O’Neil Creek Camp and AirBnb: Hot Tub, Cheese and the Good Samaritans

We wanted to shorten our hike out of the park on our last day, so we packed up camp and headed back down the East Fork Quinault River Trail to O’Neil Creek Camp the day before. Only a few miles from Pyrites Creek, it seemed like the shortest hike ever after so many days of mileage in the double digits. It also allowed us to get there nice and early, so the place was empty. We chose a large site along the river, surrounded by large, moss covered trees that provided both privacy and shade. It was like the Ritz Carlton of campsites: location, location, location.IMG_3539

After setting up camp we put on our bathing suits, grabbed our sleeping mats, and headed to the rocky island in the middle of the river to spend the afternoon. We rinsed off in the icy cold water and stretched out to dry in the hot sun. It was the most amazing feeling. There was no urgency, we were able to just be still; no responsibilities, really enjoying being in the present, appreciating everything that got us to that place, at that moment. It was like combining a badass adventure with a relaxing beach vacation, and a mountain retreat with gurus to guide you on the path to your best life. Only instead of gurus, we had weed.

Lit

We headed back to camp when the shadows moved in as the sun sank below the mountains, and made dinner. Being our last night, we were down to only the food we’d chosen not to eat thus far. So it was a somewhat depressing meal, and I was dreaming of hamburgers and mozzarella sticks, as I begrudgingly ate my vegetable beef soup.

A family from a campsite nearby asked if they could walk through our site to get to the river and, of course, we happily obliged. They were really sweet people, very natural, “granola,” if you will. They’re like the smart kids I went to high school with, who got graduate degrees and are now professors, or running science labs, and are always going on hiking and camping trips with their beautiful spouses and adorable kids. Talking with our new Nature Neighbors was like talking to my high school friends, but ten years in the future.

The Granola Dad laughed at Lindsey’s can of soup as he passed through, saying, “You guys must be going ultralight.” We kinda looked around at all our stuff everywhere and thought, “Huh?” It made us wonder what all he and his family had carried in with them.

O'Neil Creek Camp

Talking to our new friend about soup got us talking about other foods. Real food. We were craving some good, hot meals, but what we really wanted was cheese. Cheese and crackers and wine. We decided to pick some up on the way to our AirBnb after we hiked out of the park. The thought of sitting in the hot tub with a glass of wine and snacks, as we sat on the ground with our stiff backs against a tree, sounded positively orgasmic.

We were in bed early that night, and up early the next morning. When we were packing up camp, Granola Mom came over to greet us. To our absolute astonishment, she had cheese, crackers, and granola bars with her. She said her husband overheard us talking about being hungry and wanting cheese, and that they had leftover rations from the night before that they wanted us to have. I’m not kidding when I say we had tears in our eyes as we looked at her. These people were our heroes. It might have been the best damn cheese we’d ever had in our entire lives. It was some kind of smooth gouda that, in the backcountry on day 4, tasted absolutely decadent. That kind, beautiful family restored a little bit of my faith in humanity that day.IMG_3555

The hike out was about 9 miles, and our packs were lighter as we’d eaten all our food. We talked as we hiked about our favorite parts of the trip. One thing we both loved was the quiet, being so far removed from other human beings. While unsettling at first, we’d learned to cherish the solitude, and the connection it allowed us to feel with our surroundings. The few people we did encounter had as much reverence and respect for the forest as we did. We wanted more of it in our lives. We’d fallen head over heels in love with backpacking. But first we wanted showers. And wine. And more cheese.IMG_3564

By the time we emerged from the forest, we were definitely ready for a break, and we felt like we’d earned it; we were unbelievably proud of ourselves. We’d hiked over 43 miles in the backcountry, in 4 days, with everything we needed on our backs. The word, “badass,” was said more than once, but we were next level exhausted. We were so excited to do things like sit in a real chair, sleep in a real bed, flush a toilet, get water from a faucet. . . I love to escape the world, but there are some things I also love to come back to. Nature helps me appreciate all the advances in modern technology. . . Like indoor plumbing.

When we got to the car I noticed something was amiss. In all the excitement of embarking on our big adventure, I’d left the driver’s window all the way down. . . For the last 4 days. . . In the woods. . . Unattended. . . With hundreds of dollars worth of weed, and all the rest of our stuff inside. We just stood there for a second and exchanged an “uh oh” look before surveying the damage. To our relief, and absolute amazement, everything was still there. Someone could’ve robbed us blind, but our stuff was untouched. It was the second time that day that I’d been given hope for the future of mankind.

