West Coast Trail Day 6 – #mclovin

WCT ConverseI shook off yesterday as best I could.  Today was  Sunday.  Not that days of the week really meant anything. But I had been counting sleeps.

In fact, counting sleeps is something I do not only for the anticipation of Santa, but also when backpacking. No matter where I am, or who I’m with, or what day I’m on, I mentally take quiet notes of how many sleeps down, and how many to go. I often think about my husband, knowing exactly where he’ll be at 8:00 pm every night (the bath). And the cats, where they hang out (end of the couch and in Oliver’s room). And it’s with a certain longing I recall the lovely, civilized routines of emptying the dishwasher, drawing the curtains at bedtime…

And I woke up today knowing there was only one more sleep on the trail.  Huzzah.

M. and P. were up and at ’em at a decent hour. I think they’d done their chores and started packing up before I could even haul my sorry self out of the tent.  Camper Bay was still jammed with backpackers. At least a dozen tents huddled together on the sand strip, a rowdy mash-up of hikers from each direction, everyone in a different stage: cleanliness, happiness, denial, exhaustion, etc.  And of all these characters, I quite enjoyed the little crowd that had formed around P.

P. was a social butterfly. He didn’t even have to look for a party, the party had come to him. It was a fairly large group of, oh, “middle-aged women” I guess would be the fairest assumption, who were hiking south to north.  He held court as they flitted back and forth, chatting him up as they noisily gathered their gear. From the snippets of conversation amongst themselves and with others, I figured if I had to hike with these women, they’d drive me nuts with their regimented plans and know-it-all attitudes; but if I was in a pinch, they’d always take care of me.

I sat on my driftwood bench sipping a cup of coffee (which, btw, was courtesy of P. who had shared his cruise ship collection of instant coffee with us) and watched the ladies warily, from a distance, dote over P. The French couple lounged nearby at their fire pit, Converse-clad feet up on logs, making no move to get going at all.  Mathieu caught my eye and raised his sunglasses. “These women, they’re like BIRDS. Squawk, squawk, squawk. So LOUD.”  He slipped his sunglasses back over his eyes and jammed his hat down over his ears.  Even Anne, normally full of humour in the mornings, agreed. “Thank God they’re hiking the other way.”

Eventually, the ladies wrapped up and wished P. the best, and headed northwards along the trail.  M. and P. also wanted to get an early start on the day and, shouldering their packs, made their way towards the cable car.

Hugh finally poked his head of his little yellow tent in the newfound silence.  “What the heck was going on out here?? What a racket!”  He disappeared, and started shoving his pack out from inside of his tent. However, in forcing his pack through the fly, which was still fastened at the bottom, we suddenly heard a sharp CRACK and his tent buckled. It was just a broken pole.  Not a big deal, we’d figured we’d duct tape it tonight. Better Day 6 than Day 1.

With most of the campground mostly deserted, with the exception of Mathieu and Anne, we savoured the peace.  It was a blessing to gather one’s thoughts and set intentions for the day.  Live, love, happiness – let’s roll!

I pulled on my wet socks, laced my boots and headed to Camper Creek with Hugh.  We skipped the cable car and jumped stone to stone across the creek instead. The water was low enough that it was safe to traverse. At most, your feet might get wet. And, CHECK.! they were already wet, so no harm no foul.  We scrambled along the forest paths to catch up to M. and P.

Today’s hike was Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove (8 km + 1 km off trail to the camping beach).  We had a choice today to hike along the beach around Owen Point at low tide (it is impassable at high tide), where there was some serious bouldering and cool caves to explore OR take the forest route along boardwalks and tree bridges.  Because the tides this time of year were higher, and the hiking window along this stretch of beach was tight, we opted for the forest route as the safer alternative for our group.

Hugh and I met up with M. and P. on the trail and travelled with them for a bit before pushing on ahead.

Day 6 on our own

Today’s hike turned out pretty amazing. Our route made points of contact at two beach entrances for the Owen Point route, but otherwise it was deep in the old growth forest with mud pits, boardwalks, ginormous cedars and my favourite part, the log bridges high above the forest floor.   The “bridges” were simply fallen logs needed  to traverse mucky ground or small gullies. The logs could be fat or thin, mossy or slimy. At least they were chiseled along the top and notched for a bit of boot-grip.  At one point, we travelled about 10 feet off the ground along a linked log path, with 90 degree angles at the junction points, six foot high brush overgrown all around us. “Marco!!” I’d yell before dancing across from log to log.  If I heard a “Polo!” I’d pause on a log junction until a north-bound hiker appeared and could safely pass.

