Return to Shi Shi Beach Wilderness Backpacking

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Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

3 days, 2 nights / 8 miles round trip / 200′ elevation gain

Last month my teenage nephew visited from Texas and I wanted to take him on his first backpacking trip.  I knew that Shi Shi Beach would be the perfect destination for a first timer.  We left Seattle as the sun was rising with hopes of arriving at the coast in the late morning.  As we drove closer to Neah Bay, the weather grew dreary with cloud filled skies.  The beginning of this journey was looking very similar to my first trip to Shi Shi Beach earlier this summer.  When we arrived at the day use parking area, I knew we’d be hiking in the rain once again.  After dropping off my nephew with all of our gear at the trailhead, I parked the car at the nearest private lot and walked back.

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My nephew and I at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, Olympic National Park, WA

We hit the trail in the early afternoon and enjoyed splashing around the muddy puddles along the way.  It wasn’t long before we were done tromping through the mud before we arrived at the section of the trail that heads down towards the beach.  Even though I had hiked this section before, I was nervous about the additional weight I was carrying.  While I usually only carry around 25 pounds, this time I was carrying twice as much!  I powered through the anxiety and cautiously made my way down the trail.  All of my anxieties of the steep trail were washed away instantly as we stepped onto the beach.  The rain had stopped and left the sky filled with clouds.  The two of us hiked along the shoreline of the beach with plans to camp closer to Point of the Arches.  After crossing Petroleum Creek, we looked for a spot to set up camp on the beach close to our water source.

The sunsets at Shi Shi Beach are what called me back to visit once again.  I loved having the opportunity to share the experience with my nephew.  I spent over an hour of that evening attempting to build my first fire on my own.  All of the wood was soaked from the days’ rain, and it wasn’t long before I gave up.  Exhaustion from a day of hiking drove us to  the comfort of our tents early that night.

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My nephew watching the sunset on Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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Point of the Arches sunset, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

The next morning I was wakened by the sun warming my tent.  I let the teenager sleep in while I enjoyed my morning coffee and read a book.  I enjoyed the solitude, but was happy when my nephew finally crawled out of his tent.  I was excited to explore Point of the Arches and farther south down the beach.  After breakfast, we packed a lunch and headed out for a day of beach hiking.

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My nephew and I with Point of the Arches, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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Peace rocks, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

After exploring the beach south of Point of the Arches, we headed towards a picnic spot in the shade near an arch.  As we were getting ready to unpack our lunch, we noticed an eagle flying along the beach.  It appeared to be fighting with another bird as it made its’ way along the shoreline.  It landed on a rock and we noticed feathers flying all around it.  That’s when we realised the eagle was preparing its’ lunch as well.  After we enjoyed our picnic, we took off our shoes and explored the tide pools in our bare feet.  The feeling of the cool Pacific Ocean and sand between our toes was welcoming on a hot, sunny day.

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Bald eagle, Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

We arrived back at our campsite in the mid afternoon, and we decided to relax beside Petroleum Creek in the shade.  I read a little more of my book while my nephew took a nap by the creekside.  Once he was rested, we played a few games including bocce ball and Pass the Pigs.  We finally peeled ourselves away from the shaded area among the trees and headed back to our sun filled campsite.  After dinner I was determined to make a fire after the previous nights’ failure.  I spent another hour trying to build a fire without success.  I had almost given up, but after one last try – I finally made fire!  As the sunset and the temperatures dropped we enjoyed the warmth of the fire into the late hours of the night.

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The first fire I have ever made by myself!  Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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Sunset in front of a fire, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We woke on our last morning to a cloudy, misty day.  We decided to wait for breakfast once we got to the tree covered area of the trail, and packed up as quickly as we could.  As we packed, everything was damp and sandy.  Even though I was happy to hike under a cloud filled sky since the previous day had left me slightly sunburned, the rain was not welcomed.

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Crossing Petroleum Creek, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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A doe and two fawn, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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Looking down the trail back towards Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We crawled up towards the forested section of the trail, and were happy to have our feet on solid ground.  Two days of hiking on the sandy beach had exhausted certain muscles in my legs.  The last two miles back through the muddy trail seemed to fly by, and in no time we were right back where we had started two days ago.  As we loaded up our gear into the car, the skies were opening up once again.  The drive home along the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca was filled with blue skies and good conversation with my nephew.  I hope this is a trip he will never forget; I know I won’t.

