Julie and I were in the midst of pulling off the logistically challenging Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge Olympic Coast route selected by Pacific Crest Trail Fastest Known Timer, Heather Anderson–trail name, Anish–when we agreed this event style hits our sweet spot. The challenge consists of routes that are ultra-scenic, ultra-distance, and ultra-logistical. The Olympic Coast route is the first that we have attempted, and it felt like a true adventure requiring strategy and impeccable timing to cross various points along the course at just the right tide level. For us, there were three occasions that we were unable to pass at low tide crossings because the tide was too high. This turned out to be a nice reason to relax, take naps, gaze at beautiful scenery, and worry that we might get swept away by the impending tide, particularly when we were stuck on a cliff face.
Our experience was generally one of contentment and happiness. The 55 or so miles took us 40 hours and 14 minutes to complete starting at 4:46 a.m. on Saturday, June 28 and finishing at 9:08 p.m. on Sunday, June 29. For us, that is an extremely leisurely pace that included two couple hour nap breaks and an overnight sleep. The nap breaks were due to high tide stopping points and the overnight sleep was due to extremely technical beach terrain that was ahead of us and an impending high tide with low tide crossing points that we could not adequately see in the dark. The route was extremely technical, but it didn’t wear us out the way running hard typically would. Tim Mathis does a nice job of describing the route’s complexity which I won’t rehash here.
We attacked this route from South to North for no particular reason other than this is how we planned it. John Barrickman, the first person who completed this challenge, and who nailed the course logistics had cautioned that this direction would be slower due to the timing of the tide crossings. I definitely agree. It’s hard to perfectly time the the low tide crossings when traveling South to North because of where they land on the map and the time between tides. For us, all this meant was a more relaxed pace, and more time spent in the wilderness of the Olympic National Park. I don’t regret doing it this way, because I think staying out all night and sleeping in our emergency bivvies, getting stuck on cliff faces, and experiencing the coast during various times of day added to the adventure. Going South to North also meant our finish line was the most magical part of the entire coast, Point of the Arches, where beautiful, tall seastacks line a smooth, long, golden sand beach.
Here’s how it went down:
Starting from Oil City trailhead at 4:46 a.m. there was a nice short section of mildly muddy trail running along the Hoh River taking us out to the beach. Once at the beach, we immediately started boulder hopping. The tide was low, but there were still good sized boulders, taller than we were, to cross. It was here that we saw our first sea otter on the rocks. The buddy was 10 feet from us and was making an awkward run for it. Apparently its flipper legs didn’t allow it to run well across the rocks, and it took a face plant into the boulders. Poor buddy! We ended up seeing 4 sea otters along the journey! This was a good sign since the sea otter is Julie’s self-professed spirit animal.
When we weren’t boulder hopping we were playing Ropes and Ladders. Luckily neither of us fell back to the start as you do in the real game. We consulted the map frequently for low tide crossing points and overland crossing intersections. Julie is an expert navigator and she always knew exactly where to look for the next overland crossing, so we never lost time looking for those. The overland crossings were generally muddy, with steep sections, and ropes and ladders to help with footing. We came across many hikers and campers in this section between Oil City and Third Beach. One kind group offered us whiskey and coffee. I sipped directly from the nice man’s cup while Julie looked on with alarm.
We took the Third Beach trail to the road late morning. The trail was beautifully maintained and very runnable. Once on the road, many cars passed. Although we had no intention of accepting a ride, we (I ?) were a little miffed that no one even bothered to stop and offer. We agreed, we apparently were missing some of the appeal that John Barrickman had out there a week earlier when he was offered a ride!
We stopped at the Three Rivers Resort Restaurant and store where you could take your choice of any type or amount of deep-fat-fried food. You name it they’ve got it—fish and chips, cheese sticks, onion rings, fried crisco wrapped in butter… ok, not that, but you get the picture. I passed on the resort delicacies, but I did get a double espresso, coconut water, and orange juice and Julie treated herself to an ice cream Snickers which she had been looking forward to since our drive to the start the day before. We hit the road again and eventually, with some stomach and a teensy bit of mood grumbling, made our way to Rialto Beach.
Once arriving at Rialto, we were greeted with a beautiful sandy, drift-woody beach at high tide, at approximately 2 p.m. We were not able to pass. We maximized the time by filling our bellies and throwing down our bivvies to take our first nap. The water was all around us, but not on us so we were happy, warm, and mostly dry accept for a few sprinkles.
After waiting for about 2 hours, the tide lowered and we carried on running and Julie shouted “boys, boys, boys!” Looking up I saw Tim and Nate running towards us. They had started the route from the North, at Shi Shi, and they looked well. Nate had carried some delicious bakery cookies all the way with him to give us as gifts! Tim and Nate wearily informed us that the entire way ahead was filled with boulder fields. They also said they were not going to carry on beyond Rialto Beach due to Nate’s flared up knee after an ACL reconstruction. Julie and I forged ahead.