The few food items we’d left in a Target bag on the floor of the backseat, however, were another story. They’d been feasted on by some small, forest critter. There were tiny teeth marks in all the packaging, and the contents (mostly Lindsey’s dehydrated fruit, and granola bars she was saving for Mt. Rainier) were just gone. We inspected the rest of our stuff to make sure there were no more surprises, and were satisfied that whatever had been in there had moved on, so we did too. We would find out later, of course, that he wasn’t gone. In fact, whatever it was also drove to our AirBnb and then Mount Rainier with us. After two nights of hiking Rainier, and even though all the windows were securely closed, our food was once again gone, with more chewed up wrappers left behind. We never found it. Whatever it was, he was like some sort of tiny, forest ninja. We weren’t sad when we returned that rental car. At. All.

I wish I could remember the name of the pizza place we went to in Olympia. We were exhausted and in a post-nature daze, I barely even remember the drive to get there. What I do remember is that it was the most delicious Coke to ever pass my lips, and the cheesy garlic bread almost made me cry. Honestly, though, it probably wasn’t really that good. We were just overjoyed to not be eating granola or canned soup, so we were pretty easy to please.IMG_3596

After lunch we made a brief stop at Target for our wine and cheese, then made our way to our “home” for the night. The Time and Again Cabin is a little slice of paradise located in the middle of a Christmas tree farm in Cinebar, Washington. Dripping with charm in every nook and cranny, the cottage has a bedroom, a futon in the living room, a mini kitchen, private laundry and bath, and a giant hot tub. It’s the perfect stop between backpacking trips.IMG_3579

The hosts were a delightful couple who gave us a tour of the cabin and introduced us to their sweet, old dog, who would wind up keeping us company most of the night. They left us snacks, plush bathrobes, flip flops, and special mugs for the hot tub, then they left us to bask in the luxury of their guesthouse.

We showered immediately and oh, how glorious it felt! I honestly felt physically lighter when I stepped out, like I’d just washed away 30 pounds of dirt, sweat, and grime. After we were clean, we threw in a load laundry before pouring our wine and hopping in the hot tub.

Cheers!

There we were, stretched out in this 6 person hot tub, staring up at the billions of stars against the jet black sky. We sipped our wine while the hot water and powerful jets soothed away 4 days of hiking up and down the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. We were totally blissed out.IMG_3587

Clouds began to roll in just as we started getting a little hot, feeling like we may need to get out and breathe some cooler air. Then it started to rain. Just a light, drizzly mist that cooled off our faces enough to allow us to stay in the hot tub a while longer, relaxing as the water massaged us from head to toe. Absolute amazeballs. Even removed from the forest, Mother Nature still had our backs. Thanks, Mom!

After we got out, we switched our laundry and sat on the patio; eating our cheese, finishing our wine, and looking at the pictures we’d taken so far. The dog was by our side, sleeping contently as we smoked a joint, reminisced, and talked about the adventure awaiting us on Mt. Rainier.

We slept so good that night. I’m pretty sure I didn’t move a single muscle from the moment my head hit the pillow until I woke up to the sun shining through the windows, beckoning us to the mountains, in the morning. We were ready.

One thing is for sure, my next visit to Washington will include another trip to Olympic National Park, followed by a stay at the Time and Again Cabin. It was the most perfect mix of wilderness and luxury.

Thank you for stopping by! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to continue the adventure, when Lindsey and I embark on an all up hill hike in Mount Rainier National Park!

~Steph

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park: Mountains and Glaciers and Trees (but no bears), Oh My!

The morning air was crisp, cool, and moist with humidity. The birds were singing a cheerful song, as a woodpecker kept the beat, announcing it was time to start our day. We were a little achy when we climbed out of the tent (and I kinda wanted to strangle the woodpecker with my bare hands), but so ready to get exploring, and finally see the Enchanted Valley.

After a quick breakfast we hit the trail. The first obstacle came before we even left the campground: the bridge over Pyrites Creek had been washed out in a storm. We had to find our own way across. There were several places to get over the creek, but I managed to find the most complicated one, only to get across and see that they’d erected a temporary footbridge about 50 feet from where I’d crossed. Oops.

Behold!

We hadn’t gone much farther when Lindsey stopped me in my tracks with a, “Holy shit! Oh my god, are you seeing this?!” I was so focused on the path ahead that I was forgetting to look around. When I went back to Lindsey my jaw dropped. I don’t know how I’d missed it. It was one of the reasons I’d chosen the Enchanted Valley hike in the first place, and I’d almost walked right past it. It was what used to be the largest mountain hemlock in the entire world until it collapsed several years ago, and it was even more incredible than the pictures I’d seen. Its massive roots lie overturned next to the trail, its once towering trunk stretching out across the forest floor and disappearing down the riverbank. It was magnificent. I tried to imagine what it had looked like before its demise and wondered what finally took it down, but the size of the tree seemed to make the size of the thought too much to comprehend.

It Keeps Going and Going and Going

When we arrived at the narrow, one railing bridge over the ravine, I knew we had arrived. We entered the Enchanted Valley to find the clouds dipping below the peak of snow-capped Mt. Olympus. Everything looked a little gray, the sun only peeking out from behind the clouds sporadically and for brief periods, but it somehow didn’t seem dreary.

