Sometime last fall I decided I wanted to hike the West Coast Trail. I had heard of it in passing a couple times before; it takes approximately a week, a friend had injured her knee on it, it was muddy, and there were ladders so you couldn't bring a dog. That is all I knew when I decided I should do it. I haven't really figured out why I wanted to do it other than it seemed like it would be an accomplishment. I had never done more than two nights on a backpacking trip, and always leaving camp in one spot and exploring around the area. This would be my first experience packing up camp every day and covering that kind of milage.
I messaged my friend Chelsea who has lots of backpacking experience, told her I wanted to do it and waited for a reply to see if I should invite her to come along. She messaged back pretty well straight away that she was coming. Perfect. Bookings opened, we got the dates we needed to make it work, and I arranged logistics to get us there. I spent the next few months reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and following the West Coast Trail Facebook Group.
We stayed at Pachedaht Campground on July 1st and Started our trek on July 2nd.
On Wednesday July 5th, 2022 we finished the West Coast Trail. It took us 4 days and 4 hours to cover the ~77km that Parks Canada says the trail is (I'm pretty sure it is longer). It started out easily enough, taking 3.5 hours to Trasher Cove. It is said to be the hardest part of the trail but honestly I found it pretty easy. I think it most closely resembles what I am used to hiking.
We opted to see Owen Point, even though we would be cutting it close with the tides. It is supposed to be one of the most picturesque places on the trail and the group we started from Gordon River said we could make it. Chelsea led our way across the boulder field from Trasher Cove to Owen Point. She picked our route and kept us going at a pace that would get us there before the tide got too high, in theory at least. We pushed hard and barely made it. I had to boost her up onto the rock ledge, falling in the surge channel that was becoming slimy as the waves came in over the rocks. She had to haul me up the rock edge; I was in full panic mode. I had two fears going into this hike - The ladders and getting caught at Owen Point. Both of which I faced in the first six hours of the hike.
After some detours trying to find the beach access point, watching the tide as it came higher and we walked along a beach area marked as dangerous with instructions to stay low on the shelf, we found a route. Turns out it was Otter Slide, one of the more dangerous sections of the trail. Two people would get injured in this section of the trail in the next couple days. Looking back I didn't think it was that dangerous compared to the rising tide Chelsea and I were facing, but I can see how a wrong step could lead to injury there.
We made it to Camper Bay, set up camp, and I visited with some people. A man named Darrell made a fire and I dried my boots some, soaked from my fall in the water and the mud holes on the trail.
Day 2 started out with a sea mist covering the coastline, but no real rain. We trekked through the forest, planning to make it the ~15km to Bonilla to set up camp. This was probably the best and easiest day. Physically the trail was as challenging as the day before, but it felt more routine. Root systems, mud, wet foliage that was brushed back from the trail, and boardwalks in various stages of usability.
As we approached Bonilla it started to rain, around 2pm. We had three kilometres of beach walking to go and I thought it would be so fast! It wasn't. Walking in the sand was hard with my pack. The sand was large and non-compact, requiring extra effort as we walked. The tide was rising again, taking away our walking space and pushing us higher up the beach to even less compacted ground. We made it to Bonilla and set up camp. I set my tarp up and my tent would stay dry. I really need to practice knots, but I made it work. We were the only ones there and didn't expect anyone else as we had been told it is one of the best looking sites but seldom used because it is small. Eventually two more couples trickled in. Darrel and I had a fire going and I felt pretty awesome about my part in getting a fire started on the west coast in the rain. We dried our gear as best we could by the fire and got to know our neighbours. Vida and Ian had done the trail multiple times (it was Vida's fourth!) and they had some great insight. Vida noticed when my boots started melting; they were too close to the fire. My brand new boots were now melted and I was sad. I got over it after a while. They were still useable and at least it was the tongues and not the soles. After more visiting I went to bed and settled in for sleep in the damp coolness of the coast.
Day 3 was going to be our big day. We were going to go from Bonilla to Tsisuiat Falls (22km). There aren't any campsites for a stretch so a longer day was destined at some point. We packed up in the rain, slowly; I wanted breakfast today since it was going to be a big day. My camera stayed put away with the rain and my phone was dead so there are no photos from Day 3. We trudged along, damp, then wet. We walked on the beach to Cribbs Creek where there are actually two creeks that meet at the mouth of Cribbs Creek. The water level was high and we saw a bridge going across the first of the creeks but we couldn't figure out how to get to it. We missed the buoys marking the entrance to the trail that would take us to the bridge. Getting cold as we refilled our water we opted to just wade across the creek. The water was deeper than anticipated and we had wet feet. A group that had just crossed Cribbs Creek told us it was really sketchy and there was a log up the creek that could be used for a good crossing but they hadn't figured out how to get to it. We crawled along the riverbank under some brush to get to the log and managed to cross Cribbs without going in the water. It did look very sketchy. Higher and faster moving than I would have liked to cross given there was another option.
After Cribbs the trail changed. The boardwalks were nicer and newer. There was still a lot of mud, and I had fallen in my share of mud puddles, if not more. It comes with being clumsy I suppose. We walked through the rain, Chelsea cold with the rain and me tired of falling and being muddy when the people we passed looked so clean. We saw two people heading south and they were clean AND dry! We actually discussed after if we had imagined them or not because Chelsea and I were filthy and soaked. They had told us the Crab Shack wasn't too far away and they had a fireplace going where you could dry gear. We passed a family of four, two adults and two littles, probably less than 12 years old. They were also clean so we were hopeful that the first couple we met were correct about there being a lot of boardwalks coming up. There were a lot of boardwalks. Turns out, boardwalks are dangerous. I fell three times. The third time I turtled and had to take my pack off to get up. I was annoyed with my clumsiness and almost cried.
We kept trekking and eventually we found the Crab Shack!
Nitinaht Narrows is a small inlet crossing that you get ferried across, just like Gordon River to start the trail from the south. A local family has built the Crab Shack and has cabins for rent. We ordered warm food, two grilled cheese each, and started drying out. The cabins were all rented but they had tent deck space available and Chelsea and I opted to stay there the rest of the day. We watched as they caught crabs right off the dock of the crab shack and cooked them to order. I've never seen a crab prepared before so that was neat. I napped, visited with people coming in from various directions, and relaxed. I burned my arm on the fireplace....I can't go a day without a mishap it seems. It eventually stopped raining and some Americans heading Northbound had some fireworks for the Fourth of July. I was already in bed and missed the festivities.
Day 4 started out amazing. I slept so well, the sun was coming up, I had plenty of time to relax in the morning before the ferry service across Nitinaht Narrows started up, and it was going to be a great day. I snuggled with a dog named Paulie on the floor of the crab shack until people started coming in and I felt like I was obnoxiously in the way rather than only a little inconvenient. We watched fresh, clean hikers start their hikes north and south from the halfway point of the Narrows.
I was leading and I felt like I was doing so well. Fernando is married to a badass I told myself as I climbed over tree roots, through mud puddles, and navigated the slightly treacherous boardwalks. Then I fell and my whole day started to unravel. I don't exactly know where we were but I fell into a mud puddle on my left side and had mud up to the middle of my back and somehow onto my other arm. I was wet, muddy, and felt incapable and incompetent. How could all these other hikers be clean when I was such a mess? What did that say about me that I was filthy? Chelsea could see me bottling up my emotions about it so she told me to let it out. I ranted and then cried. I was a pretty miserable asshole to be around that morning. Not proud of it but it is what it is now. I cried as I walked passed more clean people on the beach, crying new tears with each one of them as my frustrations built. I questioned what I was even doing on the trail, let along finishing it in five days. My feet were starting to hurt and I was miserable. I happily would have stayed at Klawana and taken another day but Chelsea's knee had started bothering her and she didn't think she could do another two days on the trail to complete the 20km remaining. I wasn't sure I could walk another 4-8km that day but I decided I could try.
I did it. Another 8km to Michigan. Tscowsis was really pretty. Another time I might stay there, but when push came to shove on Day 4 I decided I didn't want to try and hike 16km out the next morning to catch the trail bus, I would rather push through, get to camp a bit later, and start a bit later in the morning. We hiked on. We took the beach route from Tscowsis to Michigan, having to bypass Darling River Campsite as it was closed due to a bear in the area. the sand in this sections (small rocks really) was hard walking again and we were once again pushing the limits of the tides. We made it to Darling with no issues and could take our time from there to Michigan since there were no tide concerns.
