West Coast Trail
~Did you ever do a multiple day hike with camping, bringing food for a week, walking far away from civilization, 75 km long?
~Not really… The internet says this is not a trail to do first if you never did a multiple day backpacking trip before. “… demands stamina and expertise in hiking and backcountry camping skills. Only competent backpackers…”
-Ok, sounds like adventure, let’s do it!
Maren visited me in Canada in August. Of course we wanted to put all the awesome things I have seen here in the past two summers in her three week vacation. Not an easy one… I had a bucket list for her with all my favourite spots and things to do in Squamish. Right before she arrived, the list has been growing to a scale one could barely complete even if spending a whole summer here.
Two days after her arrival we’ve been planning on doing the West Coast Trail (WCT). As this is a famous one we had to reserve our spots in March – with no clue how to prepare for this or if we could even make it. By August we both read a lot about the hike in the internet, interviewed friends and got actually pretty stoked about it. None of us had done a multiple day hike yet, with camping in a tent, carrying food for a week and no trail exit en route. So no way to chicken out – unless you need a rescue and a not so cheap helicopter lift.
Buying gear is the easiest part. The more money you spend, the better and lighter your gear is. There are books about the WCT and MEC staff knows exactly what to equip you with. You’d rather find too much information and get confused of what’s really important than not finding enough infos. I found a light and efficient set up for me, check out my packing list if you are as confused as I was!
The food issue took us a bit of preparation as we didn’t want to bring processed food or the expensive freeze-dried bags. So I became good friends with the dehydrator I found in the house where I lived. I had some time before Mari arrived and dehydrated pretty much everything that crossed the kitchen counter 😉
The trail itself is pretty straight forward once you are on it. But we needed to decide if we want to go from North to South or the opposite direction. As they said that the southern part is the hardest, we decided to go North to South to have light packs for the last section. We weren’t even sure if we could do the easy northern part with our heavy packs…
Also recommended is to plan the itinerary – to have a plan for every day’s route to make sure to reach the next camp in time and pass some tidal spots at low tide. As we had no idea what our pace would be with 25 kg on our backs and weak legs we ignored this part pretty well and thought we will figure it out on the trail, once we have a feeling for it. I know this is the easiest way to get into big trouble… But we both were on the same page – we are going to do the trail somehow. We had a lot of adventure(-failures) together, so we thought this cannot be too hard. I mean can it get any worse than driving with two 2WD vans in Denmark onto a huge car beach (tidal!) and then get stuck in the sand – both of us. Or same thing with the two of us in one van, which doesn’t make it any better. Except we only had to shovel one van out of the sand, with Tupperware bowls as we had no shovel. So what?! West Cost Trail, here we come!
DAY 1 Squamish to Port Alberni
Taking the expensive shuttle to the trailhead?! Nah, way too easy…. Let’s hitchhike, way more fun and easy being a girl.
We left Squamish a bit too late but were happy about that once we saw a huge humpback whale playing not too far away from the ferry in the ocean. What a start! Pretty blessed, we got off the ferry and tried to hitch a ride on the highway. Sun was going down already and we had a good stretch ahead to Port Alberni. And no car stopped. And it got darker. Oh yeah, the no-plan and go-with-the-flow-thing is not always very reliable. The plan was to get to Port Alberni, spend the night somewhere and then get up early and hitch to the trailhead which was at the end of a 3 hour-drive logging road. People say it’s hard to catch a ride as not many people drive the road.
After a couple of very short lifts which brought us at least a little bit further, angel “Becky” picked us up. We learned that she lives in Port Alberni at a lake close by in a house boat. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were when she invited us to stay the night with her at her house! Becky drove to the beautiful lake which was perfectly calm and lit by the moon when we arrived. It was warm and we went for a late night swim with her. We had a beer with them and learned about the WCT in a different way than the information session that was waiting for us the next morning. Her husband did that trail long time ago when it was barely developed and still more of a rescue trail for maritime salvage and was stoked to hear that we were about to start this adventure.
Thanks Becky for the pics!!
DAY 2 Port Alberni to Pachena Bay to Darling River
The next morning we got up with Becky who had to leave for work early. She gave us a ride to the logging road at 6 am which gave us heaps of time to find a way to get to trailhead. A bit concerned we were standing at the road again, with our Tim Hortons Lattes and fingers crossed we would get there safe – and kind of quick if possible too!
Karma came to help and Steve stopped 30 min later. Very friendly guy, in a huge 4×4 truck which made us feel like flying down to the trailhead. Yes!! Only two hours later we got there, he dropped us off right in front of the WCT information center. We were way too early and had a first camping-coffee at the beach, stoked to start the trail and so happy about how well things worked out.
At 9 am we joined the information session about the trail, picked up our map and took off! The packs were heavy, and the first half of the day was tough. After getting used to it we enjoyed being outside, saw some sealions chilling on rocks, snacked a lot and just kept on walking. Easy.
We kept on running into people who hiked south to north, so happy to finally be on the last stretch as the beginning was SO much harder. We got pretty concerned and sat down after dinner to finally plan our itinerary. 5 minutes later we were done and wondering at the same time if we planned everything we were supposed to. But we thought it makes sense to us and unless we give up, lay down and wait for the pickup from our mums, we will make it to a campsite every night and will be back in time; so it should be alright, we just kept it simple 😉
I have to admit that I get very excited about a nice drink at the end of a long hiking day. Something that makes you feel a little bit funny, relaxed and light after all the hard work. As you don’t want to carry cans of cold beers we brought some cinnamon whisky. That stuff in hot chocolate or hot apple cider – OMG!
Maybe because of that I got a little too excited and broke a pole while setting up the tent. Awesome! And no spare parts or repair kit, of course. The welcome-to-camp-drink also didn’t help and so we had to fix it with what we had. And it worked – perfect tent shape the whole trip!
DAY 3 Darling River to Tsusiat Falls
Getting up early on the trail is not very hard. People “run” the whole WCT in 3 or less days and to manage the big days they get up in the middle of the night. It seems everyone was walking by 8, the latest. The first morning we managed to walk by 10 am 😀
Make breakfast, convince your sore body to work, break camp, find out the hiking socks are in the sleeping bag which is at the bottom of your pack and unpack the whole backpack again when you were about to squeeze your swollen feet back into your boots… It just takes time 🙂 And we knew it will get only harder, so being in a rush and under pressure in this new situation doesn’t help at all. Slow down to speed up.
We walked, had breaks, enjoyed the beautiful landscape and finally got to the next camp, Tsusiat Falls. One of the highlights I was really looking forward to as I love waterfalls. This one was special. The cliff where the water sweeps down is situated right at the beach, 20 meters off the ocean. That night we had a waterfall shower with ocean view. Doesn’t get any better.
After a very chill afternoon, reading, eating good food and chatting, we laid down in our cozy sleeping bags and were a bit confused after 2 minutes of trying to fall asleep. We both thought the same: Wait, the ocean is right side of me, why do I hear the ocean on my left side and almost feel the waves are rolling over me?! Did we miss something with the tide schedule?!!?? Are we really two of the stupid tourists whose tents get washed away by the incoming tide (two girls used to play in the North Sea with huge tidal ranges…)
No, of course not 🙂 Quickly we figured it must be the wall where the falls come down, echoing the ocean across. Creating a noise as if you would be IN the ocean, literally Dolby Surround! What a background to fall into the best restful sleep ever <3
DAY 4 Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek
Waking up that morning out of our restful sleep made it easy to stay focused and break camp faster. We had a big 8 to 9 hour hiking day ahead. But also lots of things on the way to get excited about. Real food was waiting for us at the crab shack at Nitinat Narrows, a ferry ride for the crossing and lots of possibilities to take the most likely scenic coastal route along stunning beaches.
We made it to the crab place in no time, the hiking felt easy and we came to the dock right in time to catch the watertaxi that just arrived.
We shared some food and beer at the shack and then took off, very motivated for the “last” part of the stretch. Which turned out to be a slog… The sun was burning, it was hot and we got very tired really quick. The map showed us that we would walk until late to reach the next camp.
We finally made it to Cribs Creek around 7pm. Dropped everything and just rested our beaten bodies before we set up camp and started a fire. People kept on arriving all evening, everyone obviously with 0 energy left. Also a couple we met at the crab place got there late. Arriving at camp they found out that they must have forgotten their tent poles at the crab shack while looking for a pole spare part they wanted to trade us for blisters pads we gave them. Broken tent pole is better than tent without poles we thought. Yikes! But the guy was awesome and built them a shelter and the women was even more awesome and hiked back to the shack the next day to get the poles. As her husband commented “My wife is awesome and strong, she went back at sunrise to get the stuff.” Pretty cool partners.
Besides the exhaustion we of course got much stoked about the pretty place we found ourselves at for the night. The sunset at the beach was unreal. Colors in the sky I have barely seen that intense. And the fog which the island is known for made it completely surreal. You know that feeling when something is so pretty that you cannot stop staring at it, trying to grasp it? That night I spent my remaining energy on that.
DAY 5 Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek
Good thing we had 8 hours to rest our eyes, otherwise I would have not believed the scenery the next morning.
Breaking camp a matter of routine now, we started walking early. At the beach right into an awesomeness of sunrise, fog and rainbows. In such moments I wonder if there is any other person on the planet as happy as me right now.
With our early take off we managed to be at the burger shack for 10am. Not really burger time but we only hesitated for 2 seconds before we placed the order for a huge delicious burger. Yum! While we had to wait a bit as they were just opening the kitchen, our gaze met at the same spot – the bottles of red wine in the shelf!! More than once we were sitting at camp at night, enjoying the ocean view and were thinking “…and now a glass of red wine.” There it is, right in front of us, only 20 bucks (!) away.
At around 11 am we left the place, with happy burger-bellies and the bag with the weight of one wine bottle heavier.
