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La Push 3-day trip

Jay Reeves  | Published on Monday, September 17, 2012

La Push 3-day trip


 It was a dark and stormy night....let's try that again.....

Actually, it was a bright and beautiful day in La Push with the marine forecast over the Labor Day weekend for the Washington coast of sunny, highs in the upper 60's, lows in the lower 50's, light to no wind, west swell 2 foot @ 16 seconds for Saturday and Sunday, changing Monday to west to southwest 5 foot @ 8 seconds.

La Push is located a little over 100 miles west of Seattle as the crow flies, but about 160 miles by road.  It sits at the mouth of the Quileute River where it dumps into the Pacific Ocean, and is the home of the Quileute Tribe.  It's also the best spot to launch for paddling the most magnificent section of Washington's coast line.

Seven people met Saturday around 10AM at the boat ramp on the Dickey River just a little west of the Mora Campground near La Push.  David Price & Julie Beck organized the trip, worked out all the details and lured Monica Lander, Vern Brown, Tomas Tabisola, Brian Hollander, and myself to join in the fun.

After a short introduction, David & Julie ran over the float plan:

Day 1) Launch, paddle to Third Beach, rock gardening on the way, and set up camp.
Day 2) Paddle through Giants Graveyard to Toleak Point, and maybe further.
Day 3) Break camp, head back and be at the takeout around 1PM.

We hauled the loaded boats down to the river and launched into cool freshwater shortly before noon.  About 50 yards downstream, the Dickey merged into the Quileute River....which was flowing AWAY from the ocean!  The tide was coming in and causing the river to flow backwards, which looked very strange.

After a calm and quiet paddle, we passed the community of La Push.  Here, a little over 1 nautical mile from our launch site, the Quileute River empties into the Pacific Ocean.  The mouth of the Quileute River is fairly protected by James Island.  The proximity of James Island to the mouth of the river allows one to easily transition to ocean conditions, possibly without any breaking surf to go through.  That was certainly the condition at the time.

Heading south along the coast from La Push, there is a chain of beaches named First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach, each one separated by a headland.  The others beyond may continue the naming sequence, as far as I know.

After circling around James Island and getting our 'sea legs' in the clapotis there, we set our course to Third Beach - our intended home for the next 3 days.

Once past the head, we were in the south-facing Strawberry Bay - home to Third Beach, and home for us.

Third Beach is a long, crescent shaped beach that, at its northern end, faces to the south-southeast.  As one walks the beach headed south, the beach eventually faces southwest at the southern end.  Teahwhit Head projects out a considerable distance west of Strawberry Bay and Third Beach.  With this setting, it appears one might be able to land here without much surf, except when the swells are coming from the south or southwest.  The beach is somewhat steep here and the sea floor appears to come up rather quickly.  I think with a significant southern swell, this could be a tricky spot to land and launch from.

After paddling the length of the beach, which was dotted with many tents of backpackers, we found a prime site near the southern end, complete with fresh water to filter and keep our 'adult beverages' cool.

Tents were pitched and home was made.  I thought I heard a familiar Jimmy Buffet song in the background somewhere as everyone appeared to be turning into a beach bum and soaking up the sun, with the exceptions of Brian who went off to do a little solo paddling for a few hours.

Passing First Beach and heading towards Second Beach, we came to Quateata Head and did a little rock gardening there and as well at Crying Lady Rock.  Close by, one could see the Quillayute Needles – sea stacks with very pointy tips.  And further south down the coastline in the distance was a profusion of sea stacks that appeared not to end.  And even further, one could see Destruction Island and its lighthouse – almost 13 nautical miles away.     

Teahwhit Head separates Second and Third Beach.  When we reached it, a little more rock gardening ensued as we weaved our way through the myriad of reefs and sea stacks.

The water was unbelievably calm, with virtually no wind and little swell. When the waves broke, they were only about a foot high.  As the tide went out that evening, they got even smaller.  That day ended under a sky full of absolutely stunning clouds and colors as the sun went down, while everyone sat around a small fire chatting away.

That night when the moon rose, it was only 1 day past full. It was so bright that one could easily walk around the camp with no headlamp.  It also made sleeping a bit difficult. And even with the moon so full, stars were abundant all the way to the horizon.

The next day dawned with low-lying broken stratus clouds, no wind, and small swell.  The marine forecast hadn't changed much, so it looked like conditions were going to be stable for the next few days.

It was a nice, slow morning with David and Julie looking to get the group on the water around 10 A.M.  This made for zero stress to get things ready.

After everyone launched through the raging 1 foot surf, we assembled on the water and David gave us an overview of the day – we were going to paddle out to the headland south of the beach, Taylor Point, then head out into the Giants Graveyard, swing into Toleak Point, then possibly head further south to find Goodman/Falls Creek if people felt like it.

David and Julie's leadership style is very relaxed and enjoyable, while at the same time keeping safety the top priority.  They didn't necessarily want people staying close together, but rather to be within communicating distance – go where you wish.  It wasn't a trip where everybody followed the leader – everyonewas a leader.  We would come together at times to discuss options, and everyone was heard and treated as equals.  The group made the decisions.

After a little rock gardening at Taylor Point, we headed out across the bay to the Giants Graveyard, which is an area of many islets, reefs, and sea stacks composed of eroded sandstone, with the tallest sea stack towering 210 feet above sea level.

In this area we ran across a solitary Puffin.  We thought this was odd as it is a little early for those guys to be coming in to winter here.  The fact that we could get within 30 feet of this little guy without him flying off made us wonder if he was wounded and had been here all summer.  I've never been able to get within at least a hundred feet or so of one without it jetting away.

As we weaved our way through the labyrinth of rocks and reefs, we encountered several seals hauled out.  Even though we could easily stay the minimum distance of 200 yards away from the ones we could see, we would occasionally come around a corner only to surprise a few lounging in the sun and send them off into the water.

That was not good....

A friend of ours who is a marine biologist told us once that one of the reasons we shouldn't approach within 200 yards of these creatures is that when they are hauled out on the rocks, they are resting and conserving energy.  For a seal to be forced into the water, unnecessarily, and then climb back up on the rocks later means it has used its energy to avoid us, and will now have to work harder through hunting to replace that lost energy.  And for some seals that may be barely clinging to their precious lives, it could spell the end.

In one area of the Graveyard, we came across a large colony of river otters.  There may have been 50 or more there.  Like seals, they are somewhat curious about paddlers.  They didn't disappear like most otters I have seen, but stayed around this one reef, stopping what they were doing to watch us pass.

We eventually made our way to Toleak Point, for a beach lunch in the sun.  The beach here was a gentle slope up to the trees about 50 to 75 yards away. Inside the treeline were established campsites.  Several backpackers were camped here as well.  Someone mentioned there was also a 'pit toilet' here – a sign this beach might be heavily used.

Toleak Point is absolutely gorgeous - west facing beach that would no doubt provide a stunning sunset with the Giants Graveyard in full view with the sun going down behind the sea stacks.  Located directly out from the point are several sea stacks which appear to be accessible on foot at low tide.  I wonder how many people have been caught out there.

After lunch, we entered the area off Toleak Point for a fun time of rock gardening...

Leaving Toleak Point, we saw what appeared to be a long bluff line that extended several hundred yards with large cave entrances.  Paddlers tend to be inquisitive, so that was naturally our next destination.

Approaching the bluff line, it was apparent this was going to be a fun spot: the sea swell sloshing into the wall, making deep 'booms' in several places.  We darted in and out of the cave entrances and came upon an amazing blow hole....

After tiring of the blow hole, we meandered along the bluff line and rounded a headland to find the entrance to Goodman Creek.

I was amazed at the change from the loud, swelling ocean against the rocks to perfectly flat, calm water and almost total silence in the span of 5 minutes.

We paddled up Goodman Creek a couple of hundred yards when we encountered Falls Creek.  Up it a little ways is a small waterfall that some of us visited on foot.

Shortly after that, we pointed our boats back to the salt water and headed out of Goodman Creek.

The day was getting late, so we decided to forgo any further rock gardening and head straight back to camp.  We took the outer route around Giants Graveyard, which gave us a very different perspective of the entire area – almost as if we hadn't been there yet.

That evening was the same as the previous – beautiful sky, clouds, warm.  However, people retired to their tents relatively early that evening, a little weary from the +12 NM paddle and all the play.

The next morning brought a different environment: thicker, unbroken stratus, a slight breeze, and a bigger swell with shorter periods.  The forecast had been spot on.

Again the plan was for a lazy morning, on the water around 10, with plans to be back at the vehicles by 1PM in plenty of time to battle the Labor Day traffic homeward.

This is the part of kayak trips I don't like: having to pack the boat and go home.  I could have stayed out there for a long, long time...or until the beer ran out.

Once everyone was on the water, Dave and Julie ran over the plan, which was pretty much the same as the previous day: have fun.

We headed out of Strawberry Bay with pretty benign conditions.  As we approached Teahwit Head, the ocean made it clear it was going to give us a grand finale send off.  The forecasted 5 foot swells at 8 seconds materialized.  At no time was it ever anything that we couldn't handle, but as they say 'keep an eye on the sea'.

We headed to the ocean side of the Quillayute Needles – there was nothing in the Pacific Ocean between us and Japan now.  The Pacific gave us a great ride: up & down, people appearing, then disappearing...

Passing the Needles, we came upon several California Sea Lions rafted together.  They often raft this way to rest in the water.  A few in our group didn't see the raft until they were right upon them, about the same time the sea lions became aware of us.  That was a 'commotion' I wished I could have captured on video.

Rounding the Needles, we pointed our bows to the mouth of the Quileute River, visible in the distance beside James Island.  As we approached James Island on the leeward side, the sea swells began to ease from the shielding effect of the island.  We easily glided into the mouth of the Quileute River for a nice, quiet paddle back to the launch.

The drive home was surprisingly light in traffic.  Or was it because my mind was filled with all of the wonderful memories from the last 3 days, and my spirit had been calmed to the point that I didn't notice the 8-gazzilion cars on the road?  It doesn't matter – I'd battle 8-gazzilion cars any day for another trip like that.

(all of my pictures from the trip can be found HERE)


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