Hike: Wild Side Trail (Flores Island)

Somewhere along the way this year, backpacking went from being Dana’s hobby that I (un)willingly tagged along for, to a pastime that I also look forward to tremendously.

A few weeks before Dana and I left for our whirlwind 2017 BC road trip, I stumbled across a blog post with a round-up of under-the-radar hikes/backpacks (of course I can’t find the post to link to now). The Wild Side Trail on Flores Island was listed.  Some quick googling educated me that Flores Island is accessible from Tofino by a 30-40 minute water taxi, and that the trail doesn’t require advance reservations.

Since we… enjoyed (I say with reluctance)… the West Coast Trail last summer, I figured another coastal island hike would be right up our alley. Although both trails have that in common, we vastly preferred the Wild Side Trail although the West Coast Trail is certainly a commendable adventure.

Due to a small missing toothpaste mishap at the Surf Junction Campground, Dana and I were nearly late catching the 10:30 water taxi to Ahousaht. Luckily we caught it by the skin of our teeth, and off we jetted for Flores Island.  (Although we found out after that the 10:30/4:00 water taxi times shown on the Wild Side Trail website are just a rough guideline – there are usually taxis going back and forth all day.)  We rode out with two day hikers who ended up keeping us company for the first couple of kms.

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When you reach Ahousaht, you can buy Wild Side permits at a booth right at the dock. The young man working there warned the day hikers about a wolf attack on a dog the previous day, so we were very conscious of the wolves for our stay.  To reach the trail head, you first walk about a mile through the reserve.  The map was a bit unclear, but walk through the new development and go right to where the pavement runs out, then follow the rough road to the trail head.

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We were treated to a gorgeous bluebird sky day and the kilometers went by relatively quickly, with the day hikers along to chat with. I worked up a sweat as it was a hot day out, with lots of beach walking.

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Depending on the tide, you can hike in the trees more, but Dana and I stuck to the beach as much as we could. The sand was totally different from the West Coast Trail – in a good way! – and it made for easy hiking.  We couldn’t get enough of the beautiful views.

There was one cool part of the trail, near the path for the emergency shelter, where you could cut through a cave to get to the other side. Depends on the tide – super cool though!

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We ran in to just a couple people that entire day (again, very different than the West Coast Trail), and when we set up our camp on the beach, we were the only ones on Cow Bay. We set up our camp near the creek, with the protection of some trees to block the wind off the ocean.  We did have one other party show up later in the day, but they camped on the tent pads near the bear locker, so we had the beach to ourselves!


Dana needed to fix our camp stove (handy husband that he is), but then we set off to explore the bay in our bare feet. The nearest outcrop was actually 2 km away but we had such a great time exploring and cooling off our feet in the water.

We found a few semi-warm pools of water the high tide had left behind and were excited to have a little bath, but didn’t realize there were little biting shrimp-os* lurking in the water. (*probably not actually shrimps, but we’re landlubbers) So much laughter was had as we jumped around looking for shrimps on each other.  We kept referring to them as the Lachyrmos Leeches (from Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books).

By the time we got back to camp, we were more than ready for dinner. After filling our grumbling bellies, we passed the rest of the evening sitting on the rocks watching the ocean and relaxing.  Such a beautiful place!


As is typical on backpacking trips, I had an annoyingly broken sleep that night, but we woke up to yet another gorgeous blue sky day with the sound of the waves crashing in the bay. It was hard to be grumpy waking up in paradise!


We had our breakfast and coffee then very slowly and reluctantly packed up camp. It was so hard to leave!  If we didn’t have a hotel booked that night in Tofino, we definitely would have stayed another night on the bay.


I think we got rolling around 10:00 but we had a very relaxed pace as we soaked up the sun and the views and perused tide pools for marine life on the way back. Some other backpackers had warned us about crossing the creek at high tide, but we went a bit upstream to where the wolves had crossed, and we were fine.  The cold water felt so refreshing with the heat of the day and our tired feet!


We decided to spend an hour on the beach there and I even ventured in for a swim. It was so, so cold!  The fine powdery sand felt so nice though and the sun definitely had heat to it.


Eventually Dana herded us onwards down the beach. The forest exits off the beach were not always obvious though, plus we were enjoying the beach so much, that we did some rock scrambling and wading around rocks (with the tide in) so we could stay on the beach.


I never wanted the day to end. We had so much fun!

When we got back to Ahousaht, catching a water taxi back was no issue and I even made friends with a reserve dog. I thought he might come home with me, but I don’t know how Penny would feel about that…

In summary, we loved the Wild Side Trail and can’t recommend it highly enough. Plan for two nights at least!  If you’re considering the West Coast Trail, try the Wild Side first just to see what a kinder, gentler version would be like.  The West Coast Trail is gritty and hard, and because of its length, it can beat you down mentally and physically.  The Wild Side is its shorter, more light-hearted cousin (and no ladders!).

Hike: Elk Lake Walk-In/Wilderness Campground

Guys, put this on the record: Dana and I went backpacking and we didn’t get rained on. It was a first!  And it was glorious!

I’m back with another backpacking trip recap – the only thing Dana and I were missing was my sister, Haley.  She brings the best backpacking treats!  Oh, and Penny, our loyal Mexican cocker spaniel, but I’m not so sure I want to tent with her.  🙂

We just got back from a two night stay at the Lower Elk Lake hike-in campground.

