We came into Lake Ozette in the evening and set up camp. There was no running water as the website had suggested there would be, and the toilets were closed too. We were instructed to walk down the road to the trailhead parking where there would be a long drop. With these disappointments, it pained us to pay $20 a night for a campground that appeared to have had all its amenities shut off for winter, but we did, because it seemed like the right thing to do.
Our Ozette hike was the next day. It was a day hike, and our first along the coast. We packed into our little day packs, filled up our water, and set off into the trees. The forest is different on the coastal side of Olympic National Park than it is on the ‘dry’ side by Klahhane Ridge. It is thinner, perhaps just younger as it hasn’t been national park as long? Perhaps ravaged by coastal storms more frequently than its interior counterpart, and that shows in its structure and shape.
We walked on board walks and along paths covered in forest litter. The fallen droops of hemlock that covered the trail were yellows and oranges and greens. They shone up at my eyes from beneath my feet, glistening like something precious. We had three miles until we broke out onto the coast, and were then able to look out and on to islands, to herons coasting low above tide pools reflecting their image, to pinnipeds splashing off rocks and rolling in the water, to bald eagles soaring on invisible drafts of air and landing atop the pines.
We had lunch there on the coast, on one of the giant logs that the ocean must have washed there in one of its moments of tumultuous stormy uproar. I could sense the wild rage the ocean could invoke when the weather blew just right, though it was calm and sunny on our day there. We moved south then, along the coast and rocks, under fallen trees lying long against the rocks, around massive root systems, over logs. With time we started looking hopefully for petroglyphs that we had heard were carved into the rocks along this hike, and eventually we saw them at the top of the high tide mark. I couldn’t fathom how they could be left there like that, at the will and whim of the storm sculpted coast, but there they were. One was a carving of a square-rigger, presumed to be from when the first Spanish came by this coast, and I tried to imagine how this had appeared to the native people of this land when they looked out from their home and saw this immense vessel moving across the water with those giant sails catching the wind.
As we neared to the point where our trail should appear to take us back on a completed loop to camp, we came nearer and nearer to something we had spotted from a distance earlier along the coast: a mast with torn sails billowing in the wind, and below it a hull smashed on the rocks. We watched it with increasing interest, trying to comprehend its age and story. As we walked our feet found sand, and on the sand our eyes found foot prints. Bears, undoubtedly, there was very fresh bear scat filled with berries on the beach and below the high tide mark too. A bear had been there this morning. But other prints… we couldn’t place these. Were there coyotes here? It was hard to tell in this soft sand higher up, but they didn’t look like coyote prints. Cat? Wild cat? Mountain lion? We knew they lived here, and as we carried on, I felt eyes watching us from the undergrowth.
Eventually we came to our path, but instead we continued on straight to a short headland that would lead us out to the vessel shining from the rocks, and climbing slipping towards it on the low-tide rocks, we found what could only have been fresh wreckage from a very recent sailing accident. Why had no-one warned us about this? An American flag blew with the tattered sails. The sun, sinking lower and lower towards the ocean, backlit the vessel with a blinding white light. Seagulls made a temporary home on the rocks in front of the vessel and scattered to the sky as we edged closer. Everywhere along the rocks lay scattered bits and pieces of someone’s belongings. A sock, a jersey, a book cover, binding for a bible. It didn’t feel like a place that had claimed anyone’s life recently, and I felt that someone must have felt their anchor slip and boat hit a rock in the night, causing an immediate abandonment of the ship to shore in a dinghy. But, my mind raced through with endless possibilities for its story…
We turned back before reaching the ship. The rocks had become wetter and more slippery, and the dropping sun was always nagging at my knowledge that we’d be hiking home in the dark if we didn’t set off soon. We were already, as somehow had become our normal, hiking through bear hour to get back to camp, and with images of the fresh bear scat and footprints clean on our memory, we set back into the trees noisily and hastily, on and home to our little tent nestled by Lake Ozette, lingering thoughts and dreams of that immense wild and jagged, vibrantly alive and deathly stark coastline.