A night at Toleak Point
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
We rendezvoused at the Third Beach trailhead in a downpour.
My traveling pals had come up from southern Oregon—brave fools. I’d come across on the Chetzemoka (named for a long-deceased Chief of the Klallam tribe) from the ferry terminal at Coupeville to Port Townsend. The sun held out until Lake Crescent, west of Port Angeles. Then it began to rain. And rain.
Normally, I’d go gallivanting off into the tempest, but cooler heads prevailed and a bivouac at the Olympic National Park campground at Mora was determined to be just the ticket. And it was. We ate macaroni and cheese beside the fire, beneath the tarp. (If life gets better than this, let me know.)
In the morning, the Sun Gods were smiling upon us. We returned to the Third Beach trailhead and huffed our packs down through the forest to the wide beach, raked clean by the retreating tide.
We walked south along the sand until confronted by the jutting jaw and flashing waterfall of Taylor Point and climbed the “sand ladder,” a uniquely Olympic coastal trail feature, steel cables bridged by wooden steps, to gain the top of the headland. On top, we crossed what can only be described as a jungle through boot-sucking mud.
Eventually, we descended slippery slopes back to the beach. Walking on smooth, compacted sand was a pleasure and we quickly reached Scotts Bluff, which, in theory, can be rounded at low tide. On this day, at low tide, the theory was radically unconvincing—waves crashing on the sheer cliffs—so we looked for the sand ladder to climb the headland, but discovered it had been attached to a tree that had gone down in a winter storm. In its place was a dangling rope, hanging from a muddy cliff. We climbed it, one by one, slipping and sliding and hanging on for dear life, like Keystone Cops with enormous backpacks.
Across the top of the bluff we went, through salal the size of small trees and lots more of the gaiter-slathering mud to the far edge, where we discovered that the wooden stairs that facilitate descent had been reduced to splintery bits by a fallen cedar.
A trail crew was there working on the problem, and they were a profoundly unhappy-looking bunch, sullenly wielding their pulaskis, miserable and tired. “One thing’s for sure,” the crew boss told us, “it’s different every year.” Amen to that.
Back on the beach, we made good time toward the distant Giant’s Graveyard, a line of black sea stacks lined up like dark battleships offshore. At Scott Creek we removed our boots to ford the stream, which was freezing, an instant ice cream headache for the feet. We dropped our packs at Toleak Point and made camp beneath the first gnarled trees above the beach.
At the end of the day, the sun flared orange and crimson on the sea and we coaxed a smoky fire to life. The fire burned down and my weary traveling companions slipped off to bed, one by one. The usual situation: I was alone by the dying embers, listening to the music of the waves.
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