Deanne Explores : What I Learned From Hiking the West Coast Trail
I’ve been planning to hike the West Coast Trail for the last 7 or 8 years. It all started with Marie and I having a conversation about doing it together, during one of our long runs all those years ago. We are always up for an adventure! Not too long after that conversation, I was at my Cousin’s wedding on Vancouver Island and mentioned that I planned on doing this. One of my Uncles piped up and said he had done it, and it was too hard for me to do. Whether that’s exactly how he said it, or that’s how I heard it – I was more determined than ever to achieve this goal.
There are a lot of things we had to bring with us. First of all, a backcountry permit from Parks Canada – this ended up being one of the things that held us up for many of those years. Beyond that we had to have a pack with rain cover, appropriate shoes, clothing for warm, cool, and wet weather, a tent, sleeping mat and bag, food, stove and fuel, dishes, a container for a method to purify water, first aid kit and waterproof EVERYTHING! You get to carry all of this around with you everyday.
This hike is not to be taken lightly. It’s technically 75km, but by the time you take into account vertical kilometers and going from the upper trail to the beach trail I’ve heard reports of up to 100km. There is varying terrain – from muddy hills and rooty goat trails, to climbing under logs, 100+ ladders, soft sand, cable cars, river crossings, slippery shorelines and boulders, and racing the tides. Some of it was even more than we had bargained for (more on that in the detailed trip report below). If you’re preparing for this trip your training should include long hikes (4-8 hours) on varying terrain, in varying weather conditions – some with a pack weighing approximately 25% of your body weight. Climb ladders. Then climb some more ladders. Up and down, do some with your pack. Practice navigating slippery surfaces, if you live near the coast : a rocky shoreline is awesome. In Alberta we are land locked, but in the winter there are plenty of uneven, icy surfaces to practice. Strength train. Do yoga. Practice setting up your tent and using your gear. I will be offering a WCT trip in the summer of 2018 with 6 months of physical and technical training beginning in January. $1500 per person, a non-refundable $250 deposit will hold your spot. I need a minimum of 4 people committed by January 5, 2018 for it to run. As always – payment plans available.
Originally there 8 of us scheduled to go on the hike, that number turned to 5 when the time came, and became 3 during the trek. Sometimes things come up last minute, and people can’t come. Sometimes people change their minds. And sometimes someone breaks a kneecap. I set out with my Mom – Lana, my Husband – Derek, my original WCT partner – Marie, and her Sister – Jo. Unfortunately, our first night at camp, my Mom tripped and fell on a sharp root, breaking her Patella. My husband stayed behind with her to be evacuated by Search and Rescue. You can read more about that below in the detailed trip report AAANNNDDD Lana will be a guest writer on the blog next month with her story about the event, and the amazing people who helped her.
I learned some valuable lessons on the trail :
-Be prepared for wet weather. We were lucky it was unseasonably dry, but I still wasn’t as prepared for the rain as I should have been.
-Bring a lightweight tarp. It can be used as a groundsheet to pack and unpack your pack. Shelter from the elements while you wait out the tide. Shelter from the rain as you set up and take down camp, or while you collect and treat water. We had a large poncho to use for some of this, but a lightweight tarp would have been great.
-By the end of it, our farts smelled better than we did.
-A large group would be a lot harder to navigate the trail with. Lots of different ability levels, and waiting for each other on ladders and cable cars.
-There are a shit ton of mice. They are aggressive. Not only do you have to ensure food and toiletries are in the bear lockers, you need to keep packs done up tight and all water containers and paper away from anywhere the mice can access it. There was more than one night we felt them running up and down us, on the outside of the tent.
-There’s a good chance you’ll end up with wood chips in your pants. Thanks to the composting toilets.
-Fellow hikers are awesome! (We already knew that though)
-Chez Monique has just about any type of liquor you can imagine.
-It is way muddier than you think it will be.
-Poles are a good idea. I never use them, hiking or running. But there were a couple times on slippery beaches I borrowed one of Marie or Jo’s. I also borrowed Jo’s one time when I was semi hypothermic to keep my blood pumping.
-Oh yeah, there are slugs. LOTS! Not so bad until you grab on to one behind a ladder rung.
