Hiking Canada’s renowned West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail is a MUST DO on every passionate hiker’s to-do list.
PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK, B.C., CANADA
Heading for the northern (actually western) trailhead of the West Coast Trail, Sherrie, Michael & Terry caught the 8:30 am BC Ferry at Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) to Departure Bay (Nanaimo) and from there drove to the Bamfield area. Our plan (Terry and son, Michael) was to attend the obligatory orientation session at 3:30 and start out on the trail in the morning.
Arrived at West Coast Trail Information Centre shortly after 2 PM, checked into the Pachena Beach Campgrounds where we would spend the night, and said goodbye to Sherrie, who we hoped to see again on July 17 in Port Renfrew at the southern (actually eastern) end/entrance of the Trail.
Found the orientation session by Parks Canada personnel to be most informative.
Via slides and words they walked us through what to expect over the next 7 days: camping etiquette, environmental sensitivity as well as answering numerous questions from those present. We were advised of a resident non-aggressive bear at Darling River (where we planned to camp our first night out), a more aggressive bear south of Klanawa River, daily bear sightings at Nitnat Narrows and a cougar sighting a few days ago a little further south. A board in the office indicated 42 emergency evacuations this year (the trail opened May 1). Parks people reviewed what to do in case of an emergency and gave each of us an Evacuation Information Form.
Following our orientation session we returned to the campgrounds, made camp and toasted our pending adventure with a beer. Dinner was re-hydrated Teriyaki Turkey with snow peas … Michael got the pea … which didn’t fill us up so we followed it with a muffin pancake.
We built a campfire and played three games of crib … (Terry 2, Michael 1), followed by a bit of Texas Hold’em.
Near 9:45 PM we retired to our tent and read (the headlamps worked great). Lights out and started to settle down when a pickup pulled into the site next to us and two noisy couples set up camp complete with a campfire that made reading in our tent possible – without the need for headlamps.
JULY 11 ~ WEST COAST TRAIL DAY 1
Stirred around 5:20 AM but didn’t get up until 8:30. It had rained a little during the night.
High overcast cloud had us feeling very positive. Great weather for shorts. Started our morning with a coffee followed by a breakfast of instant oatmeal (not bad) and shared apple and nectarine.
Broke camp. Michael called his wife, Tracey, on the camp payphone and we began our adventure on the West Coast Trail about 10:25 AM.
Michael had his digital camera so the first of many pictures taken.
At about the 2 km mark, Terry was experiencing pain in his right shoulder and a ‘tingle’ in his left arm and thumb. Terry thought his chest strap was too tight but Michael felt it was the shoulder straps. With shoulder straps loosened almost instant relief.
Both quickly agreed that collapsible hiking poles and gaiters are a must.
As we were planning to camp at Darling River on night #1, we decided to stop at the Pachena Point lighthouse [10km] for lunch. Chatted with two groups there who were also heading south. One fellow, in a group of four from Calgary, was hiking the trail for the tenth time – he had started back in the 70’s. Both groups indicated they were going to stop at the Orange Juice Creek campgrounds (1½ km south of Darling River) as it was a much nicer beach.
Signs left by man on the West Coast Trail include park ‘caution’ signs as well as bathrooms at camp locations decorated by debris found washed up on beaches.
After lunch we hiked to Michigan Creek [12 km mark] and experienced beach walking for the first time – walking on sand is tiring but along the rock shelf the going is fairly easy. Our hiking poles were great stabilizers on the kelp, seaweed and slime.
Walked out and took a picture of the ‘Michigan’ boiler near the spot where it sank in January 1893.
Pushed on to the Darling River campground (no campers) and decided to continue on to Orange Juice Creek (arriving around 4:30 pm). Glad we did.
Made camp right beside a group – will share a campfire with them tonight. After two large mugs of ice tea (Terry must consume more water through the day) we wolfed down a dinner of Kraft Dinner (very good).
Not a cloud in the sky. Warm. Numerous Grey whales moving north just off shore. Also curious seals right in close.
As Orange Juice Creek didn’t have a ‘bear box’ to secure our food, Terry climbed a tree and fed a rope over one of its branches while Michael fashioned a ‘mouse guard’ from a piece of heavy plastic found on the beach.
We’ll hoist our food into the tree, beyond bear reach, before we retire. Hope it works.
Decided on a second dinner – Oriental Sweet & Sour – much better than the Teriyaki Turkey of last night. We hoisted our food sacks and by 10:15 Terry was in bed.