We hiked a bit with Ange and May, the Calgary girls, and were lapped by Mathieu and Anne, who were like antelope on the trail.  We stopped for lunch and a couple of extended rest breaks but didn’t see M. and P. so we kept on moving forward, leaving our leaf faces now and then.  By about 2:00 pm we’d  reached the junction for Thrasher Cove.  Here, I’m sure, many decisions have been made.  The end of the trail was only 5 km south at the Gordon River ferry crossing.  Many hikers buckle down and continue on to complete the trek on their final day. We knew Thrasher Cove was only 1 km away, and that was home for the night, so we took a right on the path towards the beach.

That last 1 km to Thrasher Cove took a looooong time.  We began to lose elevation almost immediately, and it was with a sinking realization that we knew to get back to the junction would require a very steep hike first thing in the morning.  The trail down to Thrasher was arduous, rooty and muddy.  My knees creaked anytime I had to make really long steps down off rooty edges.  The finale came in the form of several tall ladders, and then poof! we arrived blinking in the sunshine, feet on sand, dazzlingly happy.

Beach!  Seriously! Awesome!  I dropped my bag and walked straight into the ocean up to my knees. The cold water seeped through my boots and my socks, rejuvenating my feet and my mind. I splashed for a bit, washing off my boots and pant legs as well. Freedom.

The beach was already fairly clogged with tents, and the southern, sunnier end had filled up with brand new hikers who’d just started their adventures.  We trudged north along the sand, crossing the trickle of freshwater, and pitched camp across the wee channel from Mathieu and Anne.  They were  already completely set up, and were sunning themselves down near the water’s edge.   We threw hiking poles, Hugh’s tent fly and a few other bits of our stuff onto the sand near our spots to hold space for M. and P.’s tents.  Hugh immediately went about organizing a campfire for M. and P.’s arrival, digging out an old fire ring, gathering driftwood and shaving kindling.  He took about a dozen trips further north along the beach to procure all sizes of driftwood.

Day 6 on the beach

While Hugh prepped the fire, I washed out clothes, hung damp things to dry, set up the tent and re-organized my food bag.  I’d budgeted fairly well for my food. For each day I’d rationed 1 bag of trail mix + 2 bars (ie. Clif Builder Bars, Luna bars, Kind bars) for the trail, and then 1 breakfast and 1 dinner. There was also a handful of trail/lunch extras like Moon Cheese and beef jerky.  Hugh and I shared a lot of our trail food, so if I ran out he had more and vice versa – it just depended who had the easiest access to the snack when hunger struck.  I had two dinners and two breakfasts left (I think I’d skipped a dinner somewhere along the way) and no trail mix/bars.  Hugh had a bag of trail mix and some Ichiban noodles.  We pooled our rations and planned on finishing up most of it tonight and tomorrow morning, leaving the trail mix for the walk out.

Hugh’s tent pole didn’t cooperate with our duct tape and stick splint ideas, so we decided he’d share with me tonight. My tent did sleep two, and was a palace for one, so there was no problem fitting him in.

M. and P. arrived at Thrasher Cove around supper, and it was fantastic to see them. We had the opportunity to sit around the fire for a bit and swap stories of our day.  Supper didn’t take to long to make and consume, and Hugh continued to feed the campfire with driftwood.

Day 6 Thrasher Cove

It was both a relief and a sadness to be spending only one last night on the WCT.  Home is a good place, you see.

I wandered the beach a bit, chatting with the south-bounders.

Day 6 awesomesauce The hikers heading north all looked so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, not to mention, CLEAN.  Yep, I wanted no part of that. Haha. As well, I had no desire to get on my soapbox…I wanted them to experience everything for themselves, no expectations.  (And I’m also recalling all the “helpful” soapbox advice we received from passing hikers about the journey = 25% useful, 50% misguided, 25% grandstanding.)

We passed our last evening watching the tide creep in, to ensure our tents weren’t sucked into the ocean.  P. and H. had both gone to sleep a little earlier, M. stayed up to take photos. After the all clear, I headed to bed.

Good night, WCT.

Day 6 tide watch

Tomorrow – Thrasher Cove to Gordon River

 

 

West Coast Trail Day 3 – #deadmanwalking

I woke up.

No cramps. No vomiting. No pain.  No death in general.  Tah-dah!

