The alarm woke us up at 4:30 in the morning, as desired. It was still dark outside, but it was easy enough to use our headlamps to get ready inside the tent. Again, we moved with efficiency but not hurry. Before long we were almost completely ready. The one thing that I needed was the privy. 

Now, I knew that there was a privy here, somewhere. What I didn’t know was exactly where it was. However, the reason that I knew for certain there was a privy is because I saw it on the GPS. Ambrose and I trekked across the creek in the dark, following the GPS’s instructions. We stumbled through a group’s campsite using our headlamps with care, not waking anyone that I noticed, and then found ourselves in a clearing. On one side, what looked like parking for two cars, though nothing was parked (this is the wilderness after all). On the other side, some rough walls that defined the privy, decorated with all manner of tide trash. We took turns and then left, taking the correct trail this time instead of going back through that occupied campsite. 

When we got back to our campsite, all we had to do was pack up our toilet paper and headlamps, and heft our packs. The sky was starting to lighten, enough that we didn’t need to use headlamps for hiking. We had less than a mile of nice beach hiking before the day started to get hard. The section after Norwegian Memorial is the roughest on the whole North Coast trail. In years past, it has taken us no less than 5 hours to get from Norwegian Memorial to the next beach, Yellow Banks. This year, we were prepared to take those 5 hours as we left behind the nice, firm, wet sand and began to walk on tumbled rocks. 

I’ve walked this stretch before, but, at the same time, I haven’t. Every winter, storms and tides swamp this trail, changing it. The large landmarks don’t change, but the surface upon which I walk does. There’s no memorizing the trail here; you walk the way that seems best from moment to moment. I spent a lot of time looking down at my feet, because the surfaces on which I stepped were so variable that I needed the visual cue to help me move smoothly. 

Rocks could be more or less grippy depending not only on what kind of rock they were, but also on whether they were wet, and how wet they were. Not to mention that some rocks were covered in plantlife. Each variety of seaweed can mean something different, depending on where it is. Some, I avoid no matter what, while others can be stepped on with care. The rocks can also be coated with super slick algae or encrusted with easy to step on crustaceans or corals. Lots to look at and evaluate!

In years past, I’d move for a bit, take pictures, then turn and see how far behind Ambrose was. Those years, he’d generally be way far behind. Sometimes even out of sight, which can get dangerous on this trail. I’d find a spot to sit without taking my pack off and wait for him to catch up. Not so this year. I couldn’t get rid of the man this year! I hardly had time to take pictures, because he was just hiking practically right behind me. It was an incredibly impressive improvement from prior years. 

The first part of the rough section takes us around a corner to a large cove. It has a beach, but not one that you’d want to camp on. What sand there is is rough and black, hiding rocks from pebble sized to boulder. The highest tides definitely swamp the whole thing. But not every tide is that high. See, I know the tides can get pretty high, because there was a bloating, decaying whale corpse on that beach. (And that’s the same reason I know they don’t all get that high.) We could smell it a mile away. 

I added it to my collection of animal corpse pictures. Might have to do a “creepy dead animals” coffee table book one of these days. Or maybe a “creepy dead animals” coloring book! Yeah, my husband will probably talk me out of that one… 

We hiked as the tide was still going down, and cut off a bit of the cove by cutting through where the tide receded. I was still being careful not to let my boots get wet, because once they were wet getting them dry would be difficult. Plus, I didn’t know how robust the waterproof socks were going to be out here on the coast. So I stepped with a great deal of care, while Ambrose, who had waterproof boots on, did not. 

Of course, then he just steps into water that’s deeper than his boot tops and the waterproofing of his boots loses all meaning… 

After the cove, it’s a fairly straight stretch of coast, but the difficultly level remains high. There is no sand here, just rocks of varying sizes to walk on. In addition, there are a lot of trees and logs involved. As I said on some of the video I recorded, this stretch of trail has a mixed bag of tricks. We’d be walking on stone slabs and rocky beaches and over fallen logs and sometimes under fallen logs. The tide was out so far that I could barely hear the waves, leaving everything strangely quiet. Only a soft rushing sound gave an audible clue as to the nearness of the ocean. 

I had remembered from our prior trips that this hike involved a lot of going up and down. And while that was still true to an extent, the fact that I was actively trying to reduce the number of times I had to step up or down for Ambrose’s ankle seemed to make the whole hike more efficient. I wasn’t always hiking in a straight line, but I moved fast. Sometimes, I found myself hiking in a spiral because that was the easiest route. I was more focused on an efficient route than forward progress for forward progress’ sake. 

