When I set out on my hike of the Pacific North- west Trail, I didn't know whether I'd be able to actually do it. I was nervous to tell people of my intentions as I feared having to come back with the story of my defeat. And yet, I wanted to include people in my journey, my struggles and gather support from those who know me.
I spent the summer hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail, a route that goes from Glacier National Park to Cape Alava on the Olympic Coast. Most people start in Glacier and hike west, as that is the way that the guide is written and the maps are oriented. Plus, the weather patterns usually favor that direction. This year’s weather was a bit different, more snow pack in Glacier, and less in Olympic National Park.
So I decided to start the hike at its western ter- minus. My husband, Reed, and I set out on July 2nd aboard the Fauntleroy Ferry. Long distance hiking requires logistics—our start of the trail required the aforementioned ferry, a drive to the Port Angeles Ranger station to obtain permits (a 2-hour process for the necessary 2 weeks- worth of backcountry camp sites), a night spent at a hostel in Port Angeles followed by a 2.5- hour sunrise drive to Oil City. At the end of a rough dirt road, we left our car and were met by a pre-arranged shuttle van. We loaded our back- packs and extra bags of gear into the van and set off with John, bound for Lake Ozette. On our drive we heard stories of the logging industry on the Olympic Peninsula and were cautioned, again, about the seriousness of tides along the coast.
About 11AM we began our walk down the boardwalk west towards Cape Alava. I had the feeling of disbelief, excitement tempered with caution. I had read blogs, a book and yearned for this hike to begin for months. And now I was finally in the midst of it. The smell of the ocean wafted over us about a mile before we reached the coast. That first day, we hiked 13 miles, instead of our intended 9, because we acciden- tally passed Yellow Banks and then walked be- low high cliffs for 4 miles. The low tide revealed tide pools inhabited by sea anemones, crabs and fish. The walking was tough—over soccer ball sized boulders draped in kelp, on damp gravel that sunk 6 inches with each step, and up vertical rope ladders to walk on muddy overland trails, where the cliffs & tides allowed no beach walking. Reed was with me the 45 miles along the coast and perhaps that is why it was one of my favorite trail sections.
We shared the experience including an afternoon when we decided to descend off-trail in order to walk a section of pristine beach. Reed harvested giant muscles, which he later cooked in sea water. Ah, but first the treacherous descent down a mudslide area in order to reach the beach. My feet got stuck in roots and debris, it was difficult to keep my balance due to my heavy and bulky backpack and I fell numerous times, gathering bruises and scrapes and fearing I would end up with a head injury. The way back up was no less difficult. We struggled up a nearly vertical hillside of thick brush and deep slippery mud. We spent an exhausting hour climbing back up, and when we found the trail again, I swore not to willingly leave it again. I sung prayers of gratitude and relief, and we marched on towards through the mud, happy to have found our way.
The trail in general was much like that day on the beach, where we enjoyed a pot full of hot cocoa made with powdered milk and cocoa mixed into water from the stream that plummeted down to the beach. We used that stream to clean ourselves of the mud and dirt that we had acquired over the previous two days. Then we climbed under and into a giant hollowed-out cedar log to prepare our cocoa, and inhale it to the sounds of crashing waves and blowing wind. On the trail, it was all up and down in many ways. There was very little flat walking; I was either climbing up to a mountain pass/peak, or descending down to cross a creek or river. The physical realities were felt emotionally–I was alone most of the 95 days.
The day I left Ross Lake, heading east, I climbed 5,000+ feet. It felt interminable. The day was hot and I was starting out on what I anticipated would be an 8-day crossing of the Pasayten wilderness. I’d left Reed the day before, was lonely and weary. And then I reached Devil’s Dome—7,000 feet high on a clear warm day. I was the only one up there. The vantage allowed me to see the mountains that I’d been toiling through for the last week, as well as the ones I would be going through to the east. My heart soared. I had water, food, adequate clothing and a song of thanks for my body which had carried me thus far.