Return to the North Fork Skokomish River Backpacking

3 days, 2 nights / 16 miles / 3900′ elevation gain

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Black & White Lakes Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

With another long holiday weekend coming up, my husband and I were looking for another backpacking trip to get away from the fast paced city life.  Even though we had already been to the North Fork Skokomish River before, we knew there were many more trails in the area left to explore.  We were seeking out a location to set up a base camp for a few nights and explore the nearby trails via day hiking, and the North Fork Skokomish was just the place.  With hopes of clear skies and opportunities for night photography, I packed up my DSLR and a few lenses in addition to my normal 25 pound pack.  Just like our last trip, we headed towards the Olympic Peninsula late in the evening after my husband got off work.  We enjoyed our stay at the Glen Ayr Resort during our last trip, so we made reservations once again.  After taking a ferry from Seattle late in the evening on Thursday before the Independence Day holiday weekend, we arrived at our home for the night on the banks of the Hood Canal.

Day 1:  5.5 miles / <500′ elevation gain

We woke early on Friday morning in the comfort of our hotel room and loaded our packs with the last few necessary items for a few nights in the wilderness.  We stopped at a local favorite restaurant, The Tides, for a filling breakfast before heading into the Olympic Mountains.  With the hopes of beating the holiday crowds, my husband took a day off work allowing us to arrive at the Staircase Ranger Station on Friday morning just as it was opening.  With our wilderness permits in hand, we hit the trail along the North Fork Skokomish River with Big Log campsite as our destination.  While the Staircase campground was nearly full as we left the parking lot behind us, we felt instant solitude as soon as we hit the trail.  We were virtually alone in the wilderness and had an instant feeling of peace.

Conditions were perfect for a few nights of camping; mild temperatures, blue skies, and no one else around.  Even with the additional weight of my camera and lenses, we moved swiftly along the easy trail as it meandered alongside the river.

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Staircase Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

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Bridge over the North Fork Skokomish, Olympic National Park, WA

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North Fork Skokomish Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

The trail slowly climbs its’ way into the valley with mountains on both sides of it.  Being surrounded by the enormous trees that made up the surrounding forest made me feel so small.  The miles disappeared so quickly as we continued our trek towards Big Log.  As we hiked along, we only passed a few groups of backpackers heading out towards the trailhead.  It wasn’t very long until we reached Madeline Creek, where trail workers were replacing the log crossing that once led the way.  The trail was diverted to the stock trail down below, where we crossed the creek upon a small log.  As we slogged uphill towards the original trail, we thanked the trail volunteers who were harnessed for safety from falling into the creek below.

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Trail workers over Madeline Creek along the North Fork Skokomish, Olympic National Park, WA

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Log crossing Madeline Creek, North Fork Skokomish River Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

Not long after the creek crossing, we reached a sign pointing downhill towards Big Log leading us to the campsites.  We were happy to arrive so quickly and so early in the day.  After taking our packs off and a quick rest, we scoped out the area looking for a spot to call home for the next few nights.  Only a few sites were occupied, and it seemed it was the base camp for the nearby trail workers.  We picked a private spot alongside a very large log with a pre-existing fire pit.  As soon as we settled and prepared to eat lunch, we knew right away that mosquitos were going to be a nuisance.  Thankfully, my husband was able to quickly throw together a smoky fire that seemed to keep the insects at bay.

We were all alone!  We enjoyed a lunch by the fireside in solitude.  We setup camp without the sounds of anyone else around.  We spent the afternoon exploring the riverside, gathering firewood, taking pictures, and enjoying only the company of each other and nature.

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North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA

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North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA

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Rock cairn on log over North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA

It was a beautiful day in the Olympic wilderness, which continued into the evening.  The only neighbors we had for the night were the trail workers who were camping nearby.  They must have been exhausted, because not a sound came from their direction once the sun set.  As we laid in our tents preparing for sleep, the only sounds that could be heard were the rushing waters of the North Fork Skokomish River.  That night, I had the best nights’ sleep I have ever had in a sleeping bag, on a sleeping mat upon the cold, hard ground.

Day 2:  5 miles round trip / 2900′ elevation gain

After a restful night’s’ sleep, we climbed out of our tents excited to explore a new area of the park.  We enjoyed breakfast and coffee beside the fire hoping to keep the persistent mosquitos away.  Once again we were all alone at the campground since the trail workers had already left to continue their work over Madeline Creek.  We packed our daypacks and started our journey hiking towards Black and White Lakes.  We decided to take the primitive trail from Big Log towards the lakes in hopes of more solitude in nature.

This trail was tough!  Right away it starts climbing upwards and it never seems to stop.  The trail was difficult to navigate; at times it was comparable to game trails making us feel uncertain of our next steps.  The path never seemed to switch back and forth to gain elevation; instead it headed straight up the mountainside with no end in sight.  We stopped several times under shaded areas of the trail to rest along the way.  As we gained elevation and neared the top, the trees became smaller and at one point we were surrounded by flowers (beargrass.)