Michael followed about a half hour later after sitting on the beach reading and watching the whales. At 11 PM Terry was up for the first of two bathroom breaks; not a cloud in the sky, the heavens aflame with a blaze of stars and two brightly lit cruise ships a mile or two off shore.
JULY 12 – WEST COAST TRAIL DAY 2
Dawn showed clear skies and when we emerged from our tent at 8:30 AM the sun came over the treetops and the air heated noticeably. The other two groups were getting ready to leave; we had our coffee, apple cinnamon pancakes and hit the trail about 11 AM.
Yesterday we covered 15 km in about 5½ hours so felt the 10 km to Tsusiat Falls would be accomplished in shorter time.
The ocean was alive with whales and we’re seeing more seals.
The number of fathers and sons hiking the West Coast Trail is heartening and we are impressed with the high number of females.
Beach walking from Orange Juice Creek to Tsocowis Creek was relatively easy on the rock shelf but very tiring over sand and gravel.
First trouble of the day occurs about an hour out as Terry breaks his sunglasses (and not a cloud in the sky behind which the sun could seek refuge).
Headed inland and stopped for a break with others at Valencia Bluffs, off which the steamer “Valencia” with 160 on board (out of San Francisco bound for Victoria) sank in January 1906, with the loss of 133 lives.
Passed several rusting relics (a derelict grader and donkey engine) from a bygone era and re-emerged onto the beach at Trestle Creek where a couple from Red Deer awaited us with a pair of sunglasses they have found on the trail. Alas, they are prescription (sorry for the person who needs them) and of no use to Terry.
Continued along the beach, tiring with each step.
Our first cable car at Klanawa River. What a hoot! We assist others across and are helped in turn.
Second setback of the day strikes Terry after crossing the river when one of his walking sticks will not lock in the appropriate position. The poles are invaluable and used almost constantly; this would be a blow. Thankfully we are able to lock it about a foot shorter than desired … so all is not lost.
Fatigue setting in; the ladders are taking their toll.
Finally, Tsusiat Falls, our campsite for the night. It’s about 4:30 PM.
We are exhausted. Ten km in 5½ hours – the same time it took to cover 15 km yesterday.
Tsusiat Falls is the most popular campground on the West Coast Trail and we join a friendly transient community of approximately sixty.
Terry is thankful he has shed his pack for the day and is less ambitious. It’s too hot to eat, so we decide to postpone dinner until around 8 PM. We leave our packs unattended for several minutes and return to find that a raven has skillfully removed a chocolate bar from the mesh pocket on Terry’s pack leaving nothing but the paper wrapper.
It’s decided to get to bed a little earlier tonight as it will be a long day tomorrow to the campground at Cribs Creek – 16½ km away. The operators of the ferry service at Nitnat Narrows have cold beer for sale and many at camp tonight consider them the most popular people within 100 km.
A dinner of Pasta Primavera (the best dinner so far). Along with others we hang our food in a nearby tree, as there are no bear boxes at this location.
It is very warm in our tent and Terry struggles with sleep until around 4 AM.
JULY 13 – WEST COAST TRAIL DAY 3
Dawn breaks shrouded in heavy fog. We roll out of our tent at 7:30 AM.
Clearly we are again the late risers as some have already left and most others are breaking camp and getting ready to move. We have our usual morning coffee followed by scrambled eggs followed by good old oatmeal.
Our morning activities are sped up, as we have a lot of ground to cover today, and leave Tsusiat Falls at 10 AM – ahead of only two.
Hiking along the beach towards the West Coast Trail’s ‘Hole-In-The-Wall’, we discover our arrival coincides with high tide so are unable to pass through as planned. Rather, we hike over it and return to the beach on the ‘Hole’s’ south side.
Finding faces in the rocks is a fun part of beach walking.
Continue along the beach for approximately 2½ km before being forced to the inland trail just north of IR2 (Indian Reserve) and …
… continue this way to Nitinat Narrows which we cross by ferry boat to the cold beer, barbequed salmon and crab awaiting us on the dock.
What a great group of people hiking south on the West Coast Trail with us. As many stay at the same campsites each night, we get to visit a bit and talk about adventures of the day; hikers from Victoria, Hornby Island, Red Deer, Calgary, Edmonton, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Seattle, Connecticut and elsewhere.
Michael and Terry both enjoy a beer at the Narrows. Art from Connecticut has BBQ’d salmon and the ladies (we later call “the nurses”) from Hornby Island and Victoria decide to push on and save themselves for Chez Monique near Carmanah Point which we’ll pass tomorrow. Monique’s breakfasts are legendary as are her hamburgers (with all the trimmings).