We headed out to Kananaskis at our usual pace, leaving the house at a healthy 9:30 AM. It was forecasted to be a super hot day, so I was a bit nervous about how I would handle the heat (I’m quite fair-skinned – you could say I glow in the dark).  We pulled into the trail head parking lot around 11:00 and got started pretty quick.

The first couple of kilometers are along a forestry/access road, but don’t let that discourage you. We were treated to beautiful big blue skies, the occasional lovely breeze, and glorious wildflowers along the way.  Although there are hundreds of wildfires burning in British Columbia right now, it wasn’t too smoky or hazy for us as we hiked out towards the BC/Alberta border.  Just after you cross the border, there are two trails that take you down to the Lower Elk Lake campground: one takes you by the Alpine Club of Canada cabin but this route adds a kilometer.  As we took that trail last year, we decided to turn right at the Y and take the slightly shorter trail for a total hike in distance of 11 kilometers.



Although the sun was hot and we worked up a sweat, I wore a hat and drank lots of nuun-infused water (electrolytes!) and didn’t get heat stroke. So that was a win!

We were setting up camp by 2 PM which is pretty crazy. We love Elk Lake because it’s such an accessible hike for all levels, yet incredibly beautiful.  Most of the other campers at the site were from BC (Fernie!), and there was only one other AB couple.


Dana and I had a pretty lazy afternoon, him reading in his hammock and me reading in the bug-free zone of the tent. We even got hot enough to head down to the glacially cold Lower Elk Lake, and go for a bit of a dip.  Brrrr!  Felt pretty awesome after getting so sweaty hiking in though.  


Since there are no campfires allowed right due to the fire ban and we were tired from the heat and the hike, we had a pretty quiet night and headed to bed around 9:30.

A bit of marital humour for you all. Dana has always dreamt of sleeping with the tent fly off, feeling the cool evening breeze and seeing the stars.  Since I sleep so poorly when we backpack, I would much prefer to have the fly on so I can feel cozy and protected.  As a compromise the first night, Dana got to keep his side of the tent’s flap open so he could feel the air.  Joke’s on him!  We both nearly froze that first night as the cool mountain air blew through the tent all night.  Lesson learned:  Kaitlyn is always right.  😉

We were treated to another beautiful day on Saturday, although it started off a little overcast and grey, perhaps from the wildfire smoke. It wasn’t cold though!  A very warm breeze was blowing and we were warm enough when we started our hike to the Petain Creek waterfall.  


We headed off on our hike around 9:30 and enjoyed the warm weather, arriving at the waterfalls in time to eat our lunch.  Our next stop?  Hiking from the waterfalls up to the Petain Basin.

We weren’t super prepared/knowledgeable about the Petain Basin hike, and the trail definitely seemed less utilized (although it is marked). It’s a “stair climber” for sure!  500 m elevation gain over 2 kilometers!  Up, up, up we hiked – it was so steep in places I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t mind the parts through the forest, but eventually up near the top there is a lot of scree.


I really, really dislike scree (small loose rocks that slide like marbles when you step) and scrambling. There was some internal self-talk for a large chunk of the scree.  I was doing okay for a bit.  I felt if I could scramble up to the top, once we got to the Petain Basin I’d be fine.  Of course, mentally I was also freaking out about how I would crawl down the way we’d came when we were heading back.  Although I had my poles with me, for large parts I was bear-crawling/rock climbing up.  My feet started to slide a bunch and I couldn’t get a solid hand-hold on anything it seems.

Of course I burst into tears in a sheer moment of terror where I was certain I would slide down the mountain to my inevitable demise. As I clung to a single stable rock, curled in the fetal position, hyperventilating/sobbing,  Dana calmly reasoned with me (while standing upright like a normal human being) and then when I finally stopped crying, helped me maneuver over to what seemed like the only large flat safe rock on the entire mountain.

 

[No joke, as I write this post on Monday, my forearms hurt from the death grip I had on that rock.]


Anyways, although we had made it quite far up the slope, I was shaking so badly that I didn’t think I could carry on any further. It killed Dana I’m certain, but after he went a little ways ahead to see how far was left (too far for me), we decided it was best to turn back and head for the campground.  Dana talked me down the scree slope and helped me with my footing, and then I was fine and nearly laughing about the whole thing by the time we got to the forest again and the sun came out from behind the grey sky.


We were both happy to be heading back to camp as the elevation gain and kilometers were catching up with us, and we were pretty tired and hot. Around kilometer 15 we ran into an Elkford local who regaled us with hiking adventures of years past, and eventually we got back to the campground for another glacially cold swim and some cool beer (Dana) and delicous salt & vinegar chips we packed in.  We hiked about 21 kms on Saturday.

Dinner was Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai (6/5 stars – seriously) and some wine. Another night we were in bed by 9:30!

Sunday we were up around 7:30 again and packed up camp pretty smoothly. I brought my AeroPress coffee maker this weekend and it was amazing to have a great cup of coffee in the wilderness.  We headed out around 9:30 and were back in Calgary by 2:00.  Other than Dana nearly losing a knee cap on a hidden broken tree branch, the return trip was beautiful but uneventful.


I can’t say enough good things about Lower Elk Lake – so convenient for us Calgary folk and such a pretty spot too!


After a nearly 45 km weekend, suffice it to say I’m definitely taking a rest day off from crossfit today and instead doing some restorative yoga after work.  Hope you are enjoying July so far!