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Xerophyllum tenax (bear grass,) Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA

After hiking just over 2 miles in more than 3 hours, we finally reached a sign pointing us towards the lakes.  Even though we only had 2/10 of a mile to go, there was still more elevation gain left.  The panoramic views as we made the last push were just the encouragement we needed to keep us going.  As the lakes came into view, we were excited to have finally reached our destination.

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Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA

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Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA

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Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

During our hike, we only passed one couple and one solo backpacker – we had found the solitude we were looking for.   After finding the perfect shady picnic spot beside the lake, we were happy to finally rest our aching muscles.  Once our bodies were refueled, it was time to cool off and clean off by taking a dip in the frigid lake waters.  We weren’t in the water long before becoming uncomfortable from the cold temperatures.  We climbed out and sunned ourselves on a log jutting into the lake as our clothes dried on a nearby tree.

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Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

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Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

Before heading back down the trail, we explored the area around the lake photographing the surrounding beauty.  It was hard to leave the 360˚ views as we made our way back into the dense forest.

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Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

Even hiking downhill, this trail was relentless.  I was hoping to make better time during the descent, but as my toes pounded into the front of my shoes we were quickly reduced to a slower pace.  Halfway down the trail, we ran into a couple hiking upwards toward the lakes.  After short discussion, they decided they wouldn’t be able to make it out and back before sunset.  The couple decided to turn around, and the four of us made our way down the trail.  It wasn’t long before the two hikers were out of sight and we we alone on the trail once again.  As we hiked down into the valley, the sounds of the rushing North Fork Skokomish River grew louder until we were home by its’ side for another evening.  We arrived back at Big Log to a completely packed campsite, filled with lots of families.  Our time alone in the wilderness was long gone.

After dinner by the fireside we enjoyed a game of backpackers bocce ball.  We used the last moments of daylight and took turns reading aloud pages from a book together.  As soon as the sun disappeared from the valley, we climbed into our tents.  It wasn’t long before the sounds of the river assisted in our slumber on the forest floor.

Day 3:  5.5 miles / <500′ elevation gain

We woke up early to the sounds of families playing and cooking breakfast all around us.  The sun was making its’ way through the forest trees filling the valley with warm air.  We took our as we had our morning coffee and breakfast near another smokey fire.

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Big Log campground, Olympic National Park, WA

 

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Big Log campsite, Olympic National Park, WA

It wasn’t long until all of the surrounding campers were out for the day, leaving us alone in the wilderness once last time.  There was one last item on the agenda before we packed up our gear and headed out. My husband had been talking about jumping into the North Fork Skokomish River since the day we arrived.  With the warm weather and sunshine filling the valley, conditions were perfect for a mid-morning swim.  I watched as my husband examined the perfect spot to jump into, and soon thereafter he was plunging in!  Even the frigid waters of the river couldn’t remove the smile on his face.

With our packs loaded and on our backs, we hit the trail taking lots of memories with us.  We played a game guessing how many day hikers we would see on our way towards the trailhead.  At the end of the day, I won counting 60+ day hikers during the 5.5 mile hike along the river.

We stopped at the junction towards Flapjacks Lake and enjoyed a quick snack.  Two backpackers we had passed a mile back came limping by (one of them wearing flip-flops,) and we struck up a conversation with them.  My husband and I were so excited to meet two fellow Texans!  The brothers were on their first ever backpacking trip and were on the last stretch of a multi-day hike starting at Duckabush.  They mentioned having to hitchhike back to their car left at the trailhead days ago, and we quickly volunteered without question.  We kept our much quicker pace than the two hikers, but agreed to meet in the parking lot.  The last few miles of hiking flew by and the closer we got to the trailhead, the more packed it became with day hikers.  We arrived to an overflowing parking lot full of holiday travellers.  Our new friends arrived shortly thereafter, and we made our way along Lake Cushman and then along the Hood Canal towards Duckabush.  My husband and I enjoyed conversation about a shared passion in backpacking, and were happy to help out fellow adventurers.  The detour was welcomed as it introduced us to new areas of the park.  We dropped off the two brothers and made our way out of the forest one last time, but always knowing we’ll be back soon.

Wildlife Wednesday 07/19/2016

Last week I took my teenage nephew on his very first backpacking trip where I chose Shi Shi Beach as our destination.  We spent the second day of our trip exploring the tide pools near Point of the Arches.  As we were searching for a picnic spot for lunch, we noticed a bald eagle flying along the shoreline fighting with another smaller bird.  After the eagle landed on one of the rocks near us, we made our way closer to try to get a better look.  When we had a better sight of the eagle, we noticed feathers flying around it and realized it was preparing to enjoy its’ lunch as well.  While it isn’t the most clear image, the eagle can be seen sitting at the top of the rock tearing at the smaller bird with it’s beak and feathers flying all around it.

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Bald eagle, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA