Welcome all to Part 4 of my West Coast Trail blog series: Hiking the West Coast Trail Blog!!!!
This post is a very honest recounting of my experience, all of my thoughts, all of my feels about hiking the West Coast Trail for the very first time! I write it chronologically, day by day, campsite by campsite, as I hiked the WCT North to South. There will be little practical information in this post, though knowing the exact points on the trail that I thought I was going to die may be practical to some people.
If you’re looking for more practical, specific information about preparing for hiking the West Coast Trail or what to pack for the West Coast Trail, check out the box just below for links to my other posts on the WCT.
But get ready, this is a long one… And I will reiterate, it is VERY HONEST.
West Coast Trail Blog:
Hiking One of the Best Hikes in Vancouver Island
For more practical West Coast Trail information, please refer
But read this one first! Come with me on my 7-day, 77km, 7 heights of Heaven (and 7 depths of Hell) experience as I conquered the West Coast Trail!!
My West Coast Trail Blog
So today, it’s all about me. And by about me, I mean about what the trail did to me. One doesn’t so much as do the West Coast Trail, or hike the West Coast Trail, or even complete the West Coast Trail, as much as one survives the West Coast Trail. As you will soon find out.
As I have said numerous times now, hiking the West Coast Trail is no joke and going in with clear eyes, full hearts is an absolute must. And yes, that was a Friday Night Lights reference, thank you Coach Taylor. I thought of you an obscene amount while willing myself forward.
West Coast Trail Campsite 1- Pachena Bay
At the end of my last post, in which I figured out Transportation to the West Coast Trail I had arrived at Pachena Bay, the first campsite on the WCT. This is the Northern trail head for the West Coast Trail, and about 5km from Bamfield.
Pachena Bay is a spectacular West Coast crescent shaped, sandy beach, skirted by massive cedars growing out of sheer rock caves. While not testing out the waters myself, I can guarantee that the bay itself is pretty deep, evidenced by the phenomenal welcome we got to Pachena Bay by a pod of visiting whales.
The first night! I saw whales! On the West Coast Trail! It’s almost cliché. But it’s true.
After a meal of quinoa and lentils, I was sitting on the beach with Joy, one of my new friends who I had met on the boat from Port Alberni, while the rest of the group was throwing the Frisbee (this would be the last time that anybody had energy at the end of the day to throw that Frisbee about). And then there were whales peeking out of the waves!
I took this as an omen that great things were coming our way and that when we started hiking the West Coast Trail the next day we were definitely favored by the Trail Gods.
After a decent night sleep in my tent, and a less than rapid morning pack-out, we started the trail. Let me clarify when I use the word ‘we’. As I said in my post about Transport to the West Coast Trail, on the Lady Rose boat I met a group of hikers. They adopted me into their group, and while I was still technically doing the trail alone, I was unexpectedly part of a team.
There was Scott and Nicole from Invermere, Joy and Steve from Niagra-on-the-Lake, and Cory from Calgary. All of these folks had known each other for years, having been hooligans together on a ski hill way back when, and somehow decided to hike the trail.
Luckily for me, our paths converged! Plus, it was all of their first times hiking the West Coast Trail too, so we were all even!
West Coast Trail Day 1- Pachena Bay to Darling River Campsite
When you start hiking the West Coast Trail, and you leave Pachena Bay, you immediately hit a ladder. A 50-foot long ladder, which was then followed by another 50-foot long ladder, and then like 4 more.
Ladders are a dominant feature of the trail as they get you from the beach up onto the headlands, as well as up and down creek-beds. The ladders are all made of wood, and while most of them are in decent shape, some are at odd or terrifying angles. Plus, you never really know if one of those mossy wooden rungs is just going to give out under the 220lbs of pure woman/backpack/Snickers bars.
After the first set of ladders, Day 1 was pretty easy.
We were heading for the Darling River campsite, which was 14km from Pachena. At km 9 there is a break off trail that took me to a lookout over sea lion rock, aptly named as I heard them before I could see them. And then I saw them and was reminded how cool sea lions are and how glad I always am to have a body of water between me and them. Especially those bulls, they are angry!
I also spotted some seals from the lookout, and off the rock were more grey whales. It was basically as if the Sea World Penitentiary had finally closed down and the whole inmate population got dropped off at this particular bus stop.
