Hiking the West Coast Trail (1)

This trip was tentatively planned during our hike of the Nootka Trail last summer. Peter had done it 27 years ago with his ten year old son and it retains the reputation of being one of the world’s best hiking trails. Paul did the prep work of determining the best time for tides and weather and being  first in the lineup for reservations, which came to close to $200 per person. Access is tightly controlled by Parks Canada which allows about 6000 people a year to make the trip.

The trip concluded a long summer holiday which involved Jan and my driving from San Luis Obispo to Knoll House in Lund B.C., spending ten days there with children and grandchildren, driving to Eastern Oregon for the wedding of a relative, driving to Portland, from where Jan and the dog flew back to San Luis in time for her City Council meeting, and my driving from Portland to Port Angeles, where I left the car and ferried to Victoria to meet Peter on the way to the trailhead.

August 9 Heart of the Hills Campground, Olympic National Park WA

Inside a cloud, dark and grey under the old-growth spruces and cedars. The campground quiet and underpopulated.

A family pulls up to the neighboring campsite: 2 parents, black and white, and their five-year old boy.  His high, loud voice echoes in the forest stillness.  His parents are patient, loving, full of instruction and rule.

I used my senior passport to get in free and pay only 6$ to camp. Sinus pressure and cough just returned. Will I need more antibiotics before the hike?

I repack my backpack for the third time on the picnic table, always subtracting. I’m worried about the weight.

August 10

Awake at 6 AM, no sign of illness. But the threat remains, increasing desire to keep trying limits while I can.  I’ll see what the weight is like on a trail this morning.

Two and a half hours later I return, glad to set the pack down, but not exhausted or in pain.  No Aleve needed now for the knees. The trekking poles work wonderfully—absorbing shock and adding forward momentum, allowing  me to walk like a quadruped.

More sorting and packing: what goes in the hike pack, what in the Victoria pack, what stays in the car. In my journalette, I map what’s where in the pack. I’ll look up those locations instead of searching for things.  Mindfulness.  I’m reading “Buddha’s Brain.”  I practise on the trail: attention to breathing, movement of feet, the quiet.

Why do this? Expend the time and money, take on the preparation, discomfort, and risks?  To encounter simple necessity, to escape family and state, to find friendship and solitude, to return with pictures and words.  For adventure, a venture, face the unknown, experience engagement, not detachment.  Jan prefers different ventures: running for mayor, facing opponents, managing organizations.

August 11

Peter picks me up at 6:00 A.M. in front of Ann’s house, where I crashed after ferrying by foot from Port Angeles.  I feel royally accommodated. At Port Renfrew we eat a big breakfast at fisherman’s restaurant and drive to the trail information center located on an Indian Reserve strewn with garbage and half-wrecked houses. The mandatory orientation lecture a fast paced forty minute Powerpoint detailing dangers and challenges to a room full of people who’ve succeeded in getting one of a limited number of reservations, eager to get going.

A tiny ferry ride, then five and a half hours walk through dappled first-growth forest, steep verticals, the rough trail made somewhat easier by long ladders leading into and out of deep gullies gouging impassable headlands.

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It’s the shakedown experience alternating between challenge and ordeal. I’m bathed in sweat and drink 3 litres of water.

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The last section descends 200 rungs to the beach at Thrasher Cove, where we share the campsite with about 30 others.  I cook quinoa and lentil curry and chocolate pudding from Trader Joes for appreciative mouths, lightening my pack 4 lbs.

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[Full set of 196 pictures, slideshow and all sizes]

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