Within 24 hours of being on Vancouver Island, I had decided against going to the north part of the island and instead for going on the “West Coast Trail”. This is a famous Canadian multi-day hike on the isolated Pacific coast between Pachena Bay (Bamfield) in the north and Gordon River (Port Renfrew) in the south. It’s about 75 kilometers long and takes about six to eight days to finish, if you’re not rushing through this beautifully rugged landscape.
Due to the restricted access it’s usually booked out months in advance. Luckily I was able to get a space within a few days, as it is still low season. This was also the reason why I had to take the bus one day early, because in May it only runs every second day. With enough food for eight days I boarded the bus early in the morning and got dropped off in Pachena Bay for an early group briefing with one of the park rangers. Again, luck was on my side and I was able to start the same day.
After learning about how to behave in case of an encounter with a bear, wolf or cougar or what to do in case of a tsunami, the tide was too high for the first beach section, so everyone had to start off with the forest trail and the first ladders, giving us an impression of what was waiting for us at the southern end of the trail. And even if everyone started at the same time, it quickly spread out and I was on my own. The trees around me were lush and green and full of moss.
For most part of this day, the ocean was far off in the distance, the sounds of breaking waves were unable to reach the trail through the thick forest. After about two hours the trail led to a hidden viewpoint from the top of a steep cliff overlooking a rock filled with sea lions. A little later the trail passed the “Pachena Lighthouse”, which was built in 1907 as a response to the wreck of the “Valencia”, where more than 130 people had lost their lives a year earlier.
But the “Valencia” was not the only ship that sunk at this treacherous coastline, where the rocks are never far from the surface of the ocean. Many other ship wrecks led to the nickname “Graveyard of the Pacific”. So maybe it was not a coincidence that I encountered numerous trail ghosts along the way, some of them definitely causing goosebumps. At “Michigan Creek”, the first campsite (km 12), these ghosts were even talking to me by sending a pod of Orcas along the coast. I decided to listen and set up my tent instead of continuing to the next one.
The next morning I got up without a rush and was rewarded with a spectacular fight of three bald eagles over some food. What a great start of the day! But the trail ghosts had more pleasant surprises for me up their sleeves – they introduced me to Sarah (ON), Mel (BC) and Lisa (BC), three Canadians with more food than they could carry, as well as Heather and Luke from Duncan (BC), whom I had briefly met the day before and who let me join them for parts of the trail.
The trail continued with a mixture of forest boardwalks and deserted beaches. We decided to call it a day at the picturesque “Klanawa River” campsite (km 23), in order to avoid the crowds at “Tsusiat Falls” (km 25). Only later I found out that this had been planned by the trail ghosts all along, because I found a buoy with my name on it right above the entrance to our campsite. And if that wasn’t enough, we heard from a northbound hiker about a deserted beach at km 31, which would allow us to cut the longest hike in half, making use of my spare day.
The following day started with blue sky. Quite a nice surprise, as we had been expecting the rain that was forecasted for today. But we didn’t need to wait for long – after we had successfully crossed our first river by cable car and reached the beachfront once again, it was starting to get wet. However, it was neither the spray from the “Tsusiat Falls” nor from the pounding waves, but a slight drizzle that would have soaked everything had it not been for my bright red poncho.
It was still raining as we reached the desolated beach (km 31) just past the “Comfort Camping”, a service that is offered by the local First Nations at an additional cost. Sarah, Mel and Lisa decided to skip the rain and take up the offer, as well as leave some of their excess food with the camp attendants. Heather, Luke and I decided to fight the rain and set up our tents as soon as we had a little break from the rain. Not too long after we were joined by Harold and Susan from Toronto (ON), who had also heard of this spot at “Klanawa River” last night.
While we were preparing our dinner under the tarps that we had set up, some more bald eagles were watching us from the small rocky islands at a safe distance. The cracking fire that Luke had managed to ignite despite the constant rain and the roaring waves that the wind was pushing to the coast just added to this awesome moment where I felt like I was the only foreigner on this truly Canadian trail.