We’d never hiked this section with the tide being out so far before, and it really makes the journey much easier. There are lots of “low wet” sections that would normally be covered by even a modest tide that were now exposed for us to walk on. While hiking through a low, wet, I took the plunge and got my boots submerged, testing the waterproof socks. They worked! And now that I wasn’t concerned about getting my feet wet, I was happy to walk through all the puddles if it meant an easier hike. 

Ambrose and I stuck to a rhythm of taking breaks every hour or so. This was especially important for us on this hike, because neither of us were using our water bladder tubes for drinking while hiking. Instead, Ambrose had a new system that I was also trying out. 

He had learned about this system from Pacific Crest Trail thru hikers that he watches on YouTube. Instead of using a tube to drink regularly from the water bladder, you keep the water bladder and tube inside your pack. At break time, you pour out a pint of water and drink it down. This system is supposed to help maintain a steady state of hydration, and, it had been keeping Ambrose and I well clear and copious. Actually, it kept me a bit too hydrated as I found myself having to pee between breaks, so I reduced the pint to 300 to 400 milliliters. 

We’d also snack at every break to keep our energies up. Walking all day can take a lot of energy, and when you’re also carrying a significant fraction of your bodyweight, that takes even more. I can sometimes find it hard to eat enough to support myself on these trips, so I need to make sure that I have food that I like to eat. Like all the candy in my homemade GORP (shoutout to Claudia, whose gift provided all the nuts and fruit for my GORP – I added the candy myself).

We kept up a steady pace, and somehow, the coastline melted away. Hours slipped by and then, like a mirage, the sand appeared beyond the rocks. Beautiful, flat, damp sand. So easy and delightful to walk on. If we were going to try and keep going, we’d have pushed the pace on this sand, but we already planned to stop at Yellow Banks for the tide, and there was no reason to change that plan. 

We strolled along the beach to get to where we wanted to stop, close to the far end where we’d be hiking on in a few hours. While we did stop near water seepage, there wasn’t a good water flow anywhere close by. Once we settled in a spot and changed over to camp shoes, Ambrose volunteered to walk back up the beach and fill both the water bags. 

Now, this was a major shock. Not only had Ambrose absolutely smashed our prior time for hiking this section, cutting off a full 40 minutes, but he now wanted to walk half a mile back up the beach and bring back water?? This is not the same man that hiked this beach in 2018 or in 2015. Ambrose’s progress has been amazing to watch, and I am so proud of him for all of the work that he’s been putting in to improve himself. He’s not giving up the fitness that allows us to go on these adventures just because he’s not as young as he used to be. 

I worked on getting my pack emptied out so I could see about tightening the loops again. My repairs were doing better, but the loops kept stretching. I got the loops untied in anticipation of asking Ambrose to tie them this time. 

I wanted to walk around and explore, but I didn’t want to leave our stuff all alone while Ambrose was still getting water, so I relaxed. I watched the waves crash on the beautiful golden sand in front of me. The sun was shining down, giving me some much needed warmth after the chilly morning’s hike. I had considered whether or not to bring my Kindle on this trip, and, due to the weight of my gear, decided against it. If I’d had it, this would be a time when I’d take it out. That I didn’t have it, I took the time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world around me. 

After Ambrose returned, he got the filtering system set up. We snacked, we drank. Ambrose tied my loops extra tight. I took a little tour of the beach and filmed The Platform. It was a wonderfully pleasant stopover to wait for the tide. 

The high tide passed, and we waited for the water around the entrance to The Hole to recede sufficiently. Before it had gone far enough for our tastes, two hikers appeared from the north. They weren’t coming through The Hole. They were doing a high scramble on the rocks going around. Not a path that Ambrose and I wanted to take. Far too much up and down.

Not that I wasn’t impressed with those hikers. I mean, one of them was even carrying a surfboard. But they clearly weren’t on a ten day hitch like we were. In fact, they could have walked from their car this very morning, since there is a trailhead about 3 miles from Sandpoint. 

Not long after they passed, we were ready to make our way up and through The Hole. Ambrose went up first, carrying the GoPro so that he could film me coming up. Right as he reached the top, his bear canister slipped free from his pack straps and took a tumble. Thank goodness it tumbled forward and not back down The Hole and onto my head!

I made it up without incident, but it wasn’t the end of the traverse. We had to climb up through a notch, then route find around some huge tidal rocks. I mean, we were more walking upon a rock surface, this wasn’t a collection of boulders, but an upthrust of rock from the earth, worn to smoothness by the ocean. I had to do some scouting to find the best route. It took a bit of climbing, but Ambrose and I both were able to navigate it.