The next part is a blur. It rained. The sun came out and dried us off before night fall. We crossed a bunch of boulders—big ones, little ones, slippery ones-all the kinds that wanted to break your ankles and pinch your toes. We wanted to push on as night set in, but then our fear got the best of us. How would we be able to navigate and see if we were approaching a low tide mark when the tide was coming in? How would we spot the overland crossing markers? How would I carry my handheld when I really needed my poles to keep from falling on the boulders? We decided to hole up and call it a night sleeping out the tide.
At 10 p.m. we found ourselves past the Norwegian memorial. We called it good for the day, threw up our tarp, put on all our clothes and nestled into our bivvies to stay warm. I shivered a lot through the night and worried a little bit about bears.
We awoke at 5:30 a.m. and pushed on with the boulderiest section ahead which is identified on the Green Trails map as “rock reef” lasting for miles. It was very slow going, but the miles ticked away as we looked at anemones and star fish and climbed around rock formations. And the sun was out.
We eventually rounded Cape Alava and had a dance party with a couple of deer who looked mostly annoyed that we were there. Then we were on nice runnable beach for a while. We were calculating how quickly we would have to move to make it to the final low tide crossing at Point of the Arches. The reality began to sink in that there was no possible way we were going to make it with additional boulder fields ahead of us. So, our pace slowed and we tried to enjoy the scenery as much as possible.
We forded the Ozette River and thought this would be a good time to pump water. We pumped and sipped only to find that the water was brackish. We thought maybe the water was salty because the tide was coming in, so we left our bags on the bank of the river and walked upstream. We did another taste test but the water was still brackish. We went back to our bags only to find that our food was getting scavenged by some sneaky sea birds. I yelled out “Naughty!” to the bird and it flew away. It appeared that they didn’t take much, but later, we ran out of food, and I realized some of my stash had gone missing. Luckily, we did not run out of food until we were nearing the finish point, but we were rationing—‘one honey stinger orange flavored chew for you and one for me.’ We found a fresh water stream down the way and were able to pump water there. The tide was quickly approaching and we took some sketchy low tide crossings during medium, high/medium tide. I was sleepy and walking with my eyes closed sometimes, especially because I thought we were going to be taking another nap soon to wait out the approaching high tide. But Julie was having none of that. She pushed on, and I gladly followed.
Eventually, we found ourselves stuck on a cliff face waiting out high tide across from the formation known as “Father and Son.” We were safe, but we couldn’t pass and we just hoped the tide would not come any higher. Julie and I found separate places to rest sheltered from the sun. She chose a rock to cuddle up on, and I laid on my sleeping mat precariously placed on a ledge with a sheer drop off on both sides. It was a risk, but one I was willing to take to get prone and have a nap. I told myself, ‘as long as you don’t move, you’ll be fine.’ I didn’t move, and I was fine, but I do think this is an example of a stupid choice a person makes when they are tired and their judgement is impaired. Julie unenthusiastically told me she was surprised to see me laying up there when she came out from her rock.
The tide receded and we were able to get around. We were nearing the end with just a few more overland crossings and entering the most beautiful section of the entire stretch. The sun was hanging low in the sky and casting a beautiful golden light on the beach and sea stacks. We happily ticked off the final miles feeling a sense of gratitude for the time spent out on the beach and at this time of day.
As we rounded the Point of the Arches a couple sat in their chairs drinking wine from the bottle and had a bottle of whiskey. They asked us where we started. Julie and I shared an awkward glance, and she began to explain our adventure to them. They were surprised and asked us what was the best spot along the beach. We reassured them they were in the best spot, and I could see the satisfaction spread across their faces as if they were proud of themselves for making the right decision. The couple caught us looking like this.
We ran the sickeningly muddy trail from Shi Shi Beach to the trailhead as the sun approached the horizon. The timing felt just right. Tim and Nate were waiting and cheered us in at the trailhead at about 9:08 p.m. I remember saying “Ooooohhhhhh, I was SO hoping you would be here!” They drove us to our car, and gave us food. Tim drove me to the ferry terminal right away, and we slept in our car waiting for the first ferry to go out of Kingston the next morning at 4:45 a.m. We got home at 6 a.m., I crawled in my bed with dried mud caked on my legs and slept for an hour then got up and went to work with a HUGE glowing smile on my face telling my co-workers, “You won’t believe what I did this weekend…” Julie told me, “That was the best adventure I’ve had in a long time.” I agree. Thank you to Ras and Kathy for devising the Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge concept and to Heather Anderson for choosing this challenging, fun, and scenic route.