After a quick stop for lunch at the Pachena Lighthouse, it was only another 2km of trail until Michigan Creek. Michigan is a campsite that we were skipping, but marked the spot where the trail came out of the forest and onto the beach.
Another 2 km of beach walking took us to Darling Creek, where we made our first night’s camp. Spirits were high, we were thrilled to not be rained on, and together enjoyed a beach fire before falling into respective tents.
West Coast Trail Day 2 – Darling River to Tsusiat Falls Campsite
The 11km of Day 2 I hiked predominantly on my own, going whatever pace I wanted. The day started off with a choice, taking either the beach trail or the forest trail 2.5 km to Tsocowis Creek. I chose the beach, since that’s why one wants to hike the West Coast Trail, the beach walks. I then found out how difficult this romantic notion is.
Some beach walking is great, you’re on hard packed sand and you could run easily if you weren’t deadened down by the more than recommended by Parks Canada weight of your backpack.
*Hot Tip!! Stick to what Parks Canada recommends for weight, typically 1/4 your body weight for a woman and 1/3 for a man. My pack weighted upwards of 50 pounds, and no, I do not weight 200 pounds. Yet.
As a first time West Coast Trail hiker you cherish this hard packed sand, because some beach walking is a major slog. Be it wading through deep gravel, balancing yourself on slippery tidal beds, or sinking into soft sand, beach walking is tough. It requires just as much concentration as trail walking over the roots and through the mud, but you do get to enjoy the roar of the ocean and the scent of that sea breeze.
While walking on the slippery rock beds, I was convinced I was going to either pull my groin or fall and shatter my tailbone at basically any moment. Spoiler alert, neither of these things happened, thank you Trail Gods!
Where to Stay Before Hiking the West Coast Trail
Staying in Port Alberni before you start hiking the trail makes sense. It’s half way between Nanaimo and the northern trail head and where, if you’re taking the boat to Bamfield, you get on that boat. Port Alberni accommodation is mixed and ample, so there are a few hotels to choose from. If you’re taking the Lady Rose boat to get to Bamfield, I would choose somewhere close so you can walk to the dock in the morning. The Swept Away Inn is the closest accommodation to the dock, sitting right on the waterfront itself and is moderately priced. Cheaper options in town include the Redford Motel and the Best Western Plus. Honestly, most of the hotels/motels in Port Alberni are fairly non-descript, so get a room that is comfortable and convenient, since you will experience neither of those two things for the next week of your life. If you don’t camp at Pachena Bay the night before you start the trail, or if you go a bit early to enjoy the village, a night or two in Bamfield would be lovely. A cute marine/fishing village, Bamfield’s all about the sea. The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is a major research centre on the West Coast of BC. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public for tours or anything, so enjoy the Bamfield ocean in nature, the way it was intended. That said, there is no cheap place to stay in Bamfield, but everything is of excellent quality. And from what I can tell, there are only two real formal kinds of accommodation in Bamfield anyways, the Bamfield Motel and the Kingfisher Lodge and Marina. Both get decent reviews, but the Kingfisher has the view of the ocean and is probably the more cutesy of the two. Sooke is an hour or so west of Victoria, so a closer base if you want to get an early start on the trail. It’s also super cute and where a lot of movies have been filmed! The Sooke Harbour House is the most famous place to stay in Sooke, it is ocean front and beautiful. The Harbour House is the heritage option and definitely bears that price tag, but hey, you’re worth it! Plus it’s the only place that has a sauna, and if you’re coming off the trail, the word ‘sauna’ is music to your very sore and tired ears. Sooke is growing with bigger accommodation options in the last few years, after people realized Victoria is getting really expensive. The Moonlit Bed and Breakfast is a great, and less expensive option, while the Prestige Oceanfront Resort in massive and will contain every amenity you can imagine, because it’s basically a small city. One of my favourite cities in Canada, Victoria has a million and one places to stay and tons of things to do before or after you are on the West Coast Trail. You can check out some of these things to do in Victoria here! Victoria definitely has the most range in places to stay near the South end of the West Coast Trail, so really it’s up to you how much you want to spend and where you want to do it. You can get anything you want, so I would definitely look for something with a hot tub/sauna and make sure your room has a bathtub. Can you tell I’m subtly trying to say your body will be very sore? There are so many places to stay in Victoria I actually won’t make recommendations, though I can say staying near the Inner Harbour or in James Bay is the most central and convenient. Find a place in Esquimalt and you will pay less for an ocean view or grab a room at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for some quaint marina life. I also love Swans Hotel and Brewpub, only because of it’s awesome downtown location and as it sits on top of an excellent brewpub. Obviously. No hot tub though, so tough call.
