It’s been over two years since we’ve started volunteering for the COASST beached bird program. Our Toleak survey has seen a number of changes over that time period, mainly inflicted by the forces of nature. Of course one of the most influential impacts has been the COVID-19 virus in that it suspended the surveys for a few months and closed the Quileute Reservation where we would normally set up our basecamp.
Trailer Offline for Upgrades
Recently another impact was our small trailer being unavailable for maintenance and upgrades. Not so much an issue if this was during our short summer season, but it’s a bit of a change during our cold, rainy winter season.
Still, as backcountry guides, Theresa and I are no strangers to the rigors of tent camping, and as I looked for different solutions to being ‘trailerless’, I hit on the idea of grabbing a backcountry permit from the Olympic National Park and actually camping on the beach the night before our survey. No shortage of permits this time of year!
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Part of the driving force behind this was our tide window for conducting our Toleak survey. Our beach has two points of land which require a tide of 5’ or lower in order to be rounded. This time of year, and with the moon phase we were in, our only time slot meeting those requirements was early in the morning. It takes a little over an hour and a half to hike into our beach from our trailhead put in. That would have put us on a steep, slippery trail well before sunrise which just was an option.
So, it was a week’s worth of pulling down storage bins and sorting through gear in order to get all our kit together. It was also necessary to test much of the gear as it hasn’t been used in a while. The last thing you want is a sleeping pad going flat on a cold night or finding out that your stove has a clogged jet leaving you without a hot meal.
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Winter Camping on Coast
I wasn’t on the trail with my pack straps digging into my shoulders before I was asking myself, “When did this seem like a good idea?”. It was quickly apparent why I preferred a kayak to a backpack on multi-days trips!
But the weather was cooperating with plenty of sunshine which helped with the load. Of the two high tides, we’d have to contend with, the highest was our first afternoon with next, and slightly lower, high tide being in the early hours of the next morning. So as long as no strong winds developed, we should have no issues finding a dry place to pitch our tent.
The only problem was that there was not much dry beach around, in fact, I could only find one dry corner that might fit the bill. On the other side of Scott’s Creek, there is one tent pad off the beach but between the swollen creek and high tide, it was inaccessible. I kept my fingers crossed for calm winds as I pitched the tent.
Sunny days in the winter mean cold nights, and our campsite was no exception. As soon as the sun started to approach the horizon the temperature started plunging. A fire was called for, but building a fire in the Pacific Northwest in the winter is no easy task. It took a lot of preparation and constant attention but finally, we had a nice fire that gave off some warmth to hold the chill off.
But once we crawled into the tents and our sleeping bags you could feel the cold creeping into every corner. At one point my thermometer showed 33 degrees F and the dampness of the beach made it feel even colder. However, we had a fairly pleasant night and hot coffee the next morning soon had us feeling thawed out.
By the time we finished our survey, made it back to the FJ, and unshouldered our backpacks the chill of the previous night was long forgotten.