Took me 2 years, but finally finished my blog post on the West Coast Trail. Better late than never, right?
We did it. We endured the adventure that is the West Coast Trail. Sep 2-7, 2015 was filled with ladders, cable cars, bridges, beaches, mud, swamp, and roots. So much mud, swamp, and roots. For those who haven’t heard about it, or thoroughly researched about it, the WCT trail is not just a hike. It’s not just a difficult hike. It’s not just a brutal hike. It’s a brutal, fun, awesome, life-changing hike.
It was the most fun & the hardest thing we have ever done. I think we will do it again.
Prep & Planning
We finally decided to do the hike Dec ’14 / Jan ’15. We started training right away – walking & snowshoeing. 3 days after hike registration opened in March, we signed up for the South-to-North route.
We had intentions of following some kind of training plan, strategically upping distance, volume, and weight over time, but we ended up really just spending every spare hour/day walking and hiking. I also started strength training. We planned 2 backpacking trips to prepare us; 1 in June – a 1-nighter 6km out & back (Taylor Lake) really intended to test all the gear Jamie painstakingly researched; the 2nd in July – a 2-nighter 34km loop (Skoki Trail) intended to prep us for 3-days of carrying a heavy pack for 8 hours a day.
On Aug 30 we left Calgary for the ~3 day drive to get to Port Renfrew. We wanted to arrive at the Parks Canada Office the day before the hike for our orientation so we could hit the trail on the first ferry the next day. We drove right to Port Renfrew and stayed at a less-than-awesome motel for the night.
Let’s do a quick weather recall of what was happening on the West Coast around that time:
Throughout the summer, Vancouver Island had been experiencing a drought. And then right before we left, Vancouver received a lovely storm knocking out power to about 750,000 homes; Port Renfrew & Clo-Oose were getting 20-30mm of rain daily, with severe wind warnings. Drought + Lotsa Rain = Flooding. Yikes! The Park Rangers at the Gordon River Trailhead Office were advising against anyone starting the trail on Tue, Sep 1; during the heavy rainfall, hikers were stuck between Michigan Creek & Darling River as the two were too deep to cross; a couple days earlier, 36 hikers had paid the $63/pp fare to ferry out at Nitinat Narrows. We ran into 3 people who finished on Sep 1 – they hated it so much that they pushed through to end their hike 1 day early to just get it over with. So, uh, great! We decided to hold off on the first ferry for our planned day 1 and take the next one at 11:30. This was a good decision as it ended up pouring all morning.
Day 1; Gordon River Trailhead to Thrasher Cove (6km)
We got to the Gordon River Parks office & ferry at 10:30 am so we could speak with the park rangers before venturing onto the trail. Thumbs up received – yay! Also, no rain at that moment – yay! We hopped onto the ferry at 11:30 to start our 6km journey to Thrasher Cove.
Let me clarify: our 6km 6 hour journey.
This part of the trail is so difficult that it’s tough to keep up to 1km/hr for us ‘average’ hikers. The most elevation gain/loss combined with the classic mud, roots, and rocks of the WCT was a wonderful welcome. Thanks, WCT. I asked myself over & over again, “what the fuck am I doing?”
After 6 drudging hours, we arrived at Thrasher Cove; we were some of the last people to arrive so we didn’t get a great spot.
Day 2; Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay (8km)
I woke up to the thought that, if the trail gets easier as you go north, today should be easier than yesterday. Rookie mistake.
Today we had a tide restriction. We decided we wanted to take the beach route to see Owen Point and the sea caves. We broke camp as early as we could – being the first hikers out that day. We started making our way along the beach, waiting to start this “bouldering” we read about.
Well, we found it. Giant 6″, 8″, 10″ boulders & super-wet-slippery-logs to climb over. I freaked out doing this without anyone ahead of us, so we waited to see the next hikers to gain some confidence in our route selection.
Luckily, 3 young guys wandered over shortly, and we followed them. For like 5 min. Then they left us in the dust. We spent the next 2 hours hauling ourselves + our 45 lb (mine) & 55lb (Jamie’s) packs over giant boulders and logs; what a fucking workout. This was a no-camera-for-Jen-day because I was too stressed out; it was day 2 on a level of adventure we’d never done before, so I was feeling overwhelmed.