Leaving from the North End
Starting at the South End
Staying in Port Alberni before you start hiking the trail makes sense. It’s half way between Nanaimo and the northern trail head and where, if you’re taking the boat to Bamfield, you get on that boat. Port Alberni accommodation is mixed and ample, so there are a few hotels to choose from. If you’re taking the Lady Rose boat to get to Bamfield, I would choose somewhere close so you can walk to the dock in the morning.
The Swept Away Inn is the closest accommodation to the dock, sitting right on the waterfront itself and is moderately priced. Cheaper options in town include the Redford Motel and the Best Western Plus.
Honestly, most of the hotels/motels in Port Alberni are fairly non-descript, so get a room that is comfortable and convenient, since you will experience neither of those two things for the next week of your life.
If you don’t camp at Pachena Bay the night before you start the trail, or if you go a bit early to enjoy the village, a night or two in Bamfield would be lovely. A cute marine/fishing village, Bamfield’s all about the sea. The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is a major research centre on the West Coast of BC. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public for tours or anything, so enjoy the Bamfield ocean in nature, the way it was intended.
That said, there is no cheap place to stay in Bamfield, but everything is of excellent quality. And from what I can tell, there are only two real formal kinds of accommodation in Bamfield anyways, the Bamfield Motel and the Kingfisher Lodge and Marina. Both get decent reviews, but the Kingfisher has the view of the ocean and is probably the more cutesy of the two.
Sooke is an hour or so west of Victoria, so a closer base if you want to get an early start on the trail. It’s also super cute and where a lot of movies have been filmed! The Sooke Harbour House is the most famous place to stay in Sooke, it is ocean front and beautiful. The Harbour House is the heritage option and definitely bears that price tag, but hey, you’re worth it! Plus it’s the only place that has a sauna, and if you’re coming off the trail, the word ‘sauna’ is music to your very sore and tired ears.
Sooke is growing with bigger accommodation options in the last few years, after people realized Victoria is getting really expensive. The Moonlit Bed and Breakfast is a great, and less expensive option, while the Prestige Oceanfront Resort in massive and will contain every amenity you can imagine, because it’s basically a small city.
One of my favourite cities in Canada, Victoria has a million and one places to stay and tons of things to do before or after you are on the West Coast Trail. You can check out some of these things to do in Victoria here!
Victoria definitely has the most range in places to stay near the South end of the West Coast Trail, so really it’s up to you how much you want to spend and where you want to do it. You can get anything you want, so I would definitely look for something with a hot tub/sauna and make sure your room has a bathtub. Can you tell I’m subtly trying to say your body will be very sore?
There are so many places to stay in Victoria I actually won’t make recommendations, though I can say staying near the Inner Harbour or in James Bay is the most central and convenient.
Find a place in Esquimalt and you will pay less for an ocean view or grab a room at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for some quaint marina life. I also love Swans Hotel and Brewpub, only because of it’s awesome downtown location and as it sits on top of an excellent brewpub. Obviously. No hot tub though, so tough call.
Another fun thing that happened on day 2 was using the West Coast Trail’s cable car at Klanawa River, the one cable car on the trail that cannot be avoided due to the width of the Klanawa. I arrived at the cable car alone, so couldn’t very well follow the Parks Canada lady’s instructions on how to use the car, which involved a two-person effort. So I wung it! And it wasn’t easy. See the picture, it’s a long cable car! \/\/\/\/
First I had to pull the cable car in from the middle of the river, which as it started to rise towards the platform, got more difficult. A metal cable car is not light. After pulling it up high enough, I swung it on an angle so as to balance it on the railing of the platform, supporting its weight.
While keeping a hand on the car, I loaded my pack and poles in, and then somehow, very gingerly, I lifted myself from the step into the car (I don’t really remember how this actually worked, I clearly blacked out in pure concentration), and while stepping in, kicked the car off the railing and went bombing down the cable! It was a blast!
So fun, such a rush, the fastest you will move for 7 days.
