Coasting, Part II

Posted by Ken Campbell August 25, 2008 0 Comment 1119 views

It was a foggy morning in La Push. The marine layer had been thick for the past couple of days, but it was supposed to move offshore later in the afternoon. John and I hauled the kayaks across the wide swath of drift logs and down to the sand. We packed them as the tide rose, stuffing our gear for the next two days into the hatches. Micah oversaw the details, checking each hatch after we’d finished, making sure the hatch covers were properly placed. He and his mother would be going to the rainforest that day, doing a spot of car-camping while his old man was out at sea.

Goodbyes all around, and then it was time to break surf. The waves weren’t big, but the incoming tide gave them a kick. I picked my line through the breakers as I paddled, adjusting the angle of the kayak as the waves came and went. We paddled a parallel course to the beach once we got past the surf zone, although there were times when we couldn’t actually see the sand. We navigated by the sound of the crashing waves.

After about ten minutes, Crying Lady Rock emerged from the mist. At high tide the rock would be an offshore stack, but with the water still fairly low, it was connected to Second Beach by a sandy causway. The fog had begun its retreat, and even though it hadn’t fully cleared up yet, it was just a matter of time. There were people on the beach, dayhikers mostly. It’s a short walk down a good trail to get here.

It was here, or shortly after, that we came to our first standing arch. A high and grand natural arch, sculpted by thousands of years of wind and water. We paddled under it as the swells moved our kayaks through the water. Oystercatchers and harbor seals watched us from their perches on the outlying rocks. Even though we were a quarter-mile from shore on the Pacific coast, the water here was smooth and easy, the protection given by the standing stones and rock gardens was complete.

Down the coast we went, south. The fog would pull away when we were paddling into the bays, then reach back in at the headlands. When we crossed Strawberry Bay, we paddled in full sunlight. The air was warm but fresh, in that freshness that is only possible on the ocean. We navigated from rock to rock, from stack to spire. The actual paddling was superb. Other arches came and went, and the wildlife that made their homes on the rocky outcroppings seemed relatively unfazed by our passing. We saw sea otter playing among the kelp and at one poit , there was a pair of porpoises that closed toward us for a closer look.

After two hours, after dodging the waves and playing in the rock gardens of Toleak Point, I said something to John, to the effect that, if this place had some caves, it would be as good a paddling venue as Cape Flattery. The rocks were amazing, the interplay of water and stone was every bit as inspiring as it was up north. Pity, it didn’t have any caves.

From Toleak Point, our course took us well offshore, following a string of stacks out into the deeper swells of the bay. The sun had burst through the fog at this point, and we enjoyed the warmth and the brighter contrasts that came with the added light. The coast in fog seemed to be rendered in black and white. The colors only came when the sun broke through. The rocks and islets out here seemed tougher, more exposed to the surge of the sea. Boomers and sunkers were everywhere, and picking our way from one spot to the next took us further and further away from shore.

There were hikers on the beach from time to time; we could see them as they struggled under their loads, eyes on their feet. We knew that we were getting the better part of the experience, seeing things that could never be seen from the beach. The La Push – Oil City trail is a popular one with the hiking crowd but as I looked at the chart, I was surprised by how many places the “coastal” trail was nowhere near the coast. Many of the points and headlands had to be avaoided, and the trail often wound back deep into the forest. The parts of our journey that stood out for us as being the best were places that no hiker would ever see. I am blessed, and I know it.

By the time we rounded the last stack, the beach was a good mile away. We started back in toward the shore, across blue water that exploded in diamonds when the sun hit it just right.

If only there was a cave.

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