At 1:00 pm on May 12th, Gabe, Carly, Stephen, Nathan and I all set out from Kitsilano to the West Coast Trail. We ferried to Nanaimo then dove to my place in Comox to pick up my truck, have dinner, and debate about how much food to bring (this became a frequently rehashed topic). We then shuttled cars to Port Renfrew, where we arrived at around midnight. We dropped off the car and piled into the truck to drive on to Bamfield, where we were planning on sleeping at the trailhead. Nathan, Carly and Gabe all promptly fell asleep in the back, leaving Stephen and I to swear at the GPS, which we affectionately named “Janice”. After about an hour on logging roads, we essentially decided that Janice was wrong and that we’d arrived. We pulled into a random campsite and set up our tents, but I could only deceive myself for so long as clues, such as cell reception, the fancy campground, and the fact that we only drove for an hour all made it pretty obvious that we were actually on Lake Cowichan. The next morning we got up early and drove there, making it in time for the 1 pm orientation session and thus setting in motion the theme of late starts that would persist throughout the trip.
DAY 1: Bamfield to Michigan
We got to the WCT office at around 11 am, and as the orientation wasn’t until 1:00 we headed to the beach for a picnic lunch. It was a beautiful day out, so as 30 seconds into the backcountry is still the backcountry we figured it was reasonable to get naked and go swimming (we continued to do this at least once a day). After our orientation, the tide was too high for us to do the first day on the beach, so we started in the forest. We all got very excited about our first ladders, filling our bottles at the first stream, and “gatoring-up” for the first time. We stopped a few times, including at the lookout point over sea lion rock, where we watched the hundreds of sea lions rolling around generally being large. We also stopped at the first lighthouse, which Carly and I agreed felt like stepping through the looking glass – one minute you’re on the trail, and the next you’re walking around a pristine garden near two adorable little houses. We got into camp at Michigan River at around 7:30 pm, where we found a site and threw down our packs; we were all quite sore after our first day. We all gave and received massages, which also became a recurring ritual each evening. When I took out my stove to cook dinner however, I learnt that it had mysteriously broken since the weekend. This ended up not being an issue, as it was dry for the whole trip so we were able to cook all of our food on campfires (I now have a dedicated fire pot).
DAY 2: Michigan to Tsusiat Falls
We all got up by 8, and spent the morning leisurely making oatmeal, drinking coffee, and exploring the beach. While we were sitting around our morning fire, I looked out and saw a spout of water about 100m off shore – whales! We watched them for a bit, and finally left camp at around 10:30. We walked a couple of kilometers along the beach then came to the Darling River. At its mouth is a lovely little waterfall, which Nathan and I went swimming in. We stopped for lunch at the Patrol Cabin a little further along the shore, where we also went swimming in the surf –the waves were so big they sometimes knocked you over! It was really hot out today as well, and we all burnt the bottoms of our feet on the hot sand. This ended up being not too much of an issue for hiking, but made walking barefoot at camp rather painful. After lunch, we travelled in the forest to the first cable car. The crossing wasn’t too hard with all 5 of us helping, and before long we were on the other side and on the last stretch of trail before Tsusiat Falls. Nathan and I sped ahead of the others, and after setting up camp, jumped in the water and swam over to greet the others. While exploring the pool we also found a neat little cave behind the falls. After a delicious dinner of backcountry pizza, Stephen read the Lord of the Rings out loud to us as the full moon rose over the ocean and illuminated the waterfall.
DAY 3: Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek We went swimming in the falls again before cooking breakfast, and ended up not leaving until even later than the day before. We made good time on the beach though, and it only took us a couple of hours to get to the Nitinat Narrows, the first ferry crossing. On the other side were 8 hikers going in the opposite direction, all indulging in the freshly caught and cooked crab and fish you could buy from the fishermen at the ferry. It looked and smelled delicious – we all ordered our own immediately. This was our first serious instance of getting stuck – we accidentally spent over 2 hours at the docks, and didn’t get going until almost 5. We then had to hustle, as we still had another 10 km to cover before our camp. We didn’t realize how scarce water would be for the first few kilometers after the river, but just as I was beginning to get rather concerned we found a nice stream where we could all refill. Considering our late start, getting to camp at around 8 pm didn’t seem unreasonable to us. We were all exhausted from the long day though, and after a quick dinner all passed out immediately.
