Winter in Chester. December 2014

The long trip this year was out of question. Sad. As a result I was looking for some nice place to spend the holidays. Something homy with lots of snow and good food, preferably not too far. I like the state of Oregon and I also like B&Bs. So it would be nice to spend Christmas weekend in some cabin far away in the snowy woods, with good food and skiing. I’m not sure if it even possible. Still, I couldn’t find anything reasonable. The places were either too expensive, too remote, or already booked or closed.

Bidwell House DrawingSo after some extensive searches I found a place called Bidwell House in Chester, CA. They were closed on Christmas holiday, but seem to fit all the rest of the parameters. The house was really cute. And with all the recent storms I was really looking forward to the winter cabin like experience. The place actually had a web camera to look outside on their green yard where the Summer weddings are held. Initially it was covered by wet snow, but by the time Christmas ended the snow melted and it was all green grass again.

Surprisingly, we were not the only people staying at the same time. But the place was empty with only a couple of rooms rented. I’ve picked the cheapest one called McKenzie Suite A. Not because I’m such a cheap skate (which I am), but because it was a top floor small room. Just good enough for two nights.

Friday, December 26

The B&B hosts actually required in the reservation the time we would be arriving. Why, you may ask, they set this restriction since I’m paying for it and a regular boring Hotel usually open 24/7. Well, generally good B&Bs are someone’s houses. As a result it is not reasonable to expect people to attend to your every wish, including late arrival, because of that. Fensalden Inn people, for example, were actually very particular and were waiting for us to come, to give keys to the room and the house and such. As a result we had to leave Sunnyvale in the morning. I was also not cooking forward to driving at night.

Initial traffic out of Bay Area was heavy. I suspect people were trying to take advantage of holidays, good weather, and fresh snow at Tahoe. However, after about Richmond the freeway became clear – no one really wanted to go to Lassen NP I suppose.

We’ve gotten to deserted Chester almost by the nightfall.  The last parts of the drive were a bit iffy due to the freezing temperatures and some small amount of black ice. The Bidwell House was deserted too, as expected. However, it was open. There was another outdoorsy looking couple in the house who also just arrived. They showed us an envelope with keys to our room and the rules. That was it. It seems as if anyone can come and stay. Only later I found that there were many cameras installed around the house. On the other hand no one really would be wondering around freezing Chester in winter.


The Bidwell House was nice. Large old house (though it was moved when the lake Almanor was created) with giant fireplace that had lots of Christmas little houses on it. There was also a local gorgeous outdoor cat. We found her wandering around the grounds in the freezing cold, which didn’t seem to bother her. She had so much lush colorful fur to protect against the cold that she probably felt fine. I’ve let her inside.

There was also lots of magazines to read, local activity and historical books, tea and coffee, and sherry, but no chocolate covered almonds. Aside from no snow it was just what I expected.

For dinner my other half selected a Chinese place – highly recommended Happy Garden. Well, it seemed that the reviewers had no idea how the real Chinese food taste like. And the restaurant owners were happy to change their cuisine to fit the local perverted ideas. Since I knew how Chinese food taste the Happy Garden was way a disappointment. Seriously, never expect a good ethnic food in small towns that are not populated by the said ethnicity.

Saturday, December 27

Beautiful bright freezing morning. Best time to go visit some nature. We had great breakfast at the B&B appropriately. It included omelet, juice, and dessert served by very friendly hired staff. Interestingly they had many different types of forks for different dishes in the meal. Very classy. We had a good chat with the other couple staying in the inn. They were also surprisingly from Sunnyvale. They were visiting all the national parks in California. I believe Lassen was their last. Very sporty people. But they were complete newbies to backpacking.
DSC_0080Among all the activity literature that the B&B had I finally found the one that we could both do – Lake Almanor recreational trail. The trail followed the West side of the like and was mostly flat. Surprisingly there were many trails around. In the National Park, of course, but also in many Forest Service lands around. Our fellow guests went to see some waterfall North East of Lassen. It just required several hours of driving.

Outside the town of Chester was sunny, cold and deserted. Maybe people went away for Christmas. It was possible that the lake Almanor surroundings were just tourist resort type of place. As a result, it was deserted during Christmas weekend. How nice. One down side was that there was pretty much zero snow.
Obviously I had t miss the trailhead. It was right off the CA-89. Instead I went to some gated lakeside summer houses. But eventually I found a spot that looked like a parking lot about a mile off the proper trailhead.

The Lake Almanor recreational trail was mostly flat, clean, wide, and paved. It would probably be great in summer on a bike. Especially if you are staying in one of the those campgrounds on the shore.

Lake Almanor was low. It was clearly visible. About 4 feet low. There was no snow, but there were different frozen entities in the forest like some old frozen mushrooms or ice covered logs. All in all we did about 12 miles of hiking.

We cam back right at sunset. This day I was really looking forward to some good local food. The B&B had some recommendations and the best looking one was Red Onion Grill. Little dd I know that the person who ran (and maybe owned) the Bidwell House also owned the said restaurant. Well, the B&B was ran fine, so the restaurant should be too, though the food quality depends a lot on the cook.

I’ve ordered some giant egg burger and Rita had lamb again. The burger was good, just too large. So big that I didn’t have space for dessert. Restaurant was very sparsely decorated. It had good sized outside patio with some view of the lake. It was probably very nice in summer. Now it was all dark and cold.

After dinner I walked around Chester a bit to shake that burger down. It was cold and dark and deserted.

Sunday, December 28

My plan was just to drive back – days were short and the drive was long. I found this scenic California highway 70 called Feather River National Scenic Byway that looked interesting and on the way. The breakfast was good – tasty and different from the day before. The Bidwell House seemed to be a popular place. The lady there told us that they were booked for every weekend in Summer for the weddings. It was a nice place to have a wedding.

DSC_0089The drive was great. Feather river road was not busy, clean, sunny, with many stop points to see the tamed feather river. One of our power companies dammed the hell out of it – there were power stations one after another almost entirely removing all the beauty out of this natural river. At least they didn’t make another Lake Almanor size reservoir. In a couple of places there were small hot springs coming out of sheer rock. In addition to that I managed to hike PCT, a very short section.


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Thanksgiving in Mendocino. Thanksgiving 2014

Once again we are spending Thanksgiving around Bay Area not-backpacking. Last year we went to Mendocino. Also due to the same reason. How sad. Perhaps I should figure out some sort of interesting route in the Southwest that could be done in 3 or 4 days. Winter is not the nicest time, but going there during the best time – March – is a bit difficult (vacation time).

The Thanksgiving Day itself was spent in semi-idle resting. Rita had some patients in the morning and we went to see the Hunger Games afternoon to the local movie theater which was for some reason working. At least there were no problems with tickets.

Friday, November 28

We visited our friends for a post-Thanksgiving gathering and then headed to the rain in Mendocino. Rita wanted to try different places instead of the lovely Fensalden Inn we stayed in last year. As a result she picked two different places – one in Mendocino proper and one in Fort Bragg. None of them B&B, which was sad to me. All hotels, in the world, are more or less the same. B&Bs at least have some uniqueness in them.

Since we started a bit late right after sunset I had to drive through the night into the upcoming rainstorm on the never-ending highway 128. That drive is nice in good weather. But with the wall of rain in the dark it wasn’t much fun. At least it was empty except for several frogs who enthusiastically tried to cross it. They were really lit up in the headlights. I hope I didn’t kill anyone. Eventually the drive ended at the expansive Mendocino Hotel, which was the accommodation for the day.

The hotel was very old bar/staging place/hotel. It was also probably brothel at some point. Old, of course, was by Mendocino standards. It had a lively restaurant with was bustling with activities at the dark time when we arrived there. At some point the owners also acquired some more places around because our humble room was in a house across the street. There was nothing special about it other than color broken TV and working fireplace. The hotel provided two of those per-packaged artificial logs and matches. The logs were easy to light, but they didn’t really want to create a good fire.

Saturday, November 29

Since this hotel didn’t provide any food in the morning we had to scramble. The good thing was that Mendocino had several very nice coffee shops within walking distance. Well, technically the whole town is within walking distance.



Mendocino is tiny. There is a nice ocean view trail, lots of little galleries and specialty shops, and some restaurants. That was pretty much what we were doing there the first half of the day. I liked some works. There were many very beautiful photos. Some were just weird or too expensive. After lunch we visited the currently being held art festival. Then headed North to Fort Bragg.


