Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Olympic Coast Backpacking




One more month until my Olympic coast adventure. 4 days and 3 nights in Olympic National Park on the wildest (and most beautiful) coast in the lower 48 states. Me, Luke, Steve and Steve, into the wild. I have been planning this trip since November and it hasn't been simple.

I have never backpacked on an ocean beach before, and I have heard that the changing tide can cause a lot of problems for people. For one, a high tide can bring your progress to a complete halt if your route is blocked by water. Worse, if you are caught in the high tide with no means to escape to higher ground, you can be swept out to sea. So I bought a "Custom Correct" map which shows me every point on the coast that will be impassible at high tide, and any possible alternate routes. Coupled with a "Tide Table" that actually predicts the changing tide, I am confident we will overcome. From what I gather, it will simply be a race against time. In other words, we will have to race to the locations that are impassable at high tide in order to beat the tide.

The weather is another major concern. The Olympic peninsula is the wettest location in the United States. April is the wettest month. We will be in the rainiest place during the rainiest time. Should be interesting. I have taken, I believe, every necessary precaution. Waterproof (but breathable) jacket and pants, boots and gators, and a pack cover. I have even bought waterproof stuff sacks for my gear. My biggest concern in this regard is my new camera. It is a big SLR with a big lens. Figuring out how to pack it, and how to keep it dry will be challenging.

In camp our biggest concern will be the wildlife. It seems that the raccoons living at the forest edge on the coast are ultra-aggressive. They will steal your food and ransack your gear if you are not paying attention. The park is also full of black bears, who are notorious food thieves. As a result the park requires all backcountry campers to carry bear canisters. I have never seen one in person but from the pictures they look like large hard-plastic can like cylinders. All food must be stored in the canisters at all times. We have to pick them up at the ranger station, and as of now we aren't sure how many we will need for 4 people, or how we will pack them.

Our last problem that we still haven't actually solved yet, is how we will be shuttled from trailhead to trail's end. The route goes from south to north straight up the coast for about 20 miles and then cuts almost due east another three miles to the Ozette Lake ranger station, which will still be closed during our trip. I had planned on using a shuttle service that would allow us to drop the truck off at the trail's end, and drop us off at the trailhead. Sadly, I learned that the woman who ran the shuttle service has passed away, and as of this writing (as far as I know) there is no shuttle service at all along the coast. I guess we will have to simply call a cab at the nearest town which I think is Port Angeles and hope they will drive into the park. I am really keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

These and a slew of smaller issues such as catching a ferry across the sound, picking Steve Keller up in Port Townsend, the long drive there and back, and the dozens of other intangibles, should make for one hell of a trip. I have geared up and kept fit by hiking all winter long, so I am ready. I say, "bring it on." I know it will be the trip of a lifetime.