Reflections of the Hike: A West Coast Trail Blog

It has been several weeks since I completed hiking the West Coast Trail hike.  The blisters have healed, the bruises have faded, and I’m already starting to think back nostalgically. A major part of what made my West Coast Trail experience such a success was that I hooked in with a group of other hikers, a group of friends who took me in as one of theirs and made me part of the team.  Team Buffoon to be specific. So this West Coast Trail blog is dedicated to them, and mainly written by them!

West Coast Trail blog

Why Team Buffoon?  Well, we had nicknames for all of the other hiking groups out there (The Girls, The Frat Boys, Super Family, the Old Kiwis, etc.) and we assumed that if they had a nickname for us, that nickname would be Team Buffoon.  Plus there was some intense buffoonery at multiple times.

So to help me reflect on the West Coast Trail experience in this blog, and to give you, dear reader, some various perspectives, I enlisted the help of my Buffoon Team-mates to share with you their reflections of hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, so you don’t just have to take my word for it!

West Coast Trail british columbia hiking blog

Steve, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada

It had been more than 20 years since my last overnight hike, I had zero equipment, and my knowledge of the terrain was almost exclusively from youtube videos.  Still, as a runner with a resume of 11 marathons and one ultra marathon, I felt fit and ready.  I bought all new equipment, booked the flights, and called my preparations complete. The trail humbled me starting in kilometre one (my low point), hips hurt, shoulders hurt, and why was it taking 30 minutes to an hour to complete one kilometre?  For the first time in my life I felt my age (48).  I was able to pretend I was young and agile when others could see me but as soon as I was alone, as I often was, I made old man groaning noises. With each step, physically I felt my age for the first time. The good thing is that inside I felt like I was 20 again, exploring a world of whales, eagles, 300 foot tall trees, streams and waterfalls, the most beautiful place imaginable.

The best part of my West Coast Trail experience was experiencing it all with my best friends, and my wife, laughing much of the way, the ultimate pain killer.  My favourite memory was the high fives at the end and the beer at the Port Renfrew Pub, we did it!  I was very happy to complete the trail and look forward to doing it again with my daughter when she is a few years older.

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West Coast Trail blog

Nicole, Invermere, British Columbia, Canada

I was hiker 30. The 30th evacuee to be taken off the trail 3 steps in on the 3rd day. Lots of lessons to be learned over this WCT experience, and over West Coast Trail injuries, but the biggest one for me was when things take an unexpected turn, power through the next steps and plan the next adventure. Here’s some insights from the days on and off the trail.

Be aware of the weight you carry ~ What to bring on the West Coast Trail

My pack was 40lbs and wasn’t too much of a bother until day 3. Spraining my ankle early on, meant I had to hike out for 5 km with an unstable foot and a heavy load and it was hell! I unloaded some weight to our group and when I got off the trail took some weight with me so the rest of the group could travel lighter. Keep your baggage light and share the load when needed.            

Time to focus, time to wander

The trail meanders in and out of incredible forests, along pristine beaches and up and down ladders and boardwalks that question safety standards. Be mindful of when you should be focused on the next step and when you can let your thoughts go. Taking in the wander and wonder of the amazing surroundings has its time and place.

Keeping nimble and grounded

Our first 2 days hiking, I felt pretty refreshed and rejuvenated. The days were long, but the rewards of having our dinner on an open campfire, with whales as background entertainment and sleeping ocean-side left me very relaxed. Beware that being too relaxed can let the guard down. Keeping alert and on sure footing at all times will get you to the end of the trail.

Disconnect to reconnect

The most memorable part of the trail was what happens when the only thing you can think about is the next step in front of you. Disconnecting from thoughts and things that are not of the now, is what recharged me and I followed a similar pattern for the 4 days I had on my own. But seeing the faces and embracing my husband and friends at the end of the week was definitely the highlight of the trip. Providing space to just be, brings it all together again.