By this time the short late November day was already over. But it was just the right time for the attraction of the day – Festival of Lights in Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. They really lit up the place with very elaborate and creative light installations. Some of the stuff, like this dragon, was also moving. The garden also had a large fire pit with provided marshmallows to roast. There was also a pavilion with guitar music and hot cider and vine. Very nice. Good thing that by that time the on and off rain of the day had subsided.

The difficult part was to find a place to eat. Mostly because of too much information. One can pull up Yelp and find several places around. But then their rating were that good, which may or may not be true. People like or not all sorts of things. Eventually we settled on Herons by the Sea for some seafood. There wasn’t a whole lot of choices and I didn’t want to drive South to the fancier places there. The food in Herons by the Sea was OK, that is after we found the place. I just had this slight suspicion that it wasn’t the best quality and probably laden with chemicals. Like the Mexican cooks there didn’t care for it. The place also looked shabby and cheap – like a McDonald’s.

Sunday, November 30

Morning in rainy Fort Bragg was a bit slow. The whole downtown was close aside from one or two places that were packed with hungry people. The wait time was about 30 minutes. I was tempted to just drive down to Mendocino for their food. Yelp again directed us to this highly recommended place called David’s Restaurant. Yes, it was highly efficient and clean. But the food was just regular diner food same as in Denny’s. The people there all seem to know each other. I had an impression that they all came to this place after Sunday church. After this we headed South.

The rain stopped and left this beautiful clear weather. It was like it washed away all the dirt and smog. The sky was the usual after-rain eventful – clouds and some sun. Much more interesting than clear blue.
DSC_0049The main goal, aside from getting home, was to stop for some mushrooms. There should be lots of them with all that water. There were some at this park with a beach access, but the main place to see was the Salt Point State Park. This was the place we visited 2 years ago and gotten some training on mushroom picking.


One Boletus

Well, we were not the only people with mushroom picking idea. In fact Mendocino had some sort of even just a week prior all about mushrooms. There was even one place serving wild mushrooms soup, but they were out when we asked them. But this also meant that the Salt Point State Park was stripped clean. We could see trails that people made in the grass. I did manage to find two Boletus and many slippery jacks. Enough for one dinner, if I knew how to cook them best.

There was one park ranger who stopped to probably check on Rita in the car while I was coming down the hill. I was afraid he’d give a ticket. But he checked my two mushrooms and said that it will be enough for a dinner. He was the one who mentioned about all the people in this park.

Then it was all drive back. Good thing it was still light so that I could enjoy the ride. We stopped at Bodega Bay for gas. The gas station was old. The station attendant used binoculars to read the numbers of the machine from the shop building.


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Desolation Wilderness Trip Report. Oct 2014

Another short backpacking trip to Desolation Wilderness, this time in Autumn.

Originally I wanted to have a birthday trip – just a short trip as gift to myself. Then for some reason I decided to lead it and then it suddenly became very complicated. I could barely find permits for the area I wanted to go to. Then there was the King fire on the West side of Desolation. Due to the prevailing winds it covered Lake Tahoe with enough smoke to be a health hazard. As a result the trip had to be postponed a week moving it into October. The good thing about the postponement was that by that time the camping quota was lifted.

Then the group presented a bit of a challenge. The trip was re-posted on the Indian Adventures MeetUP group. As a result out of 12 people in my group 9 were Indian men not all of them with experience. At least we had two women to dilute the gender ratio a bit.

Friday, October 3

Regular weekend trip start – just drive to Tahoe in the evening after work. I was carpooling with Parul and Kaori. Fallen Leaf Campground was not busy this time of the year. Though I’ve managed to miss it a couple of times it in the dark.

Saturday, October 4

The morning was sunny if crisp. Good weather. Tahoe had a couple of inches of wet snow a week or so before. But it was all gone. All of my gang have made it. Now we had to get some food, check the gear, and perhaps pick up some lost items. Right there I noticed that my group wasn’t exactly thrilled about sleeping outside. There was no rain coming so I just put my pad and slept on the ground. But some of the guys were visibly uncomfortable this cold morning.

As it became a tradition I found an interesting coffee place to have breakfast – Keys Cafe. I’ve gotten some huge insanely sweet Belgian waffle from there. Barely digesting all that sugar I ran through the gear list. Everyone seemed to have taken all the necessary gear. This is where I’ve made the same mistake – just because something is called a “sleeping bag”, it doesn’t mean it is the right sleeping bag. One dude brought the same proverbial WalMart  sleeping bag attached to a school backpack. Why did I post this trip again?


Lake Aloha

The Fallen Leaf trailhead was actually busy. We barely managed to find space. It was a popular place for some day hikes, plus we were also starting a bit late.

Beautiful day. Crisp, clear, dry. A bit too dry for this time of the year. It was hard to see on Tahoe itself, but it was visible on the smaller lakes that the water level was low. We did quite an uphill the first half of the day. The group was struggling. Someone brought a bug of cuties. Tasty, but heavy.

We lumbered to our destination – Clyde Lake – by nightfall. There was a small group there already, but they occupied a flat area a bit away from the lake. We just took over the main flat rocky area right on the shore. This place was already improved. There were a couple of rock walls to shield from wind and some old fire pits. Clyde lake is actually rather small. I suspect that our large inexperienced group severely damaged the environment there, mostly with the human “results”. Processing of those “results” is a bit slow in our dry climate. I tried to teach the crew how to “do it” in the woods properly, but I’m not sure how many actually followed.


Starry Sky

After dinner, which was sometimes interesting, we had this glorious starry sky. People were kind of separated into groups. Too bad we didn’t have a fire, but they were enjoying themselves. I didn’t really feel in place. I tried doing some night photography, but without timer and tripod my options were rather limited.

Sunday, October 4

Get up and go back. Crispy autumn morning caused a bit of a slow moving. There wasn’t much rush to get back, at least from my standpoint since the mileage wasn’t that high. This, however, proved detrimental. First the green group was slow. Second – people just get lost a couple of times. Seriously? Some of them just failed to follow the well traveled trail. Then they didn’t find anything better to do than yell “help”. Perhaps even this very easy trip was too much as an introductory.


Lake Tahoe from Mt Tallac

We did, however, went up to Mt Tallac for the gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe. The approach from the West to Tallc summit was much easier than from Tahoe basin. We were probably also well acclimatized already. It was just a simple persistent climb, not much work without the backpack.

We made it to now deserted parking lot after dark. Some people were really happy for this trip to be over. But they did pay for the expenses. With all that mountain climbing and fairly warm October weather I was severely dehydrated. Luckily Kaori found a good ramen place somewhere in Davis so that we could replenish the lost salts and water.



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One command ftp with error reporting

In the previous post I’ve wrote a one line ftp control using expect. It looked pretty good and it worked. Then I stumbled upon curl … and I had to rewrite the script. With curl the entire script could be made much simpler and faster. Here it is:

# Curl ftp wrapper
# ftp to/from <system> as user ftp
usage() {
    echo "Transfer files using ftp"
    echo "usage: `basename $0` [-v] get <system> <remote file> <local file>"
    echo "       `basename $0` [-v] put <system> <local file> <remote file>"
    exit 1
if [ "$1" == "-h" -o "$1" == "-?" ]; then
    exit 1
if [ "$1" == "-v" ]; then
num_arg=`expr $# - $verbose`
if [ $num_arg != 4 ]; then
cmd=${args[`expr $verbose + 0`]}
target=${args[`expr $verbose + 1`]}
file1=${args[`expr $verbose + 2`]}
file2=${args[`expr $verbose + 3`]}
if [ "$cmd" != "get" ] && [ "$cmd" != "put" ]; then
    echo "Invalid command '$cmd'"
if [ "$cmd" == "put" ] && [ ! -e $file1 ]; then
    echo "Source file $file1 doesn't exist"
    exit 1
# set the verbose variable
if [ $verbose == 1 ]; then
if [ $cmd == "get" ]; then
    if [ $verbose == 1 ]; then
        echo "Copying file from $target:$file1 to $file2"
    curl $curl_verbose ftp://$target/$file1 --user ftp:ftp -o $file2
    if [ $cmd == "put" ]; then
        if [ $verbose == 1 ]; then
            echo "Copying file from $file1 to ftp://$target/$file2"
        curl $curl_verbose -T $file1 ftp://$target/$file2 --user ftp:ftp
        echo "Invalid command"
        if [ $verbose == 1 ]; then
        exit 1


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Expect ftp with error reporting

I had a problem that required automating access to the ftp file transfer. This could be resolved with a simple expect script. There are many expect scripts on the net. However, they are all seem to be overly optimistic with the results. I wanted a script that could handle different errors that could occur during ftp operation. So I wrote my own (or improved someone else’s script). Here it is. Any constructive comments are welcome.