The Enchanted Valley

The Enchanted Valley Chalet was perched on the bank of the river, its simple facade humbled by its exquisite surroundings. The Olympic Mountains were lush and green, and waterfalls, fed by glaciers atop the peaks, tumbled down the mountainsides. It definitely isn’t called the Enchanted Valley for nothing.IMG_3488

We ate some lunch outside the Chalet and went looking for the outhouses (Priorities, people). They were rustic, to say the least, but I’ve never been so grateful for an outhouse, nor have I ever been in one with such a spectacular view. I hadn’t relished the thought of digging a hole, squatting, and burying my poo. It’s the one backpacking experience I’ve yet to have (and I’m in no hurry to change that, though I know it’s only a matter of time). I’d been holding it since we left civilization the previous morning, so this little shack, with a toilet seat over a hole, was a welcome sight. That it overlooked the valley, with its mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls, made it feel like the lap of luxury. I give it a 5 star and two thumbs up outhouse rating.

We’d met a couple of other hikers on our way into the valley. They gave us two bits of helpful information: 1. They’d just seen a bear, so watch out. That got us excited. 2. There’s a glacier with ice caves they explored down the trail and across the river. That made us positively giddy. So we went in search of a way to get across, while being watchful for bears (and trying not to step in their poop–which was everywhere).

Enchanted Valley Waterfall

I don’t know where these people were talking about, but we never figured out how to get across the river without going for a frigid swim. We were disappointed. We could see the caves, we were so close, we just couldn’t get there. We hiked a little over a mile farther down the trail, admiring the trees and the mountains as we went, before heading back towards the Valley.IMG_3510

Before going back to camp we stopped to refill our water. There was an island in the river that we had to reach in order to get to the faster flowing water, so we hopped over the little branch of river separating the island from the mainland and, as I was landing, I wanted to scream. I didn’t see it until it was too late: a perfect, pristine bear print in the sand on the river’s island. It was incredible. . . for the split second I saw it before my foot came crashing down on top of it like an inconsiderate giant. It felt like it happened in slow motion, and in my head, it did: me screaming, “Noooooooo,” in a slow-mo voice all the way down. This is my other regret of the trip (the first being when I neglected to get a picture with Ranger Blondie Buns). It was immaculate, even the holes from the claws were there, and it would’ve been such a cool picture. Alas, it now only exists in my memory.IMG_3521

In the end, the paw print and a whole lotta scat is as close as we came to any wild animals (okay, we also saw a tiny lizard, but that totally doesn’t count). Considering the extraordinary amount of bear poop we saw, I’m not sure how we didn’t see any actual bears. I’m also not sure if I’m happy or disappointed about that. Maybe a little of both.

We got back to camp, made dinner, and got our fire going as the sun began to set behind the mountains. Once it began to get dark Lindsey went to bed. We were exhausted. Our bodies were screaming, but the night was so peaceful and perfect that I couldn’t bring myself to go to sleep. There was only one other person in the entire campground and he’d gone to bed before the sun, so when Lindsey went to sleep, I was all alone in the wilderness.

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Naked in the woods selfie!

Since Lindsey was in the tent, I started changing into my pajamas fireside. I was rushing to get changed, fearful of someone seeing my nakedness, and then realized how stupid that was. The forest was so dark I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. There was no one around to see me anyway, so I slowed down and decided to sit in the woods for a while–naked. The cool breeze combined with the warmth of the fire on my skin felt incredible. To sit in the wilderness in such a natural state, listening to the crackling fire and the wind through the trees, staring up at a sky with endless stars, was unbelievably liberating. Part of me wanted to go running naked through the woods just for the hell of it. Maybe I have an unconscious desire to be a nudist hiding somewhere behind all my insecurities and programmed obedience to societal norms (and, you know, the law). Or, maybe it was just fun to sit in the woods, smoking a joint, all by myself and naked, knowing no one would see me. Either way it was an experience I’m glad I had. I was as bare and vulnerable as the trees around me, all of us submitting to Mother Nature together.

I was really glad Ranger Blondie Buns didn’t reappear at that particular moment. On the one hand, it could’ve made for an entirely different and sordid blog post (at least in my fantasy it would). On the other, it could’ve ended up with me getting a citation for public indecency (a far more likely scenario), and getting myself banned from all national parks for life. I’m grateful the night instead ended with me putting some clothes on and going to bed without incident. I was also glad for our upcoming Rest Day with only three miles of hiking. I was looking forward to a having a day to slow down, relax, and fully appreciate Olympic National Park before our hike back to civilization.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed the read! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to hear how our Ladycation backpacking in Olympic National Park ends! Stay chill and keep exploring, friends!

~Steph

Hiking to the Enchanted Valley: A Complete Guide

Reservations: Advanced reservations are not required!

