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Trip Report

Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches, Cape Alava, Sand Point & North Coast Route — Tuesday, Jun. 15, 2010

Olympic Peninsula
North Shi Shi Beach (Point of the Arches in the distance)
Jim and I decided to take advantage of the extreme low tides, by doing a beach hike. We chose the section between Shi Shi Beach and Sand Point. I knew from doing this hike ten years ago that mileages are deceptive when hiking the wilderness coast. Most sections can be hiked only at low tide, and then at a much slower pace than you might expect. We also wanted to devote one low tide to exploring North Shi Shi Beach. So we planned for a five day trip, including travel and car shuttle times. Should we hike southbound with the sun in our face, and likely the wind? We looked at a tide table and concluded that southbound would be best. We could cross the Ozette River in late morning and continue hiking south, whereas northbound we wouldn't be able to go very far past the Ozette. It ended up being a good decision. A layer of marine clouds filtered the sun most of the time we were walking anyway, and the wind was at our back on day 4, when we had the most exposure. We left one vehicle at Ozette Lake then drove the other to Neah Bay. After obtaining a Makah Recreation Permit, we drove to a private parking lot near the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, and set out. Although very wet and muddy looking, the trail wasn't as bad as I feared. You could often step in a gooey looking spot without sinking in. Trekking poles were very helpful for probing. When we reached the beach after 2 miles, the tide was medium and receding. We had an easy walk on sand 1.5 miles to Petroleum Creek, where we set up camp. The creek is most easily crossed on the drift log jam above the high tide mark. A bald eagle kept us company, perching in a tree above our camp when it was not standing in Petroleum Creek near the surf. We spent the second day exploring tidal pools and the sea caves of north Shi Shi Beach during a -1.4' tide. The jagged sea stacks made for a very photogenic foreground. Near the rusting remnants of a shipwreck was the oddest piece of beach debris I've seen since finding intact fluorescent bulbs during a beach cleanup event. On the sand was a freezer turkey with its plastic netting and weight tag still intact. (Curiously, although thawed, it did not smell.) During the evening low tide, we walked out to Point of the Arches to scope out how low a tide we needed to get around it. Medium low looked adequate. I knew from a previous hike (northbound) that the route between the Ozette River and Point of the Arches cannot be done quickly; the route is just too gnarly. So on day 3, we set out from Petroleum Creek a couple hours before peak low tide. We rounded Point of the Arches and the following point easily, passing a deer on the shore as we came to an overland route and our first "rope assist". This was one of two rope assists along our journey that I consider required. Others you can use if you choose to. (Generally they are helpful.) But it would be very difficult to climb (or descend) the bottom 6 feet of rock on this route without using the rope, especially while wearing a backpack. Note: All overland routes are marked by a circular sign, with alternating black and orange quarters. Multiple ropes led us up the rock, and then the dirt path, to the top of the headland. Then it was just a matter of following the trail over the headland until it dropped down to the beach again. There were ropes at the south end too, but the dirt slope was dry enough to downclimb without needing them. We dropped into a small cove choked with drift logs and debris. We could see the telltale marker for another overland route (with rope assists) at the opposite side. We scaled it and continue overland around Will's Point. In this section, there was one large blowdown that you must duck under or go around. Continuing south, the trail meanders through forest for awhile before beginning a steep descent that featured several rope assists. The beach at the end of this route was a field of boulders, as noted on the Green Trails map. After negotiating the boulders, there were smaller rocks and then a sloping shore of deep course sand, leading to the final overland route of the day. This one started with an easy uphill, but finished with a treacherous downhill section - the other "required" rope assist. Put away your trekking poles before using this rope. It's long, and the narrow slick dirt path curves as you follow it. So the rope has a tendency to throw you and your pack to one side as you descend. Use this rope one person at a time, and pay attention. I tried to carry my poles in one hand and got a bloody knee for my efforts. You want both hands free and gloves are very helpful, even when the rope isn't wet or muddy. At the bottom was a drop of about 3 feet - not a big deal, except when the taut