Phew – I’m so glad that the shellfish didn’t kill me. WON’T be doing that again. For reals.

Turns out I slept so fitfully I didn’t even hear the chaos in the girls’ tent just over from mine. They’d left the screen unzipped about an inch, and in came da mouse…apparently it was an animated 5 minutes of mouse flinging to get it out.  The mice had left our camp mostly alone.  A net bag holding my stove and tea kettle over by the campfire got a nibble, but that was it.

Happy to be alive (and mouse-free), Day 3 looked promising, despite the face it was our longest scheduled distance on the trail (16 km) hiking between Tsusiat Falls and Cribs Creek. Day 3 foggy beach walk

The morning held an ethereal quality as we slowly made our way along the beach surrounded in fog, with the sun trying to shine through.  Hikers moved in quiet bunches, each finding their own pace. Eventually the fog engulfed the hikers in front of us and we were seemingly alone on the shifting sands.

That’s when we noticed figures on the massive rock formations in the sea.  Hugh didn’t bring his glasses on this trip, and was convinced that these were campers who’d found their way out to a rock during low tide. But upon closer inspection, the “campers” were actually large bald eagles!  Just hanging out.  I’ve never been that close to a bald eagle before!!Day 3 eagles are coming

Day 3 hole in the wallThe fog continued for a couple of kilometres along the beach, and at one point, just past the Hole in the Wall, I could swear – absolutely – that I could hear singing.  Hugh scoffed, and called me crazy. (And that’s a fair judgement – haha.)  But I swear… the voices rose and fell, like they were caught in a breeze and tossed to shore, then muffled again by the mist. My ears fought against the sound of the waves moving on the shore, trying to pick up the melody. I’d hear it, stop walking, then it would disappear. It was so beautiful. Haunting.  This continued on for about 20 minutes.

We took a rest break, leaning up against some rocks on the beach. (It’s all about finding the perfect rock or log that supports your butt and your pack at the same time. That way your whole body gets a break.)  Peering out to sea, I watched as the fog seemed to thin and fade directly in front of our stretch of beach, revealing a fishing boat and two – what appeared to be – traditional sea canoes.  For a brief moment, I could put bodies to the voices, this time talking and laughing, when the curtain of fog dropped as abruptly as it had lifted, and the boats were swallowed up again and all went silent. So magical…

The beach trail ended when we hit the official Ditidaht Indian Reserve lands, and we moved back onto the forest trail which curved inland to avoid the impassable headlands.  The trail began to get a little more technical with mud pits and root-y terrain. After we had just finished a particularly sticky climb, we met a group of hikers, one of which was wearing a pair of Crocs wrapped in duct tape.  Apparently his boots fell apart hiking through the mud on the South side, and this was his only solution – game on!Day 3 Nitinat Narrows

We reached the Nitinat Narrows just in time for lunch.  The Narrows is a tidal passage about 3 km long, and wide enough that hikers can’t cross without the use of the ferry.  The cost of the ferry is included in the hiking fees for the WCT, and M. (holder of the paperwork) had all of our receipts for passage.  I bribed Hugh with a mini Baby Ruth bar to get him to holler “Hey you guys!!!!!”  across the channel to catch their attention…not long after, the ferry chugged to life and came across to fetch us, bringing us to the other side.Day 3 crab shack

Et voila, our first “fast food” of the trail: the Crab Shack.  Locals serve up fresh crab (hauled right out of the water in front of you!) and salmon with a baked potato for $25.  As well, they have a cooler full of pop and beer, bags of crispy potato chips and cheezies, and chocolate bars.  Yuuuuum.  Hugh and I were on a bit of a budget, and we knew there was another food opportunity the next day, so we spent our pennies on pops and deliciously salty cheezies and chocolate.  I also gnawed on a protein bar to make sure I was getting enough fuel for the rest of the day.Day 3 Mr Crabs

We still had about 11 km left to go.

Hugh and P. had both expressed reservations about today’s hike simply based on length. And it was true test of endurance, especially with a heavy pack.  Exhaustion  impacts people in different ways.  I’ve been there on hikes in the past, and I get that…when you’re so beat that you can barely speak, you lose your appetite completely, and you adopt that 1000-mile stare at the end of the day.  I’ve had my friends almost force feed me my food to keep me fueled in order to boost strength in these situations.  It’s not pleasant, when the last thing you want to do is just be left alone to zone out. But it’s important.  No fuel in the tank, and your hiking days can turn into excruciatingly long treks through a wild blur.

