West Coast Trail 2016: Day 6

July 5, 2016

Campers ⇒ Gordon River (13 km)

Since I’d gotten basically no sleep with my blossuming cold, I was raring to go by 5:30 AM when Dana woke up.  To my delight (*sarcasm), it was raining.  But c’est la West Coast Trail.  A small river was flowing under a tent but luckily we didn’t get wet in the night!

We sleepily and quickly made our daily oatmeal and my horrid instant coffee, then packed up camp with a little less care than usual (AKA the tent was pretty wet still!  But we were going home!).

The girls, Regan and Jess, got moving faster than all of us due to their protein bar/no cooking lifestyle.  Then Katie and Jon headed out.  Finally, close to 7 AM, Dana and I were all loaded up and ready to go.

Although there is a cable car at Campers, since the water was low we decided to just hop across on the rocks.  Dana got a little wet but amazingly I stayed pretty dry!

The ladders immediately got our heart rates up (of course), and pretty soon we had peeled off our rain coats despite the drizzle.  My cold was in full force and I was huffing and puffing (and honking my nose) the entire day.

The pressure was on that day because we had (according to the book) 7.5 to 8.5 hours of hiking ahead of us to get from Campers to the Gordon River ferry, and the last ferry of the day was at 3:30.  Knowing that 5 of the 13 kilometers ahead of us could take one hour per kilometer, we had to keep our pace pretty brisk.

To hikers from home (Calgary), I realize 13 kilometers in 7.5-8.5 hours sounds insanely slow, but the West Coast Trail is a different beast.  Plus we were at the “hard” end, which has more elevation gains, slippery rocks, slippery roots, slippery felled tree bridges – essentially adding up to a very slow deliberate pace if you want to finish the trail with no broken bones.

Oh, and slippery boardwalk too.

After a few kilometers just us two, we heard some whooping ahead of us on the trail which turned out to be Katie and Jon at every kilometer marker.  They were good pacers for us, and the four of us hustled along pretty swiftly.

We don’t have too many pictures of this day’s hiking, as we were too preoccupied with racing to the ferry.

Of course, all things come in threes, and I hadn’t had my third accident-prone thing happen yet.  This end of the trail has quite a few log bridges to cross, and when I say log bridge, I mean a fallen tree that is now to be used as a footbridge.  Some are hatched with an axe for traction, but most are slippery from the constant dampness.  Some are a few feet off the ground, but some are up higher above obstacles like fallen logs or perhaps a creek.

I was at the tail end of the pack as with my short legs, I’m the slowest.  I was certainly worried about falling off one of the log bridges, but couldn’t be too cautious as we were trying to be speedy that day.  Of course, I proceeded to slip and fall off one of the log bridges.  Luckily, it was only a couple feet off the ground and there was nothing major to poke my eye out.  Dana heard me yelp and turned around just to witness the fall in action.  With adrenaline rushing through my body, I did a push up with 35 pounds on my back and was on my feet by the time he got back to me.  I shook it off, and we carried on.

Some unoriginal jerk took the kilometer 69 marker which made the challenging kilometers seem fruitless.  We hadn’t seen Thrasher yet, so we were all starting to panic a bit as we knew Thrasher was 5 km from Gordon River, and it was already 11 AM.

And then there Thrasher was.  And the unofficial campsites just minutes from the top of Thrasher that Monique had advised we stay at.

Even though we were both exhausted from the quick pace of the morning’s 8 kilometers, Dana and I dug deep inside and found a bit of extra crazy fuel to drive us forward.

I’ve never hiked that hard or fast on difficult terrain like that in all my life.

But adrenaline makes us do crazy things.  Dana and I flew up the harsh elevation, dodged roots, and were practically running for 2+ kilometers.  We both had sweat dripping down our faces when we stumbled upon the rusted out donkey engine.  Shortly after that, we caught up with Regan and Jess.