Permits: A Wilderness Permit is required for all overnight trips, and can be purchased at the South Shore Quinault River Ranger Station in Quinault. $8/person/night

Distance: The maps all say it’s about 13 miles from the Graves Creek Trailhead to Enchanted Valley. But we clocked it closer to 14 miles. This is a minimum 28 mile round trip hike.

Campsites: There are several options for camping on the trail: Pony Bridge, O’Neil Creek, Pyrites Creek and Enchanted Valley. Though reservations are not required, you will need to designate which site you’ll be camping at each night when you obtain your permit.

Food Storage: Hiking to Enchanted Valley means hiking in bear country. Bear activity is extremely high in this area, so using bear canisters is required. All your scented items should be stored in the bear canister—including your trash. Don’t be the jerk that leaves their stuff out. If bears are reported to have gotten into human food or trash, the entire area has to be shut down. They do this for our safety, because if the bears get used to their dinner coming from humans, they’ll become less cautious, and more aggressive in trying to get it. Bear wire is provided at most of the campsites, so bring a bag large enough hold the canister that you can hang from the wire. Bear canisters are available for loan at the same Ranger Station, and there is no charge, however donations are appreciated.

The Night Before You Hike: Lake Quinault Lodge and Rain Forest Village Lodge are both good options for lodging the night before your hike. Depending on when you hike, the passes could sell out. Staying in Quinault allows you to be at the Ranger Station bright and early to ensure you get your permit.

Toilets: Enchanted Valley is the only campground on this trail with an outhouse. If you have to poo while you’re anywhere else, you’ll need to dig a hole, and bury it, so bring a trowel and prepare to lose a little bit of your dignity.

Water: Everywhere! This trail follows the path of the river, so there are plenty of places to stop and refill your hydration pack and water bottle. Just make sure you have a way to filter the water before you drink it.

Weather: The trail is open year-round, and winter weather conditions can occur during all but the summer season, so make sure you pack the appropriate gear when hiking during the colder months. In the summer the temperatures can get as high as the 80’s, but it can also dip pretty low at night, so make sure you pack several layers of clothing, and a rain jacket.

Terrain: The trail goes up and down hills as it follows the path of the river. It is well marked and maintained (during the summer months), there’s virtually zero chance of getting lost unless you’re a complete idiot, or something unexpected takes you off the trail. The bridge at Pyrites Creek was washed out when we were there, and from what I’ve read, that’s a common occurrence, so be sure to pack your water shoes in case you need to do some river forging.

Be sure to check out the NPS website for more information, and always check weather and trail conditions before your hike!

Hiking to Enchanted Valley: Giant Trees and the Lone Ranger

You know when you get lost and start to panic? You drive extra slow, turn down the radio as if it will help you see better, and start to think you’ve gone miles too far in the wrong direction? That’s kind of how we felt towards the end of our first day hiking the East Fork Quinault River Trail in Olympic National Park.

Ready To Rock

We were so stoked, this was the big one. Three nights in the backcountry with all our gear on our backs. We began at the Graves Creek trailhead near Lake Quinault. The well marked trail, that passes through old growth rain forest, leading to Enchanted Valley, is stunning. It winds through the forest, following the path cut by the rivers and creeks that are fed by glacial melt coming off the Olympic Mountains. The entire forest floor is covered in giant ferns that you’d expect to see in Jurassic Park, and moss grows on everything from the ground to the trees. Everything was so green! It almost looked enchanted (see what I did there?).IMG_3288

The most spectacular sights on this trail, in fact, are the trees. I really can’t say enough about them, you guys; enormous Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, mountain hemlock and western red cedar all around. I learned that Olympic National Park has the largest concentration of “giant” trees in a small area in the world. There are a few things in the natural world that have truly humbled me: the Grand Canyon, the night sky as seen from Madeline Island, the birth of my children. . . Add “the trees of Olympic National Park” to that list. These massive, towering giants stretch so high that I couldn’t even see the tops of them. Imagining how long they’d been there, how much of human history has passed by while they just grew and grew and grew, made me feel very small and insignificant. To witness their beauty and majesty first hand felt like an incredible privilege.IMG_3349

The smell, you guys. . . Oh my god, the smell. . . It was earthy, clean, crisp, woodsy; just divine. At one point we passed an extraordinarily large cedar tree that had fallen across the path. The National Park Service had cut through the middle of it, leaving the trail unencumbered, and the cedar’s shavings dusting the forest floor. The scent of that fresh cut tree was utterly intoxicating. I wanted to roll around in it, cover myself in cedar, be one with the forest. If we breathed it in any deeper we would’ve ended up with a case of cedar shaving asphyxiation.