 # Expect ftp wrapper
 # ftp to/from system as user ftp

 set timeout 10
 set verbose 0
 proc usage {} {
     puts "Transfer files using ftp"
     puts "usage: eftp [-v] get <system> <remote file> <local file>
     puts "       eftp [-v] put <system> <local file> <remote file>
     exit 1

 if {[lindex $argv 0] == "-h" || [lindex $argv 0] == "-?"} {
 if {[lindex $argv 0] == "-v"} {
     set verbose 1

 set num_arg [expr [llength $argv] - $verbose]
 if {$num_arg != 4} {

 set cmd     [lindex $argv [expr $verbose + 0]]
 set target  [lindex $argv [expr $verbose + 1]]
 set file1   [lindex $argv [expr $verbose + 2]]
 set file2   [lindex $argv [expr $verbose + 3]]
 if {$cmd != "get" && $cmd != "put"} {
     puts "Invalid command"
 if {$cmd == "put" && ![file exists $file1]} {
     puts "Source file $file1 doesn't exist"
     exit 1

 exp_log_user 0
 if {$cmd == "get"} {
     if {$verbose} {puts "Copying file from $target:$file1 to $file2"}
 } else {
     if {$cmd == "put"} {
         if {$verbose} {puts "Copying file from $file1 to $target:$file2"}
     } else {
         puts "Invalid command"
         if {$verbose} { usage }
         exit 1

 set ftp_result 0
 spawn ftp $target
 set timeout 2
 expect {
     "Name ($target:admin):" {
     timeout {
         puts "Error connecting to $target"
         exit 1
 send -- "ftp\r"
 expect "Password:"
 send -- "ftp\r"        # change to your password
 expect "ftp> "
 send -- "binary\r"
 expect "ftp> "
 send -- "prompt\r"
 expect "ftp> "
 set timeout 40

 send "$cmd $file1 $file2 \r"
 expect {
     "227 Entering Passive Mode" {
         if {$verbose} { puts "Start transfer" }
     "local: $file1: No such file or directory" {
         puts "Local file $file1 is missing"
         set ftp_result 1
     timeout {
         puts "timeout on start"
         set ftp_result 1

 expect {
     "150 Opening BINARY mode data connection" {
     -re {(\d+\s)(.*\n)} {
         puts "ftp error occurred: '$expect_out(1,string) [string trim $expect_out(2,string)]'"
         set ftp_result 1
     timeout {
         #puts "timeout2"
         set ftp_result 1

 if {0 == $ftp_result} {
     expect {
          "226 Transfer complete." {
              if {$verbose} { puts "Transfer complete" }
          timeout {
              #puts "timeout2"
              set ftp_result 1

 expect "ftp> "
 send "quit\r"
 expect "Goodbye."

 if {$verbose} { puts "Result $ftp_result" }
 exit  $ftp_result

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Canadian Rockies. Sept 2014


One more Labor Day week-long trip that I had to plan. Last year’s one to North Cascades was great. This year I wanted to do something easier. Well, not that I wanted, but I wanted to bring Rita and thus the trip should be easier. Two ideas were in the running:

  1. Driving around Vancouver Island. In my trip to WCT I found that there are many lovely places on Vancouver. Nothing much there – mostly wet nature and fish (wild salmon). The actual salmon fishing is a bit expensive (~$1000 per day), but I thought that we could just buy the fish, if necessary.
  2. Canoeing in boundary waters. This would be a trip similar to the trip to Algonquin, just in US. I went to Google maps and searched for outfitters in the area. An outfitter would supply the necessary gear and sometimes housing. I found a lovely place called Tuscarora Lodge way in the boonies. They seemed the nicest to me (not trip pedaling and the website had all the info I was interested in).

We settled on the second one. Mostly because Rita said that we never went to the East side. Then I was feeling bad that the rest of the group (the cool kids) were going to Canada. At some point I’ve gotten sad and asked the leader of the Canadian trip if he had any spots and he did. That’s how we ended up going to Canadian Rockies and Kootenay NP in particular. The plan was simple: we fly to Calgary on Saturday, then do the famous Rockwall Trail for 5 days, then do some day hiking in Canadian Rockies for a couple of days and go home on Sunday.

Saturday, Aug 30

We missed the train. By 2 minutes! I could see it going off the station. How sad. That wasn’t an insanely early train – 7:10AM. I just thought it was leaving at 7:15AM. I probably misread the station. For the future reference – at least 10 minutes lead time before train schedule. Then we had to wait for the next train which was coming in an hour. Its time was cutting very close. I should have just picked a taxi right away instead of wasting one hour waiting. I tried calling a couple of local companies, but they had operators that couldn’t speak English at all. So we barely made it to the busy airport a bit more than an hour before the flight by skipping the last BART section by using a taxi. Since stingy United didn’t put enough people by the time we reached the counter it was too late for them check us in. Then we had to go to the first class line and be put on stand-by list for the next flight at 1PM. We should have flown Southwest from SJC. Luckily there was room on the next flight and we gotten to Calgary at reasonable 4PM.

One note about the plane we flown in – Canada Regional Jet 700. It was a relatively small 4 row airplane. When it left San Francisco with its stable weather it was fine. When it was flying high above clouds it was fine too. Once it went into the cloud layer – it started shaking like an autumn leaf in the wind. There were probably some areas of low pressure inside the cloud layer. As a result, the plane would sometimes just drop unexpectedly, which was rather scary.

After the usual long hassle with the rental cars we finally headed out to Banff. The drive was nice. Mostly due to the lovely green pastures around.

The mountains came up suddenly – there was all green farmland around, then they just sprung up. And very close to Calgary proper, just about an hour. Then we drove to Banff and the humongous Tunnel Mt Village campground. I have to admin that Canadians have nice campgrounds – free hot showers, hot water and soap in the toilet. Other than that the campground was fairly standard.

After setting up tents we went to Banff town for some dinner. It was a bit after 9PM and the only place open was The Old Spaghetti Factory.  It is easy to choose when there is no choice. I’ve had some honey based beer and spaghetti with seafood. Good enough.

Sunday, Aug 31

Our first night in the Rockies. Woo hoo. It was a bit chilly, but manageable. The tent, though, got loaded with dew. There was some packing in the camp and especially chasing around a very persistent small squirrel. Rockies_2014_021 I had to run after him all the time otherwise he would steal any food left unattended. After packing we went to Second Cup coffee shop for some breakfast before the road.

The town of Banff was very busy with tourists in the morning. The weather was good – warm and sunny – and people were going about their respective plans for the day, whatever touristy activity they could handle this day. Banff looked like any other outdoors gateway town – like Aspen or even Pucon. One can stay in a nice hotel, do some nature stuff during the day, and return to their stake in the evening. Not much different from any other amusement park.

For the Rockwall Trail we had to do a car shuttle. We left Valerie’s car at the finish and drove the other two to the starting point. Canadian parks have very nice clean trailhead parking lots, not paved, but outfitted with good toilets and maps. There were a lot of day hiking possibilities in Kootenay starting from many small parking lots along Icefields Parkway.


Start Group Photo

Finally, the hike started. The weather was good – a bit cloudy, not too hot or cold. Just how I like it. We crossed a very azure Vermillion river and started up the trail. The forest burned out several years ago and was all green and new for young pine trees and wild flowers. The trail was simple – just cut on the side of a mountain. We could still hear the busy highway, but it was going more and more soft the further we went. There were beautiful clouds rolling over the sharp sedimentary peaks. Interestingly there were these mountain slopes empty of trees where avalanches went down. They looked like ski slopes at a ski resort.

We met some people coming down from Floe Lake our destination of the day. They said that the lake was pretty and that they also were snowed in the night before. Sweet. There was some dude that we sort of picked up at the trailhead. He was alone and was concerned or scared to do a hike to Floe lake by himself due to bears. So he joined our group – no bear in the right mind would want to mess with us. After the main climb started he joined some other group going back.