Catching up with them reassured us that our pace was okay, and that we would catch the 3:30 ferry.  Unfortunately, as Dana and I took a Nuun/snack break, I asked him what the time was.  12:00.  All the adrenaline suddenly stopped pulsing through my body.  I was acutely aware of how exhausted I was: my feet throbbed so much I could barely stand on them, my pack felt heavy again, and my poor nose was so congested.

With 3+ hours now to catch the ferry, all urgency left my pace and poor Dana had to coax me onwards.  I basically wanted to lay down and die on the Trail around kilometer 73.  To make matters worse, I don’t think there were markers for kilometers 74 or 75.  Again, the Trail seemed endless.

Fresh, clean, new hikers – just off the ferry – passed us in groups.  A big cheerful commercial group beat us to a ladder, and we had to wait for them to all climb down.  Everyone was saying things like “congrats” and “you’re one hour from the dock”, but I’m sure I looked haggard. 

The new hikers were dodging puddles, trying to keep clean.  Dana and I strode right through the mud and puddles, as we couldn’t possibly get dirtier or wetter.  One clean hiker looked at Dana with apparent horror (possibly due to his scent or the amount of mud on his clothing).  Dana told me to remind him to never hike the West Coast Trail again.

Probably around kilometer 74, I leaned against a log on the side of the trail and started weeping.  I was so tired.  I couldn’t possibly go on.  Even worse, we could see the water through the trees, and even heard the ferry.  I knew we were close, but I was so done with the West Coast Trail.

Dana found some more sugar candy in his pack, and basically force fed me.  With a tiny bit of wind in my sails, I limped forward and then, suddenly, we were at the top of a very steep, long ladder.  There was an orange buoy laying in the grass next to it.

I somehow got down the ladder with my trembling legs, and then Dana followed suit.  We were finally at the Gordon River dock!  We had made it!

As we had just missed the 1:30 ferry by 15 minutes, I raised the orange buoy and we took a few pictures.  The next ferry wasn’t until 2:30 so just as I was sitting down to wait, we were both surprised to see the ferry come into view.  The operator had seen my blue pack cover weaving through the trees, and he came back for us early.  I could have kissed him.

The picture of us below is full of many emotions:

  • So proud of both of us for finishing that crazy hike.  Dana’s GPS watch clocked the West Coast Trail at 115 km… which is vastly more than the quoted 75 km.
  • Pure exhaustion.
  • Desire to never hike the West Coast Trail again.
  • Pure amazement that insane people (like us) do that trail for fun.

The ferry dropped us off, and we headed to the trailhead building to sign out.  We were happy to see Garbage Bag Greg, Regan, and Jess all hanging out there.  Dana called the Express bus to see if we could come home a day early (and we could – yay!).  The warden arranged for a $5 shuttle into town, and soon the pick-up truck was there to drive us in.

The driver dropped us off at the Port Renfrew Pub, and it was like a high school reunion in there with all the hikers who had just finished.  We were surprised to have caught up with Nate, Sara, and Heather who all finished the Trail just minutes before us!

I had saved a pair of leggings to change into (thank you Kaitlyn of the past!) and was so, so happy to take off my wet, muddy boots.  My feet were incredibly damp and swollen.  I took a picture (because of course everyone wants to see what my feet looked like).

I’m assuming the food at the Pub was delicious because everyone licked their plates clean, but I couldn’t taste anything with my cold.  Freshly showered Katie and Jon joined us for some drinks too, and it was nice to see all our buddies together!  I’m sure we all smelled wonderful at this point, but my cold was a blessing as I couldn’t smell anything.

The Express ride back to Victoria was hilarious.  It was very noisy for 20 minutes as everyone rehashed their epic stories and exchanged tales, and then it got very quiet as the entire bus fell asleep.  I find napping adults so, so funny.  (Of course, I was also one of those napping adults.)

These are some of the great people we met on the Trail!

With that, my long-winded retelling of our trip comes to an end.

