Hiking the West Coast Trail 2010

Hiking the West Coast Trail (1)

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

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.



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


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.


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

Hiking the West Coast Trail (2)

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

August 12

First two hours this morning were brutal.  Climbing over house-sized, sharp, slippery boulders and huge piles of logs with heavy packs.


Steve fell twice.  I watched him go down and get back up.  Each could have been the end of his trip, adding to this summer’s 62 evacuations.


Paul, eager and strong, always in the lead.


I enjoy approaching my limit.  Pain, sweat, fatigue, and breathing hard focus the mind on here and now.

Scenery gains beauty as we approach sea stacks on the point.  Once around it, the beach flattens, the broken granite and basalt now blanketed with a wide sandstone shelf. We enter a dark network of softly sculptured channels that reflect rainbow-colored bands of algae growing on walls supporting the ancient forest above.  Views are framed by sculpted arches and windows opening inward on a labyrinth of caves and outward on offshore islands covered with the rounded bodies of basking sea lions.






We put down packs and wander through this wonderland, then sit and munch crackers and salami.  Two young women I’d greeted at Thrasher Cover come round the point carrying packs larger than ours. We share relief at the change in topography and excitement at the splendor of the caves. They set down packs and the blond removes her sweater revealing a nicely rounded belly.

A walk on the flat beach, skirting the surge channels impassable at any but low tides and then back up to the bush trail with more steepness, ladders, wooden walkways.



The history of the trail as a rescue route for shipwrecked mariners is evidenced in telegraph wire insulators embedded in tree bark.


A few old logging sites are marked by “derelict donkey” and cable.





We stop at Camper Bay, appropriately named since its every inch of beach and forest margin is packed with tents, despite the strictly limited number of permits issued.  One of the two compost toilets is filled to capacity and despite our fatigue and the beauty of the location, we’re grossed out by the smell and the traffic.  Everyone who has come here for wilderness and solitude shares the same distaste, but it’s overcome by affability.  We schmooze with the two young women, who hail from Ontario, a couple from Saskatoon who’ve taken the hike seven times before with their six children and who sit by their campfire drinking tea out of china cups and saucers they packed in, and members of an all female guided group of civil servants from Victoria.  I swim in the clear water of the lagoon created by a rock dam of the creek along the beach, and Paul cooks supper of beans, rice and bacon bits.  Afterwards I find quiet around the point now exposed by low tide.

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

Hiking the West Coast Trail (3)

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Friday August 13

Eight hours hiking, lots of ladders, less vertical elevation change than first day and no terrible boulders to negotiate. Feeling stronger due to conditioning.  Most of the time in the woods.  Boardwalks in rough shape.  We’re thankful it’s not muddy and slimy as it must be most of the time here in the rainforest.  Lots of conversation, especially between Steve and me who hang back. Hemlock needles falling like snow; sunlight in patches.




Arrive at Walbran Creek campsite, grateful to be back on the  shoreline. A large lagoon and expanse of beach.  Many people here, but no crowding.  Cloudless skies.  Swim in big lagoon under an outcrop gripped by a large spruce growing vertically from under its overhang.




The sea here warmer than at Thrasher Cove.  Peter swims in it and rests.


Fog and cloud gone.  Wide ocean vistas, Cape Flattery in Washington to the South.  A constant parade of container ships entering Juan de Fuca Straight bound for Vancouver and Seattle and China.  Here’s where our camping gear enters the country on its way to REI and MEC.  Steve says they carry Treasury Bills back. Paul and Peter work with neighboring Swiss couple to string our bear caches up in a tree.


Steve cooks excellent Pad Thai, complemented by Chanterelles found on the trail.


Sleep under the stars.  Sunset and moonlight on water.


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

Hiking the West Coast Trail (4)

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Saturday August 14

Today is shoreline hike. 9km of beauty and easy travel.  Sandstone shelves, crescent beaches, otters, eagles, laughter.






Lunch at Chez Monique next to Carmanah lighthouse, on Indian Reserve Land.  Eating freshly prepared hamburger, halibut burger, salmon burger, with cooscoos and salad.




Three WOOFIE workers, two of them young twins from France working as waitress and cook in tarp covered driftwood kitchen:”wood you like ahliboot?”


Loud dogs.  Monique is gruff and loud and forthcoming with a flow of fascinating information.  She’s 70 years old, taking MS in horticulture during the Winter in the Fraser Valley.  Strong French Canadian accent.


