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Chasing Storms and Atmostpheric Rivers Pt 1

A brief tour of the western coast of the Olympic Peninsula

By: Adam Edwards + Save to a List

As I packed for my second trip to the Olympic Peninsula in as many weeks, I was excited that our travel and work plans would take us back to the west side. I loaded up my kayaks and surf boards in hopes that the coming storm would bring a moment of surfable break that I could play in. 

Mora Campground &  Rialto Beach

I reached Mora late evening and set up camp. Each in our group was self-sufficient for meals, and camper vehicles allowed for comfortable nights in the rainy Olympic coast. The forecast called for a large storm to be rolling in over the next three to four days, bringing with it an atmospheric river, a large amount of rain, that we hoped to benefit from in the form of exploring some local coastline and rivers. 

Mora campground sits on the banks of the Quillayute River. At the mouth of the river is Rialto Beach, which is on Quileute ancestral land and adjacent the Quileute Nation land. Quileute Nation lands are still closed to entry.

Rialto beach is a stark stretch of coastline with a rock beach strewn with logs pulled from the forest just at the edge of the ocean's reach. It's a breathtaking scene watching the ocean pulling away from the coastline, a ghostly forest growing and dying right at the edge of the dark and sandy beach. The incoming storm kept the ocean churning, rolling mountains of waves eating away the beach. As the tide came in, it slowly pulled the giant logs piled up along the beach and moved them up and down its length. We stood on the edge of this coastal forest, taking shelter from the storm and playing with the sea foam as the waves and wind blew it around.

*It is important to not take your eyes off the ocean at this beach. The wave force and currents are powerful and large sets build quickly. This means a sneaker wave, or even a normal set, could quickly sweep in and pull you or the logs around you back into the water.

Walking along the beach.

Other ocean watchers taking shelter in the trees.Never take your eyes off the ocean here.

Standing atop downed trees in the coast line forest, avoiding a wave set.

 As the tide came in and daylight waned, we decided to move further down the coastline to our next possible spot to view the storm. We arrived at Ruby Beach with some light before sundown and the storm seeming to reach a peak.

Ruby Beach

Ruby Beach sits on the southwest coastline of the Olympic Peninsula. It is one of the most visited areas of the region. A stark coastline with sea towers and the vestiges of manned light stations offshore, it has the warmth and bluster of the pacific northwest winter. We stayed and watched the sun go down and the tide go out. A large reason many of the photos are in black and white was due to the overcast lighting from the storm and the difficulties I had keeping lenses dry. The fogging is lessened with black and white in this case. The storm continued to intensify and we decided to head further down the coast to camp and Kalaloch Campground.

The view from the mouth of Cedar Creek as it flows onto Ruby Beach.My friend informed me that these logs and debris were not there the week before.

Kalaloch Campground and Beach

In general Kalaloch and South Beach Campgrounds are the only places to camp on the southwest coast of the park. The La Push Nation is closed, as is Second beach, making Kalaloch Campground the only viable park camping.  Kalaloch offers several loops with pull-in and pull-up campsites with some offering ocean views. Currently a few of the loops were closed, but we were able to find a few nice spots to set up camp for the night. The storm rolled in with gale force warnings being issued on our weather reports.  We hunkered down in our rigs for the night and waited for clear skies in the morning. 

As hoped the morning brought clear skies. We wandered up and down the beach, but kept coming back to this tree. It reminded me of Yggdrasil, the world tree. I later found it is even listed as such on google maps.

A beautiful and windy morning on Kalaloch beach.The world tree.

North Fork Quinault Trail- Trail Head to just below Wolf Bar

As the storm had seemed to pass for the day, we headed inland to hike a small section of the trail that runs along the North Fork of the Quinault River. As an arborist, seeing the trees in the Quinault region is always a pleasure. The old growth stands there are amazing and a reminder of how important it is to honor and protect what areas like this we have left. Old growth forests are in general forests that have reached a significant age, remained undisturbed by humans, and have not been disturbed greatly ecologically by outside forces. We are fortunate to have a few along the west coast of the North American continent. The North Fork Quinault trail holds stands of old growth cedars, sitkas, doug fir and spruce. As you walk along the trail through the understory of these giants, the sides are populated with open fields of sword ferns. I had to switch to my iphone, as my camera had taken the brunt of shooting in the rain the previous two days.

We hiked till dark, then turned around and hiked back with headlamps. A short drive down the road and we arrived at our camp. The North Fork campground is primitive use, meaning there are no facilities and you must pack out any waste. We set up camp as the rain began yet again, but this time we had a few old growth trees surrounding us, which helped divert some of the downpour. The forecaster had called for up to five inches of rain sometime in the coming two days. This was the other reason we had headed up into the Quinault region, to chase this atmospheric river of rain with hopes of paddling either the East Fork of the Quinault river or its tributary Graves Creek.  

The North Fork fo the Quinault River from the trail.Roosevelt elk.The North Fork of the Quinault River from the trail.A trail blowout leading into a stand of moss covered trees.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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