And then the laws of physics turned against me and I found myself stagnant in a cable car, dangling above a wide river, any and all momentum used up. With my super buff guns and a surge of adrenaline, I pulled myself and the car towards the opposite platform, willing another hiker to arrive and help me. Shockingly nobody came. Where did you go Trail Gods?!?!?
Instead, I just kept repeating some of the best sports quotes I know, over and over again in my head. If on that day, there was an Olympic event for solo cable car pulling, I totally would have won Gold.
I pulled myself up onto the platform, and while holding the car in place, threw my pack out before once again somehow stepping out myself. The second I was firmly on that platform, I heard hikers coming down the trail. Typical. And of course, I’m standing there like a sitting duck, so I clearly HAVE to assist them with their cable car experience, ugh.
After the cable car, it’s only 2km to the Tsusiat Falls ladders which take hikers down to the base of the beach. The Falls pool on the beach to make the most magical fresh water swimming pool, on a Pacific Coastal beach, that exists. It was by far and away one of the most naturally beautiful spots I had ever seen, and once I got my tent pitched I couldn’t get into that water fast enough! This evening was such a high point for me that I can only look back on it and sigh, this was a huge moment for me while hiking the West Coast Trail.
Day 3 on the West Coast Trail- Wherein one asks oneself “How long is the West Coast Trail?”
Then day 3 happened. Day 3 was a shit show. Day 3 was always going to be rough; it’s the longest day hiking on the trail, clocking in at 17km and there are no fresh water sources between Tsusiat and the next campsite, Cribs Creek. So you HAVE to make it, there are no other options. And as ironic luck would have it, it was raining. Perfect. This was a recipe to break all of us who made the silly decision to hike the West Coast Trail.
Leaving Tsusiat Falls campsite, we all climbed the ladders back up to the trail together. Except for Nicole, who was coming a few minutes behind. After a few minutes waiting for her at the top, Cory started off down the trail. I followed him a couple of minutes later, and soon caught up to him. We walked along on the trail for a few minutes until Cory was suddenly NOT ON THE TRAIL.
Remember in a previous post, The West Coast Trail -An Overview when I said the trail was not always wide or sturdy? Well, Cory took his eyes off the ground for 3 seconds to adjust his pole and right then the trail curved, the edge gave way, and all of the sudden the dude had stepped off a cliff and was lying turtle style, 10 feet down, precariously caught by some lifesaving bushes.
Fuck. Ok, think.
First: “Are you ok?”
“I think so”.
Well, that’s good.
I took off my bag as Cory threw me whatever was in his hands or loose and in the way, aka his poles, sunglasses, hat, and iPhone. I figured at this point if he was worried about his sunglasses he was going to live. I offered to take a picture. He declined. I took one anyways.
Cory slowly unclipped himself from his back and shimmied out, not easy since he was on his back. All I could do was watch, pretty helpless at this point. Once he was out of the pack, Cory was able to kneel against the side of the cliff, and get some footing on the bases of the bushes.
Ok, I’m thinking, he’s totally going to be ok. I took a quick video. I also started to think it was funny at this point, admittedly probably a little early in the situation for Cory’s liking, but I have a Master’s degree in Disaster Management, this was totally going to be fine!
Once getting his footing, Cory was able to toss his bag up towards me, getting it close enough to the trail so I could haul it up. Now all that remained off the trail was this dude I met three days earlier. Scrambling, Cory made it within spitting distance of the trail, but that trail edge gave way for a reason, and there was no grip for him to get himself over the edge. Enter my super buff guns again. Cory thought he was just getting a hand up, but on the count of three, I grabbed his hand Hulk-style and threw my body weight backwards. It was very effective, if not maybe a little overkill.
Picking ourselves up from the ground, and a quick “You good?” “Yup, you?” “Yup”, we put our packs back on and didn’t really discuss what just happened, or could have just happened. Sometimes you need some distance from the scene of a potentially horrifying incident, or in this case, a patch of crushed bushes just off path shaped like a West Coast Trail virgin from Calgary.
