By Tom Groenewel
March 23, 1992, Friday
Sunny Days Ahead
Another sunny day, it is unbelievable. The folks in town say that this is not normal and we are enjoying an unusual occurrence. Last week we had only .1” of rain, in the whole week. There has been just another .5” this week and sun is predicted for both Saturday and Sunday. The last sentence hit me like a ton of bricks, sun is predicted for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and beyond. I make a plan.
March 24, 1992,
At first light, I drive to the mouth of the Hoh River to hike north 17 beach miles to the Quillayute River. The hike starts by crossing Hoh Head on a 3 ½ mile overland trail. The headland can’t be rounded at any tide due to the sheer cliffs. Rope ladders ascend the headland. It’s steep and I have to climb from one ladder to the next. The ladder is nearly vertical hugging a slumping slope of clay, cemented ancient beach and loose conglomerate. With a pack filled with the usual, a tent, sleeping bag and a stove are strapped on my back, always my pack is too heavy and I make it to the top, sweating in the cool morning. There is a view of sea stacks a half-mile offshore and not a human in sight, my favorite part.
I start the overland trail and turn into a forest of Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock and head for Mosquito Creek where this overland trail meets the beach. The sunlight is streaming in through the trees and a dry breeze gives the forest a sense of enchantment. Spring wildflowers have been blooming for several weeks and new species are flowering as days get longer and warmer. Many of the trees are between 2 ½ and 6 feet in diameter, scattered singly throughout the forest and in pocket groves are huge trees up to 12’ in diameter.
The path follows beside a giant hemlock which fell over a hundred years ago. The top of the horizontal trunk is 12’ above the trail and a hundred paces away is the crown covered in forest undergrowth and trees are rooting in the soft decaying wood. This tree took up nutrients from the earth for hundreds of years what it needed for growth and decay it is giving back all that it has stored. When the seedling began absorbing water and nutrients, gasses from air and sunlight it also provided a protective cover over fragile soils. As it grew larger it gave shelter to various birds, plants and animals and every day transpired gallons of water back into the air.
As it rests on the forest floor, the giant in its death slowly releases precious nutrients back to the earth, the process gives the community a feast enjoyed by tens of thousands of plants and animals and fungi. Throughout its life and long after its death, this magnificent tree was part of a mature forest community enriching the earth, and giving back more than what it took.
In a previous life, it is possible for me to have been a big tree. I can see the balance in this forest community a mature succession which makes a nice neighborhood. The old tree is a nursery for seeds that fall on it and begin to grow seedlings wrapping their roots to hold on. After years of growth, the roots start growing into the ground and leaves a tunnel when the giant is fully decayed. The tell-tale straight line of new trees shows where the old ancient tree laid on the forest floor.
Some of the shoreline slopes are being eaten away by the action of high tide waves. Soft banks up to 250’ high are being eroded by landslides 20 yards across in some places. Big clumps of soil, clay, and trees are sliding down to the sea. Often on the expose areas water is seeping out of the banks flowing over the slopes and pulling clay sediments down as it goes. When the bank stabilizes vegetation begins to grow hoping the slope holds and they too don’t slide into the ocean.
The trail descends across a series of small creeks and according to the map Mosquito Creek is another half mile ahead. A bridge spans the creek and on the other side a trail leads through the forest back to the roar of the coast. I see a possible camp area, rustic and hidden under the trees, the first flat area since the Hoh River many miles behind me. Very appealing but I continue on.
On the north side of Mosquito Creek is spread 2.5 miles of beautiful beach that is bordered on the south end by a headland which surrounds Goodman Creek. I move on against the advice of my tiring leg muscles, it has been about seven miles so far and maybe there will be a good place to camp around the next creek.
The tide is at 6.5 feet on its way to an 8.5-foot high tide. Waves crash and skid up the beach reaching further and further toward the drift logs piled on the upper beach. Soon I have to run between waves and driftwood with full attention on timing and predicting the distance I can cover before the next surge. I play like this for miles.
I could not feel much better, the sun is shining on the rain forest and open ocean. I have walked 7 miles and now I am running and dancing around between and through high tide waves over isolated beaches fully expecting but still walking toward the perfect camp spot.