The Giant Trees of Olympic National Park

I was overwhelmed by the desire to express my love for these trees—in a totally non sexual way, of course—and when I found myself particularly drawn to one specific behemoth of a tree, I had to hug it. I hugged a tree, and I liked it. I don’t even care if that makes me a hippie cliché. That tree and I shared a moment.

Cedar

The ultimate goal on our first day’s hike was to make it to Pyrites Creek. Since neither of us had hiked such long distances before, we didn’t want to try trekking all the way to Enchanted Valley on the first day, but we didn’t want to stop too early either. We decided to shoot for Pyrites which was, according to the maps, 9.5 miles from the trailhead; the third and final campground before entering the Valley. If we couldn’t make it that far we planned to stop at O’Neil Creek Camp, located just under 7 miles from the trailhead.

Zen Break at O'Neil Creek

When we arrived at O’Neil and took a snack/rest break, we were still feeling pretty energized, so we decided to keep going. About an hour later we started to question the wisdom of that decision. My Fitbit said we had already passed the 10 mile mark, and Pyrites Creek Camp was nowhere in sight. Had we gone past it somehow and not noticed? Were the maps wrong? Was my Fitbit wrong? We hadn’t seen another human being for hours. Mile after mile, and not a single soul passed by. We were tired, hangry, and our bodies were getting slower and clumsier with each step we took. As much as I love to escape the crowds of the city, not knowing if there are any other people nearby at all can feel a little disconcerting when you think you may be lost.

Just when I thought I might start to cry, he came walking out of the forest.

I wasn’t sure if he was real at first: He was a Park Ranger; tall, tan, and muscular, with a strong jaw, and beautiful blue eyes. His long, braided, blonde hair reached down his back, and his legs, in his little ranger shorts, appeared like the mighty trees surrounding us: solid.

It was as though the universe had sent this magnificent Viking god to give us the encouragement we needed to press on. I have no doubt that a socially unacceptable amount of time passed between his emergence from the woods and when we finally regained our ability to speak and, although it’s all a blur, I’m sure I sounded like a stuttering buffoon when we did (eventually) greet him. He probably walked away from the encounter assuming he’d have to rescue us at some point.

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Noname. Well played, Olympic NP.

Ranger Blondie Buns (yes, that’s what we named him after realizing we were too distracted by his sexiness to ask his actual name) asked to see our wilderness pass and we chatted for a few minutes. We mostly talked about being a Park Ranger, which he described as equivalent to being a glorified janitor. It made me sad to know that we need people like him going through this beautiful forest picking up the trash other people leave behind. Sometimes I think maybe I like trees more than people, but then I realize how grateful I am for folks who are willing to go around the woods picking up other people’s garbage. I guess I’d like to think it all evens out in the end.

After he walked away, Lindsey and I looked at each other, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing: You saw him too, right? Part of me wondered if I’d hallucinated the entire thing, if my mind had conjured him up just to keep from fracturing due to my high levels of exhaustion and anxiety.

The best tidbit of knowledge our Sexy Ranger Savior gave us was that we were almost there. It was like a physical weight lifted when he said that, like my pack was suddenly ten pounds lighter. We were going to make it, we hadn’t made a mistake.

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The river ran right next to our campsite, with a large downed tree which provided the perfect bench

We reached our campsite not long after we left RBB and, after taking a break to smoke a celebratory “we actually fucking made it” joint and have a snack, we got to work setting up camp and gathering firewood. Thankfully, despite it being so late in the year, the campground had plenty of branches strewn about, so we didn’t have to walk too far to find enough to keep us warm for a couple of nights.

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The moss covered trees surrounded our campsite

The campsite was perfect: a huge site, with towering, moss covered trees all around, right next to the river. After dinner we sat around our fire listening to the river, and taking a moment to really appreciate where we were. We couldn’t believe we did it. My Fitbit had clocked over 14 miles by the time I went to bed. Yet despite how far we’d come, between the fireside yoga we did at our campsite, and the CBD chocolates we ate for dessert, we felt amazing: strong, independent, empowered, and more in tune with nature and ourselves than we’d ever been.

There was one thing that didn’t feel amazing, and that was Lindsey’s feet. The blister’s she’d gotten at Shi Shi Beach had grown on our long-ass hike, and she was now developing new blisters between her toes. I swear, those boots were designed by a sadist. Thankfully, we’d replenished our first aid supplies, and Lindsey had her technique down to a science by this point. Treating Lindsey’s wounds had become part of our routine.

We talked about The Ranger quite a bit that night, wondering what he was doing at that moment. One of my only regrets from the entire trip was not asking to take a selfie with him. How could I, of all people, forget to take a picture?! We weren’t sure anyone would believe us when we told the story without photographic evidence—even we weren’t completely convinced he was real. For all we knew, we really had both come up with the same fantasy to cope with our fear of potentially dying in the woods alone.

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Dinner was Velveeta mac-n-cheese and it was fantastic. I think camping is the only time I actually like the stuff.

