PCT Shakedown at the Tidal Pools of La Push Beach

I’d never seen West Coast beaches before. And I’d definitely never seen a beach like this. Bleached driftwood, smooth grey ovular rocks, dark sea stacks jutting up against an overcast sky. Fog rolled in from the distant horizon where the clouds faded into the ocean.

Big rocks!

It felt threatening. Ominous. Every time a wave thundered against the jagged rocks I thought of my body being thrown around on the surf. Pounded against the stacks. I shuddered. It was somehow exciting at the same time. Massive pine trees swayed on the shoreline, just above the sun-bleached bones of their brethren.

It was the first time Lovechild and I had been backpacking with each other since we finished the Appalachian Trail. It was our first shakedown hike for our next adventure — the Pacific Crest Trail.

Rocky Starts

We walked side by side along the shoreline of La Push Beach, feet sinking into the sand, pack hugging my hips. It felt familiar. Comfortable. The air was slightly salty and the sun peeked out from behind the overcast sky. Before I had come out on this trip, I was nervous. Nervous that I would be tired of backpacking and suddenly I wouldn’t want to thru-hike anymore (even though that’s what I just spent the last six months working at a ski resort and saving for.) I realized, as my footprints embedded themselves in the earth next to Lovechild’s that I could never grow tired of seeing new things. Exploring new places. Experiencing how life changes to adapt and grow in different places — just like the two of us.

Thousands of smooth rocks skittered underfoot as we walked. The sea constantly shifted through them; the rocks whispering as they brushed against one another when the ocean receded. The ocean pounded them and shined them like a giant rock tumbler. Waves nudged them forwards until they came to rest, all nestled perfectly within one another underneath John and I’s feet. A mosaic of rubies and emeralds and sapphires, all glittering underneath the afternoon light.


When I held onto one for a while, it dried and became dull. It looked like every other rock on shore. I couldn’t take them from the sea, otherwise they lost their beauty. Some things are meant to be left as they are — and that’s the most beautiful thing about them. They can only be experienced in that place, at that exact time, only by you and whoever you’re with. It is the fleeting and beautiful nature of life that we must try to preserve.

Tidal Pools

We followed the coast, watching waves hurl themselves against the sea stacks and explode until we came across some barnacled rocks. Inside the small divets in the rocks small ecosystems emerged. Tidal pools.

Ochre sea stars!

Ochre sea stars!

Nestled inside them were Giant Green Anemones, translucent tentacles probing the still water. They squished on top of each other in the crooks of tidal pools. Speckling the sides like stationary fireworks. Tiny fish darted around them. Purple and orange Ochre Sea Stars bigger than the palm of my hand clung to underwater crags. Blue Mussels bloomed on the tips of the rocks. Waves slammed around us; white Acorn Barnacles peppering the rims of pools.

I crouched at the lips of the vibrant pools. Peering into their depths. They were reflections of the oceans beauty, tiny lockets of life that the tide left behind — windows into an underwater world we’d never see unless we took up scuba diving. It was exquisite.

A giant green sea anemone.

A giant green sea anemone!

Around the next corner, a sea otter drifted in the cove in front of us, floating on his back, in the grey water. The wet sound of a clam in his paws hitting against a rock on his belly echoed across the water. I smiled. I had never seen any of these animals outside captivity or a nature documentary. It felt serene and intimate watching him drift through the surf. We were watching his nightly dinner routine. My stomach grumbled. We needed to find a place to camp soon.

High Tide and High Anxiety

As we walked on, the ocean churned through the massive sea stacks, through narrow dark channels, a hole in the rocks, white water framed by the dark cavern. It stretched out forever out there. Misty, dark, foreboding.

And we still hadn’t found a place to camp. The park ranger earlier had told us that there would be spots higher up on the beach — but we couldn’t find anything higher than the bleached bones of driftwood. I started to panic. I don’t want to wake up with the ocean in my tent at 1 a.m. The tide was coming in. The waves slammed themselves violently against rocks. The spray exploded just feet from where Lovechild and I slipped through kelp fields.

Me walking past hole in the wall.

The beach continuously lead us onto rocky outcroppings. They became smaller as the tide swelled higher. “Just around this next corner…” I laughed nervously at Lovechild. And then it was the next corner. And the next. And then I was wading shin deep through ocean as the surf rose. There was nowhere in the forest to camp. The only things on shore were a slimy rock field and a cliff that looked above us — hollowed in a slight arc from the waves that began to lap at our feet.

We agreed there were no more corners to go around after this next one.

Are We Going To Get Murdered?