Her husband is pureblood member of local Indian Band.   She talks to him on cell phone as he’s bringing in daily food order for the restaurant on a Zodiac. She chronicles her battles over the decades with the Provincial and Federal Governments and the Canadian Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the neighboring lighthouse keepers and the other Indian groups that have reserve land along the coast.  She’s maintained this business, hated by all of them, because she knows her legal rights and shows an impressive mastery of local anthropology.  In addition to lunches and big breakfasts, she caters dinners for fishermen parties and backpacker tours which include the organic vegetables and flowers she grows in front of her house by the beach.  Gas is provided by bottled propane, power by solar and a small wind turbine and stored in car batteries.  The big storm of 2007 wiped her out but she rebuilt again.


After luxurious lunch we pass lighthouse, move further through forest up the coast and come back to the beach at Cribs Creek.



Another lagoon and freshwater swim.  An eagle lands on a log and tears at a seagull it’s caught, then takes off as I approach.


Peter body surfs and Steve and I try unsuccessfully to launch a raft through the breakers.


We build a sunshade and kitchen area with driftwood and raise our own bear cache in a secluded campsite several hundred yards down the beach from the central one, which again is crowded.


Paul was given a wallet left behind at Monique’s by one of the Ontario women and he leaves it for her at her campsite.  She comes to the lagoon with word that her sister is carrying too much and got some sunstroke but is recovering.  She’s an eighth grade science teacher.  We talk pedagogy.

Sleep under stars again. Sunset and crescent moon over water.  Milky Way bright.  A satellite moving overhead brightens like an outsized shooting star. I wonder if it’s a landing spaceship.  But it dims and continues its smooth silent progress.  Probably caught the sun after it set here down below.

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

Hiking the West Coast Trail (5)

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Sunday August 15

Slow morning to enjoy the sunshine and instant coffee.


Next time it will be fine ground beans. Hike is partway on beach, partway on forest trail facilitated by boardwalks, ladders, suspension bridge, steel bridge and cable trolleys.  Views of water and rock and little coves below alternate with deep forest, ancient bogs and a beaver pond bypass.




Arrive at Nitinat Narrows ferry in time for another Indian Reserve restaurant lunch.  We benefit from the assertion of First Nation rights.


A four year old girl, strong Indian features but with blond-brown hair cavorts around the dock.  Her Daddy runs the little ferry and the family enterprise. He pulls a rope up to the dock and lifts out the crab ordered by Peter, tears it apart for cooking by his son and throws some scraps into the water where a large school of salmon fry clean them up.


I get salmon caught off Bonilla Point, which we walked by yesterday, Paul gets halibut.


At the next table two strapping women who passed us at intimidating speed are having lunch.  We chat.  They are carrying three bottles of booze and will finish the trail in four not our 8 days.  One with a French accent is from Montreal, has just finished school and earlier in the summer cycled down the coast to San Francisco.  Steve and she compare notes about the roads.  He did it with his son 20 years ago.


The dock where we sit is anchored at the edge of Nitinat narrows, which drains and fills a huge saltwater lake (lake not inlet because it also has freshwater that flows into the ocean).  The deep green water heads upstream at an astonishing rate, the surface curled by whirlpools.  After lunch Daddy ferries us across to the trailhead.



Late in the afternoon we find a beach access. Paul and I search for water while Peter and Steve wait, refusing to go on further.  A spring is found hidden in the brush at an unmarked spot south of Tsushiat point where we set up for the night.



Wind has shifted onshore and we see the fog approaching.  Noone else in sight in all directions.  I listen to the gravelly rumble of pebbles pushed and pulled by the waves rolling against one another .



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

Hiking the West Coast Trail (6)

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Monday August 16

My sleeping bag is wet in the morning fog.  I’m up early and with the help of a chunk of paraffin found in the sand, build a fire to dry it out and get warm.


We break camp late in the morning realizing that unless we slow down, at the present rate, we’ll be at the end of the trail a day early.  The fog remains, erasing the long vistas of previous days’ walks and intensifying sights and sounds close by.



I fall behind my companions, trying a walking meditation, linking the muffled sound of the waves moving in and out with inhale and exhale and with the right-left movement of limbs.  The line of foam at the margin of each wave snakes sinuously, a white bead that thickens and then quickly dissolves as the water drains backward and percolates down through the porous grains, leaving a shimmering curtain of radiance that disappears from the smooth slope as soon as it’s seen.  At the bottom, a gaping throat opens in which pebbles dance during the instant before the next wave moves forward and swallows them.

