In the summer of 1978, my dad and his best buddy, Chris, embarked on a backpacking trip across the western U.S.A. and Canada. With little more than a dream and a pair of short shorts, their shockingly exposed man legs took them on an epic adventure that sparked a life long love of the great outdoors – a shared quality between he and I that I cherish deeply.
One of the many places he visited during his adventure was the West Crest Trail in B.C. Canada. I’ve heard bits and pieces of his memories from the hike, but when he finally showed me the pictures, I made up my mind. I had to do it– I had to follow in his footsteps.
If you haven’t heard of the WCT (West Coast Trail), it’s 46 miles along the western coast of Victoria B.C. The trail takes you through the dense rainforest and occasionally spits you out onto sandy beaches for a quick reminder of just how small you are compared to nature. The terrain itself isn’t terribly challenging, as there is practically no elevation gain. So, if the weather is good, it could feel like a walk in the park. It’s when the weather is bad that the notorious suffer-fest begins. Rain is your enemy out there and it rains A LOT. But I think that’s the draw for most people. You come out of it feeling like a complete bad ass, covered from head to toe with mud and sand.
My dad’s stories honestly sounded rather nightmarish; sleeping bags accidentally left behind, torrential downpour for 3 days straight, and endless crouching under fallen tree branches. But with each new story he revealed, his boy-like grin grew larger and larger. My father is a pretty rational man so I knew there had to be something magical hidden amongst this treacherous trail.
Along with reliving my dad’s glory days, I also figured I owed it to the trail. After hiking the West Coast Trail, my dad visited Seattle for the first time and liked it so much he decided to move there. Shortly after, he met my mom. And poof, just like that I was born! Without that wily rainy trail, I might not be here!
So, without much hesitation, I brushed off the ol’ backpack and headed to Canada. Next thing I knew I was staring down the trailhead, next to my boyfriend – remembering just then, that I had spent my entire summer sitting on rafts and drinking beer. I wasn’t in shape at all. Whoops.
Luckily (or maybe not so lucky), I’m at the age where I think I can do anything without killing myself. I don’t question how my choices will affect me tomorrow, let alone years from now. It’s actually a really irresponsible way to live, but hell, what else are your 20’s for? So, I strapped on my terribly overweight backpack, put on my adventure pants, and began the long trudge.
And it hurt. Really bad. Our boots were perpetually soggy, mud became a mainstay in our wardrobe and the endless puddle jumping left us bruised and bloody. But there wasn’t a single moment of regret. Every step through the impossibly thick wet sand was one step closer to my dad. Every time we reached a new beautiful view or survived a big mileage day, all I could think about was how my dad had taken the exact same path. Without sounding too hokey pokey, I could’ve sworn I felt him there cheering us on.
This hike did a lot for me. For one, it showed me that I am so much more capable than I give myself credit for. The human body can do amazing things if you give it a chance. I was out of shape and sore, but my legs got stronger each day; my body refused to fail me. It also proved to me how important attitude is; because on paper, although stunning, this trail is grueling and frustrating – not quite challenging enough to be called a feat, but just challenging enough to be highly uncomfortable. It could be easy to hate. But I genuinely had a blast. We found ourselves able to laugh through the tough moments and focus on the fact that by nightfall of each day we would be warm and well fed.
6 days and 46 miles later, I found myself sitting on the beach at the end of trail; completely exhausted, covered in grime, and feeling so incredibly fulfilled. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
For a quick description of our hike, read below:
Day 1: Pachena Trailhead to Darling River (12km)
We arrived, via bus, at the the north trailhead by mid-afternoon. This meant we only had half a day to get to our first camp, but with fresh legs and bountiful excitement we took off in high spirits. After a pivotal decision to switch our ill fitting backpacks with one another, Luke and I had a great first day. The trail was well maintained, mostly flat and the weather was beyond pleasant. We were the first off the bus and onto the trail so we seemingly had the forest to ourselves.
It wasn’t until we set up our tent, that the first raindrops began falling. We bundled up into our warm layers, lit up the Jet Boil and had our first dinner in the comforts of our new trail home. We joked about how the hike was going to be a breeze and couldn’t wait to get back out there the next day.
If we only knew…
Day 2: Darling River to Tsusiat Falls (25km)
We awoke to a light pitter patter on our rain fly, but the rain dissipated as we began packing up and eating our oatmeal breakfast. Sheesh, we were lucky! We threw on our shorts and packs and began our walk alongside the ocean around 8:30am. This was our first real glimpse of the coast and we definitely weren’t disappointed!
