It’s now been just about a month since Julia and I flew to Victoria with 50 lb backpacks, lots freeze-dried food, and three litres of camping fuel. Our intent, of course, was to spend ten days hiking the 75km stretch of backcountry trail called the “West Coast Trail.”
The trail was created by the Canadian Government around the turn of the century. Originally called the “Life-saving trail,” the WCT served as the point at which the survivors of shipwrecks could be accessed and rescued. For a good long while now, it’s served as a hiking trail maintained by Parks Canada and three Aboriginal tribes whose lands the trail passes through.
This year was the trail’s 100th anniversary. Since we’d talked about hiking it for so long, Julia decided it was time to suck it up and just go. So we booked all our travel, permits, and accomms at each end of the trip, bought gear and food, packed and got ready to haul all this stuff on our backs for over a week.
And really, when you think about it, 75km isn’t that far. If you’re really hoofing it, you could probably cover that ground in a day. On flat ground. On flat paved ground. And that was sort of my attitude going into it.
I’ve been backcountry hiking before, and I’ve done more than two dozen day hikes in the Canadian Rockies. But I’m not in the greatest shape of my life. Still, I didn’t figure this trip would be quite as exhausting as it was. This is all completely mitigated by where you are when you’re on the trail, and that fact that you’re actually, you know, doing it. But still: we planned for ten days on the trail. In reality we stayed for eight. Here’s a multi-part series about our adventures on Canada’s beautiful West Coast Trail.
We arrived in Victoria in the evening, having struggled that morning back in Edmonton to ensure our packs could hold everything, and that they’d make it past the airport security people without hassle. It was a busy morning, as we had to also get the dogs to the kennel, which is past the airport. A lot of driving around. I was looking forward to parking my car for ten days.
When we arrived in Vic, we took the airport shuttle to our hotel, checked in, bought some food for the evening and generally just acted lazy. We tried to expend as little energy as possible. I filled up our fuel bottles with the white gas that had been purchased for us, and dropped off at our hotel by friends of ours in Victoria. I stupidly haven’t thanked them for doing that for us yet.
We slept early. We had a bus to catch the next morning at 6am.
5:30am wake-up. Walk five mins down the street to catch the Trail Bus. 6:00am we leave. Two hours later we drop off some hikers at the Port Renfrew stop. Pick up a few other hikers. Then, for the next 3.5 hours, we drive the bumpy, winding logging roads across to the Bamfield side of the island. We’re dropped off at around 12:30pm, a half an hour before our scheduled trail orientation. We won’t get onto the trail until about 2pm.
At the orientation, we’re warned of campground wash-outs, cougars and bears, and various other reported hazards from the trail. I’m amazed when an elderly fellow walks into the park office and tells us he’s just finished the trail—solo—in six days. This dude had to be in his late 60s. And walking the trail for him seemed like it wasn’t a big deal. So it shouldn’t be for me, right? Uh. Right.
We leave the trail office after filing all our documents and buying ferry passes (mid-way through the trail is a giant tidal river at Nitinat Narrows that’s impossible to cross except by boat), lug our packs onto our backs, and start the 12km we’re meant to cover that afternoon. We made for Michigan Creek campground, which we’re told by several finishing hikers was very busy. We cross a beach, realize the videocamera we’ve brought is busted (later discovering this is due to a manufacturing error and learn of a recall taking place) and haul ourselves across about 11km of wet, muddy overland trail.
Walk 1km through a city, and it probably won’t take you that long. But kilometres on this trail are tough slogs. Big tree roots or soft sinking sand add a ton of slow-down to what might otherwise only take a few hours. That first day, all told, we hiked about 5.5 or six hours. And that was with about 30 minutes of stop-time to take photos, eat, and explore the grounds of the Pachena Lighthouse.
By the time we arrived at Michigan, we were tired, sweaty, and hungry. But we were treated to a beautiful sunset (see the top of the post), in front of which countless gray whales were breaching in the distance. We met a wonderful couple from Arizona, Jeff and Cheryl, who we would see often over the next few days. And we didn’t have to walk again until the next morning!
Now that we’re back home, the thing I miss the most about the Trail is the constant, reassuring sound of the ocean as the tide advances and recedes. You fall asleep to it every night. And this first night was heavenly, but for the sounds of mice scurrying all around our tent.
In my next post, I’ll tell you about the two wonderful nights we spent at one of the most beautiful places on this planet. I cried the day we left. I would have stayed forever if I could have.
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