We hiked another kilometre or so to the turn off for Hole Point, where we dropped our bags and went exploring. Many jokes had been made about the Hole, how great could it be anyways? It’s a hole! Well it was awesome. Hole Point is one of those coastal oddities that makes the West Coast Trail so unique. The tide was just low enough that we could walk through the Hole and then we figured out a way to actually scale up and walk around atop of the point and get views of the hole from the ocean side. It was very fun, if not oddly risky; Cory did mention how he had almost died 20 minutes previously and now was off doing more cliff hanging stuff. Hey, that’s the fun right in hiking the WCT right??
We kept expecting the rest of the group to catch up with us at any moment, and we took probably an hour out at Hole Point allowing them to catch up. They never arrived. We went back out to our bags, no sign. Ok, they must have passed by. We kept moving south, hiking for another 3km, always expecting to catch up behind the rest of the group. We did eventually catch up to another family, who asked if we were with a larger group…Yes. “One of your ladies was medevac’ed”. WTF?!
Turns out we had been looking for our group ahead of us, and they were still behind us. Far behind us. Nicole had left Tsusiat falls campsite, climbed the ladders, taken 3 steps, and rolled over on her ankle, and easy as that, she was done. She is an experienced outdoors person, and if the cliff story didn’t prove it, this truly shows how easy it is to get hurt on the West Coast Trail.
Unfortunately, after this injury, Nicole had to walk 5km on that ankle to get to the nearest park radio, at the guardian cabin at KM 30. As I said, this was a rough day. She was with her husband Scott, and Joy and Steve, so all together they made their way very slowly towards that guardian cabin and the communication for a medevac. For more information the rescue process while hiking the West Coast Trail, check out my piece on West Coast Trail Medevacs. And here I thought Cory and I had been having adventures!
Meanwhile, Cory and I figured there was no point in us going back, so with no way to communicate with our group we decided to forge ahead and get to Nitinat Narrows and wait there. Nitinat is the location of the first water taxi, and also the haven that is the crab shack. So our motives were definitely logical, but not completely without personal gain.
The last km hiking into Nitinat was hell. With 7km behind us that day, and wanting to be at that crab shack so bad, there was a wall of mud that I basically crawled up, in the middle of which I actually said aloud “Maybe this was a bad idea…”
“What, this mud wall or doing the trail?”
“Both?” Note the question mark. Remember, it was still raining.
Nitinat Narrows = Heaven
Arriving at the water taxi, we basically ran onto it, eager to get out of the weather and to eat all of the food! I was anticipating the best salmon of my life, and was not disappointed. The crab shack is run by an Aboriginal family and you can order whatever was caught in the Narrows that day. All the fresh barbecued fish come with a gigantic baked potato, with lemon and butter, or you can order an entire crab. I’m all for gourmet, fresh shellfish, but I was not about to put that much work into eating it. The salmon was phenomenal. Since Cory and I were there, about to wait for who knew how long, I also had a beer, and a pop, and a bag of chips. Because I deserved it. Really, while hiking the West Coast Trail, you deserve everything!
3 hours later and right when we were preparing to leave or else we may not have made the next camp ground before dark, Joy, Steve, and Scott arrived on the boat, like war torn Cleopatras. Thank goodness. Nicole had been successfully medevac’ed by an Amazon of a woman and taken to Port Renfrew, after which the three others continued on. We were all already exhausted, it was 4pm, it was still raining, and we still had 10km to hike.
I decided it was best if I pushed on, not wanting to get caught hiking in the dark, so leaving the group, I set out towards Cribs. The first 2 km out of Nitinat were boardwalks, easy going. Then I ran into a dude on the trail who offered me pot. Like, really, you think that’s a good idea? I hoped to arrive at Cribs with all of my bones intact and sharing a joint with some hippie was not going to get me to that end. Though really what could be more Canadian than smoking pot at 4:20 on Canada Day while hiking the West Coast Trail? I used my rational decision making skills and politely refused.
And then I slogged, for what seemed like forever. At the signpost for km 39, after coming 14km that day, I collapsed on my bag on a log and thought “Here, right here, this is where I die”. I had hit bottom. I was, at that moment, hating hiking the West Coast Trail. The forest had ceased being pretty, my anxiety of getting mauled by a bear had started to increase, every part of my lower body was wet, and I still had 2.5km to go. I wanted it to all be over. Km 39, you are my white whale!
