The forgotten coast

Posted by Ken Campbell July 16, 2008 0 Comment 632 views

From Cape Flattery south to La Push, the Olympic coast is almost completely roadless. There is one road that winds along the shore of Makah Bay and deadends in a parking lot, which is where many hikers leave their cars before going to Shi Shi beach and beyond, following the coast south. It is a wonderful exercise, to leave the reservation and enter a land of hoodoo stacks and offshore sunkers, where the relentless waves crash constantly on the golden sand. Eagles live here, and whales. It is visited by thousands of hikers during the summer, but the rest of the year it is all but deserted. Not a single road.

I have kayaked the roadless coast from Neah Bay to La Push on a dozen different trips. It is a water journey that would be unique regardless of where it was; the fact that it is here in my own Olympic back yard makes it even more special. I have backpacked portions of the beach as well, which is a completely different perspective than what is seen from the water.

After the shore transitions from reservation land to National Park, the next road isn’t seen until La Push. Over 40 miles of roadless coast, the longest such remaining stretch of land in the lower 48. From La Push, the two-lane blacktop jags east, through clear cuts and third-growth fir, and comes out at Forks, the “big city” of the west side. This is the road I’ve taken to do the shuttle on all my other coastal paddles.

South of La Push, however, there’s another 17 miles of coastline that has only one road, the byway that ends at the small Indian settlement at the mouth of the Hoh River. Highway 101 touches the shore again at Ruby Beach and the roadless magic is gone.

There have been some trips I’ve made out here when I’ve planned on going the distance, making a one-way paddle from Neah Bay to Ruby Beach, but by the time I’ve gotten to La Push, I’ve packed it in. I think of that last 17 miles as the “forgotten coast,” quite honestly because I’ve forgotten about it most of the time.

In a couple weeks, I’ll be paddling that forgotten coast. In my mind, I’m already gone.

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