Many people take 8 days and 7 nights to complete West Coast Trail. We had passes for that long “just in case” but were on track for 6 days and 5 nights. However we woke up to cold rain on day 5 and hiked the remaining 25km out that day. We were cold and didn’t have a bunch of dry clothes left if the next day was the same. Nothing dries out there – rain or not.
If you’re interested in hearing ALLLL the details, keep scrolling for a day by day trip report based on my daily journaling. It’s important to know that we did the trail from south to north the above maps reference locations along the way.
DAY 1 – SEPTEMBER 5, 2017
It has been a long time coming, this day. Tons of planning, tons of travel, tons of work! We arrived in Port Renfrew late last night after a ridiculous day of travel, and soon realized we might not have a ride to Gordon River in the morning to take the first ferry across to the trailhead. This morning, we left Big Fish Lodge with the intention of hiking/hitchhiking to the ferry. Along come Bonnie, luckily, she manages the Lodge and the girl working there was able to get her to come meet us, so the 5 of us and our gear piled in to her little Jetta. We made the 8:45 am ferry and made our way to the trailhead. Immediately, we had to climb a huge ladder. FUCK! Turns out it really wasn’t that bad.
The terrain on day 1 was pretty rough. Lots of roots, rocks, ladders and climbing. I felt great and was ready to go. I may have gotten a little over ambitious, going faster than I realized, and had to turn back a couple times to go back to the group. I had some quiet time to reflect on some adventures I’d like to do for me, rather than always a group. I decided I’m going to run the 22ish km from Boca de Tomatlan to Yelapa while I’m in Mexico for our Glow & Flow yoga retreat in November, with someone who is of similar pace and ability. I feel strongly that it’s important to do things for myself as well as for the benefit of others. We’ve made it to Thrasher’s Cove, it’s beautiful. I have sero cell service, and I’m feeling a bit lost being disconnected. I trust Lindy, Dianna and Mo are handling things. I’m going to trust, chill and soak it all in!
I love Amber’s tent! I think this could be a fun thing for just Derek and I to do together. HA HA – him and I went skinny dipping in the cold ass ocean this afternoon – fun! Excited to sleep on the beach tonight! Hopefully we sleep well tonight, we are hiking super early tomorrow so we can make it down to beach to Owen’s point for low tide.
Injuries today : ran my knee into a rock, then fell off a log onto that same knee – just bruised. I also tripped over a sharp root with my non-toenail toe.
Distance: From Gordon River to Thrasher’s Cove – 5km (+1km to the beach) on the WCT map (8.16km on my Suunto) 7 hours
Nutrition: moon cheese, one coconut almond butter, coffee w/coconut oil & curry veggie ground.
DAY 2 – SEPTEMBER 6, 2017
Where to start. Last night ended horribly. My Mom tripped at camp on a root, onto a sharper root sticking out of the sand on her knee. (The same one I stubbed my toe on last night). It was swollen immediately and she was in a lot of pain – barely able to walk. We put a cold compress on it, taped it up tight and gave her some ibuprofen. By this morning it was not any better. Derek and I talked about it last night and he volunteered to stay behind with her if she couldn’t go on. Sure enough, this morning she could still barely walk. FUCK. So we left them with our radio and emergency channel info and packed up. Jo, Marie and I headed out about 6:45am for Owen’s Point.
It started with bouldering over slippery rocks. With heavy packs and groggy brains, this was even more difficult. Within 20 minutes, Marie fell and sliced up her hand pretty good on some barnacles. We were still racing tides, so we did some quick first aid and trudged on. It was tough. As balls. The slippery rocks were scary, treacherous and difficult. We made it to the point and went through the caves : it was GEORGEOUS!
We still had to get to high ground before the tide came in. Luckily after that it was mostly sandstone headlands. Much more stable footing, but there were some surge channels to get around. There was one part we had to go out to round a point and the tide was coming in quickly, I was getting nervous. But right around that point was our entrance back to the upper trail. It seemed to go pretty fast to Camper’s Cove. We stopped for water and headed to Cullite. It was about 12/12:30 when we headed out, it took until about 5 to make the 4km to Cullite. There were tons of boggy sections to get through, which really slowed us down. We were also tired from the early morning bouldering. I am starting to feel much more relaxed today though.