There was a pretty significant climb right before the lake – the lake itself was on a plateau above the main ravine. We had some brief rain shower but nothing major. As soon as it was done the weather turned back to sunny+cloudy, there was even rainbow. I like the changing weather. When it is always sunny it isn’t that fun. After the climb the campground was right around the corner.


View of the Floe Lake from the eating area

The campground was well-organized and maintained. It had several areas with nice flat beam lined spots to put tents on (then people won’t put their tents anywhere). It had a chicken wire lined outhouse (not sure why). There was a very luxurious bear cabinets (can’t even call them bear boxes). And there was eating area with tables and benches with a nice view of the lake. Can’t even call it backcountry camping really. What the campground didn’t have was the nature’s gifts like berries or mushrooms. I expected for some blueberries, but there were very little. There were some mushrooms, especially in that young pine forest, but they were mostly slippery jacks and some other weird ones I didn’t dare to pick up. We did our chores, cooked the food, stared at the lake, some even did some hula-hooping, and retired a bit after sunset, which was around 9PM.

Monday, Sept 1

Relatively lovely weather – a bit cold, but dry, there was even some sun. We had breakfast by the lake, even though we forgot to tell Val about it. There was even some therapy sessions. After all this the group started the ascent of the Numa Pass.


The group on Numa Pass

The ascent wasn’t very difficult – just walk. The trail was there. None of the snow cowered scree nonsense. The further up we went the more alpine the nature looked. Above the tree line it was only grass with a lot of plants that looked like carrots and some mushrooms.

Once we went over the pass the group really booked it down hill. With all this booking they missed a large group of mountain goats on the slope of the mountain. I suppose they succumb to a very common notion to push miles as opposed to enjoy the process. I do that too sometimes and have to remind myself to slow down, look around, and smell the air.

The other side of Numa Pass was much greener. It was a nice forest. There were no signs of a recent fire. There were some mushrooms – different types, but not much use. Not much berries though, which was sad. But the views from the trail were great. The Canadian park service didn’t believe in easy trail construction. Though the trail didn’t just run straight up the hill, they didn’t really do soft switchbacks either – something in-between. So with this nice trail and good crisp cloudy weather we were in Numa campground just a couple of hours after lunch.

Rockies_2014_231The campground had the same design as the Floe Lake one the day before – a toilet, several flat tent spots, and eating area far away with good number of bear cabinets. There was no lake, but a little river. The cooking area was across the river. We had time to set up, cook, do some hula-hooping, even had some campfire.

Besides our group there were other people at the site. One group of Canadians (with a very well-trained dog) and one group of Europeans on vacation. These Europeans were on their 7th day or something like that.

Tuesday, Sept 2

It started raining, not a lot but all the time. It was raining all night. The trees as usual would make the rain feel in the tent like it was a deluge. I didn’t want to get up and get out of the tent to all this wetness. I wasn’t looking forward to the wet rainfly, wet backpack, and heavy load. There was some talk the day before about turning back due to some faulty equipment and the coming inclement weather. But the direct route was close – there was some sort of notice at the eating area describing that the bridge on Vermillion river was out.

We huddled in the trees from the rain for breakfast. After some discussion the decision was made to go back. At least it was known what we were facing. Going forward was all unknown.


Rain pants, rain jacket, rain fly on the backpack, some people used ponchos. Rain everywhere. Rain was coming down relentlessly. It was a long hard slog up hill to the pass we just crossed the day before. No one really spoke, make jokes or something. People were just silently pushing up and up, wishing for this to be over, at least I was. It would be nice to look forward to a dry warm cabin or something, even a storm shelter would be sufficient. But that luxury wasn’t coming. To add to all the water, the further up we went the colder it became eventually turning into wet snow. What was it? Beginning of September? And the pass wasn’t that high.

We reached the Floe Lake after lunch. It was still raining. It actually sucked to go back. But the leader made the decision and group needs to stay together. Good thing that there was a ranger cabin at the campground. It was locked, but it had a pretty substantial porch – large enough for us to huddle together out of the rain. The rangers had some class – they built their cabin with a nice view of the Floe Lake and the mountains. A small reward for the hard work they were doing. The cabin had a thermometer. It showed temperature went down to 2˚C.

I’ve hanged the rope inside the porch in the futile attempt to dry something. Some of the plastic material things like rain flies or muddy gaiters dried. Closes – not at all. Just Rita’s feet were completely wet. Her GoreTex boots as expected couldn’t hold that much rain. With the food and cold most of the booze were gone too. After that people just went to their respective tents trying to get warm. It was way early but what else could we do.

Wednesday, Sept 3

The rain seemed to have run out. There wasn’t much going on in the morning. We did the chores and in silence started on the way back. I don’t know about the others but I had this defeated feeling – we didn’t finish the planned route. But arguing with nature can have very detrimental consequences. You can have your plans, but the mountains can just say ‘no’ and there is nothing you can do. I mean – nothing you can do to change their mind. You can fight it, but at your own peril.

It was nice crisp weather. No sign of rain. The mountains above were dusted with fresh snow. There were some signs of bear activity on the trail (droppings and steps), but that was about it. We didn’t have any more wildlife sightings. Rockies_2014_318 The group made a good progress going downhill. By the time we reached the trailhead it was sunny and warm. I managed to dry all my gear in the parking lot while the car shuttle was done. There was a forest service worker in the parking lot taking care of some maintenance. He said that he never change his plans due to weather – just wait and the weather can change. Oh well.

After everything was packed we went to Radium – a small touristy town with lovely hot springs. The town was on a plateau. There was a nice park service campground called Redstreak on the hill overlooking the town. From there through some lovely pines we could see the enormous lumber yard below. The campground wasn’t that cheap, but it had all the amenities including how shower. It was also almost empty.

After setting up tents we went to have some food. After some usual wavering we settled on Back Country Jack’s place. It had lots of meat, something like all you can eat chicken or something. Rockies_2014_321 I’ve ordered salad and Rita ordered ribs so we could share. The ribs were sweet from the sauce. I should have ask for them to be just salted and peppered like V did. But there wasn’t too much food, which was good. Those ribs looked big, but there were mostly bones. After the food we headed out to the hot springs.

The Radium Hot Springs belonged to the Canadian park service. As a result it wasn’t fancy and it wasn’t expensive. Passes were about $6. They also rented swimming suits, even the old style ones – classic, very cute ones. They looked like half wetsuits. The hot spring had one large heated pool and some smaller pools. There was also a lap pool, but no one was swimming there. The large hot pool had very nice borders. They were designed in the way that a person can lay his/her head on it comfortably and enjoy the water. The water, though, wasn’t very smelly. It was just warm.

After the hot refreshing soaking in water Suji was trying to get some ice cream. There was a specialized gelato place, but it was closed. We had to settle for a gas station products.

Thursday, Sept 4

Cold foggy early morning get up. No sign of rain. Even though the get up time was quite early I didn’t really sleep. Mostly because the giant lumber yard woke up even earlier and started doing some heavy machinery work generating quite a bit of industrial noise. We went down from the mountain plateau where Redstreak campground was situated to get the coffee fix from a small coffee shop Meet on the higher ground coffee shop. The started driving North on the Icefields Highway to see the sights.


Group Photo

The Icefields Highway represents the quintessential touristy destination. If allows people to see most of the natural beauty of Canadian Rockies, take the proper amount of travel photos and then retire at some nice place after that while fighting the crowds of tourists doing the same. We kind of went into the same mode, except for the hotel. Since we started a bit early we managed to see some of the places without too much fighting for parking spaces. But eventually the hordes of Asian tourists reached us too. There was a stop for some nasty looking lunch and continuation to Columbia Icefield. Well, not that I knew where we were going. I was just following the leader – it was all new to me anyway.

Wilcox Pass sits on the other side of Icefields Highway from Athabasca Glacier. The nature on it looks like alpine tundra though the altitude and latitude isn’t that high. The hike was relatively easy, aside from some blister fixing. Rockies_2014_451 But at some point it became very windy and cold, even snowing. We did make it to the pass and gotten some great views of what left of Athabasca Glacier and some local wildlife.

After that it was all driving all the way to the lovely town of Jasper. As I’ve said before we weren’t following crowds to their hotel. Instead we followed one very long line to the Whistlers campground. Seriously, the line to register was long and very slow moving. There was enough time to get out of the car and move around. Enough even to read the weather report – no rain, but very low night temperatures – down to -2˚C. Interestingly, the members of our car who visited this place before, were disagreeing on what they did and where last time they were here. How sad. They visited Rockies just a couple of year ago. This made one more reason for me to keep writing these trip reports.

