PNT Day 33: The Longest Miles

Today’s miles: 7

Total miles: 456.1

I sleep like a rock on that soft beach sand with the waves as my soundtrack through the night. In the morning my tent is all wet from the ocean mist and a thick fog, but I don’t care. We have only seven miles to hike today, and we lie in our tents chatting, eating breakfast, being exquisitely leisurely in a way that has not been possible for me on this trip so far.

Sea stacks in the morning fog

It’s an easy start, nice beach walking like yesterday, but soon the terrain becomes extremely rocky. Big rocks, rocks you have to clamber over, rocks you have to climb on top of to get to more rocks. Hmm. It’s slow, tiring work, but our steady conversation helps. It’s so fun to hike with a friend! I’d almost forgotten!

We pass Chilean Memorial camp (so named for a Chilean ship that crashed here) and stop for a snack. Another hiker comes over the rocks from the other direction, looking far more graceful and energetic than we’ve been this morning, and we inquire about what’s ahead for us. “The next hour and a half will be hard,” he says. “Buckle up.” As he moves out of earshot I turn to Colleen. “An hour and a half for him is at least two hours for us.” We shoulder our packs and walk on with some trepidation.

It’s more of the same for a bit, and just when I’m thinking it’s not that bad after all, we reach Cape Johnson. We have to get around this cape before the tide comes in. Literally every surface area is slick with seaweed, and our pace slows to a crawl. Every step is treacherous. It’s not so much about keeping our feet dry—ridiculous proposition—but about not falling into the rocks and breaking our tailbones or cracking our skulls. More than once, the only safe way through is to slide on our butts. It’s exhausting. We trade swear words out loud and I sigh heavily to expel my frustrations and stress. “This is like doing weighted, single-leg squats on dish soap!” Colleen exclaims with exasperation, and we both laugh uproariously at the absurd situation we’re in. There’s nothing to do but curse and guffaw and keep climbing across this interminable cape. When it seems we must have covered at least a mile, I check my GPS: 0.4 miles. Time and space have no meaning on Cape Johnson.

I know this looks chill, but every surface underfoot was slippery. (All photos of me taken by Colleen, obviously.)
When there is nothing to do except butt-slide your way across.

Midway through, we reach a section of dry rocks and stop for lunch. The food proves crucial for morale, and we begin again with renewed vigor. I fall down but am uninjured. When we finally finish, it’s a triumph. We walk along rough but considerably less rocky beach for a few minutes, meeting three women headed south. We try to warn them about Cape Johnson. In turn, they urge us to stay high and dry along the next stretch, promising a beautiful beach walk eventually. And they tell us to get water before camp, because otherwise it’s a ten-minute scramble uphill for a tiny trickle.

As we approach the next section of boulders, we joke about how I’d invited Colleen on this trip with the promise of short miles and fun beach walking. Ha ha ha! How funny. We pull ourselves up and over huge rocks, climbing and balancing, quadripedal now. I didn’t know I’d need my arm muscles for this trip, I say. I cannabalized them days ago, intent on fueling the leg muscles! “We have no arms left,” Colleen quips, “what we have for you instead are these two noodles.” Accurate. This is closer to bouldering than hiking. Periodically, whichever of us is in front peers over the next boulder and calls back, “no, no, we’re cliffed out here, go around another way.”

By the time we finish this and reach a rope to climb up over a sandy headland, we have traveled a grand total of five miles all day. I hoist myself up the rope. At the top, sure enough, I can see spectacular yellow beach stretched out ahead of us. The glorious sight is enough to help Colleen up and over the rope climb, despite her fear of heights. The sun has just come out and burned off all the fog, and this is a magical place. My mood changes instantly. Suddenly I love it here.

Colleen climbing with the first overland rope
The beautiful beach we were promised! I was blissed out.

Because the tide is in, we also have to take the next overland trail, a steep rope climb up into the forest, a short walk through the trees, and a ridiculously long steep rope climb down the other side. I feel as if I’m rappelling down for hours. At the bottom we are both exhausted, but tackle one more set of huge boulders, dodging the incoming waves until we finally reach our camp at Cedar Creek. What on earth has this day been.

On the overland trail.
Maybe gives a better sense of how big the rocks were and how high we had to climb to get over them.

We didn’t find water before arriving here, and dread the scramble we were told about, but just a smidge of exploring reveals the wide creek tucked right behind a little rise in the sand. Relieved, we fill our bottles. We find, just up into the trees, the most perfect little campsite I’ve ever seen. It’s perched on the edge of the sand bank, looking out over the sea with the shady forest behind. Under a large tree, someone has built a table and benches out of large driftwood and other debris that washed up, and I’m thrilled to eat dinner there at our own wee dining nook, watching the waves roll in and enjoying the sunset. Colleen shares a cup of hot cocoa (she brought two mugs! I don’t even have one mug!), a delight. As the sun drops below the horizon, she asks me to read aloud exactly what my trail guide says about Cape Johnson: “Hiking through here is likely to be slower than you might estimate.” With that kind of understatement guiding us, we really have no idea what to expect of tomorrow.

Dining table with a view.
Perfect place to sleep.

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