Hiking the West Coast Trail 2010

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.


Back up in the forest I try to maintain focus on the breath to the exclusion of other thoughts by counting exhales up to ten and then starting over, following suggestions from several sources. Later I cease counting and attend to the full range of each breath. On the boardwalks where little attention is required to navigate the trail, I drink in the green of salal and fern and skunk cabbage.

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]