We eventually made it to Owen Point and the Sea Caves, which were cool, but had another 6km to go to get to Thrasher.
We continued along the beach for as long as we could and eventually had to head inland for the remainder of the trail. Overall, today was another 1km/hr day, between the early morning bouldering and the afternoon inland portion. I found Day 2 tougher than Day 1.
Finally, we came to our first cable car – COOL – which was also a sign that camp was only 100m away – HOLYMOTHEROFGODTHANKYOU.
We set up camp in a nice isolated spot in the trees, ate, socialised a bit, and then hit the sack.
Day 3; Camper Bay to Carmanah Pt (18km)
This was our first long day. We roughly planned out the remainder of our hike to be able to make the 1pm bus on day 6, and opted for a lengthy 18km trek on day 3.
We were fatigued. This was the day in the hike where we realized the mental grit needed to finish.
This is also the day where we really started to see the storm damage on the trail. Lots of logs, mud, and roots. We also made it to the first boardwalk section; I remember distinctly on the boardwalk saying to Jamie, “If I ever talk about doing this again, don’t let me.”
More ladders. More roots & logs. A tiny repel. Jamie slipped on a big slippery log. Another cable car – in which I really discovered just how fatigued I was: not only could I barely assist Jamie with the pulley, but I also dropped my camera in Carmanah Creek. As soon as the cable car got to the platform, I hurriedly dropped my pack, got down off the platform, scraped my butt on a large log, got to the creek & recovered my dead camera. This was the only time hubby & I got upset with each other the entire trip. It was tense.
We hiked another 2 km’s and made it to Carmanah Pt, where we were able to set up camp on the beach and rest.
Day 4; Carmanah Pt to Tsusiat Falls (22km)
Waking up exhausted is just the way it is. We trekked along the beach, passed Chez Monique’s, which had very little supplies due to the storm, so we opted to walk right past. However, we did take a small detour to see a dead whale on the beach – kinda gross, but not something you normally get to ‘experience’. It was gross & stinky. Moving on…
This was a tough day. I mean, it was 22km, and we had 3 days of gnarly WCT behind us. We had to get to Nitinat Narrows by 4:30 to catch the last ferry across the river, so back onto a schedule. The trail itself was getting less technical and offered more boardwalks, but for some reason that made it feel longer. The hike from Carmanah Light House to Nitinat Narrows felt like the longest hike I have ever done in my entire life. We started passing hikers coming from Nitinat, and continued to make the rookie mistake of asking them how far to the narrows. Perception is everything. They kept saying, “Oh, like 45min” each time we asked a new group every hour or so. We did finally make it for the last ferry, ordered salmon & potato, and relaxed a bit while we waited for the ferry.
We still had another 10km to get to Tsusiat Falls, our next camping spot. We were exhausted, it was getting late – so starts the mental game of, “Did we fuck up somehow and miss the campsite?!?”. Nope. Sure didn’t. Just kept going, one foot in front of the other, and finally arrived at the ridiculous decent into Tsusiuat Falls.
Again, one of the last groups to arrive at a highly populated site, leaving us with a less than amazing spot. It finally did rain that night, briefly, right around the time we were eating dinner and planning to pack it in for the night.
Day 5; Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Pt (10km)
Good morning 10km day! Yay! Also good morning to the lovely ascent from Tsusiat Falls back to the main trail. Talk about cardio.
I don’t remember much about this day. I recall meeting some fellow Calgarians at Michigan Pt & having a fire that night. And then breaking trail bright & early the next morning.
Day 6; Michigan Pt to Pachena Bay / The End (12km)
The final day. The last hurrah. No sense of accomplishment – only a strong sense of, “when the fuck will this be fucking over because i am very over it!”
Pachena Lighthouse. Sea Lion Cove. Very fresh bear scat. And a continually easier & easier trail. The last 9km felt like forever, but again – one foot in front of the other, snacking & hydrating often, and we finally arrived at the Pachena Bay trailhead.
We. Fucking. Finished.
Full Gallery for your viewing pleasure: