We’ve always made it a point to be on an adventure for New Year’s Eve. With 4 days of free time dedicated to this trip, we easily decided on the Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast. The trail boasts 73 miles of protected land-- the most undeveloped coastline in the lower 48. The sea stacks, overland trails, rocky cliff sides, and scenic islands make it a unique and desirable wilderness adventure for all outdoor enthusiasts.
This trip has always been on our list, but its popularity makes it difficult to execute in the preferred summer months. As we planned this winter trek, we knew the advantage would be the lack of crowds on the trails and campsites. Not many imagine their New Year’s Eve soggy and wet, rain blowing sideways from the windy incoming tide-- which is what we expected to endure while on the Washington Coast in late December.
We’d been through the Washington rains on our summer thru-hike of the PCT and knew what it was like to be soaked for 4 days straight. These fairly unpleasant memories gave us the wisdom to prepare to the fullest for a similar situation on the coast. In the days leading up to the weekend, we spent all of our free time making sure we would be warm and waterproof while bringing in the New Year.
Our preparations began by using Nikwax to waterproof our gear. Hands and feet being the most important, we waterproofed our boots with Nikwax Waterproofing Wax For Leather and our gloves with Nikwax Glove Proof. Outer shells came next. Rain pants and coats were cleaned in the washing machine with Nikwax Tech Wash, removing any dirt on gear and soap lingering in the interior of the machine. Another round in the wash with TX.Direct Wash-In waterproofed the shells, making them impenetrable to the rains. This was a good start, but we really wanted to make sure we’d be comfortable. We took the items out to the porch and finished them off with TX.Direct Spray-On. MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” played in our heads while we envisioned dancing dry down the PNW beaches…
A couple of purchases at Seattle’s flagship REI contributed to the groundwork of operation dryness. Ponchos and a tarp were sensible additions to our packs, while excessive amounts of food and wine would save the day if all else failed. Filled to the brim with supplies, our packs weren’t fairing light as we brought them to the car.
The itinerary included 23 miles of rugged coastal trekking starting at Ozettle Lake Trailhead and walking south to the Rialto beach, traditionally called the Shipwreck Coast. While the terrain is rather flat and relatively easy in most places, the tides dictate your progress and it’s essential to plan your trip around the tidal timeline. If not, you could find yourself stuck while you wait for the waves to clear from the sheer rock they’d otherwise wash you into. There are also sections of rocky trail, which makes it slow moving and challenging to traverse.
When the clock struck 5:00 pm on Friday, we set out for the coast, a 4-hour drive from Seattle. We hoped to make the drive all the way to Rialto Beach, but when we arrived at the park, the last 1.5 miles of road was closed due to bad storms the week before.
The morning started as we’d predicted, raining. We’d arranged a shuttle to pick us up from our parking spot at Rialto Campground to Ozette Lake where we’d begin the trip. Tanya and Bill were a treat to visit with as we listened to their stories while driving through the rain, their 2 dogs begging for some love from the back. Call 360-460-4445 to inquire with All Points Trails and arrange your ride!
We traded handshakes from Bill as he raised his eyebrows toward the sky and wished us “good luck”. He retreated to his warm truck and left us in the elements. We bravely skipped off toward the water, 3.4 miles through the forest, confident our hard work on our gear would pay off.
Distracted by the desolate and stunning coastlines, we completed the 8.4-mile hike effortlessly to our first campsite at Yellow Banks. Pleased that we’d stayed dry despite the constant rains and navigated perfect timing through multiple tide zones, we set up for night one- placing our tarp just so over the tent for ultimate protection.
The rains ceased and we woke up alone on a cliffside over the gorgeous Pacific, the sun waiting patiently to warm us up later in the day. We headed out early in the morning, making a point to be on time for low tide. The optimal time to cross the high tidal zones is 2 hours before low tide, while it’s still going out and you have plenty of time to stumble along the rocks and tide pools before it creeps landward again. Even though we always made it safely through these zones, it was exciting and definitely nerve-wracking to trek slowly through the sections while the waves violently crash against deceptively nearby rock formations. Reaching the sandy beaches was always a relief for its safety and flatter terrain.
Day two was shorter in length, but arguably the most challenging of all four. It was only 5.1 miles but required multiple headland crossings which led to endless fields of rocks and boulders. The scenery made up for the challenges, and we were so delighted to have a clear sky day. We slept easy that night at our campsite at Norwegian Memorial.
Chilean Memorial was our destination for Monday night where we were hosting a New Year’s Eve soiree, party of 2 (or more if you count the ghosts from the shipwrecks!). 6 miles of more rugged coastline and views for days was the most perfect way to spend the final day of 2018. We shared dehydrated meals and sparkling wine in a can and rang in the New Year lulled to sleep by the crashing waves.
Conveniently, the tides were low later in the morning, so we took it slow as we packed up camp for the final time that trip. Only 3.7 miles to the trailhead where we’d end. The iconic Hole in the Wall was an appropriate finale and we met many day hikers, also celebrating one more trip around the sun with mother nature.
It was a bittersweet feeling to reach the Rialto Beach Trailhead. We only had a 1.5-mile road walk back to the car and we’d successfully completed an amazing trip, but now it was ending. Furthermore, we’d spent countless hours preparing for the worst, and we’d been lucky enough to have 3 days of sunshine and calm winds, making none of our hard work necessary.
We had an amazing time on the Shipwreck Coast and would recommend the trip in the winter, especially if you have our luck with weather! At least now our gear is prepped for the next adventure… #domorewithnikwax