Not the smartest decision as the trail would become a bit more challenging now. Ladders came up more often and made us push our body plus bag weight up as much as four “pitches” of ladders. All in one, 70 ladders were waiting for us.
When our legs were tired from that, the trail required to cross rivers and creeks on 4 cable cars with the remaining arm power. Let’s call it a balanced workout!
The last one was right before the camp we spent the night at, Walbran Creek. We used the same river we just crossed for a little dip. So good after a long day of hiking.
Walking towards the tents, people came up to us and were pointing at the ocean. Again whales playing right in front of the camp. Watching this is by far the most calming thing ever.
We set up camp, washed some stinky socks and then finally sat down to drink our well deserved glas of wine (or two to four…-of course the bottle was empty when we went to bed. Mari and I tried several times in our lives to drink “half” a bottle of wine. Yet to happen…), watching the whales and making dinner. Life can be so simple.
DAY 6 Walbran Creek to Camper Bay
Our itinerary told us that we had a chill stretch ahead. Even though it involved some ladders, we were done for the day after only 3 hours of hiking. This was ok after the last two big days.
We reached Camper Bay early, so we took our time to set up the tent. We walked to the ocean and scrambled along the cliff to find a nice spot for reading our books and an afternoon nap. The rocks were warm from the sun, waves as background noise. What a treat! We again ran into someone we kept on meeting on the trail and found out he is a yoga instructor. The rocky ground didn’t stop us from doing some acro yoga to relax each others bodies. Back into camp we had a fire with all people who were staying there and ate dinner. As soon as it got dark we crawled into our cozy tent and passed out. It’s amazing how quickly your body gets used to live with the sunlight rhythm. Be active when it’s light out, rest when it’s dark.
DAY 7 Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove
A check with the map for the today`s stretch promised an eventful day. The first part started on the inland path which led us to a junction where we had to decide if we wanted to continue on the inland path or take a challenge on the coastal route.
The challenge was a slope of slab, permanently in and out of water depending on the tide which made it a very slippery mission. And surge channels we had to jump over. We also had to consider the water-level in our schedule as some sections were only passable at low tide.
By that time we got pretty comfortable on the trail. Our legs got stronger, the weight of our packs less and being focused wasn’t as hard as it was in the beginning. Getting used too much to the environment can make me lightheaded easily and makes me forget about the danger. It’s good to be brought back down to earth when this happens. This actually ended with a good laugh for Mari and me but could have been a way worse.
As we were scrambling up and down the cliffs at the shore, we passed a sign telling us “Danger! Area closed!”. It didn’t say why so we figured we could take the shortcut and sneak through. Mari took a quick pic of me, sitting at the sign making fun of it and off we went, laughing… Until my laugh turned into a yell as my feet slipped off the ground, me getting smashed onto my belly, followed by a ride down the slab towards the water. Yikes. Mari had to somehow follow me down the slope to help me up as there was no way to push myself up on a slippery slope, with 20kg on my back holding me down. OK, lesson learned.
With more caution and after a couple of deep breaths we continued. We passed Owen’s Point with the water just low enough to make it around the corner. But then the tide forced us to a break. To continue we needed to leave the cliff, go down to the sandy beach and cross a cave which lead us back to the trail. The cave was still half way full with water, so we sat down in the sun and had a little nap as the water slowly made its way back into the ocean.
Still stoked we were early and made it through the cave the next challenge that needed our remaining attention came up: big boulders along the shore. With big holes between them and ocean water which makes them slippery. Last challenge. We got over the field without any major incidents and where happy to see that the bay we walked towards had some tents sitting right at the water. Made it to the next camp, yes!
We enjoyed our last night on the trail sitting around the fire with the people we met on the way. The couple who lost the poles caught up with us again and we were happy to find out that their backtrack was worth it; they found the poles at the crab shack and camped a night in a super cool spot they would have missed otherwise.
DAY 8 Trasher Cove to Gordon River
One last early morning wake up and off we went to master the last –and hardest- part of the trail. We expected the worst but found it surprisingly easy. For my part I actually felt that I got stronger with walking the trail. My muscles got used to it and the pack got lighter which made it easier every day, even though the trail got harder. We were pushing through the last 8 km and even enjoyed jumping from root to root, feet light and easy. We met people who just started the trail, hauling up huge packs with read faces, probably sometimes wishing to switch packs with us…
After only 2.5 hours we reached the Gordon River Trailhead which was also the dock for the Watertaxi. It was a very cheerful vibe on board of the boat and we enjoyed the ride. Time to relax, we made it, yes!!!
It took us a while to catch a ride in the Center of the World “Port Renfrew”, but someone finally stopped and with another ride we were back in Nanaimo at the ferry terminal. Dirty, stinky, sweaty. Happy I have good friends in Squamish, Jay picked us up in Horseshoe Bay and gave us a ride back to Squamish where we had –a very appreciated- S H O W E R 🙂
Tausend Dank Maren für Deine Fotos <3