I'm not sure what time we got into Michigan. Most people were already set up for the night so Chelsea and I just put our tents in the line and got our stuff together. It decided to drop a couple rain drops as I was making my dinner, so I hid in my tent. I was done with rain. After some introvert time in my tent I ventured out, joining three guys by their fire, attempting to dry my boots which had gotten wet again. After my fall my pants dripped into my boots so I kind of gave up keeping my boots dry. I wasn't having any luck with it anyway. They were Scouts from Germany and they told me a lot about Scouts in Europe and their experiences with it. They seemed like really nice guys and I hope they are having a great time on their next adventure. Two were heading to the Netherlands for a Scout's hiking trip and one was leading a group of 13(ish) year olds on a camping trip in France.
The end was in sight. 12km to the finish (or beginning depending which way you go) and I was so ready to be done. My feet still hurt which made continuing hard. Otherwise I felt fine and was ready to go! We walked passed the Pachena Lighthouse without stopping to see it. I didn't want to take any more steps than I absolutely had to and Chelsea's knee wasn't doing great. People had been telling us for the other 65km of the trail that it would get easier, but it never really did. I was reluctant to believe that the last 12km we had to cover would actually be easy, but compared to the rest it was. We started with a hill on Day 5, and finished with a hill into Pachena. We were told it was flat in this section so it was only fitting that not only was it not flat, but that we started and ended with a hill.
They weren't large hills, but big enough to slow us down. We stopped for a minute to talk to a couple ladies we had met at Michigan but between my feet and Chelsea's knee we couldn't stay long. We were so close to the end though! We ended dup hiking into the parking lot around 11:30am, two full hours before we had to be there for the trail bus. We checked out, visited with others who had just finished the trail, and contemplated how bad we smelled. We knew it was bad, but we had no real way of knowing how bad.
We got on the West Coast Trail Express and were driven back to our vehicle at Gordon River. We drove into Victoria, found a hotel and got settled. Once we were showered we realized how bad we smelled. I opted to not open my pack again until I absolutely had to. Showered, fed, and comfortable we slept and then caught the 6am ferry to Vancouver to start our drive home.
Would I do it again?
Seeing the obvious physical discomfort I was in at the end of the hike, one of the women asked if I would do it again. I've contemplated this a bit and yes, I would. I would do it in 6 or 7 days and have shorter hiking days with more time at camps. I would rent a cabin at the Crab Shack and enjoy some creature comforts for the night since they are there. I would pack the same amount of food - I had way too much for 4.5 days but the perfect amount of 7. I will invest in insoles for my hikers for when I cover those kind of distances. I would bring a wider lens for my camera; I didn't want to bring the big expensive one so I brought the crop sensor and it left me wanting for a wider lens since I was using an effective focal length of about 80mm rather than my usual 35mm. The things I would change are minimal.
I don't really feel like I missed anything, despite not seeing the wrecked ships and one of the lighthouses. I was perfectly happy with that choice. We watched the sea lions on a rock as we walked the beach and listened to them bellow like a fog horn. We saw tracks and scat. The eagles perched on the rocks at Bonilla and we observed them as they sat in a stillness I am incapable of comprehending. We saw almost every campsite (Walbran and Cullite being the exception). We saw Owen Point and Hole in the Wall. I hike slower than Chelsea but I still took time to look around and appreciate the tones of the forest or the beach, from the way certain trees were framed within the trail or the branches od another tree to the way the light came through the different forested areas differently. I noticed and appreciated that when I needed it most there were suddenly little red rocks all along the beach, somehow symbolizing that I had the energy within me to finish this hike. We heard all kinds of stories from people on the trail and I enjoyed getting to know a little about each of them.
I faced fears and overcame them and I honestly believe if we had done anything different on this trip it would have been a very different experience. If we stuck with he 7 day itinerary suggested online and stayed at Trasher Cover the first Day we wouldn't have met Darrel. I enjoyed meeting Darrell and then having him join us on our day to Bonilla. If not for him I may not have gotten a fire going that night. If we hadn't met Vida and Ian because of the fire Darrell and I built, who had lost their water filtering system, we may not have found another person's system the next morning just after Chelsea's got mucked up with algae, making it unreliable. We both carry drops/tabs for purifying water but it is really nice when you don't have to use them. If we hadn't stayed at the Crab Shack the third night I wouldn't have gotten puppy snuggles from Paulie.
So I would do it again, slightly differently but still with reverence to the difficulty of the trail. It proved as difficult as I expected based on my readings of it before I went. It is technical in a way I am not accustomed to which is what makes it a challenge. I feel accomplished, proud, and capable...despite the fact that I can't stay even remotely clean.