We had quite a few long ladders in this section. Including some intense, rickety ass ones down to Cullite. When we arrived, it wasn’t as nice as we were expecting, but still on the ocean – which is amazing. Looking forward to tomorrow, hoping for Crib’s Creek.
Injuries:Barnacle cuts on my lower legs, bruised palm and hips.
Distance: 12 km (according to map) 9 hours moving time
Nutrition: coffee with butter powder, coconut almond butter, moon cheese Kwazza(?) ball, pumpkin seeds, dehydrated scrambled eggs w/bacon (gross), italian veggie ground.
DAY 3 – SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – 3:00PM
I had an amazing sleep last night, other than the veggie ground producing it’s infamous gas. Pro tip – laying on my left made it worse, right side and back were better. The girls said they weren’t totally gassed, so that’s positive Hahaha. I woke up feeling great, so relaxed. It’s amazing how nice it is to be disconnected, I never expected to enjoy it. No work stress, no people stress, aaaaahhhhh. I’d like to know how Mom is doing, but I know she’s in good hands with Derek. I had a coffee with butter powder and precooked my breakfast and we were on the trail by 9am. Today has been ladderpalooza, somfar. Holy balls. Some long ass rickety ones too. But the terrain certainly seems to be getting easier AND it turns out Chez Monique’s is closer than I thought. Today is BEER DAY! Fuck yes. There’s a crazy feeling when I take my pack off, it almost feels like it’s still on. I’m learning to walk, like a toddler for 20 min or so. We just came down ladder 12 at km 51. We are waiting out the tide here so we can walk to Carmanah on the beach. Then hopefully to Cribs Creek tonight.
We went on our first cable car today, it was fun! Other than having to hoist ourselves up to the other side in between all of those ladders.
Injuries: none, just nasty, soggy feet
Distance: 7km (according to the map) in 6 hours (including our lunch stop)
Nutrition: coffee with butter powder, premade scrambled eggs, almond coconut butter
DAY 3 SEPTEMBER 7, 2017
I forgot to mention, Jo found an awesome place to poop while we waited for the tide to recede. YAY Jo! Success! The tide receded and we hustled! We made great time! that last 5 km to Carmanah only took 90 min! We set up our tent quickly and walked down the beach to Chez Monique’s! That woman has EVERYTHING! Tons of options for beer, wine, hard liquor, candy. But only beef or veggie burgers to cook. I had 1 beer there, one for the road and 2 extra for the next nights. Yum!
Monique was super friendly (other than snapping at us we had arrived too late for food), she even brought us out some Babybels when were saying how much we missed cheese. She also offered for us to stay there, but we had already set up camp. We went back to camp, cooked food, and prepped for tomorrow. We are getting an early start so we can do seafood lunch at Nitinat and spend time at Tsusiat Falls when we arrive. 21km day tomorrow.
Injuries: just the gross feet and bruised shins from all of the ladders.
Distance: this afternoon an additional 5km in 90 minutes for a total of 12km in about 7.5 hours
Nutrition: since this afternoon – tex mex veggie ground, 2 tbsp. hemp hearts, 2 Babybel, 2 beers.
DAY 4 – SEPTEMBER 8, 2017
OMG we are hilarious. Some of the chats I’m writing down so we don’t ever forget them.
-We are “Middle Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles”
-The animals must think we look like colourful turtles on 2 legs, with our packs
-At km 27 Marie gave herself pink eye
-If you’re going to poop, go below the tide line.
-If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. So if my view is obstructed by the log I’m squatting behind, I don’t if my ass has dropped below it and is in plain view.
Another awesome day! We were up early and hit the trail before the sun was up. We made great time, hitting the beach as much as possible – the kms flew by! Lots of beach and boardwalks (some are hella slippery), muddy and rooty sections. Also lots of great views. My pack felt HEAVY and I had to stop and adjust somethings early on. I had changed to my dry shoes, so I think carrying heavy, wet speedcross, a wet tent fly and 2 beers changed things. But after some repositioning, things felt better.
We made a couple – maybe not so necessary – detours, and before we knew it we were at the Nitinat Narrows. YES! Beer! And the best crab I have ever tasted. From the crab trap, to the pot, to our plates. We managed to spend almost 3 hours there!