rope is snagged on turf, preventing it from hanging straight. So when you step down, you might also swing to one side. Be ready. There was a trickle of water just south of the base of this rope assist. In a pinch, you might be able to filter from it. I used it to wash my bloody knee, and then we set off to round the next rocky point. South of Seafield Creek (Duck Point), there were some large trees laid over into the surf. (They've been there for years.) If the tide is low enough, you can walk around the tops without difficulty. If not, some scrambling up and over obstacles on the shore may be required. The final point of land along this stretch is just a half mile north of the Ozette River. It can be rounded at a medium tide. There are camps in the woods on the north side of the Ozette River. It is remarkable to watch the appearance of the river crossing change over the course of several hours. At high tide, the crossing is not visible. Even at low tide, it's not obvious. The preferred crossing route is to follow an arc as close to the surf as you safely can, well away from the mouth of the river where the current is strong. The crossing is partially sandy but involves walking on a lot of rocks. I've crossed with bare feet, but my feet were sore (and cold) afterwards. Best are water shoes or sandals that are strapped to your feet. Don't rely on flip-flops; they will be promptly sucked down into the sandy bottom where the current is strong, leaving you struggling to move. (Trust me on this.) On day 4, we crossed the Ozette one hour before a -0.2' tide. The water was about knee deep, but splashed up as we walked, easily soaking our shorts. This was after several days of no rain, and therefore lower flow. (I've also crossed at a peak low minus tide, when the water was less than a foot deep.) Just don't underestimate the potential difficulty of this crossing. At the second cove south of the Ozette, we saw hikers climbing down from a marked overland route. This was not on my map, so after we rounded the headland, I looked back to see if there was a marker on the south side. There was. Without having done the overland route, I would guess that it should be used if you are heading north and are late getting to the Ozette. For example, we encountered a couple walking north approaching that point. They thought they had a half hour until peak low tide, but the ranger had given them the wrong day's time; it was already a half hour after peak low. They needed to hurry, and this overland route would help. (This is also a good time to say, always carry a tide table with you, and know the day and time.) As we approached Tshawahyah Island (aka Cannonball Island), the terrain changed briefly to sand, and then to rocks and gravel covered with rotting seaweed. This type of terrain persisted past Cape Alava and beyond. At Cape Alava, seals or sea lions could be heard barking almost nonstop, but they were way out from shore. Even with a monocular, I could not see them. South of Cape Alava, the rock and gravel surface (with intermittent seaweed) limited walking speed. There were also numerous fallen trees, stretching from the land out to the medium tide level. We were able to walk around all of the trees. Day hikers could duck under some of them, but this is not a pleasant option when you're carrying a full pack. Some trees had overland routes around them, so that might be an option too if the tide is too high. But these trees are too big to climb over. There were markers for an overland route at Wedding Rocks, but we were able to walk around, and even cut across the bay on the south side (after photographing the petroglyphs of course). We continued south, hurrying to beat the tide. Once we passed the final point before Sand Point, the rocks turned to sand once again, albeit still with some seaweed. But the walking was once again easy. There were also a lot of people again. We walked past one overland route symbol (leading back to Ozette Lake) and continued toward Sand Point itself, a promontory at the end of a peninsula. We passed another overland symbol, which leads into the forest and camp sites, and clambered over drift logs to cross to the south side of Sand Point. About 0.4 mile south of the point, via the south shore or the forest path, is the water source for the area. The water looks reddish, but after filtering it into a clear plastic bottle, it has the amber color of a pilsner. (No, just the color.) Sand Point itself has a scramble trail to the top of the hill, which affords a 360 degree view that is not to be missed. A few people took advantage of this to view the gorgeous sunset that closed out day 4. On day 5, we followed the forest path northeast, parallel to the shore north of the Point. Where it intersected a beach access trail (the first overland route we had encountered the day before), we continued straight, arriving at Ozette Ranger Station 2.8 miles later.
Point of the Arches
Boulders and an Overland Route
View south from atop Sand Point