We join up with Art and pass through the tiny Indian Village at Clo-oose. Shortly after crossing over the suspension bridge at Cheewhat River we return to the beach and pass an Indian family reunion; quite a gathering (about 30-40 tents) with several children playing in the surf and at river’s edge.
The beach here is fantastic and we walk just above the water’s edge where the wet sand is compacted and the walking is by far the easiest we have experienced to date.
A surge channel forces us inland just past the 38 km marker and return again to the beach a short time later.
The good sand is gone but rock shelf hiking isn’t too difficult if you’re careful. Fog lifts a little in the early afternoon but the sun never really breaks through.
We met our first Trail casualty; a young Swiss girl has fallen off a log. No bones broken but her right arm is a dark purple from elbow up and over her shoulder.
Arrive at Cribs Creek around 5:30 PM in good spirits – 16½ km in 7½ hours. Not as fatigued as yesterday. This is a nice campground with toilet and bear box close at hand but not nearly as spectacular as Tsusiat Falls. About 20 camp neighbors tonight.
Set up camp and Terry starts preparing dinner (Minestrone Soup with instant potatoes).
Michael confides he is very cold. He bundles up in layers of clothing but can’t get warm. We finish our soup, but Michael is still hungry so cook up a pot of Kraft Dinner. Michael, still cold, eats and then goes into the tent and gets into his sleeping bag. He may be suffering from dehydration. We had put electrolytes into our water before we started out this morning to boost our energy level; water consumption was up today but maybe we have to up it even more.
Just before sunset the sun breaks through for about 3/4 hour and then it’s gone. With dusk the fog and overcast start to look a little threatening so who knows what the morning will bring.
Good news. Terry is able to repair his hiking pole. The tightening mechanism was jammed with dirt and pebbles. A good cleaning restores it to working order.
By 10 PM Michael is feeling much better.
JULY 14 – WEST COAST TRAIL DAY 4
Dawn breaks in fog, although not as heavy as yesterday morning. Another sleepless night for Terry.
Roll out of bed at 7:30. No breakfast this morning – only a coffee. The plan is to have breakfast at Chez Monique’s.
Although we pick up the pace, we’re still the last ones to leave (just before 10 AM). We take to the beach and stay on it right to the Carmanah Point Lighthouse [44 km mark]. Pass a number of sea lions on their haul-out rocks but the tide is in so pictures are taken at some distance.
At the lighthouse we are given a brief tour by a youngster (11 or 12 years old) from Surrey who is spending part of his summer holidays here.
He shows us the skeleton of a small humpback whale and points the way to Chez Monique. We are very impressed with the young people (10 to 20 year olds) we are meeting along the Trail; very outgoing, engaging and polite.
We head down the ladders and there on the beach – the West Coast Trail’s Chez Monique.
Everyone (and anyone) should visit this place. A large tent (600 sq ft) encloses a small store, the ordering counter, containers of recyclable cans, garbage, boxes of free “Help Yourself” food left by hikers packing way too much, fishing gear, and behind a partial wall – ‘the kitchen’. Tables are set up inside and outside between the logs. Some have umbrellas. If a health inspector should drop by, this place would be shut down in a cholesterol-clogged heartbeat. Most of ‘our group’ are here with many others arriving from the south.
We both settle on a mushroom cheese hamburger ($11 each) and a beer ($4 each). A small boat arrives and halibut and salmon are offloaded. While waiting at the counter line-up … can you believe it? … in the middle of nowhere! … a line up!, we chat with a group of ten armed forces personnel from Kingston, Ontario – one who’s aunt and uncle were good friends of Langley’s Mayor John Beales, a former colleague of Terry’s.
Reluctantly we leave and quickly overtake many of our group along the beach who are searching in vain for one of the largest trees on Vancouver Island. We may be late starters but once underway we can move – the second day was the most difficult from a fatigue point of view, yesterday was much better and today we are really motoring.
The plan is to camp at Walbran Creek tonight but we are thinking about continuing on to Logan Creek and have a shorter day tomorrow as the following morning we should be underway by 6-6:30 if we wish to hike around Owen Point (which a favorable tide allows at that time).
Arrive at Walbran Creek approaching low-tide. The creek is low, so rather than use the cable car, we cross on a log bridge which some of our group had just constructed. We drop our packs and while discussing the merits of pushing on to Logan Creek with others it starts to rain – the first rain we have encountered on the West Coast Trail. No sooner do we get jackets on (and rain shields on our packs) than it stops. Decide to go to Logan Creek.
The Trail between Walbran and Logan is approximately 3 km in length through a long section of bog.
Ladders … root walking … more root walking … log walking …
55 km marker … more root walking … more ladders … and a suspension bridge.