The sky was gray, which created an eerily beautiful landscape. We felt pretty badass as we trudged our way through the sand and seaweed towards the dark mist. The beach section was short lived, as we were forced to work our way back into the woods. The weather held up for us however, and the afternoon was quite enjoyable.
We hit our first cable car at Klanawa River, which left us feeling like giddy children as the tram soared across the valley. The latter part of the hike was a bit more difficult as we scampered over roots and our legs began to feel the strain of our overpacked backpacks. But still, we were feeling good and super excited for tonights campsite.
Tsusiat Falls is a stunning campsite with a giant waterfall that provides the perfect beach ambiance. When we arrived, it wasn’t exactly warm out but we decided to take a dip in the pool beneath the falls. Cleaning off the sweat and mud was rejuvenating and we apparently started a movement, because after we got out the rest of the hikers jumped in.
We called it an early night after exchanging much needed foot massages and filling our bellies with warm food. It poured throughout the evening; the perfect noise to fall asleep to.
Day 3:Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek (42km)
We awoke to a roaring, misty waterfall and surprisingly had a dry morning. Little did we know, this would be the last dry meal we’d have for the next few days.
Today’s hike was painful. As beautiful as the beaches are, the sand is deep and slow. It’s the kind of hiking where you have to put your head down, ignore your irrational thoughts and just trudge through. Luckily we were able to enter the woods for a bit. But with the recent rain, we got our first taste of the infamous muddy trails and quickly discovered what people were talking about when they said it could take an hour to walk 1K… We were a lot quieter today as the suffer fest began taking it’s toll on us.
Just as we thought things couldn’t get worse, we misread our tide table and found ourselves waist deep in the ocean in an effort to scamper around a seaside cliff. This was both terribly unsafe and terribly disheartening. For some god-forsaken reason we chose not to take our boots off (since they were already so wet?) and quickly found ourselves questioning our sanity. With frozen toes and soaking clothes, we wearily looked at each other and decided this wasn’t a time for laughter. We were pissed off and nothing but arriving at camp was going to make us feel better.
This was one of our longer mileage days and our bodies definitely let us know they weren’t happy. Ankles hurt, backs ached and our minds teased us with thoughts of quitting. Summer sausage and cheese were single handedly responsible for getting us through this day.
Miraculously, we were pleasantly greeted with sunshine as we arrived at camp.We set up our tent and gear to dry, then spent the rest of the evening playing around on the beach. I kicked Luke’s butt at Bocce Ball and celebrated by cooking my most favorite meal – Chicken and Dumplings!
Day 4: Cribs Creek to Cullite Cove (58km)
Fresh crab, miles of boardwalk and so much mud.
Most of the trail on this day was flat and in the woods, but the pace was rather slow since we were climbing up and over tangles of roots and trying not to break our faces. I took a pretty awesome fall into a deep mud puddle and narrowly escaped a broken leg. Towards the end of the day we were greeted with our first real moments of ladder hatred. The last thing you want to do after a long day is fling your body up and down these darn wooden towers of death. Thankfully we managed to think all of this nonsense was hilarious, so we made it through the day in high spirits.
Cullite Cove is by far the most beautiful campsite; it’s surrounded by towering cliffs and the beach is clean and cozy. Sadly, by the time we got there the rain was pretty unrelenting. Peeking out from under our rain fly, we could only imagine how neat this beach must be with a bit of sun. Instead, we hunkered down for the night and fell asleep early.
Day 5: Cullite Cove to Thrasher Cove (70km)
Omg SUN!! And ladders… So many goddamn ladders. I’m counting my blessings that I’m not afraid of heights because this day could easily break someone who struggles to trust slippery, old, man-made rungs. You have no way around the freakishly tall ladders and one wrong step could send you tumbling to your death.
But we didn’t even care about our quivering quads because there was a giant warm orb in the sky. It was the first blue sky we had seen all trip and we took plenty of breaks to make sure we soaked in each and every ray of that golden medicine. Luke even ventured out into the tide pools, that little rebel.
Camp was crowded as herds of new hikers, starting from the south, had just began their hike. But the skies were clear and this was our last night, so of course celebrations were in order! We joined our trail friends for some warm whiskey drinks and laughed the night away.
Day 6: Thrasher to Gordon River (75km)
The last day. As excited as we were to rest our aching bodies and eat mounds of pizza, we couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic as we packed up camp for the last time. We had grown to love this place and the idea of entering society again was a little daunting. But nonetheless, we threw on our packs and frolicked our way through the last meters of the meandering trail.
The West Coast Trail is a pretty spectacular place. If you like falling asleep to the rain and eating freeze dried meals, this is the spot for you. I’ve never seen a trail like it! Stay tuned for a post about the planning and logistics needed to conquer the WCT.