We went to bed that night with visions of majestic, towering trees, and sexy Park Rangers swirling through our minds. Knowing the beauty that was surrounding us, and that such a fine specimen of man was out there in the rare event of an emergency, gave us peace of mind. I won’t lie though, a part of me wished one of us would somehow injure ourselves, just enough to need to be rescued by Ranger Blondie Buns, so we could get that damn selfie. Lucky for everyone, that wouldn’t be necessary. We’d live another night and hike to the Enchanted Valley in the morning!

Thanks for stopping by! Come back next Sunday to read the next chapter in Lindsey and I’s Bestieversarycation. Also be sure to check out my other posts, and follow my blog to stay up to date on the latest Ladycations!

~Steph

Point of the Arches: Coastal Hiking At Its Finest

With our Bestieversarycation in full swing, we couldn’t wait for our next adventure: Point of the Arches. Our love affair with the Pacific Northwest was only beginning, and after our first backpacking trip and beach camping experience, we knew this wouldn’t be the only time us two travel companions would choose Washington State for our Ladycation destination. The beauty of the Pacific Coast cannot be understated.

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The view from the tent when I awoke in the morning

I woke up in the morning to the sun coming out from behind the diminishing clouds, the tide receding, and the fog lifting. The sound of the waves crashing ashore and the seagulls’ squawking mixed together like a maritime symphony, while the salty scent of the ocean and the smell of the forest filled my lungs. It was a feast for the senses.IMG_3050

I stepped out of the tent and, as though the ocean was calling to me, headed towards the shoreline. During low tide the beach spotted with rocks that are crawling with sea anemones, starfish, and mussels. The starfish were so freaking cool–I had no idea they could get so huge! Big, fat orange, red, and purple suckers were clinging to the rocks and each other. It’s an amateur nature photographer’s wet dream. I think I’d taken over 100 pictures before Lindsey even emerged from the tent.

Gather Round

Once she was up, we had some breakfast, and set out for Point of the Arches. It was a gorgeous two mile walk along the coast with plenty of creatures, shells, and sea glass to admire along the way. We probably took three times as long as necessary to get to The Point because I kept stopping to take more pictures, while Lindsey accomplished a goal she’d set: eating fresh picked seaweed. It didn’t seem like an overly thrilling experience, but mission accomplished, nonetheless.IMG_3061

 

The arches were everything they were cracked up to be. Tide pools everywhere with more starfish than we could ever have tried to count (We were seriously obsessed with the starfish, guys). We climbed on the rocks for a while, exploring all around the arches. Our climbing was cut short by the tide rolling in, making it difficult to get from rock to rock without going for a swim. It was about time to head back and pack up camp anyway, so it was sort of like Mother Nature was literally “mothering” us. Alright, girls, time to get going. Don’t make me count to three. Well played, Mom.

selfie on shi shi beach olympic national park

The clouds were all but gone, leaving only a few wisps scattered across the sky, and the sun blazing down on us. It was as perfect a beach day as I’d ever seen. We took our shoes off and hiked back to our campsite along the shore, the waves kissing our feet as we went.

Unfortunately for Lindsey, the ocean stroll had an unexpected, and rather grotesque consequence. As prepared as she was for this Ladycation, there was one important detail she’d put off till the last minute: hiking boots. Let the following story serve as a reminder of the importance of breaking in your footwear before you hike.

Point of the Arches

First aid supplies were not something we skimped on, thankfully (one of the benefits of hiking with people who work in the medical field). We had sterile gauze bandages, waterproof bandages, betadine swabs, alcohol wipes, mole skin, we even had a scalpel. Good thing, too, cause we needed all of it. ALERT! What follows may give you a case of the “icks.”

Sea Stacks

Lindsey’s brand new hiking boots had left blisters on the backs of both her ankles. She’d cleaned and bandaged them before bed, and again in the morning, however, despite the cool, ocean waves feeling amazing in the moment, they had also washed sand into the blisters. We’d never seen anything like it. Where once there had been typical, water filled blisters, were now horrifying looking pockets of sand beneath the skin. It was sick, you guys.IMG_3212

We figured she had two options, neither of which sounded appealing. One: she could wrap them up with a thick layer of mole skin and try to suck it up for the hike out, or, two: she could cut open the thin layer of skin holding the sand, clean it out, and bandage it up right there. Both options would hurt like hell (and be super, super gross).IMG_3203

Option two seemed like the safer bet since leaving the sand in there sounded like a great way to get an infection, so our campsite briefly became a surgical suite. I can’t tell you how awful it was to watch this operation take place. Not so much the actual process (I was a nursing assistant for years, I’m used to gross) but her face while she worked. It was agonizing. She had to remove the top layer of skin and wipe the sand away with alcohol pads. Alcohol pads! On open skin! I just can’t. . . It was horrible. Like an episode of Fear Factor that you don’t want to watch, but can’t look away from. I would’ve given anything for Joe Rogan to pop out of the forest at that moment, just to pry my eyes away from the scene before me. . . and maybe share some ganja. Despite looking like she was on the verge of passing out, Lindsey took it like a woman. I don’t know how she did it, and I don’t know that I could have. I guess this is an example of, “If you had to, could you?” For Lindsey, the answer is, “Hell yes. Pass the scalpel.”IMG_3053