The West Coast Trail tested my limits in ways I couldn’t even fathom before.  I like to think I’m pretty strong, but the muddy trail, weather, and weight of your pack (and getting bear sprayed) add elements of endurance that most people can’t imagine.  I can’t believe I finished it! 

Although I swore left and right I’d never hike it again, I have this odd feeling 2016 won’t be my last time on the Trail.  As every day passes since we finished, I feel more and more nostalgic for the quiet serenity of the rainforest and the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore.  Part of me even misses the mud.

Thanks for reading!

chow meme west coast trail

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West Coast Trail 2016: Day 5

July 4, 2016

Walbran ⇒ Campers (9 km) – Dana’s birthday!

Lucky Dana got to celebrate his birthday on the trail.  He was shaking the sand out of his pack first thing in the morning and the birthday beer he had tucked in the side fell out and sprung a leak on the rocks, which meant of course that he had to shotgun the beer at 7 AM:

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Perhaps because I had the first good sleep of the trip the night before, this day of hiking was my favorite.  Which is kind of nuts because it’s also one of the hardest days!

As others had warned us that this day’s hike would be time-consuming and difficult, we got up around 6:30 and were on the road by 8:30.  It was a bit colder day with light mist at times, and minimal sunshine.  We were inland all day which was strange after the big beach day the day prior.

The theme of the Walbran to Campers Creek stretch is MUD, ROOTS, and LADDERS.  Thank goodness my throat was almost all healed up because I needed all the lungs I could get!  This is the infamous WCT day: mud, mud, mud, and 30+ ladders (as one “cheerful” south⇒north hiker told us).  

I thought this slug was a magnificent specimen:

There were definitely a ton of ladders and our quads/calves/glutes got a good workout.  We were both sweating a ton.  It’s incredibly mental too as if you want to keep a bit dry, you need to calculate your next steps carefully and constantly.  I got super muddy despite my best attempts, although at this point my boots had been wet for days.

The last few KMs before camp seemed lengthy, and the Campers sign was a welcome relief (although it’s still quite a climb down to camp from there).

We were very happy to see Katie and Jon from Day 3 camped out there.  Shortly after, Regan and Jess showed up too.

After I got the sleeping bags and air mattresses set up in the tent, I was feeling exhausted from the day and laid down for a 30 min. nap.  It was awesome.  Unfortunately I was still in my sweaty clothes so woke up pretty chilled.

Since it was a bit cooler day, no one took a bath in the creek although we all needed one after the sweaty day.  The three of us couples tried our best to stay warm by sitting around the fire and drinking tea (and eating copious amounts of chocolate since I’d over-packed).  

As we all ate dinner together, I joked about wanting to just hike all the way out the next day, instead of Camper to Thrasher, then Thrasher to Gordon River.  Our hiking book suggested Camper to Gordon River (13 km) in one day.

Turns out, this was a very popular idea and pretty soon everyone around the fire was brainstorming logistics.  Next thing you know we’re giving away surplus food to the solo Swedish hiker we met that night.

We’d heard that Owen Point was risky and difficult, plus hard to time with the tides the next day (it involved a 3 AM wake-up…).  Plus the hour each way for the Thrasher Cove ladders.  Plus the unofficial campsite near Thrasher was apparently full of mosquitos.

We were all feeling a bit of pressure from the book’s recommendation of 7.5 to 8.5 hours for the Campers to Gordon River stretch, as the last ferry of the day was at 3:30.  But we all agreed a hot shower and a real bed would be a wonderful reward, so with that in mind, we headed to bed.

I crawled in to bed with a runny nose around 9 PM.  It was a horrible night of broken sleep waking up frequently to blow my nose and toss and turn.  I was so happy to only have one more day of hiking ahead of me!

West Coast Trail 2016: Day 4

July 3, 2016

Cribs Creek ⇒ Walbran Creek (11 km)

After my hellish lack of sleep the night before, this is what I looked/felt like:

I was pretty slow moving that morning.  I was still very wheezy plus a bit dopey from not sleeping.  Luckily, the sun was out and it was a beautiful day for beach walking.  We didn’t get going until 9:30 when we were the only ones left in camp!

