Ozette Triangle

As I mentioned in my last post, the westernmost point of the contiguous United States is Cape Alava, about 15 miles due south of Cape Flattery. To get there Tuesday, we returned southeast on SR-112 to the Hoko-Ozette Road, taking that road southwest through private timber land to the drive’s terminus at the ranger station and campground on the north end of Ozette Lake.

Although the bulk of Olympic National Park lies in the interior of the Olympic Peninsula, centered on Mount Olympus and ringed by National Forest lands, there is a 60-mile strip of wilderness coastline that is also part of the National Park and Ozette is the Park’s northernmost access point (it’s also possible to access the Park at Shi Shi Beach through the Makah Reservation, permit required from the tribe).

From Neah Bay, it’s about an hour drive to the Ozette Ranger Station; other than a general store, a campground and the trailhead parking area, there’s not much there. Surprisingly, however, the parking lot was nearly full when we arrived at 8:00 a.m. to take advantage of the low tide Tuesday morning.

After gearing up, we crossed a short pedestrian bridge over the Ozette River, stopping to watch a family of river otters and to chat briefly with a group of women day-hikers from Seattle who kindly offered to take a photo of us. Then, leaving the ladies on the bridge, we headed off on the trail.

There are several hiking options at Ozette. You can hike out and back on either of two beach access trails – one to Cape Alava, the other to Sand Point. Or, you can hike out on one of the beach access trails, walk along the beach, and return along the other, thus hiking an equilateral triangle with a perimeter of 9.3 miles, that is, about 3.1 miles per leg. We chose this path, the Ozette Triangle, hiking it counter-clockwise.

The trek to Cape Alava is a relatively flat hike through spruce and hemlock forest sprinkled with deer fern and swamp (or skunk) cabbage, frequently on boardwalks across normally muddy areas. We were lucky: the entire trail was dry the day of our hike.

Supposedly, this area was settled by Scandinavian homesteaders in the early 1890s and the Park Service says that there were as many as 130 families living and farming here, having formed a community with a school, stores, a church and a post office. When the area was incorporated into the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897, most of the settlers left, with the exception (among others) of Swedish immigrant Lars Ahlström who continued into the 1950s to pasture livestock on one of the coastal prairies through which we hiked as we approached the seashore.

At any rate, Ozette was made accessible to the rest of the world by the opening of the Hoko-Ozette Road in 1930 and in 1953 the area was made part of Olympic National Park (which itself had been established in 1938). Lars and the rest of the residents of the area were all gone by the 1960s.

The Park Service maintains primitive campsites overlooking the shoreline at Cape Alava, nestled among the Sitka Spruce that line the small coastal bluff there. We hiked north along the coast past the campsites…

… descending to the rocky beach at Cape Alava, just south of the site of the ancient Makah village of Hosett (or Osett, now Ozette). Some say that the trail from the Ranger Station was a traditional Makah Indian trail between the shore and Lake Ozette.

Hundreds of years ago, the village of Hosett was buried by a mudslide that some researchers believe resulted from the great Pacific Northwest earthquake of 1700 that caused a tidal wave recorded as far-away as Japan. Archeologists excavated the Ozette site in the 1970s after a storm surge eroded the shore and exposed a buried Makah longhouse. Over 50,000 artifacts have since been recovered, most of them now housed in the Makah Museum in Neah Bay.

As we started to make our way south along the shoreline, the Seattle lady hikers we passed on the bridge at the trailhead appeared behind us next to the coastal trail marker.

Here’s the view north at Cape Alava. That offshore island is directly off the coast of the site of the archeological dig. You can see that it was low, low tide when we arrived at the Pacific shore. We planned it that way so that we could walk the entire beach, rather than having to scramble inland around the headlands as we hiked south.

I suppose all kinds of things wash ashore on this remote coast (like the 3 Japanese sailors who ran aground here in 1834), but there wasn’t much littering the shore on the day we hiked. Dale searched for and collected pieces of sea glass, but I was surprised by the near absence of plastics! Of course, there was driftwood…

… and the occasional erratic boulder, left by the retreating glaciers that covered Puget Sound and parts of the Olympic Peninsula millennia ago (the Seattle lady hikers turned around here).

The tidal range is extreme on this part of the coast as you can see. Look at how far out the water had receded from the high tide line marked by dislodged kelp and other flotsam.

A little over a mile south of Cape Alava there’s a headland known as the Wedding Rocks, the site of ancient petroglyphs, the most prominent having been interpreted to depict a wedding ceremony (bottom right, below).

Two trail maps I downloaded showed that there was a bluff trail above the Wedding Rocks called Rocks Way Trail which I thought indicated that there were more petroglyphs higher up. We found a trail winding upward through the ferns and lush inland vegetation, so up we went.

After floundering around trailblazing for about half an hour, we finally gave up and returned to the beach where I left Dale before trying another route in one last futile attempt before returning to the beach.

We continued south, admiring the sea stacks, hiking out to the tallest one in the photo, below, for a lunch break and to poke around in the tidal pools.

Sea stacks are remnants of eroded shorelines, having once been connected to the main headland. They may consist of harder or different rock than the rest of the eroded coastline, but not necessarily. Eventually, these sea stacks, too, will erode and crumble into the ocean.

If you look back at the photos of our walk along the shore, you’ll notice that it was mostly cloudy as we hiked south on the beach; but, by the time we reached Sand Point, nearly all the clouds had burnt off or blown away.

We turned inland here at Sand Point, hiking gradually uphill through Sitka Spruce and deer ferns again. Other than its start and end, the trail from Sand Point to the Ozette Lake trailhead is nearly all boardwalk, occasionally through open prairie which on this bright and sunny afternoon was rather hot.

it was a great hike. Total distance: 10.2 miles (the extra mile the result of our trailblazing at the Wedding Rocks); time hiking: 5.0 hours; total ascent: 763 feet (again, including the trailblazing). A terrific initiation to Olympic National Park!

2 thoughts on “Ozette Triangle

  1. Pingback: Ross Lake | The Road Less Traveled

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