Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Shipwreck Coast II - The Harder They Fall

Spirits were high Friday morning as we awoke to the songs of sea birds and the ever present breathing of the mighty Pacific. We set out expecting an easier road, one devoid of ankle-spraining rocks and sock-soaking tide pools, but it was not to be. The terrain only worsened. As we continued north the already narrow strip of beach was replaced by vertical cliffs and huge boulders that forced us further out the rocky sea bed, now exposed because of the low tide.

A half-hour into our walk the gray overcast sky above opened up and started to rain. We were prepared of course. The winter months spent with weekly visits to REI produced a wealth of rain gear for me, Luke, and Uncle Steve. Stevie on the other hand wasn’t as well prepared. His rain gear consisted of a cheap plastic red poncho, and a black garbage bag for his pack cover. I was worried about his rain gear leading up to the trip. Any time I brought it up however, brought a confident “I’m not worried about the rain” reply. Now, as the rain pelted us from above I was worried about Stevie. “I should have brought an extra rain jacket just in case,” I told myself. Stevie though is from a hardy breed. Mixed Cherokee and Irish, he is one of the toughest men I’ve ever known, and true to form he never even flinched at the downpour, or showed the slightest bit of concern for himself.

The rain didn’t let up, and an hour later the rocks we had to walk across were slicker then a freshly waxed gym floor. We had to move carefully or risk spraining an ankle, or falling and breaking a bone. Despite our caution we all fell down periodically. It was amazing that none of us were hurt. We walked for hours this way; plodding along, eyes darting left and right searching for the best place to step, gingerly testing each surface with our toes before committing our full weight. Our heads were down most of the day as sightseeing gave way to path finding.

It’s said that an average hiker walks 2 miles per hour over flat ground. We were probably doing half that speed or less. As morning became afternoon we searched for a place to get out of the rain, take our packs off for a while, and have some lunch. Our only respite a small cave near a headland covered in rocks and tide pools. Only three of us would fit in the cave at a time, so we rotated.

I wanted to move. I was worried about Stevie. Under his poncho his clothes were already wet, and I could see spots of moisture on his sleeping bag. Hypothermia is the biggest killer of humans in the wild, and even though we were far from that point, I couldn’t help but feel like we needed urgently to get Stevie out of the rain before his gear was soaked, and the only way to do that was to find our camp, set up our tents, and build a fire.

After a short snack we were back at it, now however, I was on a mission. The map said our camp was close. On a large beach a couple miles ahead at a place called “Yellow Banks”, after the yellow colored cliffs on the beach head. Luke and I, rounding a small cape, came in sight of our beach, and one of the most glorious sights of our trip. The beach, to me, looked like it was straight out of King Kong or The Lost World. It was sand, mostly, with the usual piles of large deadfalls scattered about. What made this beach different were two things. First the waves were much higher than we had previously seen. They came roaring into the small bay creating tunnels like the ones you see in the surfer movies, and then exploded like a bomb when they hit the beach. The second thing was this beach had high cliffs surrounded by thick jungle. The coastal forest of the Olympic peninsula is a rainforest after all, and at the Yellow Banks is where it really lived up to that billing. The word that best comes to mind to describe the scene is “savage.”

While Luke hung back to wait for the two Steve’s, I scouted on ahead to try and locate our camp. Immediately I noticed the sky was filled with huge birds, five or six at a time flying and circling overhead. The Bald Eagle was the easy one to pick out, but there were others, at least one, and perhaps two. I am not a bird guy so it was hard to tell the species, but I think now there were the Peregrine Falcon, and maybe the Osprey or some type of hawk. Anyways, they were magnificent, and much of the time spent at Yellow Banks I watched and took pictures.

Eventually after much recon, and almost stumbling over a large seal carcass with exposed ribs, rotted flesh and bulging eyes, I discovered a nearly vertical mud trail ascending a 15 foot embankment with a rope hanging down. I grabbed the rope and hauled myself up and found a camp. It was far from ideal, but we made it work. Uncle Steve had a fire going in no time despite the utter lack of anything dry. Not long after the rain stopped, and we proceeded with the business of pitching our tents and trying to find a water source, which we found in a beautiful saddle tucked away between two steep hills…

Later that night, just before dark, Stevie decided to try his luck at Army Ranger. Grabbing the rope that led to camp he tried to repel down the embankment… Now Stevie has taken some classic tumbles in his day. I have personally witnessed Stevie take some falls that would maim and injure a normal man, and pop right up. This has to take the cake. Steve jumps backwards with rope in his hands, and the steak that the rope is tied to comes out of the ground. Head over heels backwards down the hill he goes. When he hits the bottom he rolls over rocks and deadfalls, and then jumps right up as if nothing happened. He is so lucky he wasn’t hurt. Of course, once I realized he wasn’t hurt, I laughed my ass off.

to be continued...

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