Day 3: Tsusiat Falls to Nitinat Narrows
Summary: We hiked in the mist along the beach from Tsusiat Falls to the remarkable Tsusiat Point with its natural bridge, continued onward until entering the forest at the Ditidaht Tribe’s land, crossed the wide river at Nitinat Narrows by ferry boat, and ate a tasty dinner at the Crab Shack. We decided to stay the night in a cabin above the Crab Shack, and even managed to take a shower (of sorts) and get some laundry done, drying it by the heat of our cabin’s wood stove.
Once again, we woke up to the sound of gentle surf, and the faint smell of the seaweed-covered rocks below the sandy beach. We looked up and the tent was covered in droplets, as if it had rained during the night. I sat up and shook the tent, watching the small drops coalesce and accelerate down the slope of the thin nylon to the ground, where they were immediately absorbed by the sand. I unzipped the door and stuck my head outside. It hadn’t rained at all. Instead, the world was full of mist, oh-so-gently drifting downward in the calm cool air. Everything outside was wet, but you could still see dry zones under the giant driftwood logs, like shadows on a sunny day. I was thankful that we’d had the foresight to stow all of our gear under the overhanging tarp of the tent. We were snug and dry in a cold damp world. But it was beautiful in its own unique way.
We ate breakfast sitting on a damp driftwood log and watched the surf coming in. The tide was low once again and the low flat “foreshore” rock was visible. We didn’t have far to hike that day so we didn’t rush, although we were still faster than many of the other folks across the way in the main campground. We packed up everything and shook the water off the tent as best we could. I would simply have to carry the heavy sodden thing until we set up camp and dried it out later that day. Meanwhile, it was time to start hiking. and the first order of business was crossing the Tsusiat River.
Video of Tsusiat Falls in the morning mist
Panorama video of the Tsusiat River as it flowed out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca
We carried our shoes across, then dried our feet and put them back on. Then we continued hiking down the beach. We had a choice of either the beach or the inland trail through the forest. Since it was low tide, of course we took the coastal route. We passed the sleepy campers and continued on toward Tsusiat Point, which we could see in the misty distance. The hiking was cool and peaceful. Another good day in the making.
Tsusiat Point, also called Hole Point, is only passable at tides lower than seven feet. This was no problem for us, and we got to hike right through the “Hole” to the other side. We hung out there and took some photos, but we were still fresh and didn’t need a break yet. We checked out the surging waves in the channel on the far side, which were fun to watch.
GoPro panorama video from Tsusiat Point on the West Coast Trail
We continued on down the beach for another mile or so. It was easy hiking, and the weather was fine. The mist had begun to melt away, and the views were better. Along the way, we met up with a large group of hikers that were heading our way. But let’s be honest: They were passing us because we were a bit too slow. Except for one of them. His boot had completely delaminated, and the rubber sole was flapping loose from the toe. He was lagging behind his group, vainly using duct tape to keep from hiking barefoot. His shoe was absolutely coated with duct tape, but sand and gravel were still getting in., causing blisters and foot issues that were slowing him way, way down. He’d run out of tape, and was hoping to find some more, up ahead at the Nitinat Narrows Crab Shack.
Soon enough. we entered the forest by climbing some Beach Access Ladders up to the main trail. We soon entered the private land of the Ditidaht Tribe. The First Nations tribes are intimately involved in maintaining the trail, and there was a Guardian Cabin located there. We went down the side path and spoke with the ranger. She said that there were cabins for rent, as well as a platform tent like we stayed at our first night in Pachena Bay. It was a nice looking cabin, and we thought about staying there, but our stomachs overruled this idea. Vicki really wanted a crab dinner, which was across the river at Nitinat Narrows. So on we hiked. We also knew that it would be better to start the next day’s hike from the other side, so we wouldn’t have to wait for the boat to carry us across.
The trail stayed high up above the cliffs near Tsuquanah Point. It also dropped down for a short beach hike in a quiet cove, then climbed back up again. There were several view spots along the way, and the hiking was fun.
We arrived at the narrows and walked out onto the floating wooden dock. There was no one in sight in any direction, just deep smooth water flowing in on the tide. The guidebook said that we simply had to wait, and the boat would arrive eventually. There was no set schedule other than 9:30am to 3:30pm. So I carefully took off my pack and set it on the dock. I didn’t want any gear falling into the water, or it would be gone forever. Vicki kept hers on, just to be safe. And then we waited, watching the river flow by. Very peaceful.
