Toleak Point: Chutes & Ladders

South Coast Route – Third Beach to Toleak Point
Roundtrip 12.8 mi // 1,028 ft gain
Dates hiked: Sept 19-20, 2020
Conditions: Lots of steep scrambling required, slippery in places
Permit: Reserve your overnight permits at recreation.gov

In between the clouds of wildfire smog and the downpour of rain in Seattle, we found bliss at Toleak Point along the South Coast route in Olympic last weekend. For 24 perfect hours, we basked in warm sunshine, marveled at the sky full of stars, and savored the fresh air as we explored the rugged Washington coastline. After more than a week spent trapped indoors from the wildfires blazing through the west coast, this unique trail full of ropes, ladders, boulders and scrambles had me feeling like a little kid traversing nature’s jungle gym.

We started the hike around noon on Saturday with a light drizzle of rain that thankfully let up within the first hour. Although one should always be prepared for rain and rapidly changing weather on the coast, one of the benefits of doing this trail in the late season is that it’s much warmer than a standard high-elevation mountain trail in late September. Make sure to look at a tide table before arriving and plan your start time accordingly – otherwise you could end up marooned somewhere during high tide for a few hours. 

At first glance, this trip seems mostly easy, like a leisurely stroll on the beach. Although the trail mostly travels along the shore and the net elevation change is zero, keep in mind that there are several sections of scrambling over boulders and log jams as well as 3 over-land sections involving steep climbs up and over coastal headlands that amount to just over 1k ft of climbing. 

When we finally reached Toleak, there were plenty of campsites back along the edge of the trees. We set up camp and had plenty of washed up logs to use as seating. Although bears seem unlikely along the coast, carrying a bear canister is required in all parts of Olympic National Park. Aside from bears, the beach is home to raccoons and many other thieving critters who could want your food.

The Olympic coast is absolutely full of life. Though the coast is famed to have amazing tide pools with starfish, anemone and more, we found magic after dark. As we sat in darkness at our camp, we noticed that the waves in the distance seemed to be unusually shiny. Convinced our eyes were playing tricks on us, we walked up closer to get a better look. In fact, the waves were glowing. As we stood by the shore, shockwaves of light surged through the waters as the waves crashed into the coast. Unexpectedly experiencing bioluminescence in remote solitude was a marvelously special experience I won’t soon forget.

The next morning we awoke to a gorgeous golden sunrise over low tide. I’d recommend exploring the many rugged rock formations and tide pools. After soaking up the morning sun and coffee, we made the trek out in just about 3.5 hours.

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