The Cape Alava Trail

Site of the Ozette People’s village where paths were cleared between large rocks as drag ways for their dugout canoes, which can still be seen today, some thousand years later. James Swan would have landed here on his visit in 1864.

On June 18, 2012, the forecast for the rainbelt around the Ozette Loop slacked abit to predict a couple days of sunshine, and I was there.

The first cedar planks were shaped and placed by Swedish settlers beginning in the late 1890s but followed a well established trail by the Ozette people.

I wanted to retrace the steps of James Swan since reading “Swan Among the Indians” by Lucile McDonald, and “Winter Brothers” by Ivan Doig.

James G. Swan“On July 21, 1864, James Swan had lunch at the Ozette Village and then took off by foot down what is now called the Cape Alava Trail, bound for Ozette Lake, accompanied by Indians from Badda, Kiddecubbut (a Makah summer village), and Ozette. On the way they walked through West Prairie and Ahlstrom’s Prairie, both of which Swan described in the following passage (1859-1866):

“The trail commenced a short distance south of the village and runs up to the top of the hill or bluff which is rather steep and about sixty feet high. From the summit we proceeded in an easterly direction through a very thick forest half a mile and reached an open prairie which is dry and covered with fern, dwarf sallal [sic] and some red top grass, with open timber around the sides. This prairie has the appearance of being long and narrow. Its length running in the direction of the coast and about a quarter of a mile wide where we crossed it, although from the appearance of the land south I infer that it is much wider at intervals. From the prairie we pass through another belt of timber to another prairie lying in the same general direction as the first but somewhat lower and having the appearance of being wet and boggy. This was covered in its drier portions with a coarse grass and some red top and in the lower portions with water grass and thick moss which yielded moisture on the pressure of the feet.”

The second prairie passed on the trail is named after Lars Ahlstrom who arrived in 1902 and maintained a homestead here for 55 years. Many of the older cedar planks were laid by him as his access to the world was this trail to Lake Ozette.

More reading about the Ozette Prairies: “The Ozette Prairies of Olympic National Park: Their Former Indigenous Uses and Management” Final Report to Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington, Winter 2009.

And “Hiking Washington’s History” by Judy Bently