Tag Archives: West Coast Trail

Bittersweet chocolate

After our night at the “Eagle Beach”, we managed to take down our tents during a short dry period. With everything packed up and ready to go, we continued our hike to the “Nitinaht Narrows”. The trail was becoming muddier and we encountered first signs of bears, who had decided to place their poop in the middle of the trail. A little later we had to climb over massive slippery root systems to reach the bank of this silent, but strong current.

The boardwalk was more deteriorated as we continued our hike
Luke and Heather climbing the massive root systems

Perry the ferryman came over to pick up Heather, Luke and me. He had good news for us, as the weather forecast was predicting nice weather for the next few days. This would be very helpful for conquering the large ladders and mud holes that were yet to come. On the other side we met Harold and Susan again, who had left camp before us and were now celebrating Susan’s birthday with the delicacies of the “Crab Shack”.

Perry the ferryman had an updated weather forecast for us
Harold and Susan enjoying the birthday lunch at the “Crab Shack”

As it was still early in the day, Heather, Luke and I decided to continue walking. We were able to make good mileage on the next section, which consisted of newly built boardwalks. After a nice picnic at “Cheewhat River”, we followed the beautiful beach, where camping is forbidden to an abundance of wildlife in the area. However, we saw neither bear nor cougar, but I’m sure they were watching us, well hidden in the dense forest.

With the newly built boardwalk we avoided the swampy area around the lake at “High Place”
It was forbidden to camp at this beautiful beach section due to abundant wildlife activity

At “Cribs Creek” (km 42) we decided to set up camp between the mounds of driftwood. It wasn’t long before Harold and Susan reached the camp and shortly after, Sarah, Lisa and Mel also arrived. Everyone was quite tired from the long day and nobody wanted to move more than necessary, so the tents ended up being spread out with several campfires going. Everyone wanted to dry the damp clothing and warm up before heading to bed.

Camping between the driftwood at “Cribs Creek”

The following day we continued along the beach towards the “Carmanah Lighthouse”. I was the first one of our little group to leave the campsite. As I was walking down the beach, I saw a sudden movement between the rocks. It was a small, chocolate brown river otter that was searching for food in the intertidal zone. Very happy with this sighting, I started the ascend of the steep ladders up to the lighthouse.

The tidal pools in the rocks were pretty interesting
The river otter in search for some food

By the time I had reached the top, a slight drizzle had picked up. Therefore, I just had a quick look around. After admiring the views and the enormous whale skeleton, I headed back down to the next beach, where I sought refuge at “Chez Monique”. This is a well known stop among the hikers of the “West Coast Trail”, where Monique and her family serve delicious burgers and other long desired treats in their walk-in tent with plastic tables and sand floor.

Monique has been operating her little restaurant for years
The burgers are enormous and really delicious, especially after days of trail food

After everyone had caught up with me and enjoyed the pleasures of this eatery, I joined Sarah, Mel and Lisa for the next section of the trail. With the picturesque lighthouse still in view for a long time, we followed the rocky shores past “Bonilla Point” and all the way to “Walbran Creek” (km 53), where a beautiful campsite was waiting for us on the other side of the river. Instead of using the cable car, we put on our sandals and waded through the rapidly flowing water.

Great times with Sarah, Mel and Lisa
The “Carmanah Lighthouse” was still visible from far away

We spent the rest of the evening cooking, drinking tea and enjoying the nice sunset, which seemed to fulfill the promise of better weather. Unfortunately, I forgot my chocolate brownies that I had bought at “Chez Monique” in front of my tent. But instead of foraging bears it were the mice that found my food immediately, eating up my treat that I had saved for the following day. What a shame!

Watching the sunset at “Walbran Creek”
The campfire was an important part of every evening

Harold and Susan had met their goal and were the first ones to leave the next day. I followed about an hour later on my own, since the others were not quite ready yet. The first five minutes on the trail already gave a good overview of what was waiting for us that day: Mud and ladders. However, after the first hour it seemed like I had made a good distance, so I sat down to eat the chocolates that I had gotten from Sarah this morning. Afterwards I must have been so relaxed that I didn’t pay enough attention and slipped on a wet log. The next moment I was sitting in the mud that I had been trying to avoid.

It was tricky and not always possible to avoid the large mud holes

Despite being covered in mud, I was still feeling fine. My shoulder was hurting a bit, but I rested a few more minutes and then put my backpack back on and continued. At the long ladders that led down to the suspension bridge across “Logan Creek”, I realized that I could not really put weight on my left arm. Somehow I still managed to get across and was quite happy to see Harold and Susan on the other side of the cable car at “Cullite Creek” (km 58), who helped me to come across.

The large suspension bridge at “Logan Creek” is only wide enough for one person
My shoulder was hurting, but I was trying to make the best out of it

After an extended lunch break we decided that it was best for me to wait for Mel, who happened to be a nurse. Soon enough they reached us and she had a look at my shoulder. A bit disappointed, I accepted her diagnosis of a possibly cracked clavicle and decided to stay in place, while sending out my emergency paper with Harold, as there was no cellphone reception available. He would drop it at the next guard cabin at “Camper Creek”, another four hours away.

I accepted the possible diagnosis of a cracked clavicle and ended my trip at “Cullite Creek”

Luckily there was an official campsite at “Cullite Creek”. What was even better, was the fact that Sarah, Mel and Lisa had planned to stay there anyways. Soon it was clear that my rescue boat was not going to arrive before the next day, so we set up camp. Later, a group of eight men (all from BC) joined our campfire and cooked salami and cheese on flat rocks next to the fire, which somehow worked much better than our attempts of pancake “on the rocks”. As the evening progressed, the ongoing conversation quickly turned from old jokes to physical and philosophical discussion about space and the origin of the earth. There could have been worse places to end this trip!

Pancakes “on the rocks” did not really work
“Cullite Creek” was definitely not a bad place to end this trip!

After everyone had left the camp, I slowly packed my backpack and sat down at the beach to wait for help. Several boats and a helicopter passed by my cove, but none of them seemed to have any interest in me. The day progressed and I was wondering, if the promise of help within 24 hours would hold true. But sure enough, eventually a zodiac boat came to pick me up after a quick check-up. They brought me to the southern end of the trail, where I changed to an ambulance that took me straight back to the hospital in Victoria for some x-ray pictures.

After nearly 24 hours the rescue boat finally came to pick me up
Mel’s diagnosis was correct, which means that I had to trade my backpack for a suitcase

Ghosts of the west coast

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.

Magical forest boardwalks are waiting on the “West Coast Trail”
Forest and beach walks alternate

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.

The “Trail Bus” connects Victoria and the remote cities on the west coast

While everyone was waiting for the briefing, I weighed my backpack – 23kg

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.

It’s time to hit the trail!
These ladders were a first impression of what was waiting for us at the southern part of the trail

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.

Sea lions on a rock just off the coast
The “Pachena Lighthouse” was built following the wreck of the “Valencia”

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.

Some of the trail ghosts were huge, but well hidden
Arriving at “Michigan Creek” campsite

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.

Despite the clouds, this was a spectacular start to the first full day on the trail
Lisa and Sarah (and Mel) had too much food, so I was invited to get rid of some snacks and trail spirits (picture by Sarah Main)

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.

I joined Heather and Luke at most campsites like here at “Klanawa River” 

After setting up my tent I realized that this spot had been reserved for me

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.

For sunset and sunrise we enjoyed the dark blue sky
At “Tsusiat Falls” the forecasted rain had reached us

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.

Hiking through the rain
Defying the rain with campfire and marshmallows – Luke, Heather, Susan and Harold

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.

Wind and rain made camping at our private “Eagle Beach” pretty exciting