Finally — the beach lead us to some calmer coves and two perfect flat spots in the forest. They were up on the lip of the shore with no risk of a surprise visit from the ocean.

“Uhhh…there’s a suspicious backpack over here.” Lovechild was poking at some of the shrubs that bordered one of the flat spots. I groaned. How suspicious could a backpack look?

Our tents jammed against each other.

Tight squeeze!

It was suspicious. It was a faded green waterproof backpack with holes in the top of it. It was surrounded with empty Fireball shooters and all it contained was a blue weathered tarp with some paper towels stuffed into the bottom. Ughhhhhh. I was too tired to keep walking. I offered to share half the tent site without the sketchy bag next to it with Lovechild. We crammed both of our Gossamer Gear tents into the spot. “Scream if you get a special visitor tonight!” I told him and laughed.

After eating my Walmart sub (slathered in mayonnaise of course), I walked over to the water barefoot. The rocks pressed into the soles of my feet. The waves trickled in and out of the rocks beneath me. I felt the cold swell around my calves and disappear. I ran my fingers through the rocks; the wet sound of them mashing together made me happy — tiny pebbles slipping through my fingers. Vibrant colors ever-changing below my fingertips. The waves erased the caverns my fingers made. Foam lacing the edges of rocks.

I watched the waves slam against the sea stacks in the distance, hurling themselves, exploding into great violent splashes of foam projecting skyward and disappearing into small rivulets in the cracks in the rocks. On an impulse, I stripped my clothes off and laid them by a piece of driftwood. I stood feeling the cold against my naked self, feeling free and wild. There was nothing between me and the natural world. My feet sank into the earth.

I sat down. The waves rocked me back and forth, swelling up to my waist and drifting away, the same as they had when I was a child. Some things never change. I sat in the ocean, watching the surf, kicking my feet, feeling connected with my body and the earth. I was happy. I felt whole. Lovechild sat behind me on the shore, laughing at me from his seat on some driftwood. I felt loved. I could perceive the world with adoration and be adored while I did it. I felt lucky. My knees disappeared and resurfaced. The sun shone against the waves. I felt honored to be sitting in something so vast and unexplored.

Surprise Visitors

We didn’t sleep at all that night. Every stick breaking could be a murderer or a raccoon coming to steal all my food. (The park ranger had warned us about raccoons and now that was stuck in my head.)

In the morning, we woke up thick fog rolling in over the waves. Everything revealed itself to us in dark shades of blue and grey. Suddenly, a head poked out of the waves. And then a tail. And then a head again.

A very zoomed out photo of a seal head in the waves.

Zoom in for seal.

Seals! There were four of them. At first, two of them were playing with each other, chasing each other’s tails and bobbing up out of the water. And then everything was still. Slowly, the four grey humanoid heads emerged from the grey water and stared at Lovechild and I. Eight black orb-like eyes, four heads, one tide between us. They drifted up and down, curious and somehow menacing. We waved good morning to them, packed up our gear, and started our morning walk back to the car.

Gear Talk

On our shakedown hike, I figured out that I overestimated the temperature rating on my sleeping bag — I was cooking on a 30 degree night in my zero degree sleeping bag (which isn’t a shocker.) However, I recognize being paranoid about being cold is one of my faults while thru-hiking, and I’m still happy with the switch from a quilt to a sleeping bag. I felt more secure in it with less drafts, less slipping out of it — and I didn’t have to hug it shut while I slept.

Hiking with a camera thrilled me and allowed me to experience and appreciate trail in a different way. I got rid of all my unnecessary stuff sacks. I also tried out the trail toothbrush on my spork which worked perfectly and allowed me to combine the functions of my spork and toothbrush all into one.

Most importantly, I remembered how much I loved backpacking. Why I gave up the comforts of a more “stable” life for another year. I could feel my heart rushing out towards the Pacific Crest Trail, as swiftly as the waves against the rocks. I was two weeks away from leaving on another 2,600 mile journey. If I said I felt ready, I’d be lying. But if I waited until I was — I’d never go. See you on trail 🙂

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Comments 3

  • John Rutkowski III : Apr 7th

    Great post and thoughts. You are starting another journey and will come back changed. How? You won’t know until the end of the journey.

  • Chris : Apr 8th

    That’s a great area to go hiking/camping. Many years ago my oldest brother and I spent a night in the same area. I still hope to get back one day and spend a little more time.

  • Thunder Road : Apr 8th

    Wow! You’re back at it! Very very cool, really enjoyed reading about your adventures on the AT last year, and am looking forward to following along this year.


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