Today’s food stop perked everyone up, and we moved forward refreshed and ready; however, fatigue caught up not long after and it was slow going through the rest of our day through all kinds of terrain.  There were plenty of stops.  A lot of stops.  So many, many stops. It’s a double-edged sword: the more you stop, you get a mini break, but the longer your day, and the longer you are on your feet with a heavy pack driving you into the ground. Choose your poison.Day last 11 km

We arrived at Cribs Creek, slogging along the last bit of beach to our destination – just around 41.5 km from where we started a few days ago.  We didn’t even bother seeking out prime real estate and ditched our bags closest to the last tent pitched on the North side of the beach.  Hugh had his tent set up and was inside before I could say Jack Daniels.

The beach was full of campers all eating dinner and settling in for the night.  I mostly remember the feeling of the cool, silky, superfine gray sand on my puckered feet, clomping across the beach to stash the food bags, use the loo,  and find more water, and setting up my tent near Hugh’s on a little sandbank. I may have eaten a cold meal that night…I know Hugh probably scarfed down crunchy Ichiban inside his tent, cougars and bears be damned.  With Hugh tucked away and fading into dreamland, and P. going about his nightly routine, I sat on a log with M. watching the night creep in.

Tomorrow – Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek

 

West Coast Trail Day 1 – #westcoastbestcoast

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Day 1 walkingGo West!  Cheesy but oh-so-accurate when it comes to the siren call of Vancouver Island. I decided to go on a little walk-about along the West Coast Trail (WCT).  This is how it happened, for reals.

History: The WCT is part of the ancient paths and paddling routes used for trade and travel by Aboriginal peoples.  The 75 km route was further developed in the 1900s to assist with the rescue of shipwreck survivors along the “graveyard of the Pacific.”

Why: Why not?  The WCT is reputedly one of those epic hikes that I’d tucked away in my brain for a rainy day. When my cousin M. said this was the summer he was going, I kinda hinted I’d love to come along, and he was cool with that.  He was bringing his dad, uncle P., and I added my son, Hugh, to the roster.

Trail stats: The trail is supposed to be a miserable grind through unruly roots and muddy bogs, along slippery boardwalks & bridges and precarious bridges & ladders. Black bears, cougars and wolves await around every corner and up each tree, waiting to pounce and eat you for dinner.  If nothing else fails, the hypothermia will get you and the mice will chew their way into your gear and nibble all your trail mix, pooping as they go.

So, yeah.  Sounds like an awesome challenge, right?Day 1 good luck dog

Day One

“Your pack is way too heavy.” Albert hoisted my pack back onto the picnic table. “Open it up, let’s see what you’ve got in there.”

I had no intention of taking out a single thing from my 52 lb pack for the West Coast Trail. I was, however, entertained by this marauding stranger with the pick up truck, the Chinese music blaring from the stereo and the feather in his hat.  He had stopped by the campsite next to ours at the Pachena Bay campground, and I figured he knew the campers.

I quickly discovered  Albert’s M.O. was to stop at any site with hikers that looked like they were heading out on the WCT, offer them tea, advice and conversation, and in return, ask for some boiling water (for the tea) and the open mind to accepting a resume for any future tour guide or construction needs. Some people were receptive, some were not. He was ousted from the neighbouring campsite.

“Sleeping bag – okay. Tent – yes. What’s this? Your food is a hundred pounds!  There’s way too much in here.” Albert pulled out my trail mix bag in particular. He pointed to the M&Ms.  “You don’t need this much chocolate. You should give some to me. I love chocolate.” When I laughed off his request, he moved over to visit with uncle P. and cousin M. for a bit.

“Who IS that guy??”  Hugh, my son, had stayed hidden in his tent during this exchange, and had just emerged to pack up his gear and scarf down some breakfast.

Albert was a good guy.  He told us stories of the trail, life on the island, and the lies Parks Canada tells about “red tide” and paralytic shellfish poisoning. “I eat shellfish all summer long and I’m fine. They don’t want you to harvesting anything, that’s all.”Day 1 leaving Pachena Bay

It was day one for the four of us on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail.  We were hiking 75 km North to South from Pachena Bay to Gordon River with the intention of taking 6 nights and 7 days to work our way through the coastal temperate rainforest and sandy beaches. Hugh and I were pretty stoked to hit this trail.  I’d hiked with Hugh before, and also with M. I had a good idea of their capabilities and hiking styles.  It would be my first time with P.