The dinner food was in the town of Jasper, to go. By the time we set the camp and gotten to the town it was already 9PM. Still light, but most of the places were closing soon. There was one fancy game burger joint, but they had waiting like as far as the eye can see. I had to settle to some Americanized Chinese food. Mostly because Rita have chosen it and it was cheap and fast. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t tell the cook to make something authentic. The real Chinese food would be much better. Then there was a campfire, shared food, and drinks. But people didn’t really stay long because it gotten cold.

Friday, Sept 5

Following the established routine we went to Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper to get the breakfast. I don’t remember which of their pastries I gotten, but I do remember the coffee. I wanted something unusual and not a plain boring regular coffee. So I wisely ordered espresso macchiato, to go. It was probably very good, but I don’t need a caffeine fix – I need how liquid with milk to go with my pastry and there just wasn’t enough of that in a tiny cup of macchiato. I ate my humble pie and drank Rita’s coffee. I should remember the names for things I order. After that we started driving back to our friend Athabasca Glacier for some glacier hiking.

On the other side of Athabasca Glacier the Canadians built a new sparkling Icefield Center. It has nice views of the Athabasca Glacier, probably some information and activities, food of course. It must be nice to sit inside this center with some hot drink and watch the glacier (though the views are not as good as from Wilcox Pass) if the weather is horrible. But this particular day was blessed with great sunny weather. As a result, the entire group except for the two deserters who were unwilling or unable to go on the glacier went to do the glacier walk.


Preparation for Glacier Hike

The main parking lot for the glacier closeup was further from the main touristy thoroughfare. It was ol dusty remains of the glacier from long ago covered with dry glacier silt. There were people there to do the simple “view of the glacier” hike. The rest were going with some outfitter companies. Or there were these unique characters like us with their own equipment and skills (one hopes).

At the close encounter the Athabasca Glacier looked a lot larger than from the distance.Rockies_2014_556 It was the same case of no reference. There were some people participating in the glacier abuse activities that could be used as a reference, but they couldn’t really indicate the real scale of the glacier.

What was that glacier abuse thing? Somewhere roughly in the middle of the glacier someone created a relatively flat area. There there were a whole group of snow buses laboriously going over very steep moraine to get to that flat area. I suspect it would be difficult to effect that mass of ice which is Columbia Icefield. But aside from spewing horrible amounts of diesel soot this looks like a gondola down the Great Canyon. Seriously people – if you want to get glacier experience put on crampons and walk it. Which was what we did. The truth was that the park service put many signs about the dangers of playing on the glacier full of crevasses. Well, this was similar to signs in Yosemite and Grand Canyon. It was a National Park after all. But we were prepared.

We played around on the glacier for a bit. I even gotten one bottle of glacier water.Rockies_2014_570 On the way back it became a bit interesting. So usually if someone wants to get on the glacier he/she would have to go along with some of the guide companies that probably charge quite a bit for that. This was not Chile after all and thus the guides were experienced and the clients most probably had to sign a very thick stack of papers. Those aforementioned guide companies most likely had to cut some kind of deal with the Canadian park service. Seeing some people just going on the glacier on their own would cut their busyness, so say the least. As a result when we were going back there was a guided group coming up. V tried to select a route such that we won’t meet this group. But their guide kept changing and trying to meet us which he did. Then he started asking “who organized this trip”, “was it a led trip?”, etc. He was trying to probe if we were cutting into his business. Funny.

After the hike which finished in the afternoon we just had a couple of minutes to get some food at Icefield Center. I thought to get some soup and fruits. Then I changed my mind because there was no time to eat it and it was late already for the upcoming dinner. We gotten into a small quarrel with Rita who, as usual, couldn’t decide on a short notice. As a result we had to eat some bowl of Pho and fruits in the car. No exactly the best place considering that the car was very packed.

The final resting place for this day was Lake Louise Campground. There was also a line to register. However, the campground was not at all full. Perhaps all those people pulling these giant trailers made it seem that the line was long. It was a standard Canadian campground with free hot showers. What was interesting about it was the high electric fence going around it and electrified cattle guard on the entrance road. I suspect they have gotten tired of all the bears coming in and harassing the uninitiated tourists. Personally, I wouldn’t mind of seeing some wildlife.

Within a walking distance from the campground was a small shopping area. Regular stuff – gas station, small strip mall, a couple of restaurants, some sort of visitor’s center. We picked a people said new place across from the strip mall called Mountain Restaurant. Personally I didn’t care that much – I was still full with Pho and this area would be full of touristy food like that so-called Chinese food the day before. This place most likely had a Korean cook because it had Bulgogi on the menu. I’ve ordered some sort of blueberry burger for Rita and I to share and some local beer. That was quite enough.

On the way people people drive but Paresh and me walked. The campground was close, the weather was crisp, and the food just sat in my stomach and needed some digestion. Besides, there was not much to do anyway.Rockies_2014_590The walk was actually very short. On the way I managed to take a long exposure photo of the starry sky. Bu we also managed to get lost in that wast campground. The group set up a campfire and was talking by the time we came. It was a lovely evening. Just Rita asked me to take a shower. It was free anyway.

Saturday, Sept 6

The night was very cold despite the weather report promising +7˚C. In the early morning I’ve have gotten coffee (proper size this time) and two bobs – an egg sandwich in a bun – at a local coffee shop. Then we quickly headed to Lake Louise. Good thing we started early. It would become clear why on the way back. At least in the early morning we could get some reasonable parking spots.

Rockies_2014_604Lake Louise is a touristy spot with a nice hotel overlooking a beautiful glacier lake. The glacier is promptly melting with increasing speed. There were several hiking trails going around the lake and to the surrounding mountains. It was nice early in the morning – cold and not crowded.

The main trail lead to the Tea House. One of several. There were Europeans in the are who tried to establish a system similar to the one existing in Alps with Tea Houses, trails, and other mountain activities including skiing.

Eventually the trail just ended at a scree slope. Technically, it was possible to continue, but that was involving pure rather steep glacier travel – would have been fun if we had more time. For some reason the rest of the group went or stayed in the Tea House. I really like the trail end – slope with gorgeous view.Rockies_2014_668I could just sit there and enjoy the view. The weather was great – a bit warm and sunny. It was easy to see a lot of things. This sort of view usually makes you contemplate life’s bigger things.

On the way back to the car it became clear why we had to start early. Perhaps it was Saturday or just nice weather (I wonder how this place would be in rain or blizzard), but the main plaza between the hotel and the lake was just packed with people (V called it “meat market”). There was someone wedding taking place on the lawn in front of the hotel. It would be cool if the newlyweds jumped into the lake after giving their wows. But it would probably ruin their expensive garments – that wedding was probably cost a fortune. The entire parking lot was full with cars stretching down the road approaching the place. It looked familiar – like Mission Peak in good weather.

After that we did a pokien stop at moraine lake that was just as crowded. Beautiful lake, yes. But it all felt like Disneyland rather than a national park. That was the last touristy stop after which we went back to Banff for the last supper.

There wasn’t really any plan any more. Some people had an early flight and had to basically go to Calgary late at night. Two were staying in Banff for one more day. Rita and I were a bit in-between. We agreed to meet at 8PM again. Some people wanted to eat and some didn’t. Our small group ended up eating some Thai food over my objections. Thai food? Seriously? Couldn’t we find some Canadian stuff. I could get Thai food fine in Bay Area. Though to tell the truth I wasn’t sure what constituted Canadian food. Well, something that wasn’t available in Bay Area.

After the hasty dinner we congregated in local Starbucks hogging their WiFi, along with a bunch of other people. Thus the network performance was less than stellar. But we managed to book a hotel in Calgary. The town was actually closing. A bit after 9PM all that bogus gift shops (well, there was one good with genuine native American crafts) and restaurants were closing. By 10PM the town was deserted. There were some bars open dujing by the rowdy groups of youngsters going around, but that was it. Perhaps all the tourists retired to their lodges resting after a day of activities.

That was all. The car that was driving to the airport dropped me and Rita at our hotel in Calgary. The workers at the hotel were a bit surprised at this late arrival of the two dirty guests.

