How do I even begin to recap a trip that was in a word, indescribable. I can’t even begin to explain how challenging yet rewarding the West Coast Trail is and I truly think that you have to do it to even come close to grasping what kind of journey it is. However in saying that, hopefully a few photos and vague descriptors will show you a glimpse of what it was like to hike the West Coast Trail. Settle in, it’s a long one.
Day 1 – Gordon River to Campers Creek – 13km.
Day one we started by taking the earliest ferry from Port Renfrew to the trailhead. We had done our trail orientation the afternoon the day before in order to get an early start on day one. The ferry was at 8:45am and we started our hike a short 15 minutes later. We hiked from the south trailhead in Port Renfrew to the north trailhead in Bamfield, and the south end is known to be significantly more difficult than the north end. AND IT WAS. Holy hell, we hiked straight up and straight down for 5km, with each kilometer taking almost an hour to complete. It’s not just the elevation gain and loss, it’s the tree roots, the mud, the 50lb pack on your back, the slippery moss, the heat, the humidity. It was crazy difficult. 13km to Campers Creek took us almost 8 hours. We were so exhausted by the end of the day. In Campers Creek a crazy fog/mist/rain came in during the evening and soaked all of our stuff. We packed up some pretty damp gear the next morning but luckily the rest of the trip was pure sunshine. I really questioned my sanity in wanting to do this trail after day one!
Day 2 – Campers Creek to Walbran Bay – 9km.
After packing up some soaked gear that added a fair bit of weight to our packs, we hiked another difficult 9km to our next camp, Walbran Bay. This day had the most intense ladders I have ever been on. It was well over 100m of ladders to climb down to a creek, and then another 100m back up to the trail. We had a mandatory lunch stop at the top because we were both sweaty, tired, and exhausted from the ladders!
It was a pretty gruelling hike but with a little shorter distance, we arrived in the early afternoon and we were able to set up camp in the perfect spot on the beach and get our wet tent and everything dried out. Each time we would arrive at camp we got into a routine of setting up our tent and everything, enjoying the delightful moment of taking off our hiking boots, then heading to the creek to wash off. I attempted washing my hair in the creek a few times but I don’t know whether it made it better or worse. After I sponged off (because the creek was too cold for me to actually bath in like my dad did), I got into my camp clothes. A long sleeve marino wool top and pair of lulu lemon underwunders were perhaps the comfiest outfit in the entire world after each day of hiking. I “washed” my hiking clothes at the end of each day of hiking because I only brought two outfits to hike in… I say “washed” because I really think I just added to their smell by dunking them in a creek and adding some Wilderness Wash to them. We met some great people and had a fire on the beach at Walbran until it got dark and we headed to bed.
Day 3 – Walbran Bay to Dare Beach – 13km.
As the trail went on, it got easier. The first two or three days were more physically challenging than I had anticipated. As a fairly fit person, I was surprised at how much of a toll the trail took on me the first few days. I woke up with sore calves, sore quads, sore hips, sore shoulders, pretty much every part of my body was sore but as the trail wore on I got used to the stiff muscles and the trail got a tiny bit easier. On day 3 we hiked past the Carmanah lighthouse, and just before the lighthouse there is an infamous burger shack set up for hikers to enjoy some “real food” on the trail. They had everything from chips and pop to s’mores kits and beer. Most importantly they had homemade veggie burgers. YUM.
We had originally planned to hike to Cribbs Creek on day three but we hiked a couple kilometres more and ended up stopping at Dare Beach. It wasn’t technically a “camp” (with a bear-proof food locker and an attempt at outhouses) so we were camping on the beach by ourselves and it was a really cool experience. This was the first night I got a REALLY good sleep. These 13km were easier than the day one 13km and we got to camp in the early afternoon, so we spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the beach, getting sunburnt, eating, and watching whales cruise into the sunset. Pretty perfect if you ask me.
Day 4 – Dare Beach to Tsusiat Falls – 15km.
Day 4 was the longest distance we would be hiking, another reason we went a couple of kilometres further the day before, to make this day not as terribly long. This 15km involves a ferry ride at Nitnat Narrows in order to continue on the trail. The 15km didn’t feel too long as the trail gets relatively easier the further north you get, but it was still a draining day. On the way to the Tsusiat Falls camp, we were treated to some of the best views of the hike. Along the beach, we hiked on perfectly compact sand, and were the first of the day to lay our footprints on the beach after the tide went out in the morning. Along the cliffs, we looked out over perfectly blue water, and every time we glanced to the ocean, we saw the spray of a lone humpback whale following us along. It was magic. We got a super early start on this day and left camp at 7:30am, meaning we got to the Falls in the early afternoon and had the beach to ourselves before a few other hikers showed up. The falls were nature’s perfect ice-cold shower and I finally had the chance to somewhat wash my hair.
Day 5 – Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek – 13km.
I spent the first few days thinking that this hike was going to last forever. Each kilometre seemed to get longer and longer, but as we neared the end of our hike I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Once you get over the shoulder pain, the blisters, the sunburn, the steady fire in your quads day after day, you realize you are in one of the most spectacular places on earth. The challenge and effort that it was to hike to some of these beautiful and timeless places doesn’t even compare to how amazing it feels to be in those places.
In Michigan Creek we met up with a group of four guys and hung out around the fire with them in the evening. It was so cool that we could just chat up anyone on the trail and they would be so nice, share tips and tricks, and you would learn someone’s life story in a matter of hours and it felt like you had known them forever. We met people from all over Canada, even a few who live in St. Albert, and it was so awesome that no matter where you were from or why you were hiking the WCT, you were all in it together and you could share that experience.
Day 6 – Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay – 12km.
It was surreal waking up on day six knowing that in a few short hours we would be back in civilization. It was even more strange that I woke up on a thermarest in a tent on a beach and then went to bed that same day in an apartment in downtown Vancouver! The last day of hiking was relatively easy compared to the start of the trail. A little bit of elevation gain and loss, some muddy sections, but a much easier part of the trail. We polished off the last 12km in just over three hours. It was this last part of the hike that we saw our first bear! It was a little cub that had scurried up a tree just before we got to that spot on the trail. We also saw a ton of noisy sea lions and took a quick jaunt up to the second lighthouse on the trail. It was definitely a more relaxed hike that the first couple of days! We reached Pachena Bay in mid-morning, just in time for my mom to walk in from the parking lot to pick us up!
We were dirty, windburnt, sweaty, exhausted, bruised, blistered, and sore… but we were so so so happy. You look at someone who completed the trail and think they can’t possibly have enjoyed themselves but it was honestly one of the most life-changing experiences. I proved to myself how strong I was, how capable, how tough, and how brave I was. The WCT isn’t for the faint of heart and I am so happy I did it.
I can’t tell you enough how glad I am that I did this trail with my dad. I am so thankful I have such a supportive, strong, and intelligent role model as my dad because without him, it wouldn’t have been the same experience. We are really close but this trail added a whole new dimension to our relationship because I think we proved to each other how much we were capable of. My dad, worried that having done the trail 17 years and five knee surgeries ago, he wouldn’t be quite the nimble hiker he was back then, proved to me that he is tougher than tough. I look up to him so much and he taught me so many valuable life skills, both on and off the trail. We had such a fun experience and I loved hiking the WCT with my dad!
If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations, it probably took as long to read this as it did to hike the trail actually. Oops. In case you didn’t gather this, I highly recommend the trail, just be prepared to be mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged in ways you never have before. It’s awesome. 🙂