West Coast Trail

The West Coast Trail is a popular backpacking route on Vancouver Island, running between Port Renfrew — two hours west of Victoria — and Pachena Bay — a bit south of Bamfield and only really reachable via several long hours on logging roads. 47 miles, difficult in many parts. I backpacked this back in 2010, when I was in the area for a Mozilla summit in Whistler, kayaked this section on the 2011 west coast paddle (though I was mostly blind at that point) and returned to backpack it again with Lisa after our Vancouver area canyoning.

With Lisa still recovering from her sprain last month this was, well, a bad idea, but we made it through ok with some drama, finishing in 4 1/2 days, a fast time for the trail and one day longer than when I did it in 2010. The problems we had were a combination of Lisa’s ankle acting up, and blisters from using canyoneering shoes that, while providing great grip, are not designed to keep feet dry. As things went on I took on more and more weight from her pack, and for the last half of the trail carried both our packs most of the time. With ultralight no-cook setups this worked out reasonably well, and we both finished the trail in good spirits. Lisa’s side of the story is at http://vanvagabond.com/?p=55.

The West Coast Trail is notorious mainly for its mud and its ladders. The amount of mud on the trail is very conditions dependent; this time there was a lot more than I remembered in 2010, more than any hike I’ve done except on Stewart Island in New Zealand (which this hike still paled in comparison to.) I don’t know if this was because of the big storm which hit Vancouver the week before, or if the coast just got a lot of rain earlier in the summer. But, in the southerly parts of the trail, which we hiked first, the mud just seemed to go on and on. Getting to sections with ladders was almost a relief. There are dozens of ladders on the trail, some of them quite long, but with a lightweight pack they aren’t too difficult and are one of the coolest and most unique parts of the trail.

The inland parts of the trail, where the mud and ladders are encountered, are mostly an ordeal to get through. Nice in parts, and interesting hiking, but the most stunning and awesome parts are along the coastline. Starting from the south, except for one great coastal section the first 1/3 of the trail is inland, and the most grueling hiking of the trip. The trail then joins the coast, and for most of the rest of the trail sticks to it or has both inland and coastal routes.

The coastal parts of the trail shift between beach hiking and hiking on and along rock shelves pockmarked with tide pools]. On appropriate tides the latter are great fun to explore, lots of anemones, crabs, sculpins, snails and so forth in the small pools. Lots of bigger wildlife along the coast too, over the course of the hike we saw five whales, including one feeding in the kelp just a stone’s throw from shore (below), a couple bears, several eagles, and a huge number of sea and shorebirds.

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