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.
The 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.
We 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.On 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.
Right 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.