Roadless Coast

  Roadless Coast
Barkley Sound
Destruction Island

Report from Ken

N 48° 20.68'
W 124° 40.39'

The section of coastline between Neah Bay and La Push, Washington, is about 42 miles long. Although Neah Bay and La Push are located on Indian Reservations (Makah and Quilleyute, respectively), most of the area is part of Olympic National Park. Between the two towns is a coastal strip that is replete with giant fir and hemlock, huge swaths of sandy beaches, sea stacks and offshore islands that rise dramatically from the water, but not a single road. It's the largest remaining roadless coast in the continental United States. Three Azimuth Guides set out to paddle from one end to the other over a four-day period in June.


Marc surfing, Ken watching. Point of the Arches

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© 2005 Azimuth Expeditions. All rights reserved

Marc, Ken and John left Tacoma early in the morning on a Saturday and drove to La Push, where we left a car in the lot across from the Coast Guard station. The drive to Neah Bay took another hour-and-a-half and by the time the boats were loaded and the crew was ready to go, it was already 2pm.

            We were faced with a pretty stiff headwind right from the start, 10-15 knots and the added thrill of some big Pacific rollers coming down the Straits. About 90 minutes into the trip, Ken went ashore to take some photos of the other paddlers, fell off a rock and punctured his right hand on a shell-encrusted boulder. (Way to go, Grace!) John took the opportunity to practice his WFR skills, and within a half-hour, Ken was patched up again and ready to go.

            We paddled out toward Tatoosh Island and watched the waves beat tirelessly on the rocky shoreline. A short paddle back to the mainland put us in the vicinity of some of the best and most beautiful sea caves in the world, right at Cape Flattery. There were people on the Cape Flattery lookout watching as we paddled beneath them, probably wondering what in the heck we were doing down there. We wondered the same thing about them.

            (A side note here: other than our second night's camp near Point of the Arches, we're keeping the exact location of our campsites off the record. It's not that they are State secrets or that you'd never be able to figure them out, it's more that we'd like it if others find their own spots, many of which are sure to be as wonderful as the ones we were blessed with.)

            Our first night was spent on a tiny pocket beach, our tents pitched in the fine gravel just above the high tide mark. Dinner was chicken casserole made in the dutch oven (delicious), and fresh cornbread made in the other dutch oven (not very delicious, actually). We slept that night to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the distant muffled concussions of waves thumping deep in the caves that surrounded us.

            We started slowly the next morning, probably because we knew we were going to be spending a pretty long stretch of time in the boats without a break. Crossing Makah Bay is a fairly daunting prospect: 2-3 miles offshore, large rolling swells, and at least four separate hard rips to negotiate. We landed on the beach at Shi Shi at about 3pm and quickly called it a day. The weather was perfect… 70 degrees, no wind and light surf at Point of the Arches. We made camp in an ideal spot in the trees just up off the sand. Sunset was a phenomenal demonstration of nature's palette, with a sky thick with all the colors of the rainbow. We actually got about 20 minutes of rain just before sunset, just enough to cool the air.

            Nothing changed, weatherwise, by the next morning. The crossing from Point of the Arches to Cape Alava was about 2 hours of coastal paddling perfection. Huge sea stacks and islands dotted the way… Father and Son was stunningly beautiful, waves exploding at the base of its rocky foundation. The beach at Cape Alava was warm and inviting, and our short snack stop turned into a lazy hour of lounging in the heat of the day.

            We got back into the kayaks for the 3-mile section to Sand Point, where we planned to have lunch. It took us 90 minutes to get there, and in that stretch of time, the weather did a complete shift. Skies turned gray and threatening, the wind started to blow and the waves got bigger and bigger with each passing minute. We made it onto the beach at Sand Point after winding our way through a particularly treacherous rock garden, where breaking waves mixed with submerged boulders that promised some serious boat repair problems if we should take a wrong turn. Thankfully, we landed ok, and after a late lunch, we set out again.

            A couple hours or so later, we landed again for the last time of the day. We found ourselves at a campsite that had obviously been used many times before, although we had it all to ourselves on this particular night. Some wilderness engineer had constructed a magnificent swinging bench out of drift boards and salvaged rope and we each sat for a while and watched as the waves curled onto the beach below us. Plenty of tent space, another perfect postcard sunset and a big scoff of John's chili rounded out another ideal kayaking day.

            By noon the next day we were paddling through the rivermouth and into the town of La Push. In four days of open-coastal paddling, we'd had about 30 minutes of rain, hardly any wind and some of the best kayaking days we could have ever hoped for.

            It should always be like this.


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