West Coast Trail Experience

Scott, Invermere, British Columbia, Canada

Highest Highs Hiking the West Coast Trail

There’s a lot to love about the West Coast Trail experience. The scenery, the challenge, the whales, the sea lions, the campsites (camp in the forest wherever you can), the ocean, the driftwood fires by the ocean, the suspension bridge, the fish (and beer) at the Nitnat Narrows restaurant, the burger (and beer, candy, snacks) at West Coast Trail Chez Monique’s, story time with Steve, the conversations, the good friends … just to name a few.

But upon reflection, what I loved most was the almost meditative act of not really thinking about much except where to take the next step.

The trail is tough. It seems like about 90% of your steps are faced with some sort of obstacle. The West Coast trail is ladders, mud, broken boardwalk, soft sand, seaweed, slippery rocks, creek beds, logs, driftwood, etc make the difficulty high.  I’ve never really been interested in meditation, but after walking for 7 tough days with everything I need on my back and not really thinking about much except where to step, where to camp and what to eat, I think I get it. It feels really good to turn your brain off for a while. It’s almost addictive. I’ve already started scoping out other great hikes around the world. The Appalachian Trail and pub hopping across Scotland are both intriguing. 

Lowest Lows while trekking the West Coast Trail

Without question, about 14km into our 17km hike on day three (we started in Bamfield and hiked North to South) was my lowest low. Hell day. Prior to the WCT I’d only ever done short 1 or 2 day overnight hikes so I’ve never had to deal with a heavy pack for a great length of time. I spent months planning, I bought a bunch of new lightweight gear, but somehow my pack ended up at 48 lbs. The weight finally wore me down late in the day on day 3. My shoulders burned, my legs were tired. I was done.

My best advice for newbies to long hikes is be ruthless with your packing. Don’t take that hacky sack. Don’t take that peanut butter. Listen to the ultralight nerds. I scoffed at them pre-WCT. No more. I must admit, things got easier after day three. I guess my body adjusted to the weight and we ate it lighter, but upon reflection, every little bit of weight you can keep out of your pack is worth it. Check out See Her Travel’s West Coast Trail Packing List for even more info!

Other lows include … the last ladder (only a sadistic MF’er would build a ladder like that the end of a 77km hike at that angle), watching Nicole (my wife) sprain her ankle, watching her tough it out for 5km on her sprained ankle, [intlink id=”1856″ type=”post”]watching her get medevac’d on the Zodiac[/intlink], the mouse in our tent, and the bear bin at the Tsusiat Falls campsite.

My Best West Coast Trail Advice 

Be good to your feet. Bring a pair of light liner socks AND a pair of light merino wool socks for every day on the trail and double em’ up every day. Seems crazy but it works. Plus, get good waterproof hiking boots and good gaiters. It’s almost impossible to not get a blister on the WCT, but someone gave me the above advice and my feet were happy and dry every day.

West Coast trail blog

Joy, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada (Aka Hiker #5)

I am hiker #5. This is an assigned performance ranking (in humour and in truth), based on a total of 6 hikers. Nicole was medevac’ed due to a [intlink id=”1856″ type=”post”]sprained ankle[/intlink], so she defaults to 6th. But, she did hobble 5k to get to the e-vac site, so not sure you can fault her toughness.

The West Coast Trail difficulty offers a beautiful physical body experience for all hikers. The pack weight generates the end-of-day body fatigue and satisfaction common in any endurance sport. My quads and arms were getting a workout from the leg propulsion and trekking pole pulling-up action required to step-up on logs and uphill tree roots. Scaling ladders is also an equally fabulous exertion for types like me that enjoy the slow build of lactic acid activities. The cool temperatures mask the effort and the oxygen heavy air helps too. But this was all fleeting….

I got sick. Take heed – fully consider the West Coast Trail Parks Canada safety talk…’hikers need to be prepared to wait up to 24hrs for evacuation help’. My illness progressed to a debilitating level – severe stomach cramping, nausea, and dry heaves. The whole experience changed – no more enjoyment of the natural beauty, laughing with the team or day dreaming of youtubesque quips offering tips for female hikers. GET THIS THING OVER WITH. Keep moving, Keep moving. I suffered for 2 days and consumed racehorse levels of Tylenol, Gravol and Pepto Bismal. Oh what fun it is to finish the West Coast Trail experience!

