One of the requirements of a good anchorage for us is the ability to go to shore and do some walking. It’s easy to just sit around on a boat and that’s bad for us in many ways. After several days of walking the county roads, there was one last place we wanted to go: to the top of the rocks of the prominant Point Disney, located at the south end of Cowlitz Bay.
Point Disney preserve is protected from development by The Land Bank and the San Juan Preservation Trust. It offers mature growth forest and rocky cliffs that are home to some of the healthiest madrona trees we’ve seen, as well as juniper, oak groves and grasses. We had heard rumors of a trail to the top, but there is no public signage pointing the way, and an interweb search showed nothing in terms of getting to the top of the rock.
After a long-time resident gave us some directions on taking the ‘long way’ to the cliff, we found ourselves wandering in lovely woods, but with no idea which direction to go. Was that a right turn he said? Or a left turn? Google Maps works, but shows only the county road system. We had left that far behind us. We were getting a little anxious because most of the land on this island is privately owned. In our country you do not walk on private land without permission (unlike the way more civilized, in this regard, United Kingdom where you have the right to ramble). This is especially true on an island where many people take their privacy VERY seriously.
Fortunately, we came upon a man chopping wood with a long, sharp axe. I say fortunately because this was a person who turned out to be helpful, if not startled by our appearance on the trail. He directed us to the actual trailhead for Point Disney, which, it turns out, is right on the beach by the public dock. Who knew? He informed us that the ‘long way’ to get to the top of the rock is up the mountain road on the other side of the island, but it involves going over several private land parcels. I guess our first resident didn’t mind us walking on private land.
The trailhead is under a large tree that grows out onto the beach by the county dock, just at the high tide line. The branches come down so low that the entrance to the trail is obscured. Once you locate it, however, the trailhead is obvious.
Be prepared. This trail is extremely steep. I’m not sure how one rates the difficulty of a trail, but on a scale of 1-5 where 1 is flat walking and 5 is scrambling over huge rocks and possibly rappelling down crevasses, I’d say this is a 3.5 or even a 4 until you get to the ridge. After that it’s easier. But you are going to be hiking up a very steep incline for about a mile with almost no relief. You can extrapolate from that data how the trail is coming down. Let’s just say you will want to take great care not to let your feet go faster than the rest of your body on the downhill hike. I wouldn’t take young children on this hike unless you are prepared to carry them the whole way.
The brutal nature of that uphill climb is more than compensated for by the magnificent views at the top. There are plenty of tall grasses and large, flat rocks to rest weary muscles. I think this is the only time I’ve ever seen an eagle from a vantage point well above the bird. We watched porpoises feeding in the hypnotizing currents below.
On the hike down, we were itchy from the grass seeds and brush and sweaty from the effort. It was high tide when we returned, and we were grateful to walk in the cold water up to the knees. Who needs a spa? We can sweat and then jump in a cold pool just by doing this hike on a warm day.
If you come, please respect the privacy of the people on the island. You’ll find most people friendly and helpful, but others are not crazy about visitors and worry the island will become too popular. I feel like this is unlikely given the lack of amenities that most people want but I see that they experience what must be a delicate balance between being welcoming without being too encouraging. A few bad experiences with visitors have left a lasting impression here. I was told that airplanes buzz the island, trying to get a look at how people live there. That’s sure irritating, but I guess they should be grateful that no one flies a drone over their private land, as so many boat travelers have experienced. Talk about invading privacy!
In fact, one woman was concerned that I would write about the island. We had a conversation about experiences they have had with outsiders in the past and at the time, I found myself agreeing with her not to write about a specific experience there. But that felt bad to me and I think it was an unfair request. I understand the desire for privacy, and I’m sorry that they are not immune from the bad experiences we have all had with other people at one time or another; you know, people who trash a beach or who break someone’s stuff, or who steal things. That happens everywhere, even on islands where people have gone to live to escape the rest of humanity and invent their own version of what they think is paradise. It’s pretty hard to be a part of the San Juan Islands and not have anyone know your island exists. In addition, Point Disney is public land that has been set aside for the public to appreciate. Those are public roads and a public dock.
So I’ve tried to split the difference between her concerns about privacy and my desire and right to write about our experiences by not naming the island in this post and by changing the title of the post I put up the morning before I talked with her. I hope these gestures will suffice to communicate my good will.
If you go, be a good ambassador for the rest of us. Use the dinghy dock on the side away from the load/unload area. Stick to the public roads (unless directed, as we were, by a native), and take all trash out with you.