One beach is strewn with bright purple sea urchins on which crows leisurely feast.


We reach the most popular camping spot on the trail, Tsuishat Falls, but the falls are almost dry and the beach camping area is full of litter.  We decide to press on.


After an amusement-park ride in the self-propelled cable car across Klanawa River we stop to camp.


In the thickening fog, the grove of spruces by the outhouse and bear cache feels spooky.  Mist rises from the flat lagoon of the river and the ocean is still.  More people here might be welcome.  My darkening mood is dispelled by the chance to get into the sleeping bag with all my clothes on and catch up with the journal while Peter prepares dinner and Steve creates a driftwood sculpture.



The sun appears for the first time today in melancholy grandeur. The fog luminesces above the towering headland to the north backlit by a brilliant ray descending diagonally into the ocean. Then its white disk is sharply defined, but only as bright as the full moon behind a light mist. The disk moves slowly behind the trees along the ridge sillouetting their pointed tops and branches.  The oblique ray shifts hue from white to orange and  its source dissolves into a burst of radiance, then slides below the horizon.




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

Hiking the West Coast Trail (7)

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Tuesday August 17

I sleep in the tent and get up early to retrieve the food, light a fire and make coffee.  Fog remains, we pack slowly and head up the beach, more than ever appreciating its variety of terrain and choice of routes and the continual activity of the water.  Offshore, humpback whales and dolphins cavort.


Back in the woods, Steve and I continue our conversation.  He describes a five-day Warrior-Sage workshop he attended last year.  He says this is the time of life to get it together, get the whole picture. Alone again, I pass through an unsettling sequence of thoughts about marriage and home life which predictably resolves itself in eagerness to return.  The fog has lifted but low overcast remains .

At 1:30 we set up camp at the Darling River campsite, aware of the proximity of the trail’s end.  Peter and Paul nap.  I meditate on my Thermarest, keyed in to the wave rhythm.   Steve and I head to the river to fill our Camelbacks and see two women with bathing suits and towels heading upstream.  We follow and come upon a gorgeous waterfall unmarked on the map”a loud steady flow through a dramatic cleft in rocks surrounded by higher cliffs from which tall spruces rise, their tops lost in cloud.  The pool below is clear and deep.


The women jump in and scream and come out and wash their hair.


In the chilly weather at first I’m not inclined to swim, but I tell them they’re shaming me.  They’re proud of their ages, 55 says one, here with friends from West Vancouver who’ve never backpacked but decided in a bar to do this.  As they leave, I strip and test the water.  About the same temp as the ocean, not requiring long acclimating.  The aerated and circling water produce an intense adrenaline rush.

Back at camp I look at shots of Jan at the wedding in Oregon, still on the camera.  Steve and I figure that if we move to the next campsite and can rearrange our reservations on the bus back to the trailhead, we’d prefer to come out a day early.  Awake now, Paul agrees enthusiastically. My cellphone barely has enough juice to make the connection, but it works and they reschedule.  Peter wakes up refreshed and also agrees.  We cook dinner, pack up, hike an hour and a half further down the trail to Michigan beach where we pitch our last camp.

Wednesday August 18

Wind blew last night, sexy dreams.  Black bear roaming on the beach.  Early departure, 12K to the parking lot. I hang back alone for most of the hike.  Elegaic mood, farewell to forest and ocean.  A great trip, with a piece of driftwood, photos and journal as souvenirs.

The last section of trail winds through old growth forest devastated by recent storms.  Huge trunks crisscross it, unblocked by the Indian trail maintenance crew, but the spectacle of destruction remains. 2000 ancient trees went down here.


Centuries of growth, building upward and buttressing below, structures and systems strong enough to move tons of water hundreds of feet high every day, to hold immense weight aloft and to withstand storm and strain for centuries suddenly smashed and shattered.


But already the great upended rootballs are growing ferns and salal and new trees on their vertical exposed surfaces, replacement plants that will take root in the ground as their hosts decompose into a new forest floor.

We emerge from the last stretch of forest onto the beach at Pachena Bay.  Three people are walking their dogs. They’re from a world different from the one we’ve inhabited for the last nine days.  A man asks if we’d like a final group portrait.


He’s the mayor of Bamfield, the nearby town.  As we’re about to get on the Shuttle in the parking lot, the women from the waterfall and their friends go to their pickup truck and shout Oh no!  It’s been broken into, their phones, wallets and gear stolen, the dashboard and interior trashed. Our bus leaves as they come to grips with the situation.

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