The West Coast Trail on Canada's Vancouver island is a formidable hike. Making or breaking this 7 day trek is what and how you pack your backpack! Check out my packing mistakes and my wins from my experience hiking the West Coast Trail.
If you liked this post, you may also like: West Coast Trail Packing List and Hiking Gear List

West Coast Trail campsites

Corey, Calgary, Alberta, Canada 

Corey had wanted to hike the West Coast Trail ever since completing Alaska’s Chilkoot Trail, 53 kilometres through the historic Gold Rush region several years ago.  He said he wanted to hike the WCT alone, but his wife wouldn’t let him.  Ever problem-solving, Corey convinced some of his best friends to slog through the WCT alongside, because that is what good friends do to each other, make them hike 77km as “vacation”.  

Corey started out as hiker #6, being the slowest out of camp on Day 1.  He also broke a plank on a decrepit boardwalk.  Then on Day 3, Corey [intlink id=”1870″ type=”post”]fell off a cliff[/intlink] and almost died.  He was very grateful that Emily was there to save his life. What a blessing Emily is. He really owes her one. 

Corey was the master West Coast Trail campsite firemaker for Team Buffoon, and could always bring levity to a given situation. Corey had no problem prying into a fellow hikers food bag to see what she was carrying (not much, granola bars, we were all worried). It’s mainly because of Corey that we thought the Super Family called us Team Buffoon. 

Corey recommends watching where you are going while hiking the West Coast Trail.  If you are going to fix your hiking pole, stop moving while doing so.  He gives 5 stars to the Nitinat Narrows water taxi and 4.7 stars to Hole Point.  He was unimpressed by the lighthouses.  Corey is a lighthouse snob, because there are so many great lighthouses in Alberta.  The lighthouses get 0 stars.  All in all, Corey had a great West Coast Trail Experience, and is lucky to be alive. 

Corey does not answer emails well. Even if the email is from someone who saved his life and is now asking for a tiny favour for her West Coast Trail blog.  It’s alright though, Corey is still ok. 

Hiking in Peak Lenin Kyrgyzstan
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West Coast Trail campsites

Thank you so much for following along throughout my West Coast Trail experience!  If you haven’t read the other posts, please check them out, all links are below. I would love your feedback, questions, and shameless compliments!  I also want to thank my brave Team Buffoon teammates who contributed to this blog and to my West Coast Trail experience in all kinds of ways!  It couldn’t have been the same without these guys!!!!

11 thoughts on “Reflections of the Hike: A West Coast Trail Blog

  1. What a great blog series. I like the no “sugar coating” and telling your experience like it happened. I’m sure your experience will help others with their planning, lighten their pack load, and be mentally ready for a trail problem. You’ve got mental toughness Emily! Looking forward to your next adventure.

  2. ‘Lighten the backpack’ might be good advice for times other than hiking the WCT. Because I will never be engaging in hiking (other than as an interested onlooker) I’m thinking the advice might well apply to my in-tray of email, my cupboards, my closet, my garage…
    Always a treat to read, Emily.

  3. I think I’ll leave the WCT to those fit enough to handle it and live the WCT vicariously through your blog. A great read !! Keep up the good work.

  4. Looking to do the WCT this summer, my husband and I are in our 60’s, relatively fit
    and thankful for any information. Thanks for an enlightening blog.

    1. Hi Deb,

      So glad you found my blog. I’m always thrilled when people can find my experiences helpful in their own planning for the WCT. If you have any specific questions give me a shout. Booking this year starts on Jan 9th, but I didn’t book my spot until probably the start of May and got in fine 🙂


  5. I really loved your comparison of Lord of the rings and the quote about crawling over logs while in labour. I’m planning on doing the trail in summer of 2019. I will be 48 at that time and have gone through childbirth 3 times! Lol. I used to be In the military, learned how to highland dance and compete starting at age 36 and I run a Navy League cadet corps. I think the experience will be awesome and shitty and I’m thankful for your candor with your blog!! Wish me luck in 2019!

    1. Hey Shannon, Best of luck to you on the trail! The WCT is a massive experience, full of ups and downs, just like the walk to Mordor haha. Just take it easy, carry a few treats, and enjoy the view!

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