It was while sitting at the top of our last problem of the afternoon, watching the sun dip down toward the surface of the bay, that I lamented the coming cold and rain of fall, the many late nights on the crowded Rec Center climbing wall that lay between now and spring. But the sea breeze carried these thoughts away, and I settled into the warmth of the rock.
This time of year in Washington is all about snatching those last days of summer before the quickly approaching fall season ensues. And for climbers in the Bellingham area, achieving this doesn't get any more convenient or enjoyable than at the boulders at Clayton Beach.
I should say that I’m pretty new to climbing. Basically, I met a girl about a year ago who is on the cross country team at Western Washington University, and she'd also grown up rock climbing. It didn’t take long to figure out that I wanted to spend as much time as I could with this particular girl, and this inevitably meant picking up a pair of climbing shoes and heading to the campus gym as often as I could. A year later, she’s still up for hanging out with me and, unlike last year, we now have a crash pad and a car.
For our first Clayton Beach adventure together, we parked in the lot at the Lost Lake Trailhead. It requires a Discover Pass, but if you don’t have one, there is plenty of roadside parking as well. The walk down from the road to the beach takes you through a tunnel of dense trees and brush, making the eventual reveal of the beach that much more dramatic.
We started with the face directly adjacent to where the trail opens onto the beach. It was easy climbing with plenty of hold options, as well as a nice big crack to work on. But even on easy stuff, being 15 feet up on a rock face had my blood pumping much more than it ever had in the gym, where the massive blue pillow is waiting to catch you. But the more we climbed, the calmer I became and the smoother I moved.
The considerably more intense overhanging problems at Clayton can be found slightly to the north of where the trail enters the beach. The holds here are made clear by leftover chalk and they're generally very solid. The problems were, at least for me, quite a bit more challenging, but also quite fun. I’m sure it goes without saying for people who have spent any amount of time climbing outdoors, but the natural rock afforded us much more room for creativity.
As the afternoon carried into evening, we took longer and longer breaks between attempts, basking in the low angled sun and waving at passing sea kayakers. Despite Clayton’s reputation as a popular and crowded climbing spot, we had it almost completely to ourselves for the entire afternoon. This was possibly because we arrived during high tide, which limited the number of climbable problems, but it certainly didn't take away from the experience by any means.
Even if we weren't climbers, I think we'd visit Clayton Beach again. After all, a beautiful place is a beautiful place, whether you're climbing or not, and its location on the western edge of Larrabie State Park, on the sandy beaches of Wildcat Cove and Bellingham Bay, makes it the perfect spot to have a picnic with friends or to bask in the last days of summer. So again, whether you’ve been climbing for years, or you went to the climbing gym for the first time last week, Clayton Beach is worth checking out.
The WWU Outdoor Center has a copy of “A Rock Climber's Guide to Bellingham Rock” (1997), a guidebook that includes routes at Clayton Beach. It’s worth checking out before heading out. Pick a sunny day and check a tide chart before heading down Chuckanut Drive to the beach.
There’s something infinite about those moments when the sun, sea, and sand come together perfectly, where the senses envelope you entirely and there’s little else on your mind except for the place and the people you’re sitting next to. On the right day, that equation comes together on Clayton Beach... and the climbing is just icing on the cake.