James Island

Posted by Ken Campbell March 29, 2008 0 Comment 369 views

James Island stands like a sentinel at the mouth of the Quillayute River near the Olympic coastal town of La Push. The complicated currents that surround the island make for an exciting place to take a sea kayak, when the weather is good, anyway. When winter storms beat down on the coast, however, the beaches around La Push are pounded with giant Pacific breakers… no place for the faint of heart. The local Coast Guard station is one of the busiest anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

The Quileute people, whose descendents still live near the mouth of the river that bears their name, once used James Island as a fortress against marauding tribes from other parts of the coast. The island used to be connected to the mainland by a sandy causeway. When invaders were sighted bearing down on the village, the entire community would scamper across the bridge and seal themselves among the high relief of the island. They would boil water in baskets woven from reeds and dump the water on the outsiders as they mounted their attack. The island has very steep sides with crumbling handholds and tricky footpaths; it is difficult to ascend under the best of circumstances. With howling defenders hurling boiling water at their heads, it must have given invading tribes some second thoughts about the wisdom and efficacy of their actions.

There is a uniquely Northwest event held here called the Surf Pummel. Kayakers and surfers come here each winter to try their luck in the high-intensity, crappy, towering winter surf off of James Island. Sometimes the waves are twenty feet high, blown violently onto the shore by forty-knot winds on days when the slanting rain reduces visibility to a few hundred feet, at best.

I have never gone to this event, but I’m thinking about going next year. It is an amazingly beautiful and powerful spot and, at this point, other than having boiling water dumped on my head by angry locals, the Pummel might be, so far, the most painful thing I associate with the area.

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