By Tom Groenewal
January 16, 1992 (part two)
I don’t get dragged out to sea by the rogue wave but I am wet.
I wring out my socks, a New Jersey “soaker.” The rest of my gear is in good shape, everything bagged in Ziplocs, including another pair of socks. I haul out onto the beach and put myself back together.
Further down the beach, I reach a headland, Taylor Point, which is impassable at any tide. So, it is a climb up rope and ladder over sections of a slumping trail against saturated dark grey clay. The final assent is nearly vertical for 200 feet.
I consider the entire climb difficult by my standards. There are things that may happen, like the ladder may swing back and forth over the mud and dump me out. Maybe, the ladder twists and I fall into the mud. Maybe I might get my boot stuck in the mud when transferring from one ladder to the next. Serious business, I don’t take it lightly.
There is burning in my legs and other muscles and shortness of breath. It’s a bit of a grunt.
Troubles are soon forgotten with views from the top of Taylor Point. Full views north and south along the coast.
The Quillayute Needles, part of the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary, has clusters of rock spires reaching up to the sky, looking so thin that a rogue wave might break them off. Ocean waves appear smaller up here. To the north headlands and bays and spires reach for miles.
To get to the next bay requires a 1.2-mile walk across the headland wandering through ancient forest. The trail is less traveled, more narrow and overgrown, a few trees have blown down during winter storms and lie across the path. At a particularly large wind-blown tree across the trail, I go around and make my way through the green tangle and under a root mat which has been pulled vertical from the ground.
It is dark under here. I can’t see but there appears to be a cave which has been created by the tilted root system attached forest floor and smashed branches. I think a bear is back there watching me. But I don’t smell a bear, so maybe there is a rabid coyote or a bobcat. I scramble through the tangle of branches from the downed trees. This place is scary as hell.
I continue a final section of the Taylor Point headland trail on a steep descent along a stream soon to be swallowed by the sea. The tide is going out which will allow me to pass between a rock slide and the waves to the open beach beyond.
The wind is very calm, almost still, I noticed, rare to have no wind. It’s sunny, what a day.
In the bay south of Taylor Point is deposited a pile of driftwood-strewn 30 yards down the beach. It’s always curious to me how different tides collect and sort different ocean debris. Last night’s tide carried only driftwood, each piece being no more than 3-4” long.
I sit and sort through the pile looking for something unusual, something that looks like a sea monster or Neptune himself. Once, in my digging, I found a question mark. That might be my favorite, a question mark. Kind of philosophical and sarcastic.
Last night’s outgoing tide left wood piles on the beach several feet thick. The rest of the beach is mostly sandy and small pea gravel. Some of the banks are being eroded and broken down by storms and high tides, dragging the sediments, rock, and trees into the sea.
I continue on and walk to the end of the bay, hop a few rocks crusted with barnacles, good footing but I hear a lot of crunching. I figure the barnacles can withstand my boots. I pass around some large rocks that have rolled onto the beach from the cliff above. Beyond is another, longer beach which leads to a short headland trail around Scott’s Bluff.
I sit on a high rock, just out of the reach from the surging tide, I hope and watch the waves and the birds. In all of my travels never have I seen such power and richness of life. Life evolved from the oceans: algae and organisms which somehow, over many hundreds of millions of years became more complex. Fish are more adapted to the ocean than I am. The waves want to suck me back to sea and make me start over. I’ll try to be more careful and preserve my evolutionary status.
I look at my map and find a half mile beyond is Scott’s Bluff and further a point which marks Giants Graveyard. From there it is miles of bays and beaches to the headland at Goodman Creek and eventually to the Hoh River.
I walk up the beach and dump my pack against a freshly toppled hemlock which still has its roots attached high on the slope but the top stretching 100 feet onto the beach and into the ocean. It is a tall, tree which the ocean will quickly turn into driftwood pitched high up the beach during the next wicked storm.
I save the beyond for another day. I am tired and feel like I have been pummeled by the waves, fallen into oozing clay, frightened by the darkness under fallen trees and used all my strength to climb a rope ladder with an all to heavy pack. Next time I will bring new maps, new boots, and new energy. I’ll be back soon.