned to go to Forks, but changed their minds and went to Port Angeles instead, just to make out trip easier. They undoubtedly had more restaurant options (their main goal) in Port Angeles than they did in Forks, but their kindness was very appreciated.
To finish off our trip, we made our way to Port Townsend over the next couple of days via public transit and met up with our friend Jared at Fort Worden State Park (See Losing the Trail and Finding Friends as well as many other posts from earlier sections of the trail for background on our friendship). Jen and I were able to get a spot at the hiker/biker site (after some confusion with a double booking). We even met a couple who was biking from Alaska to South America over the next two years!
Jared provided a car (what a novel thought) and this meant that we could get pretty much anywhere we wanted to! We had a great time on a mini road trip around the Olympic Peninsula with him, looking for big trees and car camping. Unfortunately the big cedar we spent quite a while looking for had fallen down, but we found her remains! Finally Jared dropped us at our airport motel and we said our goodbyes. It was a very nice way to end this year’s Washington adventure.
While this marks the end of our PNT project, it certainly connected us with good people and fantastic lands. Grateful does not even begin to describe my feelings as I think about all that happened along this trail. I’m especially thankful that Jen bought into the crazy idea that was this project. I couldn’t ask for a better adventure partner, and she stuck with me through the good and the bad days.
My friendship with Jen, the countless people who helped us out along the way, the friends that were made, and the lands that we had the privilege to pass through really have made this an adventure for the books. Though I’m sad that this adventure is over, I look forward to many more!