Les and Laura Sargent with a couple of Gray Whale ribs that we stumbled across on the beach.
The Olympic Coast Cleanup 2003!
Oil City/Hoh Head topo Map
What to Bring?
"The wildest, the most remote and, I think, the most picturesque beach area of our whole coastline lies under the pounding surf along the Pacific Ocean in the State of Washington . . . It is a place of haunting beauty, of deep solitude."
William O. Douglas
The Olympic Beaches are wild, remote, and seldom visited. Hikers come from all over the country and the world to experience the solitude and pounding waves of this unique area. The Olympic Coastal Strip is the only wilderness coast left in the lower 48. It looks and feels very much like it did when Captain Cook visited our area over 200 years ago. Only surf and storms provide change as wood and logs wash up on the beaches by one storm and then are carried away by another one.
On this spring day about 350 volunteers turned out to remove ocean generated debris from 80 miles of Pacific coast beaches between Hobuck Beach and South Kalaloch Beach. Conceived by Jan Klippert on a hike a few years ago, the Cleanup is now in itís 4th year. Individuals, Scouts, Mountaineers, and folks from the Washington Alpine Club turned out to give a little back. The weather service promised a great weekend for the annual Olympic Coast Cleanup. We had watched front after front blow through the last two weeks so we were due for a couple of days of good weather.
The Washington Alpine Club participated for the second year and put 18 hard workers on the beach! Les and Laura Sargent, Mike Tanner, and Mike and Doerte Mahanay met at the Oil City Trailhead, (No Oil, no City, and room for only a few vehicles) at the south end of the Olympic Coast Wilderness. The five of us left for the beach in the rain and the mud. The trail is in good shape, and easy to follow, but like all trails on the Olympic Coast that are not a boardwalk, they get really muddy. Most of us had Gortex boots, but mostly we were resigned to getting a little wet. Laura said if you wait for good weather in this part of the world you will never leave the house! A little later needed reinforcements arrived with Greg and Lynn Braun, and Crystal Roberts with her crew of ten teenagers.
The trail follows the Hoh River on its final stretch to empty into the Pacific Ocean. It is .9 miles to the Ocean from the Trailhead. The Hoh Delta is wide and shows evidence of past floods. The Hoh River starts way up on magnificent Mount Olympus, 7,965í, about 30 miles to the east. From a sub-alpine environment the river descends into temperate rainforest where precipitation ranges from 12-14 feet a year!
As we neared the Ocean we saw evidence of the massive flooding of the Hoh River, with great piles of logs accumulated along the banks.
We set up camp toward the South end of the beach in the shelter of some logs that has been cast up by an Ocean storm. Our campsite was well sheltered and offered wonderful views of the surf, the rocks offshore, and the islands. We set up our tents well above the high tide line. We had a great view of Destruction Island with itís automated lighthouse to warn boats away in bad weather.
This year our primary cleanup area was the Oil City Beach, in addition to Jefferson Cove, a mile to the North. We started working north on the beach, gathering the flotsam and jetsam into large trash bags. We worked very hard to gather all the debris left over the last year. We found foam, plastic, and a tire. There was lots of nylon rope to cut loose from the logs.
We hoped to find treasures such as glass fishing floats that arrive via the Kuroshio current from Japan. These glass floats have fascinating marking, delicate colors and come in a myriad of designs. They are the most sought after of all beach treasures, but we were not lucky enough to find any. Even the traditional Japanese are switching over to the foam floats. However, our friend Jan Klippert found one at Ocean Shores in 2001! No one could be more deserving than Jan! Flotsam takes the Ocean currents a year or more to cross from Asia to North America!
The Ranger in Forks told Les and Laura to watch for Nike shoes from a big APL Freighter that was caught in a typhoon over five years ago. The huge ship, carrying over 4,000 containers lost about 200 containers to the sea but was able to make it to port in Seattle for repairs. Nike shoes wrapped in cellophane have been washing up all over the Pacific Ocean Beaches enabling researchers to study the ocean currents. We didnít find any.