We arrive at Logan Creek around 4:30 PM – approx 15½ km in 6½ hours.
This is the current location of the West Coast Trail maintenance crew [3 men]. They are a nice group of guys and offer coffee and a rake to level our tent site.
Few of our group check in – almost all have stayed at Walbran Creek.
Michael builds a campfire (our first on the Trail) and surrounds it with seats. We settle in and have a meal of Chicken Gumbo (spicy) which Michael enjoys and Terry can barely get down. That and Chez Monique’s burger play havoc with Terry’s stomach throughout the night. Michael gets into his novel and Terry updates his travel diary. By 9 PM the dense fog (which has settled back in) is like a light drizzle and we retreat to the tent.
JULY 15 – WEST COAST TRAIL DAY 5
Up at 7:30 and after a cheese-mushroom omelet for breakfast, we begin to break camp and are on the trail at 10:10 – again the last to leave. It’s a short 6 km to Camper Creek but we know it won’t be an easy 6 km with plenty of root walking, mud holes and ladders.
Immediately we are into a seven ladder accent which is difficult when the body is still cold.
No beach walking today. Ladders down to Cullite Creek and rather than use the cable car we walk through the creek and ladder up the other side.
The going is the toughest to date but we’re feeling pretty good and arrive at Camper Creek in just under 4 hours.
Camper Creek is a beautiful site. We are warned to pitch our tent above the log line as the incoming tide moves up the creek bed. We both do some laundry and wash our hair in the creek.
Quite a number of our group arrives. Tents are pitched followed by considerable washing of clothes and bodies in the creek.
Our plan is to be out of here 6-6:30 in the morning so as well as supper tonight Terry will make up a big batch of muffin pancakes to eat as we trek towards Owen Point. Many that we meet coming from the south encourage us to go around the point if we can time the tide, so we must be away early.
We have turkey and gravy stirred into mashed potatoes (so-so) and once dinner is finished Terry cleans up the pots and starts in making muffin pancakes. The two boys from the fathers and sons group from Alberta (who are camped beside us tonight) go fishing in the ocean and return with a rock cod to show their dads. They head out again and came back with two more. The fish are cleaned and we donate tin foil and olive oil. A feast of fresh fish for dinner.
In the late afternoon a large group going north arrives and set camp. Of the approximately thirty in the group, many appear to be in their 50s and 60s, some appear spent but in fine spirits. Around 9PM while Michael is walking through camp they are singing “O Come All Ye Faithful”; a meeting complete with a written agenda follows. ‘Amsterdam’ is camped right next to them but have ear plugs so hopefully they will get some sleep as they plan to head out with us in the morning. One game of crib, a little reading and lights out around 9:45 PM.
JULY 16 – WEST COAST TRAIL DAY 6
The alarm goes off at 5 AM and we’re moving. Michael is off to retrieve our food from the bear box and wake “Red Deer” as promised – they’re already up – and Terry heats the water for our morning coffee.
On the trail by 6:20 AM and, again, rather than use the cable car, we walk the creek and start up the ladders – killers, to some of us, first thing in the morning.
The first 2 3/4 km are inland before we turn onto the beach access trail. It’s a beautiful bright morning with few clouds and no fog – feels like a warm day ahead. Low tide of .5m occurs at 7:20 AM so we’ve only missed it by minutes. Great. Owen Point is passable at tides below 1.8m so we’re in good shape.
Quite quickly the footing becomes the most dangerous of the journey with slippery surfaces and the need to cross ever widening surge channels. Weather conditions are almost ideal, (dry, no wind, low tide), we can’t imagine doing this section under wet, rainy conditions.
Owen Point is spectacular with its caves and tunneling. Lots of seals and a few otter.
Beyond Owen Point the route becomes increasingly difficult with boulder after boulder to clamber over.
Begin meeting people coming from Thrasher Cove and see several with cuts and scrapes. Our entire group of 13 makes it with only minor bumps and bruises.
The beach at Thrasher Cove is home to the best sand of the journey and there is plenty of shade. “Amsterdam” teases us that we have arrived at a time (9:55AM) that is earlier than the time we usually leave camp. Our group rests, some have lunch and decisions are arrived at as to who is going to press on to Port Renfrew, which we can see across Port San Juan.
‘Fathers and Sons’ and ‘Red Deer’ decide to hike out so after lunch we say our goodbyes. We ask Tom to phone Sherrie to meet us around 3 pm tomorrow in Port Renfrew.
Spend a very restful afternoon sitting in the shade reading. More hikers arrive (from both directions) and the smallish camping area is very alive.