From there we took the ferry across the narrows (with some of our new friends from the trail) and on to km 32.We figured the tides were with us, and got onto the beach. We had to stop at km 27 and wait it out a bit. We had some laughs and shared one of my heavy ass beers. Then we climbed up and over the rocks and continued down the beach. Man do the kms fly by on the beach. Right away we were at the falls. We had learned from the ferry driver that in their language “Tsusiat” means “waterfall”, so everyone was actually calling it “Waterfall Falls” LOL!
The camp site was already super busy. So Marie set up the tent while Jo and I secured a spot in the food locker and went for water. The water was up 4 ladders, down a path and across a bridge at the top of the falls. We had a small fire and ate dinner. Still haven’t seen the bottom of the falls, it’s sooo foggy. But now, right before bed, we see stars, so maybe it will clear up. We are so done with the smoky, hazy, and foggy days. Sunshine would be nice! Sleeping beside the ocean every night is the tits. Feeling good, but tired, going to bed at 9:40pm.
Injuries: sore feet, a couple small blisters – Marie’s are worse.
Distance: 21 km (according to the map) in about 11 hours – 3 hours for lunch = 8
Nutrition: coffee with double butter, almond coconut nut butter, 4 beers, 1 crab, moon cheese, mushroom and cheese omelet (SO GOOD!), and a little left over veggie ground.
DAY 5 – SEPTEMBER 9, 2017
SON OF A BITCH! We woke up to rain today. We are pretty lucky that our trip has been without much rain until now. Packing up in the rain sucks. Carrying a heavy wet tent fly sucks. We didn’t eat, just got up and left, we had to make tide. It was cold, and windy, and wet, and fucking miserable. I didn’t have great rain gear and was super wet, super early on. I got cold, like scary cold. My hand were numb, my lips were blue, and I was bitchy! We made a quick stop for me to add a layer and trucked on. Jo gave me her poles to keep my arms moving and blood pumping.
We had already talked about the possibility of hiking the rest of the way out today, and it didn’t take too many hours of suffering for us to decide that was the best option. There was no way we were setting up camp in this bullshit. Plus we were basically out of dry clothes, at least enough to weather another day like this one, and fuck knows there’s no way to dry anything on the trail. We pushed on, the trail got exponentially easier the further north we headed, we were making decent time. We made it to Darling River and saw another group we had met. They were stopping to eat and had the same plan we did – to get the fuck off the trail. We went past them to Michigan. The only option between the 2 is a beach route, along which is a rotting whale carcass. It looked kind of like a mossy log, until we got downwind and caught a whiff. Fuck. Ew. This stretch was also full of SOOOOO much bear shit. Like gallons. Unreal. We didn’t, however see any bears on that section. We stopped at Michigan and ate hot food, and coffee. I put on dry clothes, as the rain seemed to be letting up, and we headed out on our last 12km.
It seemed to be pretty easy, compared to previous days. We had a bear in the bush beside us at one point, so we sang Disney songs for a while. Towards the end, the kms seemed to drag. We were starting to see people that had just started to trail. There were a bunch of (unnecessary) ladders. And then, we were done! It was beautiful and the sun was shining.
It was 6pm. The West Coast Trail office was closed. The Bamfield taxi service that was supposed to take us back to my car (at their place) was closed. Marie was done. Jo and I went for a jog through the campground to find us a ride. The run actually felt great, but finding a drive wasn’t so easy. There was a wedding being held at the campground, and everyone was drinking. We finally found one amazing sober gentleman to drive us to Bamfield. We got to my car and began the long, dark journey to Jo’s house in Courtenay.
Injuries: almost hypothermia, and even grosser feet.
Distance: 25km in 10 hours (with a couple stops)
Nutrition: coffee with butter powder, moon cheese, nut butter, 2 taquitos, a bag of sour coke bottles, 4 beers and all dressed chips.
That road between Bamfield and Port Alberni sucks ass.2 taquitos, a couple beers, one amazing hot shower, some sleep and a donut later and Marie and I were on the ferry headed home. What an adventure!
If you’ve made it all the way here, thanks for sticking it out. As always, I’d love to connect! Hit me up!