The Shipwreck Coast

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The Shipwreck Coast

Washington has a wild coast, in case you didn’t know. Not a Miami Beach bar scene kind of wild – but a “this ocean wants to kill me” kind of wild. A desolate wild…an untamable wild…a heart-achingly beautiful wild…and the kind of wild you have to work for if you really want the full experience. 

The Washington Wilderness Coast is fifty miles long from Oil City to the Shi Shi Beach, and it shares 38 of those miles with the PNT. Cape Alava is the PNT’s glorious ending – or beginning if you prefer. Not knowing anything about the PNT, I had already done those last (or first) three miles years ago when I did the Ozette Triangle


So this time the plan was to go southbound from Sand Point and finish at Rialto Beach…a section affectionately nicknamed the “Shipwreck Coast.” Of course we would need to stop and see the memorials along the way that commemorate the loss of 36 lives from two different shipwrecks – this is a wild and deadly coast for sure. 

Norwegian Memorial…not easy to find!
The Chilean Memorial has seen better days

I had a couple of wild women with me, and on a wild hair we bumped this trip up a week early. On the 4th we decided we were leaving on the 6th – President’s Weekend plans be damned. We all heard the Spirit’s whisper of “go now” – and thank God we listened. Snow and less low tide time would have surely made a much different experience…and not in a good way.  The experience we did end up having…well, it was pretty damn perfect. (Which you can read the itinerary below.) Happy “wild in all the right ways” trails!

AND A HUGE SHOUT OUT TO OLYMPIC HIKING COMPANY!! $200 for a custom shuttle may seem expensive, but let me break it down for you why it’s 100% worth it:

  1. Extra car gas money: $40-$80
  2. Extra car ferry charge: $26
  3. Extra time driving to pick up your extra car: 3 and half hours
  4. Hotel expense because you can’t bear to drive until 1 am after hiking all day: $100-$250

And there are cheaper non-custom options available in the peak season. Check them out!

Thank you Olympic Hiking Company!
Almost there
Helpful sign at Ozette showing all danger points

LOG: Day 1

6.5 miles: 10:30am meet up at Rialto parking lot with the shuttle van. Terrible looking weather made us feel a little queazy as we left, but the last half hour to Ozette made us feel ACTUALLY queazy. (Very bumpy…not having to drive that a second time was already worth $200!) The weather was much improved up north, so we quickly started to feel better. Easy three miles of boardwalks (though they are getting busted up and can be slippery) and you are at the beach. Another couple easy miles of beach walking, and then you hit the first danger point. Pretty sketchy through here, and be sure you have a 5′ or less tide or you’ll be swimming through the smaller, lesser known hole in the wall like Laura Croft. (Yes, I played Tomb Raider back in the day; and no, of course you would never attempt to swim through it…it’s a joke.) To say we struggled to find a campsite at Yellow Banks would be an understatement; so to save you the trouble, here’s a pic of where you go up (and up! – then turn left) to the best site. 

Buoy marks the spot
No swimming here!
The easy beach walking is the best!
Though you will get your fill of not so easy rock walking, guaranteed!!!

Day 2:

7 miles: High tide around 11 am, so we got a late start. As soon as there was a little beach showing, we were off. Slow going on the upper rocky beach, but by the time we reached our next caution area (before Norwegian Memorial) the tide was low enough and we had no issues. Overall these miles were not as hard as I expected, though by the time we reached the first camp at Cedar Creek, we threw off our packs and called it good. (And it was the best spot IMO) Thankfully we hadn’t set up our tents when we realized we would have to ford the adjacent creek at high tide in the morning, and since crossing log jams is NOT my jam, we begrudgingly hauled our packs back on and splashed through the low tide creek to get to the campsites on the other side. This worked out well not only for us, but for the only other group of backpackers we came across. As they were going northbound, I waved them on from our site to keep going to the site we abandoned – which looked to be perfect for them. 

Might as well eat lunch while we wait for the tide
Take my pack off? Phish…hold my beer!
You can thank Julie for hauling this boat cushion up from the beach
I thank whoever made this awesome swing!

Day 3:

9.5 miles: So I had actually got our permit for a spot at Chilean because I didn’t want such a long day out. I realized before we left that my plan of 11 miles on day 2 was never going to work (we quite possibly could have died if we tried it!) but I didn’t have time to change it. I would have called the rangers if it was peak season, but figured this time of year nobody would be out there and stopping early at Cedar was no big deal. We did see one other solo female backpacker fly by us this day (what a BAD ASS…wish I knew who she was) but besides her and the other group at Cedar, that was pretty much it. Anyway, the 9-ish miles were tough, and with the late start because of the tides, we didn’t finish until right at sunset. But after passing Chilean, I have to say I would NEVER recommend staying there, as it was stinky and ugly and we honestly couldn’t figure out where in the world anyone would set camp. Oh, and if you think you can go up and over the headlands at high tide with the rope detours – think again. The hillsides look to have been pretty much washed away – I really don’t think it’s possible to climb up them, rope or not.

There is one non-optional rope climb that’s not too bad…but it’s work out with a heavy pack for sure!
…and down the other side

Our minus tide was a life saver, and helped us get those miles in fairly quickly. (Though certainly not fast…plan on a mile an hour to be on the safe side.) Ellen creek was our last obstacle, though even at low tide we really should have taken our shoes off. But with just a mile left, we took the “F*** it” step into the drink and finished with wet feet.  I couldn’t even count those last 2 miles toward my 500 of PNT miles goal (explanation here) because I’ve already done those as well (story here) and so the last mile blues with cold heavy feet and loose sinking sand was pretty harsh.

Though the truth is, I wouldn’t have done this trip any other way, and I think it will always be one of my all time favorite adventures. 

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