Sunday, Sept 7

Rockies_2014_702 Beautiful day in Calgary. I thought it was regular weather for early Autumn. I procured a city map from the hotel front desk and we went for a short walk around town to spend the half a day we had before the flight.

Calgary presented itself as a nice, flat, green town. Easily walkable. The main downtown had a couple of walking blocks. It was clean with some weird modern art installations. Isn’t it redundant – weird and modern? Most of modern art is weird. There was a tiny Chinatown. Really tiny – just a block or so of a mall. On one corner there were old women selling vegetables. Rita hassled for some goji berries with them.

She wanted to eat some Chinese food (again) and I wanted regular food. In the end we ended up with some bogus burgers in the airport waiting area. The bus ride from hotel to the airport was very simple. Strange that I so got used to California neighborhood views with their particular hot weather nature that the Northern climate, which should look the same as what I grew up with, always looks unusual to me. It sort of like Minsk, but not the same.

The airport US customs didn’t really present themselves in the best light. First they force you to wait at least 2 hours before the flight when you can start immigration processing. Then the man checking boarding passes didn’t wash his hands and left whatever he was eating on my passport. Then the immigration dude – the one who tells you to look at the camera – was also checking his phone all the time. Yes, I understand your job is boring, but perhaps you want to go work on the Mexican border. The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Aside from the extreme shaking of the same small airplane in the sky above Calgary.


Posted in Travel, Trip Reports, Wilderness | 1 Comment

WCT. June+July 2014


West Coast Trail was mentioned during our trip to Olympic NP. One of the team members from Canada has suggested hiking it. I’ve looked at the description, swallowed my saliva, and put it on my bucket list – one of those great places to visit when time permits. Well, this year the time seemed to have aligned to do it. I’ve managed to get permits. Not the best time, but close. I’ve posted the trip, but there weren’t many people interested. Perhaps I’ve announced it a bit late. I should really stop this habit of last minute planning.

Thursday June 26

Very early start to get to the flight. I generally don’t sleep well when I have to get up that early – just wait for the alarm clock to go off. It was even raining in the morning. Eventually I got up and went on the first train North. Aside from having to get up that early, it was nice to watch the sun come up. The rain made the air fresh. It cleared out all that dust accumulated in the air during the warm Summer. After the usual BART hoping (no, BART doesn’t go to the Bay Area main airport directly – you need to go one way and then back. Well, I suppose, people going to work every day don’t need that extra detour …)  I ended up in the empty SFO’s International Terminal. The non-stop flight to Vancouver was uneventful. I flew with the Canadian WestJet airline. I try to fly on different airlines, just out of curiosity. And as much as possible not to fly United. The WestJet airline was friendly and well run. Nothing special though, even the food.

Relatively small Vancouver International Airport (YVR) was well organized. You come out, get your things, and wait in line for immigration. It was a great advantage to fly in early because right after my flight there were these hordes of tourists with Asian tour groups. Thus standing in front of the line made my progress much faster. I did, however, indicate that I was bringing food and thus had to let the customs people smell my salami. They liked it.

I’ve met my partner a bit later. All the airplanes and luggage arrived unscathed and on time. We had some time before the booked ferry to Victoria. There was another ferry earlier and we were able to change to it. After some bland airport food we load on the 1:30PM ferry. Well, technically we didn’t – the ferry company sells service to deliver your body from point A to point B. Thus they’ll put you on a bus (a good one with WiFi), then this bus will be ferried over water, and then it will get to the final destination.

WCT_2014_022The ferry ride was lovely. Beautiful weather. Lots of islands to look at. There was some nature presentation, but I’ve missed it. There was WiFi and charging stations in the ferry. A cafe. I could just sit there and watch the scenery go by, for a while.

Victoria also greeted us with nice weather. The town looked quite European, very green and walkable. For some reason there were many homeless people and what looked like traveling Mormons. You know, guys in white shirts, black trousers and black thin ties. Not sure whom they were trying to convert.

The hostel that I found to stay for the night was called Ocean Island. It looked decent if busy. It had all the amenities of a hostel with a bit more security than I used to. The entry door had a lock, then the living floors had a separate locked chain linked door. We have gotten a shared dorm room. There were enough bathrooms for the rooms, but no towels, not even paper, that were for extra charge.

WCT_2014_043We went to the city to get camping fuel and stomach fuel. There was this MEC store (Mountain Equipment Co-op, sort of like REI) that had all what was needed. After that, and a bit of hasting, we picked some regular food place for the last supper. I’ve had some seafood pasta and local beer. Interestingly, all the waitresses there were wearing these light summer open long evening dresses. Maybe Canadian women can handle cold better.

Friday June 27

Very early start to get to the shuttle bus schedule. Again I didn’t sleep well. Forget air conditioning – the stupid hostel was simply lacking any air circulation. Our room had one window wide open and still it was all stuffed and hot inside. This was despite the fact that the weather wasn’t hot at all. It was actually raining.

We quickly packed and left after leaving some stuff behind. The hostel provided storage spaces, not for free of course. This place seem to like upsell philosophy – the rooms were not very expensive, but everything else was extra – towels, storage, food, etc.

The West Coast Trail bus was full! It could mean that the trail would be crowded (bad) and also that we were not the only crazy people doing this (validating). We actually had it good. There was one Canadian couple whose plane got delayed and they spend half of the night at the bus station. They were out of any rest and, more importantly, out of fuel. Most people were from either Europe, US, or Canada. I didn’t see anyone from other places. A bit far perhaps. There was one couple from Seattle making the second attempt at the trail. There were no large groups, mostly just twos. One was with a teenager. Bus ride took about 4 hours. I was dozing on and off on it. It was raining, but we made it on time – a bit before 9AM.

The Port Renfrew ranger station of the Pacific Rim NP was just a house next to some half-repaired building, a campground, and the ship dock for the first ferry. The ranger station also had a nice covered shed at the back. Good, since this place, according to Wikipedia, gets about 3m of rain a year. This is where I found that with all that hasty packing I’ve left my GPS in the small backpack at te hostel. As a result I won’t be able to get the route. Bummer. Apparently it was possible to camp, or somehow spend the night, around the area. There were a couple of people who came the day before.

The orientation started promptly at 9AM. The house was full (unlike at the end 6 days later where there were only 2 people). The lady ranger in charge explained all the possible peculiarities of the trail. One funny one was that unless there is something life threatening we shouldn’t call 911 because it would connect to the US Coast Guard and we could get a very expensive helicopter ride. The WCT permits cover regular non-emergency evacuation. She did leave out some of the gold nuggets that the trail had. There were some folks doing this trail for the n-th time.

After the orientation and some rather official document signing we were off. The strange thing was that the was no place around this range station to get water. Had to ask the ranger for that. She had to supply the water source for most of the people being oriented.

The first step was the boat ride to cross the Gordon River inlet. The boat seemed to be especially chartered to ferry hikers since we were the only passengers. It had a strange design of just two rows of standing only place with raised middle for the pack. The weather was wet but not raining. One of the families on the same boat ride had a late teens kid who had a nice dSLR, but his SD card wasn’t working. Bummer. That was even bigger bummer than me forgetting the GPS – not only he wouldn’t be able to get the photos, but he would also had to lug, at least, two extra pounds around. I usually carry a spare SD card. It would be a bummer if my main SD card fails, but I didn’t have to be that stingy. So I offered them my spare SD card. They gave me 40 Canadian dollars. A bit too much, but he just gave them to me. On the other side of the inlet people who just finished were already waiting for the last ride.


Obligatory Trail Start Photo

That was it. We set our packs, took an obligatory photo and started on the trail. For some reason the rest of the people quickly gotten their packs and almost ran to the forest. I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps there was some concern with reaching the first campsite. There were actually two options for the first site when starting from this side – Thrasher Cove at 5 km and Camper Bay at 13 km. The advantage of Thrasher Cove was that it was on the beach and the trail would then continue further on the beach; the disadvantage – it was too close.