We walked on the beach until Carmanah Point, then went inland so we could see the lighthouse.

We briefly met the lighthouse keeper, then checked out the view.  It’s amazing to see the set-up the lighthouse keepers have out there!  You kind of feel like you’re on the island from Lost and you’re meeting the Others at the Dharma Initiative compound.

We had to come down a few ladders to get to the beach, which had me huffing and puffing pretty good with my closed windpipe.

Luckily, Chez Monique’s was right at the bottom!  Monique has quite the restaurant set up on the beach.  There’s a pretty good liquor/beer/wine selection, plus all sorts of treats (like 5 cent candies and smore kits), and also the restaurant items like hamburgers.  Dana and I both went for the burgers, and she kindly made mine without the bun and gave me plenty of fresh veggies on the side.  So good!  We ate lunch with Don and Kayla, and Regan and Jess (two students we’d camped beside at Cribs).  Nice to see friends along the way!

The best part though is that Monique noticed I wasn’t saying much, and asked about what had happened.  After Dana explained, she was at a loss for what to do, then picked up her phone and called her pharmacist.  She/he recommended that I gargle with full-fat milk (to which she exclaimed: “I’m in the bush – I don’t have milk!”), and take some ibuprofen.  By some stroke of luck, Monique did have some canned evaporated milk so I used that instead.  It definitely helped my throat feel better.  I was so grateful to have some mothering after my rough night and shed a few tears.

We had beach walking until Walbran.  Luckily it was a beautiful blue bird day!

Beach walking was a bit of a struggle for me with the heat and my limited oxygen.  Dana lured me to camp with fuzzy peach candies and water breaks.  We even saw some whale flutes on one of our breaks.

There was some wet shelf walking (I was very careful!), boulder scrambling, and just when we thought Walbran would never appear, it did.  It was probably one of our favorite campsites of the trip.

The creek is large and relatively deep for swimming/bathing, and there are lots of campsites on the beach and in the woods.  Two bear lockers and two outhouses.

We set-up camp then quickly suited up for a quick swim in the glacial creek.  I even eventually washed my hair for the first time on the trip, although having wet hair didn’t help me stay warm later on.  Dana’s watch said the water temperature was 19 degrees.

I shivered until dinner and then eventually put wool socks and a touque on.  Dinner was a so-so pepper beef with rice (I wouldn’t buy it again).  Regan and Jess camped out near our tent, and shared our fire later in the evening.  They hiked the WCT eating only protein bars and trail mix.  Made our cooking look gourmet!

We laughed a bit later in the evening when one man showed up with his pack on and asked if he could put his tent up in the vicinity of ours.  Of course we said yes. Next thing you know, we look over and four other tents have popped up for a total of nine or ten campers!  We were cozy that night. #asianvillage

I finally had my first through-the-night sleep at Walbran.  Perhaps that’s why it was my favorite campsite!

Smart science note from Dana, resident scientist/editor:

Walbran Creek’s water is composed of a salinity gradient where the bottom is brackish but the top is fresh water.  Although at low tide the creek is isolated from the ocean, periodically at high tide the salt water from the ocean washes over the gravel bar and layers into the creek’s (fresh) water. #andnowyouknow


Some tips from Monique on the Trail:

  • Wait until the tide goes out at Vancouver Point as the beach path takes 30 minutes (inland takes 1 hr 30 min)
  • Don’t do Owen Point – it’s too dangerous with the tides and slippery rocks.  Go take a look at one of the access points, but don’t hike it.
  • Don’t camp at Thrasher Cove.  To get down to campground, it’s an hour on the ladders (which you have to climb up the next morning).  Instead camp at the unofficial spots just 5 minutes away from the top of the Thrasher ladders; however, note that there are no bear bins or outhouses.
  • Don’t take the Carmanah cable car – wait until you can walk across the creek.