First beach backpack: Rialto

Icy surf hits my sweaty, sizzling shins. Maybe I shouldn’t send my heart into defib by marching into the frigid Pacific. Dayum. This is cold. And supremely satisfying after slogging down the beach with a 60-lb pack. Tomorrow will be a minus tide, perfect for tidepooling. Now that camp has been set up, my only job is to enjoy expansive views while sipping Champagne, observing waves crash, then a spectacular sunset on sea stacks.
First look: the mouth of the Quillayute river and sea stacks

A long time ago, when I first tried backpacking, friends urged me to pack along the Washington coast. “It’s flat. And, you can bring all sorts of goodies since it’s a short hike in.” A bevy of silly reasons kept me from going until today. What was I thinking? I’ve been on far more serious trails than just beach sand. Easy.

It’s slated for 95 degrees in Seattle–time to leave the roasting city for the chilly coast. Not quite. I hadn’t noticed an abnormally hot forecast for Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park. From one oven to another. Wait. Why am I hiking while it’s this hot?

If you’ve been to Washington’s coast, you know how cold our end of the Pacific is. Normally, August is very cool and foggy. Today, it’s scorching. I’m wading in–an extreme rarity. You might recall in my adventure “Snorkeling with whale sharks (and not drowning)” my fear of open water. This polar dip is similarly unprecedented. And needed. Cold salt water acts like epsom salts and soothes raw, blistered feet. Ahhh.

Holy shit that’s cold–and theraputic

A mile hike on soft beach sand, wearing a giant pack, in reflective 90-degree heat, is not easy. Completely rethinking all I have lugged as my muscles cramp and sweat stings, I trudge on, hoping to see the sign for the wilderness camping boundary: a tiny creek. Only need a permit, ground tarp and bag. Mosquito netting. That’s about it. Sigh. I’ve brought a ton of (unnecessary) shit.


Just about that time, I see the creek. Jackpot. Next, suss out a choice site: scouting up and down the beach, I find The One. Setting up camp is quick.

Camp: next time, bring a tarp and line for shade, instead of a ton of other crap

Time to enjoy what I hauled: a cooler full of beverages, including vintage grower Champagne. Out comes the requisite packable wine glass. Ah, yes. That’s better. A little bubbly. Comfy seat. Surf at my feet. Perfect.

Because every camp should have grower Champ

Later, an afternoon picnic of salami, cheese, olives, crackers and fruit satisfies. Low tide allows exploration toward Hole in the Wall, then another hike to the car and back to jettison gear. Then more strolling in swirling biting seas without sandals, contemplating my navel. Listening to sand and gravel roll out with each wave. Time slows.

Hole in the wall
Anemones of the state
Rockin’ out
Nature’s texturizer
Erosion at its best
Thumbs up for great camping
Light, shadow, form


Sun sinking low over sea stacks

Hours pass. The sun sinks lower. It appears haze and clouds will form a gorgeous sunset. I have a front row seat. Many hikers pass by; most have that look: I want your site. They continue. Many excellent sites are past Hole in the wall. I’m grateful for early arrival, and a shorter hike. Time to settle in for sunset.

Tangerine dreams
Cotton candy skies
Rialto beach afterglow

After an incredibly long, multicolored afterglow, stars begin to twinkle. Then the Milky Way. Phosphorous in the surf. Amazing. It’s still quite warm and difficult to sleep. Better get some before the lowest tide–around 6A.M.

It’s 8:30A.M. And cool and foggy. Oops. Missed that low tide. Already coming back in. No matter. The plan was to hike out today, regardless. Lazing around camp, I spy rays cutting through misty spruce forests like LOTR. In a few minutes, it’s hot, humid, and buggy. Time to go.

Keep it secret, keep it safe


Thankfully, the walk back is easier knowing a comfy seat and beer await. Fog lingers over sea stacks near trailhead. I click the shutter again. Sigh. I have to leave? Wait. More opportunity for next time.

Olympic National Park is an amazing place, ranging from ocean to rainforest to mountains. Rialto Beach is located on the west side, near Forks, Washington. Backpacking is strictly regulated with permits and bear cans due to a history of incorrect food storage and overuse. Filtering all water is recommended or pack it in. Be a no-trace camper: if you pack it in, pack it out–including your used TP.
All images and content copyright ©2017 Eric Schadel. All rights reserved.

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