But, like Ahab, I just kept going. Talking to myself, making up songs about bears (“Stay away, stay away, stay away Bear…”, sung to the tune of Sail Away by Enya ), convincing myself this day couldn’t last forever, and remembering that awesome salmon I had eaten a mere couple hours previously, I pushed on. I was so tired by the time I got to Cribs that I couldn’t even really be happy I had arrived. I spared no time in finding a decent camp site, and just set up my tent so I could climb into it and be in my dry tights and sleep bag as soon as possible. My feet were rough.
An hour later, and past dusk, Joy, Steve, Scott, and Cory arrived into camp. Back at km 36, I had planned on making them hot chocolate when they arrived. Didn’t happen, sorry guys! That night I slept with a drying line of wet clothes strung above my face, and fell asleep willing the weather to be decent the next morning. We knew the next day was almost totally on the beach, and braving wind and rain that exposed just couldn’t happen. The waves of Cribs Beach crashed on the natural breakwater all night long, and while I had come over 41 km in three days, I still had 36 left. Please Trail Gods, let today have been the worst of it. This is my praying face…
West Coast Trail Blog Day 4- Cribs Creek to Walbran Campsite
Waking up at Cribs Creek on Day 4, I was in a crap mood. As this was my first time hiking the West Coast Trail, I didn’t know yet that this was totally normal. The previous day had been really rough, both on the body and on morale. Our group had lost Nicole to a sprained ankle, all of my clothes were wet and covered in sand, and I hadn’t brushed my teeth the night before. My tent smelled. Grumpy.
Thankfully the rest of the groups spirits seemed to match mine, though we were all set to press on. From Cribs onwards, the group generally hiked together, only ever getting tops a few hundred meters apart. Maybe we didn’t want to get separated in case another day 3 happened, or maybe we just didn’t have the energy to go fast enough to split up. Hiking the West Coast Trail is tough!
Day 4 is almost entirely beach walking. As I said in a previous post, beach walking can be a slog, but I would say day 4 beach walking was 75% beach-boogying and only 25% kill-my-soul-slogging. That’s a great ratio on the West Coast Trail, as other parts are like, 1000% murder-me mud or 13/10ths revenge-of-the-roots.
Departing Cribs, the weather was stable, and we made our way to the Carmanah Lighthouse at km44. After a great view from the lighthouse, and a brief update on the NHL hockey draft from the lighthouse keeper, the group started salivating, knowing that Chez Monique’s was just around the corner. The West Coast Trail’s Chez Monique’s is a burger joint that sits on the beach at km 44.5, and is an absolute godsend that is the right to every hiker. Nothing like a huge burger with bacon and cheese, along with a bag of chips and a pop to lift the spirits of the trail weary. Monique herself gave a short PSA “I’m going to tell you what Parks Canada won’t”, full of information that proved useful later on.
Buoyed by burgers, the groups spirits rose and rest of Day 4 ended up being great. It didn’t rain, but it wasn’t hot, so perfect beach walking conditions, and nobody hurt themselves. Hiking into Walbran Creek, we found 4 great camping spots in the forest (aka off the sand), near the bear bin and the outhouse, and sat around a campfire for the evening. We roasted the marshmallows Steve had bought from Monique, told stories, and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery of Walbran Creek. Thank you Day 4, we needed you.
West Coast Trail Blog Day 5 – Walbran to Camper Creek campsite
Hiking south from Walbran, we had been warned that the trail slowed down. This decrease in rapidity is due to three West Coast Trail elements: ladders, mud, and roots. Day 5 if only 9km, but at a kilometre an hour, we were still hiking for most of the day. Constantly staying focused and thinking practically about where to put your next step, Days 5, 6, and 7 of the West Coast Trail are much more mentally exhausting than the first 4, even though the distances are that much shorter. We all fell down multiple times, and after day 5 I was particularly covered in mud (again, wear gaiters!).
Night 5 was spent at Camper Creek, a pretty though small camp site that hosts deceivingly high tides. Several groups were rudely woken in the night to waves on their tents and hurriedly had to move further up. With only two more days left, I went through my food and discarded any excess, I wanted to carry as little as possible. Navigating roots, climbing up and over logs, and hopping through mud bogs is difficult enough without carrying extra quinoa.
West Coast Trail North to South Day 6- Camper Creek to Thrasher Cove
Day 6 goes from Camper Creek to Thrasher Cove, covering 8km. Again, mud, roots, and ladders reign supreme. There is the option to take the rocks around Owen Point, but as Monique said, this is actually very dodgy given tides, and out of the question for hikers heading south. Nobody wanted to end up stranded clinging to trees, waiting out the tide.