Pitch our tent around 6 PM and dine on Savory Italian Pasta ‘something’ – not bad. Michael is still hungry so we make up a huge pot of ‘Black Beans and Rice Potage’ – filling but not very appetizing. We can’t finish the pot but ‘Amsterdam’ drops over for a ‘last-night-hot-chocolate’ and consume what’s left.
After a bit of excitement when a young seal is discovered close to camp, we retire about 9:45 PM.
When Terry gets up around 1 AM the sky is clear (no fog) and alive with stars.
JULY 17 – WEST COAST TRAIL DAY 7
Haul out at 7:30 AM. It’s going to be a bright, warm day – what luck – a total of about 10 minutes of rain in the past 7 days. We have come to appreciate how difficult the past week would have been under wet, rainy conditions.
This, however, is the morning Terry has been dreading – the 1km ladder hike up to the main trail. After coffee and a breakfast of ‘Blueberry Cobbler’ we start packing up for the last time.
Ladders … ladders … root climbing …
and more ladders … and the morning climb continues with …
root climbing … and more ladders … then a little easier root walking before …
climbing down one ladder just to climb up another.
Bridge 108 … the last bridge for us … the first bridge for others.
In hindsight the climb up was a bit anticlimactic – it was tough but not the ‘ball-buster’ Terry thought it would be. We reach the main trail at the 70 km mark and continue to climb to the highest point on the trail just past the 71 km marker; lots of ups and downs and roots.
As we near the end (for us) of the trail we met others just getting underway and hope each and every one will enjoy the experience as much as we have.
At the Gordon River Trailhead, we raise the orange buoy to signal our boat.
Across the water and passed the Indian Village, we check out at the West Coast Trail Information Centre and receive our complimentary West Coast Trail T-shirts.
A taxi ride delivered us to the Port Renfrew Hotel.
After about an hour’s celebration with food and beer, Sherrie arrived just after 3:00.
With Amsterdam and gear wedged in the back seat we drove to the local General Store where we say our “good byes”.
On to Swartz Bay in time to catch the 7:00 ferry.
Home about 10:00 PM. Placed a check mark beside “The West Coast Trail” on our “Life’s Things To-Do List.”
THOUGHTS (reflecting back)
Quality collapsible hiking poles quickly became indispensable. They would be even more useful under wet and/or muddy conditions
- Best piece of advice we can offer those planning to do the West Coast Trail. While on the Trail STOP walking before looking around – there are just too many opportunities at foot for injury to take your eyes off where your feet are about to step.
- Water ‘bladders’ are great. With water always ‘right there’ one consumes more than they might otherwise from bottles.
- Talk to those who have done the West Coast Trail and/or read other accounts of the experience.
- Read and reserve through Canada Park’s web site at www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/pacificrim. NOTE: Check for the opening day and time for reservations (often in January). The West Coast Trail is open May 1 to September 30, the number of hikers is limited and those spaces fill up quickly. Consider setting up an account before the reservation start date.
PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK RESERVE
WEST COAST TRAIL
This 75 km, 5-7 day backpacking trek is challenging and stunningly beautiful as it winds through towering rainforests, across wide sand beaches and rocky shores, along cliffs, over rivers and surge channels and past historic relics. This is a MUST SEE website (filled with information and videos) to view BEFORE you commit to making the (at least) once in a lifetime commitment.
Website: Hiking West Coast Trail
The closest Vancouber Island BC Ferries terminals to the West Coast Trail are both in greater Nanaimo; Departure Bay and Duke Point. Your choice depends which is more convenient for your travel plans.
Phone: toll free in Canada & USA 1-888-BC FERRY (223-3779)
Phone: 250-386-3431 from outside Canada and the USA – applicable toll charges apply (00+1 or country code + phone number)
Website for desktop: www.bcferries.com/travel_planning/maps
Website for mobile devices: www.bcferries.com/m/schedules
Website: West Van – Nanaimo (Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay)
Website: Vancouver – Nanaimo (Tsawwassen-Duke Point)
WEST COAST TRAIL EXPRESS
West Coast Trail Express Inc. provides shuttle bus service (May 1 to September 30) from Victoria and Nanaimo to the trail heads and between the trail heads of the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Trail.
Terminals YVR Seaplane Terminal, Nanaimo Harbour, Bamfield, Port Alberni.
If you enjoyed this journal of the West Coast Trail hike with Terry & Michael, you may also enjoy their account, in video, of climbing MOUNT KILIMANJARO, AFRICA.This entry was posted in British Columbia, CANADA, WEST COAST TRAIL