Location: Rialto Beach; Olympic National Park, Washington
Maps: National Geographic Trails Illustrated #216: Olympic National Park (1:100,000); USGS 1:24,000 Quad: La Push
Access: From Forks, WA, drive north on 101 for about 1.5 miles, then turn west on 110. In about 7.5 miles, take a right near a gas station, then drive another 5 miles to Rialto Beach
Fees: $15 Park pass + $5 backcountry permit + $2/person nightly camping fee + $3 bear canister rental (if you donít own one)
Trail: 2 miles one-way to Hole-In-The-Wall, no elevation gain or loss along the beach. One can continue north for many miles along the beach
Dogs: No dogs allowed
Weather: Forks station

September 6, 2005
The drive down to Rialto Beach from Highway 1 was like living a luxury car commercial. The canopy of pines and maples that strung across the road filtered the sunlight into tiny golden flecks that shimmered across the windshield as we cruised down the winding asphalt towards the ocean.  It was just the kind of scene one would expect from an Acura commercial, the kind that tries to make you forget that most of the time you spend behind the wheel is spent in miserable traffic between concrete shoulder barriers flanked by 8 story buildings and blinking lights and instead lulls you into believing that if you drive an Acura, all your travels will be like this. So we enjoyed the beautiful dreamlike road as it led us towards our much-anticipated goal. For 2 years I had a tiny sticky note posted on the margin of my PC monitor at work listing the big trips I wanted to take, and Olympic National Park was at the top of the list. For over 2 years I glanced at the note every morning as my PC whirred to life, thinking that someday I would enjoy a morning there rather than at my PC terminal. So, here we were, Andra and I, living the dream of both the 8 to 5 worker and the Acura Car Company. We had come from the town of Forks where we had rented a bear-proof cannister to store our food in while camping. Apparently the raccoons are a more immediate threat to camper food supplies than bears. 

We arrived at the gravel parking lot at Rialto Beach, on the north bank of the Qullayute River, around 1:00. The sun was shining unimpeded across a sun-drenched landscape of contrasting green forests and hulking mounds of bleached driftwood piled 10 feet high. The parking lot, in fact, was roughly bounded by these masses of driftwood, even so far as to provide medians in the center. A helicopter hovered overhead, and as we stuffed our framepacks with gear and changed shoes, several people approached the Forest Service fire crew to inquire as to what they were doing. We were within earshot so we learned that they were transporting plants from this location to another more remote location for vegetation rehabilitation, although I never learned why the rehab was needed. Finally, with packs shouldered and our rental Toyota locked, we stepped off through the smooth rocks for the ocean. The tide was in, so we had to stay close to the rim of driftwood, timing a jog here and there around jutting obstacles while the waves were out.  At high tide, the exposed beach was covered in largish dark-gray round rocks, most about the size of eggs. They clattered noisily underfoot and provided only marginally stable footing. Still, this was better than attempting to walk through the forest, since the dense sword ferns and myriad downed logs made that almost impossible. We headed north under a perfectly blue sky with the ocean crashing within feet of us to the left and a barrier of ancient bleached logs stacked up like a wall to the right. Driftwood, in this instance, is not made up of the 1-2 foot splinters one usually thinks of, but is composed largely of entire tree trunks, 30-50 feet long, some 5-6 feet in diameter. Of course, there are smaller pieces in abundance, but everything is anchored by these giant logs lying at the extreme high tide line. Within the barrier of wood lay tiny pieces of stone that look just like pebbles, but are in fact pieces of wood tumbled across the sand until they are round and smooth. When wet, they look just like the dark gray rocks on the beach. Just beyond the wall of driftwood, a dense forest of pines and spruce takes over. The beach was active with people, and we encountered several hiking groups and could see several more up ahead of us. We stopped occasionally to sit on a log and watch the ocean. Just beyond the crashing waves, rock pinnacles jutted up out of the water 50-70 feet. Stunted trees grew atop or within cracks of most of the seastacks, and almost all were covered by an assortment of tenacious herbaceous vegetation. Some seastacks were only 30 feet from the tideline, while others were only barely visible on the horizon, and apparently large enough to warrant naming: Cake Rock and Dahdayla Island. 

The regulations for camping state only that one must camp north of Ellen Creek. Undoubtedly because we were so busy admiring the ocean, we missed the sign that marks Ellen Creek, and the creek itself was dry at this late date in the year. Thus it was that we approached Hole-In-The-Wall before even noticing that we should have already noticed Ellen Creek. Satisfied that we had walked far enough with packs, we scouted the forest just beyond the driftwood and found a wonderful camp clearing near a pair of tooth-shaped seastacks just beyond the high tideline. We set up our camp in one of the most wonderful locations Iíve ever stayed at. No hotel room could possible compare. We set the tent up under a trio of very large spruce trees, surrounded by a jungle of tall sword ferns. Unknown creeping vines snaked along the spongy forest floor and up the tree trunks. Moss covered everything, although most of it was dry and brownish. The next few hours were spent lazing around in camp or leaned up against the driftwood on the sandy beach. The tide went out during the afternoon, and soon the water had retreated low enough to expose dozens of feet of sandy beach. A brisk wind blew in from the water, keeping it cool, but the sun was bright and felt warm and soothing. 

