Shi-Shi or Bust
A midwinter journey
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
The journey started, as all good journeys do, with a stack of pancakes at a backwoods cafe.
The Breakwater Restaurant, on the outskirts of Clallam Bay, to be precise. Friendly waitress, plentiful coffee, old-timers at the counter—just what the doctor ordered. We were on our way to the Olympic Wilderness Coast for three days of backpacking and would need full bellies for energy.
Satiated, content and full of anticipation (and pancakes), we drove out the last lonely road toward Hobuck Beach on the Makah Reservation. At the trailhead for Shi-Shi Beach, we slipped into our packs and headed off through the depths of the rainforest. No rain—the forecast, which promised clear skies, seemed to be correct. Sunshine on the Olympic Coast in February? It’s like winning the lottery.
After a few miles slogging through the mud (rain or no rain, the mud here is a constant) we climbed down the cliff on newly constructed trail to the edge of the forest and emerged onto the beach. The sky was a dazzling blue and the sunshine gleamed on the roiling sea—hallelujah!
Heading south down the empty beach on an incoming tide, we encountered Petroleum Creek after a mile and a half and high-stepped across it on rocks (nicely washing the mud from my boots). At tiny Willoughby Creek we dropped our packs and established camp among moss-covered trees and salal gardens at the edge of the sand. The creek flowed across the beach in a complicated series of furrows and sinuous channels, like a scale model of a great river. The sun was warm and there was not a breath of wind.
As twilight gathered itself over the beach the sand was bronzed by the setting sun. The Point of Arches, a mile-long procession of sea stacks, extended out into the sea like a flotilla of dark ships. I sat silently on a driftwood log, bathed in rich, golden light, savoring the stillness until darkness claimed the scene.
Back at camp, we coaxed a reluctant campfire to life as the sky filled with stars, the Milky Way pouring itself into the dark sea. Late in the evening, a nearly full moon rose above the waves, illuminating the sea in a spectral glow.
In the morning we explored the beach in the sweet, benevolent sunshine. Oyster catchers gathered at the mouth of the creek, fishing for breakfast. Eagles circled patiently overhead.
I wandered out the Point of Arches on the retreating tide, picking my way along the colonnade of sea stacks until stopped by the surf. The afternoon passed in a succession of small discoveries: scrimshaw of sand worms; elegant reflections in small, still pools; glossy tangles of bull kelp; emerald green moss and tiny anemones; the hieroglyphics of weather-worn beach logs. Water rippled across the beach like a hundred Tibetan sand paintings as the sun once again sank into the Pacific and the sky burned orange and magenta.
I’ve spent many evenings here on this beautiful beach and the experience never fails to fill me with gratitude.
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