Old Donkey Engine

The trail was nice – lush green, in the forest. It was a bit wet and humid. Lush forest doesn’t come for free. Since the trail was going up I soon became wet all over – outside from the humidity and inside from the sweat. We were making good progress. For some reason there was this rush to go. I wasn’t sure why. We saw a couple of old artifacts like this donkey engine and enjoyed the first of the famous ladders. I liked them. WCT_2014_087 The height didn’t scare me, but they added interesting almost climbing activity. What I didn’t expect was the smell of the new ladders. The Park Service have to replaces them often due to wet conditions and fast deterioration. The ladders were made from cedar and they smelled, should I say, sublime. Only once before on a trip to Humboldt I’ve smelled a recently cut coastal redwood that smelled as good. It didn’t smell the same. But it also had this unique lovely natural smell. For some reason the perfumes that humanity uses for regular consumption don’t have the same fragrance. Or perhaps something ancient awakens in me with the aroma or a fresh wood. After all it is possible that some organic molecules in the forest get absorbed into our bloodstream without us even noticing. At this point we don’t know what sort of influence they could be having on our physiology.

The small beach at Thrasher Cove was quite busy. People kept coming and putting tents on every available flat spot. Good thing the canadians were limiting the total number of people entering the trail. Another good thing about it was the abundance of driftwood.


This allowed for pretty much unlimited fire. That was useful since we arrived at something like 1PM. There wasn’t much hiking to do other than talking to surrounding people. I’m not a very talkative type so I was suffering a bit. Good thing I brought a book of short stories to read. There was one group, with that yellow rain tarp shown above, that was led commercially by a very experienced woman. This was her 50th or so trip. Then there was a couple of middle age women from Washington state. They were school teachers. They were training for this trip for a while. However, they were still not making good mileage. That was the last day we saw them. And then there was a couple from Canada. I believe they were native, or the first people. The guy there was actually a lawyer. Very interesting. I believe this was the first time I’ve actually met someone native just in common life.

Saturday June 28

It was raining all night, as expected. There was also this whooshing sound around like wind blowing on different locations. Or so I thought. It turned out to be waves. Since they were breaking at different places it sounded like something was moving. We had to start at 7AM to beat the tide around Owen Pt. I believe out of the busy camp we were the second group to start.


Owens Pt

The whole route to Owen Pt was not very long – about a mile or so, and it was flat. But it was all boulders. That would have been fine if those boulders were covered in slippery wet moss (I think that what it was) and seaweed. It was also raining periodically. As a result it took me something like two hours to get through this mile. It was very mentally taxing. But I saw a family of pie martins peeking through the rocks. Too bad my lense wasn’t very fast to make a good photo. After the point turn the terrain became easier with mostly just rocks and no boulders. There were some interesting rock formations created by relentless pounding of water, from all sides. There was even a small waterfall on the tide caves. Some of these rock formations could actually be very treacherous to walk depending on the tide situation. But we started early and after those horrible boulders this was just a pure luxury to walk on. It was a bit tricky to find the spot where the trail turns into the forest, but we found it eventually. Nice, no more slippery boulders, should be easier.

Right. Not so fast. The trail in the forest was mud. It was broken in many places. WCT_2014_153 There were also a lot of slippery roots and logs, and puddles. The fun continued. Again I had to pay attention all the time. The poles have definitely helped. So did the gaters. It was a bit easier than the boulder field, but not by much.

On the way we passed our first basket river crossing on Camper Creek. There were three steps in this crossing process – (1) pull the basket which is parked in the middle, (2) ride it to the middle, (3) pull it again to the other side. Only the second step is fun.

The camp for today was Cullite Cove. It was a bit off the trail, but it had nice secluded-in-the-canyon feel. Though it was also fully occupied by the wet tourists. Eventually the native couple from the previous day caught up with us. The guy was shooting fireworks into the ocean after dinner. There was a large group from Vancouver – 4 dads and 7 kids. All boys. They were desperately trying to dry out their shoes on the fire. I somehow kept my boots dry. I didn’t remember if they had gaters or not. But they did have very thin tarps that they put above the tents. Good idea for the wet climate. Might be useful to bring if I venture into these woods again.

Sunday June 29

The evening the day before was nice. I thought that the dry weather would set in. No luck. It started raining during the night. The weather report said that it was going to be nice and sunny. But it was raining quite heavily. Or it felt heavy due to large drops coming down from the trees above our tent. I didn’t want to get up and pack in the rain. But the trail won’t finish itself so I had to do it. While packing I looked longingly to our neighbors with their tarps. My tent isn’t really designed to be packed well in a rainy weather. The first thing to remove was the rain fly. After that the mesh tent which was getting wet while being packed. There are some single wall tents with internal poles that are better.



After that the West Coast Trail truly revealed itself. There were many ladders up and down, one nice hanging bridge, several basket crossings, and lots of muddy trails. After the Cullite Cove campsite the trail was running on a sort of plateau of a bit of a flat area. Due to all the water it turned into a swamp. Park Canada put up these cedar boardwalks to make the trail a bit less damaging to the environment, but they were continuously deteriorating. It was interesting that at this point the rain was a bit lower than the place we were walking. It wasn’t high to be above clouds, but enough to be in the clouds.

There was an alternative beach route at the Walbran Creek. However, the so-called creek swell so much after the recent rains that I didn’t feel it was safe to cross it. I was afraid that one mistake and the strong current will sweep you into the cold Pacific. While I was trying to find a good crossing point there was a couple of fast hikers. They just gave up to keeping dry and were marching in their trail runners straight through all the water. I suppose that could be a way to go. I’m just not sure how this approach would treat the feet – excess of water often leads to massive blisters.

After Vancouver Point we started the beach section of the trail. The weather finally turned to warm and sunny. It was good enough to dry out the equipment and even change to shorts. I’ve still kept my gaiters though.


There were a fair number of youngsters going South. They look severely inexperienced. No wonder Parks Canada charge so much for this trail and provide rescue. With characters like these I would be worried too. I suppose the more left leaning government would be more active in taking care of people, unlike NPS in US (Forest Service doesn’t even require permits so they don’t even know you are there). These South bounds people were also have done the easiest half of the trail. They had no clue what was in store for them.

We were making decent progress on this beach section. There were not many roots to jump over. It was just boring slog on the sand. Very tedious. But the weather was good and the worst part of the trail was over.


IR 6 Convenience Store

The Canadians apparently gave some small plots of land in the park to the first people. How they decide what to give I do not know. A couple of these places are used to run small businesses. The first one we walked into was simply named IR 6. It was essentially an overpriced 7-eleven – there were snacks, sodas, and burgers. But they also provided some shelter for travelers who got sick of the rain. I didn’t really want their burger. But I did crave a simple tomato. So did Yuhua apparently. They didn’t have the best ones, but under the circumstances theirs would do.

Carmanah Point lighthouse was right North of the burger place. Nice manicured green grass lawn, a couple of structures, and a green house. I just walked around poking my nose at places but couldn’t find anything informative. Sad. It would be interesting to find out about the history of this place.


We broke the camp right after the lighthouse on a secluded beach. The first beach wild camping in the trip. One concern with camping here was that due to tide you can end up waking up in the ocean. Someone said that if you camp above the driftwood then there won’t be a possibility of the tide reaching you. I was a bit concerned that the water could just go over a low levee and flood our camp, but I was too tired to move. Besides, there weren’t many other options to move to. Still this camp was great – secluded and not crowded. We just had one other group for company, the Canadian couple who actually came in the same bus with us.

Monday June 30

The weather was nice, really nice. No sign of rain. The rain-fly did successfully soak with dew in the morning, however.
The walk on the beach was fairly pleasant. I mean there was still all the annoying sand and such, but there was enough variety of scenery. The early morning marine layer was still hanging on the beach. The sun was trying to get through it making interesting rays of light. There were a couple of sections in the forest. But the trail was already drying out and thus was easy to walk on. There were a couple of interesting rock formations to climb over, but nothing major.

By about lunch time we reached the mandatory ferry crossing of the Nitinat Narrows. It was located right next to another first nation little spot. The people there were also running a food stand (and some lodges also). However, their food was the real deal – as the first people (aka Native Americans) they were allowed to catch salmon that was wandering into the narrows and then sell it, cooked of course.
A simple salmon potato BBQ was selling for $20 CAN. A bit on the higher side for this simple meal, but the quality of the fish just beat everything. This was by far the best salmon I’ve had. Nothing can beat the fresh ingredients. They were also selling crab, but I passed on that mess.

After the ferry crossing there was the most advertized part of the WCT – the whole.WCT_2014_411 It was basically a rock formation with an arch over a stretch of beach that was only open at tides below 2.1m. Cute, but there was no need to make such a big deal out of it.

