Rain Dogs

What rewards come from butting one’s head against the Pacific Northwest? Hank Gaskell, Greg Urata, and a dog named Moku hike into the woods to find out.

Light / Dark

Day One
11:54 a.m.

Nothing smells quite like the Pacific Northwest in the fall. Leaves are changing color and will soon be dead. But the ocean is coming back to life after a long, flat summer. The rain has returned, too. 

Greg, Hank, Hank’s dog Moku, and I started hiking today around six o’clock in the morning, and were absolutely punished by the rain from the start. Within the first five minutes my camera was already giving me error messages. Despite it being my only camera of the trip, I kept shooting. It may have been wet and miserable, but the area is as beautiful as it gets. Hopefully the camera holds up, as the forecast claims that the rain will continue.

Day One
7:32 p.m.

Here at camp, the rain is coming down so hard that we’re staying close to the fire. We found some nice cedar lying around near our campsite. Cedar has natural oils that are both water resistant and flammable, making it the best type of wood for starting a fire in wet weather. 

Our packs are heavy and it is nice to set them down after a long day, but I think we all have significantly lighter loads than we did the last time we hiked this coastline, back in 2014. What’s that saying? Live and learn? Still, with gear, clothes, cameras, and 18 meals apiece, it’s impossible to go truly minimalist.

Day Two
5:28 a.m.

I almost died in the middle of the night.

We were all woken up by a massive tree branch that fell and nearly leveled my tent. Greg and I immediately moved the tent and, in the process, my hatchet cut a 5-inch hole in its bottom. So much for a dry home for the next few days. I suppose I should’ve taken the hatchet out, but am blaming the lapse in judgment on loads of adrenaline and improper brain function at two o’clock in the morning. Also, I had forgotten how many bugs are up here, especially the sand fleas. They’re eternal. As I write, the little demons are bouncing off the light in my tent by the thousands. It sounds like the pitter-patter of rain. On that note, and in other and better news, the rain has stopped. 

Day Three
8:39 p.m.

Today, we hiked 8.9 miles of some of the most amazing coastline I’ve ever seen. We went up and over headlands using ladders and ropes, drank from ice-cold glacial streams, climbed under waterfalls, and found loads of cedar to start our fire. Best of all, we did everything in the heat of the sun. There hasn’t been one drop of rain in the past two days. I think we’ll chalk up that alone as a huge victory. 

Oh, and Greg surfed. The beach we are camping at had some messy head-high wedges that he gave a go. It wasn’t anything special, but we think the bars have enough potential and the swell should fill in overnight. Hopefully the winds play nice and this beach comes alive tomorrow.

Gaskell sends up a flare.

Day Four
9:32 p.m.

It’s late September in the wettest region of the Lower 48, and we have just experienced 60 hours and 54 minutes of clear skies and a very, very warm sun. But I expect it to end soon, as the south wind continues to pick up. In many other parts of the world a strong breeze from the south often brings clear skies and grooms nearby points to perfection, but not here. South winds in the Pacific Northwest are usually accompanied by dark clouds. But that’s all right. I feel like we almost deserve it to balance out our luck. 

The waves weren’t half bad, either. The cove where we’re camped has a surprisingly fun beachbreak. It’s no Hossegor, but we’ll take all the wonky little wedges we can get. Throw in some evergreen backdrops and, as a photographer, I’m in hog heaven.

Day Five
10:35 a.m.

What’s that saying? Sure as shit? Well, the rain came back last night, along with a furious wind that whipped the tent so hard I thought it was going to rip apart. And that wasn’t our only concern. High tide peaked in the middle of the night at 8.04 feet and, with a larger swell filling in and surging up the beach, water came awfully close to flooding our camp. It rose to within a few feet of our fire and tents. I ran out and built makeshift barriers with logs, and dug a few strategic trenches.

Regardless, moving camp is inevitable. The weather has let up this morning, and we are all loading up our gear. Hank and Greg are securing their boards to the outside of their packs. Our plan is to hike 4 miles today, which we hope will feel like a nice walk compared to the almost 9 we did two days ago. I’ll miss this magic little spot with its massive headlands and lumpy peaks, but I know more enchanted nooks and crannies are just around the corner.

Day Five
11:01 p.m.

It’s becoming obvious that we didn’t pay enough attention to the tides when mapping out our routes. I’m currently sitting on an enormous log suspended 10 feet over the cobblestone beach, waiting for the tide to drop out enough for us to set up camp. We didn’t plan to stay in this rocky cove, but after we spent an enormous amount of energy bushwhacking to get here—and saw its beauty—there was no going anywhere else. The problem, however, is that the giant headlands flanking the bay are tall, vertical, and sheer. Combined with a rocky shoreline, the number of comfortable and logical campsites is relatively few, so we have to wait out the tide.

Day Six
1:15 p.m.

The wave we came here to surf is absolute garbage. Mushy, wonky, unpredictable. Just kind of gross. It was disheartening after spending the previous day charging through the forest, some of it nearly as black as night. It’s not easy to access these beaches and coves, but it shouldn’t be.

I give the guys credit for even trying. In fact, I didn’t think Hank was going to paddle out. Post-surf, he’s now lying face down on some sharp, pointy rocks. He appears to be dead. Greg is filling some water to filter and jumping up and down in an effort to convince Moku to play. But his efforts are squashed. Moku’s eyes are almost closed, stoned from exhaustion. Mine are too.

Across the bay, where the headland meets the sea, a lone spruce sits on the edge, far from the other trees. This one looks very young. I’m no expert, far from it, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s 10 years old. Is it true what they say about a tree’s roots being as deep as the tree is tall? If so, those roots must stretch about 25 feet down. But to where? It’s growing out of rock. After almost a week in this forest, I feel like I understand it less and less. 

Day Seven
2:07 p.m.

We woke today to a warm sun, no wind, and no swell at the right point we hoped to surf. We decided to make for one last setup at the next beach over. Unlike the rest of the headlands we’ve crossed, however, the one today had to be walked around. After breakfast, we cut our own route through wet ferns and thick brush. The vegetation grew thicker and thicker until we realized we were lost, and we turned around to start over. By the time we finally hit the real trail, we were so exhausted that we slung our heavy packs off and collapsed to the muddy, mossy ground. 

Once we got back to our feet, we found our path covered by massive boulders mixed with loose cobblestones, making this headland the most treacherous part of the entire trip. For over a mile, every step was taken with extreme caution.

Day Seven
7:32 p.m.

Seven days in the woods has taken its toll.

I think we were all hoping the waves would be bad at the last beach so that we could go straight to the truck and drive back home. But as soon as we got down to the sand, we saw the bay pulling in every ounce of swell. Greg and Hank were exhausted, but I convinced them to try to catch a few. The session turned out to be what we’d been searching for over the course of the last week. 

As I write this, we are packing up the last of our gear after this final surf to hike the remaining few miles until we’re back in civilization. My body aches, my mind is weak, and I smell terrible. I give one last look to the ocean, watch the sun hit the horizon and the clouds move in, and feel the rain start to fall again.

Gaskell, seizing golden hour between squalls.