There are also surge channels cutting through the rock beds. We went down to the beach at one point off the trail at KM66 to have a look, and I saw a surge channel and was very grateful we were not beach walking. I don’t jump so well at the best of times, nor am I known to land all that gracefully. I knew that Emily Kydd attempting to leap these surge channels would end at best with a rolled ankle and many skin contusions and at worst me drowning at the bottom of a channel. So I was personally glad we ‘had’ to stick to the forest.
Day 6 was difficult going, and made more difficult for Joy, who had come down with stomach issues in the night. Toughest woman alive, she pushed on and covered the 8km to Thrasher like a West Coast Trail Champion. I didn’t even know how bad she was since she just kept moving forward, until we hiked into Thrasher and she disappeared into her tent for the next 12 hours. Shit, not again.
As the evening at Thrasher wore on, our last night before hiking off the West Coast Trail, there was talk of another rescue. But how? We were only 6km from the end, we could see the lights of Port Renfrew, but we were still so far. But nobody knew what was wrong with Joy. A comb of the neighboring campsites searching for a satellite phone turned up two paramedics, one of whom was carrying a syringe full of Gravol. Why? Because that’s brilliant! Despite the shot, there were still questions whether she could complete the trail the next morning, but the decision was put off for the time being.
Down to 4 healthy hikers, we spent the last night on the trail enjoying a fire on Thrasher Cove, a beautiful spot that is completely worth the 1km of hiking down from the main trail to get to. Steve, Scott, Cory, and I were also joined by a solo young lady who had just started hiking the WCT that day, heading North from Port Renfrew. We shall call her Laurel, for privacy sakes.
Laurel was 19, from a major American city, and had no idea what she was doing or what she had gotten herself into. She had a brand new tent, that was still in the box (she had the box with her!), and she did not know how to set it up. She had a Frozen lunch kit full of granola bars for her trail sustenance. She had a Brita bottle for a water filtration system. She was in hiking shoes, with running socks; no gaiters, no poles, no sleeping mat, no stove, no camp shoes, no warm clothes. No boots. We were shocked. She had no concept of what she was in for in hiking the West Coast Trail, had done zero preparation.
We tried to talk her out of continuing: “We do not think you should attempt this” “Hiking the West Coast Trail is REALLY tough” “I wouldn’t do it if I were you”. I taught her how to set up her tent. Scott and Cory gave her some iodine tablets. Steve tried further to discourage her. In return for our worries and “advice”, she perkily decided she was still going to go on, and then offered us marijuana.
You have a group of actual adults who have just done this trail telling you they don’t believe you are making good decisions and then you offer them pot as a way of thanking them for their concern? You don’t have actual food or proper clothing, but you have pot???? Youths!!!! We all politely refused, making the situation even more awkward.
Since Laurel was naively hell bent on continuing, we strongly suggested she hook in with a group, while selfishly very glad we were going the opposite direction and pitying the group she hooked in with. Later, I never heard any horrifying news bits about a young American dying while hiking the West Coast Trail, so that’s good.
Day 7- Hiking to Port Renfrew and completing the West Coast Trail!
Our last morning waking up on the trail, Joy had gotten enough rest; she wanted to tough it out. True fighter! We had 6 km to hike to get to the Gordon River water taxi, and to where Nicole would be waiting with the car. After the first kilometer climbing back up to the main trail from Thrasher, we were all starting to get excited for the end, but still needing to concentrate on that footing. The last 5km hiking the West Coast Trail were some of the worst in terms of roots and logs, thankfully our bags felt positively empty (realistically mine was still probably 40 lbs), and we were able to make the distance to the water taxi in only a couple of hours.
As we approached what had to be the close of our West Coast Trail experience, we heard screams of excitement. We had to almost be at our end, which was another groups beginning. Sure enough, at the very last Trail hurdle, we met a group of about 12 women, who had just conquered their first ladder, aka, our last ladder. Which just so happened to be one of the longest and steepest ladders of the whole trail. Why is the Gordon River ladder so damn steep??? WHY??? There is no reason for that vertigo after hiking 77km of trail!