Panorama video of Nitinat Narrows as the tide flows in, from the northern boat dock
It didn’t take long before we heard the sound of an outboard motor, and then we saw the sturdy aluminum boat coming around the corner. It was full of northbound hikers. The boat pulled up smoothly to the dock, and the driver tied it to the cleat. Of course it was smooth – we discovered later on that he’d been doing this for the last forty years! We stood back as the hikers clambered onto the dock, which wobbled with their weight. Then they hiked on.
We carefully stepped down into the boat. Carl, the driver, asked to see my permit. We were warned that this would happen, so we kept it safely stored in a ziplock bag. If we had no permit we wouldn’t get a ride. It was as simple as that. Part of the hefty fees we paid for that permit were also paid to him. He was First Nations and ran the concession for this trail service. His family owned the land that the Crab Shack was on, as well. After that, we headed on across the water.
It was crowded when we arrived. The big group that had passed us earlier was just getting served their lunches. It turned out that the poor man with the duct-taped boots had made a deal with Carl. He bought Carl’s boots right off his feet! They were the same size, so it worked out perfectly. Carl said that this was the fourth time he’d sold his own boots to a distraught hiker. Everyone was laughing, and the hiker was absolutely overjoyed. Used boots beat the heck out of useless boots. His trek was saved!
We stood at the counter and placed our orders. They only took cash, as there was no cell service out here for charge cards. Unfortunately, we only had U.S. Dollars, not Canadian. One Canadian Dollar was worth $0.75 US Dollars. When I asked, the woman in charge told me she’d take them, but only at 1:1 exchange rate. Ouch! But they were the only game in town, and Vicki had her heart set on a crab dinner, so we bit the bullet and paid the extra-full price. To tell the honest truth, it was still worth it! Vicki loved it. I’m not a crab eater, so I had a grill cheese sandwich with a Loaded Potato on the side. That potato was truly awesome. And you couldn’t beat the location. We had a seat with a view of the bay, and a hot wood stove to keep us warm. It doesn’t get much better than that.
We were hanging out talking to Carl and his family when his brother noticed a disturbance just off the dock. There was a line of small floats extending from the dock, and something was obviously pulling down on the line in one spot. They told us that it was a gill net, as this was the first day of Salmon Season. Maybe there was a fish in the net! Carl and his brother jumped into the boat and invited us to join them. We weren’t fools, so of course we climbed on board. This was exciting! Carl drove the boat up to the net and his brother leaned over the bow to grab the line with the floats. He started pulling it up hand over hand, and Carl joined him after putting the engine in neutral. The two of them hauled a huge salmon into the boat, and set it down into a big plastic tub. Then they worked the gill net down the body of the fish. until it was free. They untangled the net and let it drift back into the current again. Maybe they’d catch some more! Meanwhile, we got to see them catch the first salmon of the season, which his brother estimated to be about 18 pounds. Nice! Now this is the way to experience the Pacific Northwest!
Now, most hikers eat lunch at the crab shack, then hike onward right away. There is no camping allowed between kilometers 29 and 38, so that hikers typically have to go from Tsusiat Falls (25km) all the way to Cribs Creek (42km) in one shot, a distance of more than ten miles, which makes for a very long day. We had both money and time, so we decided to stay here in one of the cabins. We’d go to Cribs Creek tomorrow. And that’s what we did. And it cost us a whole bunch more money, but we didn’t care, so long as we had enough left over to get us a pair of breakfast burritos the next morning. This is why you bring cash money on vacation. Right? And, besides, our backpacks would be lighter afterward! Win-Win!
They let us borrow a one gallon hand-pump shower, and we heated up some water so that it would be warm. We stripped down naked, out behind the cabin, and took a quick shower. We even washed our hair. That really felt great. Then we put on our night clothes and did some laundry, too. We wrung out the soggy clothing and hung it up to dry on a rack over the wood stove in the cabin. Vicki used the stove as a table while she cooked our dinner (the crab earlier was actually lunch), and then we lit a fire in the stove. Those clothes weren’t going to get dry without some heat.
After that, we read our books by the fire and took an occasional walk outside the cabin to enjoy the view out over the bay. They hauled in the gill net for the night. Carl’s brother took off in the enclosed boat and headed back north to Nitinat Lake with any passengers that may have been waiting. He also took that first salmon of the season up the river to the rest of their family so that they all could have their traditional feast. We had to admit that it sounded much better than freeze-dried food! Oh well. It was all good. And it had been a really fun day on the trail.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page