We arrived to the arch a bit early and had to wait. It was a good time to sleep, watch local bald eagles, and the Olympic mountains across Juan de Fuca strait. It was warm and sunny. So sunny that I’ve managed to seriously burn my legs between gaiters and shorts. Nice.

After the whole it was just short walk till the Tsusiat Falls where we broke the camp. It was a decent stretch of the beach to accommodate a substantial number of people. Good thing the Parks Canada also installed good size toilet also. Much better than some of the US forest service places, like Sykes, that get overrun by hordes of people who have no clue how to behave in the woods. The toilets were installed on fairly high stilts. One has to climb another tall ladder to get there. They also provide a bug of cedar shavings to use for flashing.

There was a group of people who have been on this beach for a while. They managed to build some sort of shelter, and even brought a frying pan. I suspect they just started from the North side and spend a vacation there. I wonder if they still had to pay the full fee.

It was possible to swim in the little water hole next ot the waterfall which was running full power after all the rains. The water was a bit cold and full of tannin, but still refreshing. The sucky part was that the same water was used for drinking. When people were just splashing around it was fine. But then one dude who was leading some giant group started using soap it wasn’t cool anymore. Good thing I’ve collected my water by that time.

Tuesday July 1

The nice waterfall was going all night. Somehow its rhythmic sounds didn’t lull me to sleep. There were actually whales crossing close to the shore. We’ve seen a couple of blow steams and tails. I didn’t even try to capture them. To get a good shot would require fast lens with decent zoom and a lot of patience which I didn’t have.

We started a bit late – at 9:30AM. The trails in the forest really turned nice. They have probably dried out in the last couple of days.WCT_2014_509On the beach part I saw a lot of artifacts and small wildlife. Little crabs crawling around. There was some old anchor from some shop, another donkey engine in the forest.

We saw many Canadians happily celebrating the Canada Day. Many people had the Canadian flag painted on their cheeks. And they were greeting us with “Happy Canada day”. I’ve never been to Canada on July 1st so this was a bit unexpected. Still the Parks Canada employees were fixing some part of the trail at some point.

We’ve reached the campsite of the day – “Michigan” – unexpectedly a bit after lunch. There was no point to continue another 12 km till the trailhead and camping on some parking lot. It was much nicer to rest on this lovely beach, and the weather was cooperating. The site had all the amenities including two outhouses and 3 bear boxes. Someone left a bug of vine there. Probably underestimated his physical abilities and overestimates the love for vine. There were no people at this camp who were starting the trail. At least I couldn’t tell. Most of the people were the finishers like us.

By the end of the dinner I’ve ran out of fuel. For that I’ve gotten an earful by Yuhua. Luckily one of our neighbors brought way too much and were more than willing to give me a can provided I would carry it out.

Wednesday July 2

Last day and still had to get up early. I wasn’t sleeping that well, not sure why. Perhaps my sunburned legs were hurting. We had to do 12 km by noon sharp. For some reason they seemed very scary. Based on my calculations, which were based on the prior experience, it would have taken about 4 hours to finish. I thought it would be better to come an hour early than two minutes late. Thus the early start 6AM.

All the people in the camp were going to the Northern start of the trail. All of them were also going to the same West Coast Trail bus. There were no people in the camp going South for the reason it would become clear later.
Early mornings at the Vancouver coast are lovely. That is when there is no outright rain. The mornings are still cold and the major dew hasn’t condensed yet, making it just the right time to get the tent fly folded before it gets all wet and heavy. None of that marine layer fog – clear crisp peaceful Pacific.

The people at the camp, including us, were all somberly packing and getting ready for the final push. I thought I was up early, but perhaps the same thinking of not being late for the bus went into the rest of the people in the camp.

We started the earliest. As a result any wildlife on the trail was ours to see. There wasn’t much of it though. There was one place with deer and the sea lion rock mentioned on the map. The lions were active this early in the morning.

There is a note somewhere indicating that the easiest part of WCT is on the North. It was really apparent on this last day. The trail was mostly flat. It was also mostly dry – none of those mud pools seen earlier. It was wide and well maintained. However, there were many moss covered bridges. Perhaps it just seemed so because we were making pretty decent progress on this stretch. In the normal conditions I would have said that 12 km of distance would have taken about 3 hours, on flat with a backpack. But this WCT lowered my expectations quite a bit. Struggling on a up-and-down trail with a wet back pack could take a while. I was expecting this section to take the same. However, as I passed more and more kilometer signs in a few hours it was becoming clear that this section would be complete way under the time budget.

WCT_2014_581Right at this point I started actually enjoying the hike to the fullest. This was, after all, my favorite type of place – lush green forest, flat trail without many insane obstacles, some structures to break the routine, and the nice cloudy weather. How sad that it was at the end. People starting from this side of WCT would be really distressed with the difficulty of the trail further South. However, I’m not sure which way would be better – get done with hard stuff early and then enjoy or slowly build up. The rainy weather plays more critical role than the trail conditions.

By the time we came closer to the trailhead some sign of human activity became apparent. There were a couple of hikers, who, I suppose, were just coming from the first 9AM orientation. They also floated rumors of a black bear on the beach. The last small section of the trail has divided into ocean beach and forest paths. I didn’t feel like walking on the sand anymore and didn’t mind some more last ladders. My pack was light after all.

That was all. I made it to the cute ranger station cabin by something like 10am. It was nice to walk around without that heavy wet pack. I sat there in the station listening for the WCT orientation done to a two people, let the ranger know that we finished, and gave back the rest of the fuel. I wonder if the crowd we had on the other side was due to the holiday week. The ranger, however, didn’t tell the elderly couple being oriented about the best part of the trail. They needed to have some surprise.

The rest of the people from our campsite were all slowly collecting. There was still quite a bit of time until the bus comes. I didn’t have much to do other than read my book. Perhaps I could have tried talking to people, but I didn’t make an effort. For some reason there was no water source at this station. There was this large football field of green grass. A bit behind the building was the parking lot. People actually would come and just hike the first one or two days of the trail and turn back. There was also the town of Bamfield, close by somewhere. Based on the brochures it could be a lovely place to visit.


Bear at the trailhead

There was a family from Seattle, if I remember right – mom+dad and two kids. These guys actually did the entire trail, which was very impressive. I hope I can do this with my kids. I suspect they were getting hungry so they set up to cook some food. The smell, probably, attracted that aforementioned black bear. He came out to the clearing to investigate. He probably saw all the people taking pictures and decided not to pursue it. Then he hanged around a bit at the edge of the clearing and went back to the forest. It looked like he wanted to save face before leaving. That was a nice conclusion to the trip.

The bus came on time. There was a bit of a hassle with it since it stopped at the parking lot, then went to Bamfield and only then came back to pick us up. It was the same dusty bus with a luggage rack up front. The driver was actually nice enough to give out water.

I actually had no idea that the drive back would be that long – 6 hours or so. The first part going back to Port Renfrew was mostly gravel logging roads – noisy and dusty. Still I could doze on and off during that time. The driver actually stopped at some small town’s convenience store to get us – the passengers – some food. He was also picking up and dropping off hikers or backpackers on the way. It seemed it was possible to just flag this bus and then pay for whatever distance you needed. And the weather was good for that.

We arrived to Victoria at around 6PM. It was really beautiful there. One of those Northern not rainy warm days. Gotten back to the hostel. This time around I’ve gotten a different room in the hope of getting fresher air. Then, after the regular after trip decontamination we went to have some local food. The food turned out to be Chinese made Japanese. Decent, but hard to say if it was actually made from local fish.

Thursday July 3

This was the end of the trip. All night I was digesting that Chinese made Japanese food in the same horribly stuffed room in a city with a lot of rain. How ironic. I got up early to use the time in front of the computer to go through all my e-mails. Nothing earth-shattering happened, as expected. Once Yuhua was up we went to some local bakery to get breakfast. This time around I carefully controlled my food intake.


BC Parliament Building

It was a lovely day – no sign of rain, sunny, and cool. Yuhua had more time so she found some tour to a local garden. She was off after breakfast and I just went to walk around the city of Victoria. There wasn’t much space to see, or I didn’t know where to go in the time I had. So I just walked around the area, took some photos, bought local ice vine, and headed back to the bus station to go back to Vancouver.

The final ferry back went without any events. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful weather and gorgeous view of the islands. I was already planning my next trip to Vancouver island. I wanted to visit some of the small towns on the Pacific coast. They may be pain to get to but should be lovely. And I also like the rainy cold weather.


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