Today’s plan was to hike 14 km from Pachena Bay to Darling River: an easy stroll on well-groomed, rolling trails through the rain forest.  We dutifully took and-we’re-off photos in front of the WCT sign near the Parks building where we’d received our maps/tide tables and had our mandatory orientation. Crossing Pachena Beach at low tide, we spotted the forest trail markers (floats/buoys) and headed into the trees to find the path.Day 1 Pachena Bay

This was my first hike ever through a cedar forest with towering trees, a fern-covered floor and a somewhat eerie stillness.  The dirt footpath muffled our footsteps, and the farther we got from the beach, the darker and quieter the forest became.  We often didn’t see or hear other hikers coming towards us until they were a few steps ahead.  In fact, the first wave of hikers coming from the South were fairly early in the day, making tracks to complete their journey on the WCT.

All the northbound walkers were in good spirits and a few ladies apologized for their smell.  I couldn’t smell anything but I totally get where they were coming from at the end of a long trek!  Mmm that greasy feeling. But the big news on the trail that morning was actually a yearling black bear – with no mama bear in sight – hanging out by a nearby creek.  We didn’t see it… And then another set of hikers reported on the same bear, that it was now up a tree.  We still didn’t see it… The anticipation of seeing a bear faded as we continued on.Day 1 through the forest

Throughout the day we crossed bridges, ascended and descended several short ladders, and had a few cool rest stops.  Giant fallen cedars with their intricate root systems exposed towered above us as we passed by, housing a whole plant walls and newly-created eco-systems.Day 1 sea lions

Before we saw them, we could smell them: the sea lion rock just offshore was home to mammoth, lolling sea lions barking away at each other.

We visited the Pachena Bay lighthouse and chatted with the lighthouse keeper. He reckons he sees about 10,000 strangers a year walk through his white picket fence gate.Day 1 Pachena lighthouse

Getting  close to our destination for the night, we passed through the Michigan Beach camp, with loads of floats hanging in the trees. Day 1 Michigan Beach

Michigan Beach had a decidedly Bohemian feel. Talking to a couple of campers there, we learned that the gray whales were super active up and down the coast, and were particularly frisky today.  Almost immediately, we saw a whale exhale explosively through it’s blowhole right offshore, followed by the slow curve of it’s back and a showy little dorsal fin – spectacular!Day 1 Gray whales

We continued along the beach, with the sand constantly shifting beneath our feet.  Our pace slowed down a bit as we struggled to master walking in the soft sand. Two kilometres later, we arrived at Darling River, a lovely little camp area with a fresh water source fed by a small waterfall, and room in the forest and on the beach for tents.  Our very first night beach camping!  Hugh and I set up right on the beach with our tents, careful to watch for the hide tide markings (as not to be swept away unexpectedly in the middle of the night).Day 1 Darling River

Hugh hit the sack shortly after his tent was up. I wasn’t too surprised – it was an eventful first day with our very full packs.  I ate supper alongside our companions who each prepared their own dehydrated meals. It was neat to sit on large pieces of log driftwood, watching for the gray whales and listening to the ocean. The weather was warm without being hot, and Pacific smelled, well, like the sea.

M. kindly had brought back some filtered water for us all at supper, but as the sun set I needed to get more for the night and for tomorrow’s breakfast. It was dusk, and the “better” water was as close to the falls as possible.  Nobody was around the fresh water source anymore, and I kept thinking about our orientation session, where we were instructed to keep an eye out for the sneaky cougars… bending down or appearing small (ie. when one is busy filtering water) can lead to a potential cougar attacks as they’d view you as prey.

Boy, oh boy, I kept singing songs to those bears and cougars and I climbed over logs towards the waterfall.  I splashed my way across the stream to a gravelly sandbar, so that I could be out in the open and watch the forest on all sides.  It took forever to pump the water… the water on the North end of the WCT is a lot more silty, and requires frequent cleaning of the ceramic filter. And it never fails that when I go to get water, I somehow get covered in it as well. So, about 30 minutes later I singsonged my way back to camp, water splotches all over my pants, but unhindered by local predators.

As the sun finally dropped behind the distant outcropping, I sat in my tent, with the fly and the screen pulled back (no bugs!), sipping fresh water and contemplating the darkening sky. A good first day.Day 1 Darling River beach view

Tomorrow – Darling River to Tsusiat Falls