- Radford Bean
Lake Ozette Wilderness Paddle
After a late start, a fellow paddler and I headed north last Friday to the Olympic Peninsula for three days of paddling on Lake Ozette. The lake sits at almost the tip of the peninsula and is part of Olympic National Park. The timing of our trip couldn't have been better because the National Park Service was celebrating its 100th birthday, so the entrance fee was being waived, saving us $25.
We had to stop at the ranger station at Lake Quinault to purchase our backcountry permits and rent our bear canisters. Bears aren't the real concern; it's more to keep determined raccoons from stealing one's food. Lake Ozette is still a two-hour drive north of the ranger station.
There are few amenities at the lake other than a small national park campground and a resort. If you want to camp around the lake or on one of three islands, which was our intention, then you best be prepared to rough it--there are no outhouses in the backcountry, so a small shovel or a "groover" is necessary.
Upon our arrival at the undeveloped boat launch at the Ozette Ranger Station following an eight-hour drive, we unloaded our boats and dry bags packed with all our gear, food, and supplies. I had to transfer my food to the bear canister. This was the first time I had taken my Necky sea kayak (the one in the picture above) on a major overnight trip.
I managed to squeeze everything into the hatches of my sea kayak, including my four-person Kelty tent, until it came time to stow the bear canister. That's when I ran into a problem. It turned out that the bear canister was just a little too wide to fit in the hatches. The only option I had was to place the canister in the cockpit between my legs--not the best solution, especially if I had to do a wet exit. It also made it a little cramped for my legs.
Once the kayaks were loaded up, my paddling companion and I set off on our trip to Garden Island. It was then that I discovered one critical thing I had forgotten to pack: my map of the lake. I had my cellphone with GPS with me, but I needed to minimize its use so that the battery would last the three days necessary for it to track my paddling activities. One should never leave home without maps of the area, and I had broken a cardinal rule. At least I remembered the toilet paper.
Still it's just a lake. It's hard to get lost on a lake. Those thoughts would come back to bite me in the you know where. After nearly two hours of paddling, we reached the island where we would be camping the first night, so I thought. It turns out that we missed Garden Island where we were originally supposed to be staying and, instead, landed on Tivoli Island. How we missed Garden Island I was unclear about. Here's where the map would have come in handy.
There is a nice sandy beach on Tivoli Island where we spent our first night camping. The weather that first day was beautiful, and at night we were treated to a black canvas plastered with thousands of stars. I could even make out the Milky Way Galaxy.
The next morning we awoke to drizzle and fog. We were supposed to set out that morning for our next camping destination at Ericson Bay following a 15-mile paddle along the southern half of the lake, but the low visibility and wet camping gear caused us to postpone our departure. In the end we decided to forego paddling to Ericson Bay and instead just remain on the island. When the only other people staying on the island left later in the morning, we moved our campsite into the spot in the woods those campers had just vacated.
The fog eventually lifted and the drizzle ceased--there were even sun breaks from time to time--so we decided to go explore South End and Allen Bay.
The National Park Service required us to carry bear canisters into the backcountry, but the one thing I noticed during my paddling was the lack of wildlife. At South End, I only spotted one bald eagle and a couple of ducks. That was it. I saw one other bald eagle in Allen Bay, or perhaps it was the same eagle since the two bays are so close to each other.
My paddling companion returned to the campsite while I continued on to the explore a little of Allen Bay. A small, sandy beach in the bay turned out to be the ideal location for lunch.
The winds out of the west were beginning to pick up as I made my way back to Tivoli Island. I hung out on the island for a little bit, but boredom soon crept in--there's little to do on an island--so I decided to paddle over to Garden Island, which I could clearly see from Tivoli Island. In fact it was so easy to spot that I wondered how I had missed spotting the island the day before.
The water looked deceptively sedate. There were waves, and the wind was blowing, but from my vantage point on the island, the waves didn't look all that menacing. I had, after all, paddled out to the mouth of the jetty in Newport and handled three-foot waves and a 35-mph headwind on the Siuslaw River. Those waves were so much more menacing, so I set out. I didn't have to travel far from the island before I noticed that the waves were bigger than they appeared from the beach. Because the lake is so wide, there was plenty of fetch for the waves to build up. I suspect the island had probably blocked some of the wind earlier, and now that I was out in the middle of the lake the island no longer served as a windbreak.
The waves were coming up from behind, and I found my kayak actually surfing on many of them. One particular wave unnerved me, however, as it washed over the back of my kayak, swept along the coaming, and washed over the front deck. It was that wave that caused me to rethink paddling to Garden Island. I decided it was best to turn around. Exploring Garden Island could wait until the next day. I had no desire to do a wet exit even though the water was comfortably warm. I need to learn how to roll.
Paddling into the wind was certainly more comfortable and less unnerving. The bow of my kayak plunged into the face of the waves, spraying my glasses with water. I made it back to the island, and that's where I spent the rest of my day. There's only one problem with an island, you can't hike very far. My original plans this afternoon had been to hike from Ericson Bay to the coast to view the petroglyphs and see if I could spot any sea otters. Instead, I was confined to a small area and sitting around the campsite--not good for someone who's ADD.
A campfire in the early evening and a hearty meal of Asian noodles, chicken, snow peas, broccoli, and mushrooms capped off the day. Who says you can't eat in style when kayak camping? No freeze-dried food for this man.
My paddling companion and I needed to get up early to break camp and paddle back to the boat ramp. I wanted us to be back on the road by noon because we had to drop off our bear canisters at the National Park Service Visitors Center in Port Angeles. I was also hoping to have time to either paddle Lake Crescent or drive up to Hurricane Ridge. So it was off to bed early. I didn't sleep all that well because a cedar tree root kept poking me in the side.
We had our kayaks all packed, and we were on the water by 8 a.m. For some reason I found it harder to pack gear back into my kayak than two days early, even though I had less food and one less gallon water jug to have to carry. I don't know why that was. The gear went into my kayak so easy on the first day.
We didn't head directly back to the boat ramp, choosing Instead to paddle over to Swan Bay to investigate Garden Island. There was also a river (shown below) in the bay that I took a half hour to explore. The river may have been the highlight of my adventure since it was narrow and obstacles in the way tested my paddling skills.
After leaving Swan Bay, we paddled across the lake and joined up with canoeists in two canoes. They had spent the weekend at Ericson Bay. The wind and waves yesterday proved too challenging to them, thwarting their plans of exploring the southern end of the lake where Leslie and I had stayed.
We made it back to the boat ramp just a few minutes after noon. How was that for timing? As we started unloading the boats and putting the gear back into my SUV, the rain started falling at a steady rate and stuck with us all the way to Hoodsport, Washington.
The rain and low visibility quashed any ideas of paddling Lake Crescent or driving up to Hurricane Ridge, so after dropping off our bear canisters and picking up a few souvenirs, we headed home along the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula. During that drive I discovered some really beautiful places on the north and east coasts of the Olympic Peninsula that I would love to paddle. That's an adventure for next summer.