The ocean, the tide pools, the arches, and sea stacks. . . This place will blow your mind. We didn’t want to leave (and not just because Lindsey’s feet were jacked)! I will definitely go back someday, and I want to spend a couple days this time. One night just wasn’t enough time in a place as spectacular as Shi Shi. Beach camping is everything I’d dreamed it would be and then some. But, we had an Enchanted Valley to hike to, so we climbed up to the trail and trekked back to the car, driving to our hotel for a night of sleeping in a bed before our next Olympic National Park adventure.

Shi Shi Beach Hiking and Camping 101: A Complete Guide

  • Reservations: You do not need a reservation to camp on Shi Shi Beach!
  • Wilderness Permit: The National Park Service requires you to purchase a wilderness pass for any overnight trip within the park. This can be obtained at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles, or the South Shore Lake Quinault Ranger Station. Passes are $8/person/night
  • Makah Recreation Permit: Because the trail to Shi Shi is on Native American land you must purchase a pass to hike it. Neah Bay, the closest town to the trail head, has several locations where these can be obtained. Permits are $10/vehicle
  • Getting There: I’d love to give you directions, but I couldn’t retrace our steps if my life depended on it. There were a lot of construction detours when we were there making all my written directions useless and the lack of cell signal meant our GPS wasn’t working either. My best advice would be to go old school and take a map. It’s a very remote area and you can’t count on technology. At one point we’d driven several miles in the wrong direction before realizing our mistake. Pretend it’s the olden days—take a map. Click here for Makah reservation’s directions, but remember construction detours can cause the route to change.
  • Parking: The parking lot is literally someone’s yard. They charge $10 a night to use their property, and there are registration forms and an envelope to put your cash in. You’re supporting entrepreneurial small business owners. It’s a win-win.
  • Climate: While warm, sunny, summer days aren’t out of the question, Shi Shi Beach averages temperatures in the 40’s to low 60’s year round. Make sure you pack accordingly, and always bring your rain jacket or poncho.
  • Terrain: While the first half of the trail is a boardwalk, the second half of the trail is very muddy. Wear your old, dirty hiking boots instead of your new, cute ones. It’s also a good idea to pick up a tide chart, especially if you plan to continue your hike past Point of the Arches. Some areas can only be accessed during low tide.
  • Distance: Shi Shi Beach is 2 miles from the parking area. Point of the Arches is 2.5 miles from the trail, walking along the beach. This hike can easily be done in a day, but staying the night will allow more time to explore this beautiful area.
  • Water: The only source of freshwater at Shi Shi is a creek that empties into the ocean about a mile down the beach. It’s advised that you treat or filter this water before drinking.
  • Campsites: There are no assigned campsites, you can pitch your tent wherever you’d like along the beach. Be sure to take note of the tide line, and camp above it, so you don’t end up going for a swim in your sleep.
  • Campfires: Be aware that while campfires are permitted on Shi Shi, all fires must be above the high tide line and only driftwood can be collected. Removing wood from the forest is strictly prohibited.
  • Toilets: We’d read that there are pit toilets, but we never saw them. We weren’t really looking either, though. Unless you plan on setting up camp near the Point or the trail head where they’re located, they won’t do you much good anyway. Prepare to rough it.

Camping on Shi Shi Beach: The Place I Found Zen

I don’t have the words to adequately describe the breathtaking beauty of Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park. Nor could I have imagined a more perfect first backpacking experience. I will forever look at this hike as the beginning of my love affair with both backcountry camping and the Pacific Northwest.

Locked and Loaded
Our bags were packed and we were ready to hike!

We arrived at the parking area (which is literally someone’s yard, so you get to hike and support small business. It’s a win-win) around dinnertime. It was drizzling and a fog was descending, blanketing the forest in a fine mist. It looked like a fairyland; some magical, enchanted world in another dimension. It was absolutely haunting.

The first mile or so of the trail is primarily a boardwalk and series of bridges that wind through a mystical Sitka spruce forest, working its way to the coast. When the boardwalk ends, the trail becomes almost entirely mud. There are bypasses around the exceptionally muddy areas, but they’re only slightly less muddy. Mud on mud on mud. We were pretty filthy by the time we reached the beach, so be prepared to get dirty, in the most literal sense, if you choose to do this hike—which you absolutely should.

 

 

It was so quiet on the trail. It felt like the fog was holding in all the sound, providing a barrier with the outside world, almost like being underwater. That eerie silence only added to the feeling of isolation as we trekked farther and farther from civilization; the fog growing thicker and thicker with each step. It was the ideal setting for a horror movie or supernatural thriller, so I half expected a bunch of kids to come running out of the forest, screaming about alternate dimensions and a girl with superpowers.  Stranger Things have happened. . . (If you don’t get that reference, you really need to up your Netflix game.)

As we approached the coast we started to hear the distant sound of waves crashing on the beach. The sound got louder until the trees opened up to reveal giant sea stacks jutting out of the ocean on the shoreline below. The fog seemed to extend infinitely, giving everything it touched a muted tone and soft edges. With no man made structures anywhere in sight, this place seemed timeless. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a pirate ship appear on the horizon.

Sea Stacks
The view when we arrived at the coast was spectacular.

It’s not until you reach the descent to the beach that you officially enter Olympic National Park, leaving the Makah reservation behind (special thanks going out to the Makah people for sharing their beautiful land with us). There are ropes rigged up between the trees to assist with the climb down, though it wasn’t nearly as difficult or harrowing an experience as I’d expected, which was both a relief and a disappointment at the same time.

 

 

Once at the bottom we emerged from the forest through a small, tunnel-like opening in the trees (total Chronicles of Narnia moment), onto the massive expanse of sun-bleached driftwood covered sand that is Shi Shi Beach. We made it! I love the ocean and, as a Midwesterner, seeing it is always exciting. But coming out of the woods with all my gear on my back and walking towards the Pacific was a moment I’ll not soon forget. I felt strong, confident, and in total awe of the scene before me.

Victory
The ocean seemed to be calling to us when we arrived.

Looking out to the horizon, we couldn’t tell where the ocean stopped and the sky began. We stood in wonder, admiring the rock formations framing the beach on either end, before we set out to find a place to make camp. With only about an hour of light left, we didn’t waste any time. There’s no assigned camp sites on Shi Shi; you just park your tent wherever suits you. We found a spot about 100 yards from where we entered the beach in a small, stone cove tucked in along the treeline. It provided excellent protection from the elements, and privacy from anyone who may camp nearby. It was perfect.

There was enough driftwood scattered around the beach to get us through the night, but it was a project gathering and carrying it all back to camp. Our legs got one hell of a workout trudging through the sand while dragging giant logs behind us.

 

 

Once we got our fire going we set up our stove and made dinner. We each brought a can of soup; nothing fancy, but a hot meal nonetheless. It was our first time using the camp stove and we learned a very quick lesson about its stability. Namely, it didn’t have any. Lindsey’s can of soup toppled over, spilling half its contents onto the sand while we stood there helplessly, realizing we also didn’t have anything to grip the hot can with. Total backpacker fail. She managed to use her shirt sleeve as a hot mitt and salvage what was left of her soup. We’d been feeling like we were the most badass women in the world, so that was a good lesson in humility. After spending several hours in the rain and mist, even the half spilled, somewhat burned soup was a luxury, warming us from the inside out.

We sat around the fire for a while listening to the sound of the waves, huddled up in our rain jackets and long johns; not even talking, just absorbing our surroundings. I think it was the first time we felt truly relaxed on the trip. Kayaking and seeing Seattle had been a blast, but this was true tranquility. Listening to the sound of the ocean is hypnotizing. It has this incredible ability to quiet my mind, slow down my thoughts, and focus them. I hadn’t felt such pure contentedness and peace in a long time. We knew there were other people on the beach, but everyone was spread out enough that we barely noticed we weren’t the only people in the world.

Campfire
The view while sitting fireside at our campsite. Not too shabby.

Lindsey went to bed fairly quickly, but I wasn’t ready for the night to end. I love that time of night, when the world is asleep and everything is still. That’s my time. So I kept the fire going, burning all the wood we’d worked so hard to collect, and relived the day through the pictures I’d taken. I listened to the ocean as the tide rolled in, letting the sound of every wave wash over me. Each one washed away another anxiety, another worry; sweeping every negative thought out to sea with it as it receded. It left me feeling centered, like I now truly understood what it meant to be “zen.”

I never bothered getting out my sleeping mat that night, opting instead to sleep on the sand (inside the tent, of course). It took a minute to carve out the appropriate ditches (boobs, hips, feet—it’s like making a snow angel in your tent, then just not getting up), but once I did and was settled into my beach front, ocean view “room,” with my calm mind and exhausted body, the most wonderful sleep took me over. I drifted to sleep with the sound of the ocean putting me in an almost meditative state, restoring my body to prepare for the trek to Point of the Arches in the morning. It was hard to believe how much we’d already done considering how many adventures were still to come on our Washington Ladycation!

Be sure to check out my guide to camping on Shi Shi Beach for everything you need to know before you hike, and read the next installment: our hike to Point of the Arches!

Thank you so much for stopping by!

~Steph