After six hours on the road we finally reached the ranger station for Olympic National Park in Port Angeles, Washington. After submitting our requests to the backcountry permit office we were glad to hear the good news that we had gotten what we asked for, two nights at Sand Point, and one at Shi Shi beach. Eventually we reached the trailhead at Lake Ozette where we tied on our permits and loaded our provisions.
Once we on the trail, we passed some interpretive signs before crossing the Ozette River on a sturdy bridge. Quickly we reached a trail junction where we went right toward Cape Alava. We entered an old forest of tall cedars and a few monsters who have stood the test of time. The underbrush was thick, I couldn’t imagine trying to forge my own way through that thick jungle, lucky for us we had a well groomed trail. The trail itself was in great shape with most of it a boardwalk over what is usually thick muck, but we’re in the middle of a drought summer, so the way was dry for us. We made our way along for a couple miles before reaching Ahlstrom’s Prairie. My pack felt good, despite having to load 12 pounds of water at the trailhead after learning from the ranger that Sandpoint is a dry camp.
Beyond the meadows we reentered the thick forest before eventually dropping down to our first view of the Pacific Ocean and shorty after that the shoreline. It wasn’t at all like I had expected. The coast line is rocky and strewn with downed trees and driftwood, but the views up and down the beach were stunning. We stood there for a minute in awe, staring at a landscape so foreign to us inlanders. We began south along the beach in the direction of Sand Point. The going was slow as the tide was high, we had to negotiate several downed trees along the way, most of them required scrambling underneath on your hands and knees or around root balls along the shore. Sea stacks and a couple small islands dotted the coastline which kept the scenery interesting as we rounded corners discovering new beaches along the way. We were surprised by how much trash ends up on coastal beaches, it didn’t take anything away from the landscape, but you began to see the effects of what happens when you use the ocean as a dumping ground.
Eventually we reached our first scramble of a rocky headwall which required a little scouting as we picked our way over and around massive rocks while the ocean lapped at our boot laces. I could see how easy a hiker could lose his footing on a slick rock under a full pack and fall, quite dangerous in some places. Back on the beach we continued south and could now see Sand Point off in the far distance. The going got a little easier as the downed trees became few and far between. Hiking along you couldn’t help but not notice the peculiar smells of the beach, it reeks. You are constantly surrounded by decaying kelp and other sea life that is rather unpleasant. Also, walking through it is a bit of a turn off as your boots sink to almost ankle deep in the muck and your constantly stirring up a swarm of sand flies by the thousands who are feeding on the rotten kelp beds, but in my opinion this is all but a small distraction when your surrounded by some of the finest nature has to offer in sheer beauty. We trudged along through the thick and slow sand realizing we were steadily approaching high tide and would likely miss our opportunity to hike around the last significant headwall. Soon, we had arrived and found what we had expected, there would be no going around the mainland, so up and over it was. As we approached the headwall the scramble didn’t look too bad, but upon closer inspection it was rather intimidating. Thankfully someone who had gone before us fixed a rope to a tree at the summit to assist us In pulling ourselves up the precipitous slope. I went first placing hand over fist as I began dragging myself up the hill, at first it wasn’t too bad but before long the grade grew steeper. The going was slow as my almost 60 pound pack tossed me from side to side as I clung for dear life. Approaching the top I kicked and crawled my way over the final pitch where I was rewarded with a wonderful view of our prize, Sand Point, just a steep drop down the other side and one beach away. From the top of the cliff I decided to toss my trekking poles down to the ground below considering the repel down would require the use of both hands. Over the edge I went, gripping the rope firm with both hands and my feet into the wall as I lowered myself down. Once at the bottom I yelled up to Cole the all clear then he came down behind me.
Back on solid ground we made quick work of the last beach as we hunted for campsites along the way. We found one good spot but unfortunately needed a site that would accommodate two tents. Eventually we found it, one of the last sites left and a good one too, with just enough room. With tents pitched we didn’t have to worry about hanging a bear line with the use of Coles bear canister, also with the fire restrictions we didn’t have to bother with collecting wood. With camp duties taken care of we made our way to the beach for a little rest and relaxation over a beer. The beach on the south side of Sand Point is huge! There Is no way you could pack this thing, and even on a busy Friday summer night it felt like no one was here. We took it all in, the sun, waves, smells, it was spectacular. After our little reprieve we went back to camp for dinner but eventually returned for the golden hour at sunset. I haven’t seen the sunset over the ocean since I had proposed to Robin at Cannon Beach over 10 years ago. As we approached the beach the tide was heading out which made for an awesome reflection of the giant monolith at the head of the beach in the calm tide pool at our feet. It was amazing watching the sky change so many different colors as the sun slipped away. I had forgotten how beautiful the sunset is over the ocean, what an amazing way to top off another spectacular day in another wild place.