DAY 4: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek
Thanks to our continuing late starts we met two guys, Nate and Lander, travelling in the other direction who came and joined our morning fire. They didn’t have a plan for getting back to Victoria from Bamfield, and since we’d all be finishing on the same day we offered to meet them there and give them a ride to the highway. Once we got on our way, we went the 4 km on the beach and forest to Chez Monique’s, the burger shack located at km 42 on the trail. Everyone else got massive hamburgers, and I bought a mango and some marshmellows to roast on the fire. This stop also changed the game for Gabe and Carly, who in their light packing enthusiasm ended up not bringing enough food for the week. Monique overheard us discussing this (as I said, it was a common topic), and offered them several meals that a group that had brought way too much with them had left there a few days before. I’ve never seen either of them look happier. After leaving, we came to another cable car crossing a little further down the beach. I thought the river looked pretty shallow and fun to ford. I was partially wrong – it came up to my belly button, but it was fun. Gabe, Carly and Stephen all decided they’d found a shallower spot and tried to cross, but all got just as wet as I did. Because of this, we spent the rest of the day hiking pantsless, with our pants hanging from our packs to dry. This day also included the longest beach walking stretch of the trip: For 5 km we all walked along the endless surf in silence, for what felt like could have been anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours. Right before camp there was another river crossing, but this one was actually shallow (although Gabe did manage to throw his shoe in it, which Carly chased after and rescued). After dinner it started to rain, and we battened down the hatches and convened in my tent to play cards. We were worried this would be the end of our good weather, but it ended up being the only rain we saw on the whole trip.
DAY 5: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay
Day 5 featured our latest start of the trip – we didn’t set out until 1 pm, just after another group arrived and claimed our spot. We were in the forest all day, and it was quite muddy, with lots of fallen trees to climb over and across. There were also 3 huge sets of ladders to navigate, the first of which had a suspension bridge at the bottom. I really enjoyed the hiking this day – it was quite interesting, and a little more physical than the rest of the trail had been. Nathan and I once again took off ahead, and when we got to camp dropped our packs and went and explored the point. After a slippery river forge, we found some cool surge channels and sea caves. The others had arrived by the time we got back, and we all made dinner and read more Lord of the Rings by the fire. The moon didn’t rise until much later this night, so the stars were bright and many.
DAY 6: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove
We decided to mix it up and get an early start this morning, so that we could relax for longer on our last evening. This was a really interesting day of hiking – we spent the first few kilometers in the forest, and then cut to the beach to walk on the rock shelves visible at low tide. This took us past Owen Point, where we stopped to explore a couple of cool sea caves, as well as some spectacular sea arches. The last leg from the arches to camp was all boulder hopping. It was pretty neat getting into the bay at last, as the whole time we’d been able to see some land and mountains in the distance, growing a bit closer each day, and suddenly we were in the cove we’d been seeing. It was pretty neat to be able to watch our progress like that, and we all remarked on how far we really had come. As per our plan, we got to camp quite early and spent the afternoon making deep-fried pancakes. A group of sea otters was fishing and playing in the bay, and we also spent a fair bit of time watching them be adorable. Our last night on the trail was an early one, as we wanted to get going early again the next morning. I couldn’t believe the adventure was nearly over.
DAY 7: Thrasher Cove to Port Renfrew
After eating the last of our campfire oatmeal, we started hiking for the last time. Our day began with a huge set of ladders, but once they were done the trail didn’t level out much anyways. We continued to gain elevation for a couple more kilometers, and eventually reached the small rock pile we assumed marked the highest point on the trail. After some quick summit photos, we started walking down what we thought would be a steady decline, but which turned out to be more of an undulating route, featuring several more ladder sections. This was definitely the most strenuous day, but just when it was beginning to feel like slogging we began coming across people hiking in the opposite direction. They were only a few kilometers into their adventure! They were all very clean looking (this had been the first morning we all realized we smelled), and were as excited about everything as we had been on our first day. This made me realize really just how much we had experienced in the past 7 days – the trail had definitely met and exceeded my expectations. Spurred on by the other hikers encouragement, we hustled the last few kilometers, and before I knew it we were at the km 75 sign! Nathan and I decided to wait for everyone there and finish the last couple hundred meters all together, and as Gabe, Carly and Stephen came around the final bend we gave them hi-fives and spoonfuls of Nutella. We all headed down to the river, where we raised the buoy to signal the ferry driver to come pick us up. After signing out of the trail in Port Renfrew, we piled in the car and drove to Tim Hortons to get lunch before going back to Bamfield. When we got to the Northern trailhead Nate and Lander were waiting for us at the truck, and they ended up coming back to Comox with us for what we all agreed was a very well earned pizza and beer night. It was an amazing journey, and words really don’t do it justice. I can’t thank Gabe, Carly, Stephen and Nathan enough for everything they did to make this happen, as well as being generally awesome and making this trip the incredible adventure that it was.
-Special thanks to Nathan Starzynski for carrying all the camera gear and taking all the pictures!