Laura and Les did stumble across a decomposed Gray Whale. We estimated it to be between 30 and 40 feet in length. There were bones scattered around. Female gray whales reach lengths up to 45 feet and weigh as much as 70,000 lb. Males are slightly smaller. At birth calves are approximately 15 feet long.
Gray whales spend the summer in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Gray Whales, like most other baleen whales, migrate to warmer waters during the winter months. The eastern Pacific stock of gray whales travels along the coast of the US and Mexico.
During this annual migration, a gray whale can travel as far as 6,000 miles each way. Pregnant females travel to the lagoons to give birth and raise the calf. The lagoons are protected from the open ocean - currents and predators. Others may travel to warmer waters or to find mates. Scientists have found that not all whales travel to the lagoons during the winter. Some may travel a portion of the way, some may not at all.
Gray whales are baleen whales. Baleen whales, also known as mysticetes, do not have teeth. Baleen whales have plates of baleen that hang from the upper jaw. The baleen is used to filter food from the water. Mike Tanner found one of these baleen plates and showed it to us. Gray Whales search for food on the bottom of the ocean. They eat tiny shrimp-like animals like amphipods and other bottom-dwelling animals.
More information on these amazing creatures can be found athttp://www.acsonline.org/factpack/graywhl.htm
At camp, we had time to visit, watch the waves, and get in the rhythm of the surf and tides. Bald Eagles soared overhead, we counted at least five individuals in one view, all mature. Last year we saw a few immature Bald Eagles as well. The immatures are brown for 1-3 years before they get the white head and tail. With a fondness for fish and waterfowl, this is a perfect area for them, as the Hoh is a prime Steelhead run. Although the Bald Eagle is regarded as a feared predator, it is often found scavenging carrion or robbing the sea gulls. Three years ago, near Goodman Creek, Doerte and I saw five Bald Eagles enjoying breakfast on a dead whale carcass!
We were entertained in the afternoon at high tide by the antics of seals fishing just offshore, and at the mouth of the Hoh. The lighthouse far offshore on Destruction Island came on exactly at sunset, and our warm fire provided a beacon to passing ships. We saw three fishing boats off shore.
As the high tide receded Mike Tanner, Doerte, and Mike went around Diamond Rock to Jefferson Cove. A few years ago, a large piece of the Headland fell away making the hike more challenging. Since then, Diamond Rock cannot be rounded at most high tides. Weaving in and out, and over the slippery rocks, we took our time to get safely around the headland. One party once spent 5 hours waiting for the tide to recede so they could get around Diamond Rock. Knowing the tides and how to read the tide table is essential to travel on the Olympic Coast.
Jefferson Cove is a beautiful low tide beach about a mile long. At the North end is the first ladder and the route over the big Hoh Head that eventually makes itís way to Third Beach, some 17 challenging miles distant. Hoh Head can never be rounded, even at an extreme low tide. It is 1.5 miles to the low tide beach at the North side of Hoh Head, and 3.5 miles by trail to Mosquito Creek.
At low tide, folks can look at the fascinating tide pools along Hoh Head. There are many anemones and starfish. There are several hundred Starfish in a variety of colors. The big rocks are covered with hundreds of small mussels.
Our cache site was above the high tide line near the overland ladder to Hoh Head. We made a great pile of floats, styrofoam (several as big as a 40-gallon garbage cans), great piles of nylon rope, 9 full trash bags. Volunteers will come later with a zodiac and remove the cache to the Port Angeles landfill.
We had to hurry back around Diamond Head to return to camp in time before dark. We worked hard, but didnít quite get everything done on Jefferson Cove. The three of us enjoyed a pleasant evening and warm fire. Later, it rained most of the night, but stopped just in time for the new day.
We awoke to misty weather and hiked out, carrying 8 trash bags and a tire out to the trailhead. We had mixed weather, and a very strong hard working team! Each storm brings more rubbish, so we will have to come back next year and do it yet again.
For more information on visiting the wild Olympic Coast:http://www.nps.gov/olym/wic/coast.htm
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