All together we threw our poles to the bottom of the ladder and one by one reached our final destination, overjoyed to have survived, throwing high fives with energy unknown since day 1. Joy in particular was glad to be done, especially as we later learned she needed actual medical care and not merely an injection of Gravol in a dirty tent. We took a final team photo, rid ourselves of our boots, and washed our mud-covered poles.
We had done it! We had hiked the West Coast Trail!!!!! 77 kilometers, countless ladders, 7 campsites, 2 water taxis, 1 medevac, 1 cliff, and memories of whales, boardwalks, sea lions, campfires, and cable cars. We had all tumbled down a couple of times (I think Scott fell the most times, at an impressive 6), but we had made it. None of us were WCT virgins, we were part of the alumni!
For me, at the end of my West Coast Trail experience I found an incredible feeling of accomplishment, and true pride in the beauty of my home province. I have always been a British Columbian, but now I feel a deeper connection for this amazing land. Vancouver Island boasts some of the most spectacular coastal scenery out there, and I am honoured to have been able to experience it by hiking the West Coast Trail.
Once the water taxi took us to the other side of Gordon River, where Nicole was waiting all clean and good smelling, we signed out of the trail at the West Coast Trail southern information centre. We bee lined for the Port Renfrew Pub, where beer and delicious food was waiting, catching up with Nicole on all of our last 4 days. She didn’t know about the cliff, or the burgers, or Laurel, or all of those roots!
Exhausted, we all crammed into the rental SUV (crammed because I was an unexpected passenger, as I had planned on hitch-hiking into the city. Thanks for the ride guys!) and most of the crew quietly fell fast asleep. Dirty, smelly, and covered in mud, my group of new friends dropped me off in Sooke, where I took a city bus to Langford, where my friend Aubrey and her husband picked me up and drove me to the ferry. I’m sure I was a delight to have in their car!
My mom picked me up on the other side and took me home for a shower. And then she told me that I should have another one. Really, that’s not an exaggeration. After bathing once, Sue Kydd bluntly said she could still smell me. Whatever. I just wanted to drink some wine.
Hiking the West Coast Trail – More than just a walk in the Park
There are toilets along the trail. At every West Coast Trail campsite, there is at least one composting outhouse. A composting outhouse is a sustainable, low impact toilet, with a seat and everything, nothing but luxury on the WCT! The toilet is built up on stilts (so you have to either climb stairs or a ladder to get there, grr, more ladders!) so that all of the stuff collects in a big repository underneath without digging holes. Every time you go, you throw down a bunch of wood chips that keep the smell down and aid in the composting. You don’t throw anything besides easily composting body fluids and your toilet paper.
Bear bins are also important on the trail. Again, every camp site has at least one of these large metal bins where you store your food overnight. To you know, keep to bears away from your sleeping self. The bins can get pretty full in certain sites, but as long as you can clip that carabiner shut to keep the bears out you’re good.
Speaking of pesky animals, keeping food out of your tent isn’t just because of bears. It’s also, and more commonly, because of mice. You do not want to wake up in the middle of the night with a mouse nosing around because you have a granola bar in your tent and you accidentally left your tent door open just an inch. Seriously, you don’t want this, just ask Nicole and Scott. More specifically, ask Nicole’s face.
‘Laurel’ thought that if she got tired of the trail, she could come off at Nitinat Narrows and then “take a taxi”. To be clear, you can get on and off the trail at the mid way point, Nitinat Narrows. To be more clear, this entails taking a $60 water taxi up the Narrows inland to Nitinat Village, the one and only village in that Native reservation, population 50. 0nce you get there, you either hitchhike out to wherever somebody is going that day, or you take the West Coast Trail Express bus that passes through twice a day. There are no taxis. This is an extremely isolated part of the island with little transport in and out. Plus, I’m sure the residents don’t love clueless Americans wandering through their homes. If you are going to hike the West Coast Trail, plan when and where you are coming on and getting off.
I did not have any bear encounters, despite my anxiety about worst case scenarios. I did have a bear bell on my bag, and would advise if for anybody, even if you’re with a group, you will end up hiking solo throughout the trail.
Some of the best times on the trail were spent in the evenings chatting with other hikers. I was lucky to be with a group who could make great fires!
Would love to hear from you and answer any questions I can!
****This post is Part 4 of my 6-part West Coast Trail blog series.
Related West Coast Trail blogs are:
Related West Coast Trail blogs are: