When I think of backpacking at the coast in the Olympic National Park, I think of frolicking in the surf, hot sand and salty cheeks, beach bonfires. Coastal camping in February is not quite the typical scene, but there is something about La Push in the winter. We spent a cold February weekend sleeping on the sand at Second Beach a few days before my 31st birthday and I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate.
Last February, as I turned 30, Meg and I celebrated at Hex Mountain, reflecting on the ways that recreating outdoors had impacted me. As I stood on the snowy mound taking in the view, thinking about this year, I fully expected to simply follow the path I had laid for myself, progressing one step at a time. The universe had a slightly different idea.
With challenges came moments of strength. Recognizing that life was mine to grab and that no one else would do it for me, I embarked on my first two solo backpacking trips. I was gifted with new friends that I feel oh so lucky to stand beside and reminded of the compassion, support and general awesomeness of the family and friends I have known for so long.
This year, I have no naive expectations for the following days, months, years. Explicit goals and milestones have fallen away, replaced by a simple hope. In the words of Mary Oliver:
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
The Trail to Second Beach, Olympic National Park
With a sliver of sunshine in the forecast after Seattle’s snowpocalypse, we headed to the coast for a winter backpacking trip. After a lovely ferry ride and a quick stop to the ranger’s station at Port Angeles to pick up our permit, we made it to the Second Beach trailhead.
It took a few minutes to distribute gear and prepare for the one-mile hike to our campsite on the beach. We all shouldered heavy packs for sleeping outside in February and to enjoy the afternoon on the beach, then hit the trail.
The trail wove through the coastal rainforest as we began to hear the crashing surf in the distance. Before too long, the trail began to descend and we were on the beach, balancing on large driftwood logs. With the confidence of fools, we made our way down the beach searching for a spot to pitch tents that would be above the high-tide line. As we continued to walk, our faith began to dim as we found debris lines right up to the bluff and no dry sand. After walking the full length of the beach and then halfway back to the trail entrance, we finally found a bluff with enough room to pitch a few tents. We put two tents on the sand, while Meg and I opted to pitch the tent up in the woods.
We worked up a bit of an appetite searching for a site and I was thrilled when Meg burst out our lunch for the day. Everyone contributed a snack or two and before we knew it we had ourselves a quality cheese plate, rivaling our spread from the Toleak Point backpacking trip. As we ate the tide continued to retreat, revealing a great number of tide pools to be explored.
Right off the bat, we saw some sea stars! The coastal populations had been decimated by an epidemic called sea star wasting disease; to see the sea stars starting to come back was so exciting! We also saw some tubeworms, anemones, sea cucumbers, sculpin, chitons, and a great many other creatures.
Second Beach Tidepooling
The sun began to hit golden hour as we continued to peer into numerous tidepools. We slowly made our way back to our tents, frolicking in the sunshine as we went. As the sun dropped below the horizon, we ate dinner and Ryan began making a fire. Despite the wet wood, he managed to coax a roaring fire by dessert time and soon it was cozier next to the fire than it would be in our tents.
Meg packed an entire cake in her pack, along with fresh raspberries, so I enjoyed a pre-birthday celebration on the beach. Sitting next to a fire, surrounded by delightful friends, at one of my favorite spots in the state made for a very memorable and happy birthday indeed.
Second Beach Camping
Those with tents on the beach were slightly fearful of waking up with the ocean pushing at their door. Being soaking wet in February is no joke, so we stayed awake for the maximum high tide mark at 11:30 just to be sure. Thanks to a roaring fire, this was enjoyable rather than a chore. Eventually, the tide hit its highest mark and we extinguished the fire and went to bed. It was quite chilly once we were away from the flames with the cold sea air, but with a pair of hand warmers and down booties, I was able to fall asleep.
Morning at Second Beach
We woke up to a sprinkling of rain and a large number of angry clouds in the distance. It was time for a quick breakfast while Nikki painted. The water rapidly approached from the waves and sky as we packed up camp.
As we walked away from our home for the night, fat raindrops began to fall from the sky and we ran to avoid soaking our boots. We rushed into the trees, grateful for cover and made the short walk back to the cars. Then it was back on the road and home with plenty of time for evening naps.
La Push Traditional Land Usage
La Push is one of Washington’s coastal areas that many people are already familiar with, thanks to a large vampire-themed trilogy that takes place at Forks. Yes, I am talking about Twilight.
Unfortunately, La Push is not filled with hunky werewolves with frightening opinions about feminism. It is, however, the traditional lands of the Quileute people. Though, the Quileute creation story does include being changed from wolves by a wandering Transformer.
In 1855 the Quileute tribe signed the Treaty of Quinault River, requiring the Quileutes to move to a reservation at Taholah, but managed to evade the pressure to resettle by being so remote. Eventually, a one-mile reservation at LaPush was established for the 252 inhabitants. While the Quileute were promised hunting, fishing and gatherings rights, they gave up over 800,000 acres of land. In 1889, a settler wrongly claimed the La Push land and burned all of the structures to the ground.
In 1907, land traditionally held by the Quileute people was established as the Quillayute Needles Reservation, encompassing islands off of the coast and designed to protect marine wildlife and habitat. In 1966, James Island was removed from the refuge and returned to the Quileute.