The next morning we rolled out of bed a little later than expected and lingered around camp sipping coffee, and eating breakfast. A couple hours later we were on our way, with the days provisions loaded we hit the beach, again hiking south during another low tide, which was mandatory. It was another warm blue sky day with just a hint of a breeze, absolutely perfect conditions. Leaving behind the camps at Sand Point we eventually reached the less appealing camps heading south. Eventually the beach ran out as big slippery rocks became more consistent. We were crossing another headwall at Yellow Bluffs which is why we needed the low tide, these rocks are impassable at anything higher than 6 feet on the tide table. It always felt uncomfortable crossing these tidal headwall knowing that if trapped by the surf there was no way out. We took our time getting around the rocks before we reached another small beach full of a bunch of the stinky, decaying, bug infested kelp. We passed a few impressive sea stacks and tidal pools with colorful sea anemones. Scrambling some rocks we passed through a notch and we’re awarded a spectacular view of remote Yellow Bluffs beach. We paused for minute taking in the views before working our way over the crunchy barnacle covered rocks to sand. We continued south in search of water, the ranger had told us we would be able to find a dependable creek somewhere along the barren stretch of land. We didn’t think water would be an issue on this trip, turns out we were wrong. Sand Point was supposed to have a decent water source that turned out to be more of a muck hole of stagnant brown water littered with debris and covered in water skeeters. It’s almost like hiking the desert out here, considering your surrounded by water you can’t drink. The sun just beats on you all day, and the wind constantly dries your lips and mouth making you feel thirstier than you actually are. Back on the beach we continued our search for the creek which we couldn’t find, eventually we spotted a group of four backpackers coming our way. Once we caught up with them we learned where the creek was then made our way to it. Just above the beach in the trees we found the spring, barely running, but running nonetheless. Cole quickly retrieved his filter as we were limited on time if we wanted to make the deadline back around the headwall to sand point. The downside to gravity filter is that they are slow when filtering on the side of the trail. They work great in camp when you have other chores to take care of, but can be painfully slow when you are in a time crunch. We decided to eat lunch while we filtered and even after eating we still had a lot more water to filter. It was getting close to our turnaround time so we decided to fill all of or empty bottles with the dirty ocean tea to be filtered later in camp.
Back on the trail, or the beach I should say we hiked north, toward camp. We quickly reached our only low tide crossing and made the traverse without much trouble from the surf. Back on the sand I took the time to get my boots off so I could walk the sand barefoot back to camp. Growing up on the ocean during the warm summer months I spent a lot of time letting the surf bury my feet in the sand. It’s funny how childhood memories come back to you like it was yesterday when experienced decades later. You couldn’t have asked for a better day, blue skies with a light breeze, it was perfect. We took our time getting back to camp and even took a break on a piece of driftwood, with the warm sun on my face I could have sat there all day. Eventually we arrived at camp and hung our dirty water in a tree where it could take its sweet ass time filtering. We sat in our chairs for a minute before deciding to explore camp a bit. We wandered along a trail through the woods to inspect Sandpoints only reliable water source, which once we stumbled upon it didn’t look very reliable at all. I was glad we had made the trek to Yellow Bluffs as the stagnant pond at Sandpoint would have put a beat down on Coles gravity filter. The brackish pond was the color of coca cola, choked with downed debris, covered with insects and surrounded by a thick black muck.
After our exploration south we hiked north past several more good camps before finding the junction with the return trail to Lake Ozette, we continued past it to more camps near and along the beaches but on the north side of the haystack rock at the headwall. The view from this beach was much better with several sea stacks offshore to break up the monotony off a flat horizon, but the wind was intolerable, never stiff enough to blow you over but annoying nonetheless. After taking in the view we used a short but steep trail to the top of the giant haystack rock that stood as a sentinel in the middle of Sandpoint. The view from the top was amazing. Later we watched the sunset from here, at your feet an endless horizon speckled with magnificent monoliths so stubborn not even and endless barrage from the crashing surf for millennia could alter their appearance. At our feet the sound of the waves crashed in their endless attempt to overtake the land. To our backs lay the sand, evidence that at times the surf does win, forever grinding the landscape down into the beautiful granulated rock that bares our footprints. Looking inland lay giant weathered white trees strewn like toothpicks guarding an impenetrable forest of massive old growth trees and an underbrush so thick that cross-country travel would be impossible. While the sun set, it’s ever changing light danced on the clouds above in an array of yellows, oranges, and reds. Then, once the sun had slipped away came the purples and blues. An ocean sunset is like no other sunset you will ever see, one of those things mother nature puts on display which cannot be put into words. At last light we walked the beach to camp taking in what was left of the natural light upon the clouds over tidal pools, this would be our last view of Sandpoint before hiking out the next morning.
Back in camp we fixed dinner and soon after drifted off to bed. The next morning we were socked in as mist had overtaken the canopy above our tents. We enjoyed our morning coffee before packing up and heading out. The hike out was easy and uneventful, a lot like the hike in. We covered the three miles of boardwalk rather swiftly before eventually reaching the junction with Cape Alava and eventually the trailhead. We ended up covering about 15 miles in three days, the leisurely itinerary made for a nice well needed getaway from the smoke filled skies of eastern Washington. The Olympic National Park beaches are spectacular and definitely worth the long drive and permit hassle to get to. For more pictures click the link. Ozette Triangle Backpacking Trip.