We cooked an early dinner of burritos, and then walked northward along the beach. Not 200 yards from camp, a rock wall juts out into the ocean, barring passage. One must climb uphill and over the wall to get to the other side at most times. There is a hole in this wall, about 10 feet wide and 15 feet tall, that can act as an alternate route only during low tide. We took the overland route going north, and explored the interesting landscape exposed by the receding tide. Kelp clung to the rock, which was striated in parallel grooves by the constant tide. Patterns in the rock were fascinating. In tide pools, tiny fish darted about among floating bits of brightly colored kelp and algae, while starfish and barnacles clustered on the rock sides in the deeper pools. Anemones crowded the bottom of these pools, their pudgy tentacles moving slowly and methodically, waiting for food to be delivered. We spent an hour, maybe two, just wandering the tidal zone, examining all the little creatures and plants that are so foreign to a life spent in Wyoming.  We slowly headed back to camp via the hole in the wall and along the soft sand of the exposed beach. The sun sank low on the horizon, casting a reddish light across the rocks and foam. Back near camp, Andra took up watching a flock of pelicans diving into a school of fish just offshore. With practiced precision, a line of pelicans would dive into the water, one after the other, like a chorus line, never diving on top of eachother. Each would come up with a lump in its mouth, then throw back its head to swallow the unlucky morsel of aquatic life. Quickly, they would take off again, wheel around with the wind, and then swoop in again. At any given second, there was a bird diving into the water, one starting to dive, and one about to start diving. This went on and on for half an hour. The sun sank lower, and sent red light streaming just above the ocean surface all the way to the beach, where it gleamed and sparkled in the wet sand. After dark, we retreated to the tent and lay down for a nice snooze. 

In the middle of the night, I had to get up for a trip to the bushes. I stepped out of the tent into a weird Dali-like dreamland. Mildly disconcerted by hearing waves crash so close to the tent, I had to remind myself that we were well above the high tide mark. The air was still and close, and I could see a heavy fog all around, glowing orange from the lighthouse down near the Quillayute River outlet. Out at sea, I could barely discern the red running lights of a few ships which could have been 50 feet out or 5000. I returned to the tent, feeling irrationally more secure huddled within the thin layer of nylon and the warm layer of goose down. 

September 7, 2005
A white light awoke us in the morning, and I checked outside to note that the sky was a solid mass of formless gray clouds. We put on some warm clothes and walked down to the tooth-shaped rocks near camp, where the low tide had provided access. We were able to walk right up between the rocks that were under 10 feet of water when we arrived the day before. Starfish by the hundreds covered the rocks, clinging tenaciously to small patches of rock. We spent perhaps an hour in aimless wandering around the rocks, admiring the strange life forms clinging to the dark, wet rock. We packed up our tent and ate a cold breakfast before heading back down the beach. The wind picked up, and sent a cool surf spray gliding inland. It wasnít long before the tooth rocks where we camped were concealed in the moist air. Because of the low tide, our hike back was much easier than going in, since we were able to walk on the hard, wet sand, left smooth by the outgoing tide. We reached the car at around 11AM, and drove back into Forks to return the bear canister, and then inland to the forest of the Hoh River.



"Our suicidal poets (Plath, Berryman...et al.) spent too much of their lives inside rooms and classrooms when they should have been trudging up mountains, slogging trhough swamps, rowing down rivers. The indoor life is the next best thing to premature burial."

             -Edward Abbey
Andra rests and enjoys the crashing surf and empty sky at Rialto Beach
Sea stacks and Hole in the Wall in the distance
Our Eden of a campsite near Hole in the Wall
Andra maxin' and relaxin' at camp
Swimsuit-Model-on-the-Beach pose,  through driftwood.
Sam finds a sportin walking stick on Rialto Beach
View through Hole-in-the-Wall at sunset
Hole-in-the-Wall at low tide exposes the grooved rock coastline
Rialto Beach, Washington
Rialto Beach, Washington
The pelican eating-machine
We get lucky and enjoy a perfectly clear sky at sunset
Starfish on a rock, Rialto Beach, Washington
Andra and I pose next to our favorite piece of driftwood
Gray morning on Rialto Beach

Video: Crashing waves (rialto.avi) 5.3MB

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