Thursday, August 13, 2009

West Coast Trail - 3 days

West Coast Trail - By Kelly Thompson

The West Coast Trail is an experience of a lifetime. No matter how much you research it whether it be by book, word of mouth or the internet nothing can prepare you for the sheer beauty of one of North America’s more treacherous trails. Over 75 km we crossed 108 bridges, more than 50 ladders and 5 cable cars and traversed some magnificent tidal shelves.

Day one: Bamfield.
We started our journey in Vancouver Harbor and flew by floatplane into the small town of Bamfield. From Bamfield we checked into the ever-so luxurious Trails Motel and we spilt up things such as tents and first-aid kits between the 10 of us. One piece of advice to those who take on the trail next year: don’t bring more than you will actually use, having a heavy pack makes the hike that much more grueling each day. Our next mission was to get to the Park Canada Orientation about 6 kilometres away. The orientation covered what to expect from the trail in the way of wildlife, washed out bridges and creeks, the ever important tide tables (key for the hikes along the beach) and finally who to call if we need to be evacuated. The lady who gave us the presentation was quite possibly the most awkwardly funny person I have ever come across in my time. …. Just kidding. The latter two words seemed to be our cue to laugh after a few weak jokes. After orientation we headed to the local hotspot. The Hawksnest was the only pub in town and it promised us open mike and live music at 8pm. So after a great dinner and a few cold ones a few of us trekked back to witness Bamfeild's finest perform, only to be told the nights act was actually the bartender and that the manager was not going to be letting him perform on her time and so after a few more games of pool and foose-ball we headed back to our rooms in anticipation of our 4:30 wake up call to get to the trail head.

Day two: Bamfeild-Nitnat Narrows.
After our first driver had some issues with slashed tires a few days prior we hired the local waitress from the diner to pick us up and drive us to the trailhead for 5am. After quick ride in the back of the truck we headed off along the beach to get on with the adventure. The first portion of the hike was through dense forest and was relatively flat and uneventful and our group of ten spilt into a few different sub-groups depending on speed all agreeing to meet at the 10 kilometre mark, where there was a Sea Lion “haul-out” rock where quite a few of these smelly, loud creatures like to beach themselves, lucky for us though the wind seemed to be blowing in our favour so we did not have to endure the aroma of the animals. After a 15-minute stop to wait to for everyone to catch up, grab a snack and some water we were off again. About 20 minutes later the trainer in my group, Justine and I heard a large crash in the forest off to our right this was our cue to start clapping our hands loudly, walk quicker and talked even louder in hopes of warding off any hungry bears. After this we did not hear any more signs of life other than a few birds. Our next stop was the Pacheena Point Lighthouse where we got to admire the sweeping views of the islands western coast. The next 22 kilometres of hiking were a mixture of boardwalk, debris covered paths and beaches. The walks along the beach were by far the most enjoyable part of the trip, however my calves may not agree with this statement currently. Along the beach we walked well below the high-tide line amongst tidal pools and sandstone shelves that had been carved out by years of erosion. Walking along the shelves is much more fun that slogging through the wet sand and your legs will thank you for it at the end of the day. By the time we reached the Nitnat Narrows we had traveled more than 32 kilometres and were relieved to sit down on the dock and take our shoes off. Our boat driver, affectionately known, as “Hippie Doug” was a great host, feeding us fresh crab and salmon and supplying us with cold drinks, for a small fee of course. Doug was also nice enough to let the group sleep on the dock for the night as it was too dark to make it to the next campsite on the trail. That night Alison, Justine and myself all got to go out on the open ocean with Doug to go crab bait fishing. In total we caught 11 fish, Alison caught the most with 5 and I caught the least with 0. After we headed back to the dock it was time to wind down and relax by playing the puppies Doug had to scare bears away and get ready for sleep and another early morning with another 30 kilometres looming in the near future.

Day 3: NitNat- Campers Bay
Day 3 started out with a nice stroll over some boardwalk and an adventure through some pretty deep mud. By this point I realized it was easy just to walk right through the mud than it was to hop from tree root to tree root. We sped through the first 10 kilometres by heading down the beach at Cheewat and getting a good run in along the hard sand. The beach also handed us our first interesting obstacle other than the tides, a smaller cliff that you had to climb up with nothing to help you other than your upper body and a small rope. We quickly decided to climb up without our packs then have the last person tie them to the rope for us to pull up. At kilometer 46 there is Chez Monique’s the classiest restaurant you will encounter on the trail, where for $20 you can buy the biggest, juiciest, best burger you will ever eat. This was our next meeting place for the entire group. Chez Monique’s was also the place where we saw a whale in the bay just swimming around, feeding as the tide started to change. Our next big push was the next few kilometres where we needed to beat the tide or risk having to sit in the bushes for an hour while we waited for it to go back down. This section of the beach is the hardest on your calves with the looseness of the sand. After this section we headed back into the forest where we encountered cable cars and numerous ladders, hello cardiovascular system! The ladders stretch anywhere from 5 rungs to over 200 rungs. By the time we reached Campers Bay to set up our tents the sun was quickly setting and the air was cooling down quickly so gathering firewood was the first plan of action. After we had a good fire going we started boiling water for the delicious variety of freeze dried food we had packed in followed by a few hot drinks made even better by a few shots of our favourite liquors. Soon after it was time for bed again as the final push for the last 13 kilometres lay ahead in the morning.

Day 4: Campers Bay to Gordon River and Port Renfrew.

The last day was the one where people laughed at us in amazement or out of sheer disgust. We heard many times that there was no way we would finish in 3 days and the last 10 kilometres alone would take 2 days. Well we finished in 5 hours for the whole 13 kilometres. The last 5 kilometres of the trail are by far the hardest, not just physically but mentally. You skirt the inlet for the entire 5 km while essentially doing the Grouse Grind over and over again. The kilometre signs seem to be much farther than a kilometre apart and they taunt you. However you get the 75 kilometre sign and it is a quick run down to the river to raise the signal for “Butch” the ferry driver to come pick you up. The feeling you get when you reach the river is short lived when you find out you have another 25-minute walk to the Park Canada centre to check out. However this can be avoided if you find a nice Park Canada worker unloading a truck load of wood at the dock who is willing to drive you there for the small fee of helping unload the wood and a round of drinks later that evening at the only pub in town. The hotel in Port Renfrew is home to the best shower you will ever have. After the shower some of us headed down to the pub the chow down on some food and drink before heading back to the hotel to trade massages. The rest of the night was spent making new friends in the town before heading to sleep to catch the ferry in the morning.

Over all I would not change one thing about trip and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys hiking 11 hours a day and peeing in bushes. As someone who has not had too much experience camping I still enjoyed myself so much I cannot wait to try the trail again and take less time doing it. This trip is for anyone who wants to push themselves to the limit and have a blast while doing it. Just remember though, don’t bring more than you need and you can always borrow from your fellow hikers who are always more than willing to help a fellow trekker on their adventure.

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