And then we came upon a stretch of sandy beach. I thought we had arrived, but then I realized that the treeline here was far too low. I knew that the campsites at South Sandpoint required a rope climb to get to, and the trees here were low enough to climb up to in a single step – even for me. Knowing that we weren’t yet at our destination, we both hiked fast, heading for a right turn. In fact, Ambrose decided he was racing me. And he pulled ahead! 

I mean, once he was ahead, I was able to take the turn early enough to regain the lead. Ahead, more rocks, and then. People in the rocks?

Yes, people. We rounded a corner to find a couple hanging out in a rocky alcove. They weren’t going anywhere, and we stopped to chat with them for a bit. They had come across Ozette Lake on kayaks, and then hiked over from the lake to the beach here, which I thought sounded neat. They were interested in the trip that we were doing, and I had the woman take a picture of the picture of my card I’d taken at the trailhead. Took a couple tries, but she got it, and I was glad I’d taken that photo. Maybe they’ll read this some day. 

After that, we had to do a bit of rock scrambling to continue without waiting for the tide to go down, but it was relatively easy compared to the morning’s hiking. There was, however, a lot more seaweed in varying stages of decay here. The smell was intense. The flies sure loved it, there were tiny ones that were only visible because there are so many, so I could hear a low level buzzing noise. We had to detour around mounds of the rotting seaweed to avoid both the smell and the slipperiness. 

Just a bit more rock hopping, and we came to the firm sand of South Sandpoint. 

I hiked ahead, keeping an eye on the now-properly-high bluff so I could find the ropes. There was also a blue barrel on the beach in the distance, and I was aiming at it, because the rope up to the privy tends to be marked somewhat obviously, and I really needed to visit a privy. 

Ambrose and I hiked up to a collection of driftwood chairs on the sand and found a small group of female hikers who sounded like they were lost. Sounded like, because we could hear them talking loudly about looking for Sandpoint. I didn’t have time to correct them or advise them properly, because of my need to find a privy, so I let Ambrose deal with them while I hauled myself up the rope and made my way to the privy. One of the women followed me, but not closely enough to figure out where I’d went. I know because I asked her if she found it, after I was back down on the sand, and she said she hadn’t. 

But before I went back down, I scouted. I didn’t like the first site from the privy, but the second one was amazing. A driftwood seating area, a lovely flat spot for a tent, and relatively easy access to water. I’d found our home for the night, as far as I was concerned, but I didn’t drop my pack yet for two reasons. One, I did want to get Ambrose’s buy-in on the site. And two, it was a lot easier to film Ambrose coming up the rope if I kept my pack on and used it to hold the GoPro. 

Ambrose had let the group of women know about quota areas and how if we were taking a campsite, we had first claim since our permit was for this area. The woman who had tried to follow me to the privy asked if we were taking “that” campsite, and I told her that yes, yes we were. She really didn’t seem to want to turn around and keep hiking… 

Ambrose and I got situated up in the trees. The wind was blowing constantly, laden with water so that a haze of mist was always in the trees. I brought Ambrose over to where we could access water. There was some climbing involved, but nothing that required a rope. Just big steps. And the trees provided roots, limbs and branches to help navigate down to the stream. 

I’m kicking myself for not taking footage of this stream. There wasn’t much flow to it, but there was enough to patiently scoop into our dirty water bags, at least in one particular puddle. After we filled up our water, I noticed a guy across the stream, pushing his way through the thick brush, and going away from the water. I yelled and waved to get his attention and managed to point him in the right direction to get to the stream. Then I went down to point out the puddle to him, because I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t take that seriously as a water source. 

The perfect tent spot was great for pitching the tent, but the ground was harder than I liked. Once I got inside the tent, I could feel that the foam pad was not going to be as cushy tonight. Not much to be done about it, and the ground wasn’t going to be softer somewhere else. I don’t know if I’d camp up there again with a foam sleeping pad though. 

But the campsite was magical in every other way. Very private, and while we couldn’t really see the ocean unless we went over to the edge of the bluff (which we did do for a bit), we could still hear the waves and smell the salt, blown in by the wind, which also swayed the trees, bushes and grasses. 

Again, I didn’t stay up for the sunset. I absolutely need as much sleep as I can get when we’re hiking this hard under load. Especially because I’d not gotten great sleep the prior night (someone’s snoring woke me when the waves were too far away to drown it out). And after the day’s hike, it was really easy to make the choice to go to bed, snuggled into the tent with Ambrose, warm and sore and happy.

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