This is a long one, but trust us friends, it’s worth the read. Back in September, a few members of the OYB team and their friends went on a RAINY and epic adventure along the West Coast Trail, so we asked them to share their story. Here it is…
Written by: Lucas Beddington
Day 1 – Port Renfrew – Thrasher Cove; ~6 km
We’ve only had 6 days of rain since May, so the trails are in the best condition they’ve ever been in.”
Then she showed us the forecast.
It’s finally here. The day we actually start hiking the West Coast Trail. Although we would soon discover the word ‘trail’ means something else entirely on Vancouver Island.
Everyone has been packed for weeks already, slowly whittling away the contents of their packs. Discarding anything you don’t absolutely need. Ounces becoming pounds.
We started our hike at the end, in Port Renfrew. Our theory was to do the hardest part of the hike right away, when we were the freshest, our heaviest, and it turns out, the rainiest part of the trip.
During our orientation, our group of 10 sat down in a little, dry, presentation room. We spent an hour or so going over the trail itself, what to expect, animal tracks, and what to do in the event of an injury or emergency. Then she showed us the forecast for the next 7 days. We had all been constantly refreshing our weather apps, constantly since we arrived in Port Renfrew the night before, but there is something about seeing a 7-day string of rain drops projected onto an 8 ft wall that really hits home.
Time to hike.
Around noon, our hike started with a 1-minute boat ride across the inlet, then the front ramp lowers and you storm the beaches of the West Coast Trail. There’s no easing into the trail either as you begin your hike with a vertical ladder about 50 ft high. Again, we chose to start our hike at what is typically the end of the trail, so we can tackle the hardest terrain at our freshest*.
The first day was a grind. There’s no other way to put it. A series of ladders, log bridges, “trails”, root systems as high as you, and the constant soaking of the rain. The trail itself is actually very technically difficult, balancing the 50 lb pack while navigating your way through roots, rocks, and mud. The only solace we took is that the trail only gets better from here (we were wrong) and the weather is supposed to clear up in a couple days (wrong again), which made the slow slog at least bearable.
Our first day covered about 6 km’s to Thrasher Cove, none of which were easy, and took us about 5 or 6 hours to reach our campsite. Setting up camp just means more work by setting up tents, tarps, ropes, filtering water, cooking dinner, and futilely drying out gear. **Note: Don’t even bother drying your gear, it will only get soaking wet again. Seriously.
It’s around 8 pm, our group is in dry clothes and eating dinner on the beach, huddled under a tarp. We all came to a consensus that this was way harder than any of us expected. The (incorrect) notion that tomorrow would be easier was encouraging as we sat around a camp light because of the pre-existing fire ban still in effect from “the driest summer they’ve ever seen”. Of course.
Crammed in the tent with the pee-inducing sound of the ocean waves and the rain on the tent, our first day on the West Coast Trail is officially in the books. It was a shockingly difficult, wet, and miserable day, but also incredible.
Tomorrow – more please.
Day 2 – Thrasher Cove to Campers Bay; ~8 km
Good news: It’s not raining first thing in the morning.
Bad news: It’s on its way.
Everybody watched amazed as people were already hitting the trail just as we all came groaning out of our tents. A 7AM departure on any kind of trip is ambitious, let alone a trip where you have to set up and take down your kitchen and house every day.
After everyone finished their first breakfast of the trip we all started to fold tarps and take down tents. We were lucky as the rain started just as we were about to cinch up our shoulder straps on our backpacks, giving us the false hope of “we may just keep our gear dry after all”. Wrong.
Thrasher Cove is breathtaking if it’s the first stop on your hike. However, you’ll quickly realize that Thrasher Cove is a cruel, sadistic joke of a campsite compared to the others on the West Coast Trail. It’s about 1 KM off of the main trail. That’s 1 KM – each way – not accounted for in the total 75 KM’s listed on all WCT documents. So, not only does Thrasher Cove add 2 KM’s to your trip, it’s actually ended up being 2 KM’s of some of the worst parts of the entire trail. I may just be saying that because it was at the end and beginning of a very long day, but I promise you that it was by no means easy.
Today included some falls, rolled ankles, but nothing serious. Definitely nothing worth sending a messenger off to find help (which is the only way to get rescued, FYI).
At risk of sounding like a broken record, we endured more rain than once thought possible, more ladders than seemed necessary, and log “bridges”. Lots of them. The inland trails are incredibly beautiful if you ever get a chance to look up from your feet. Roots and rocks and ankle-deep mud force you to be constantly watching your feet for 6 hours a day, but when the time comes to stop for a second to take in and appreciate exactly what it is that you are accomplishing, your 50 lb pack feels just a little bit lighter. Your feet, a little drier.
Thrasher to Campers Bay was very similar to Day 1, however this trip ended with an old timey cable car that lands you right in the campsite. Think the mine carts from Donkey Kong Country for the SNES, but suspended from the air instead of on tracks. Two people and gear zipline about halfway over what ends up being our source of freshwater, then one person has to pull the cart the rest of the way. If you haven’t made enemies within your group at this point then you should have help pulling from either end of the cable car. Luckily for us, we’re still fairly early on into our hike, so help was offered.
Campers Bay rests in between two sets of cliffs and beside a river snaking out into the ocean. By the time we slog into camp there are already a few groups claiming what have to be the best spots – with fires burning! – so we set up camp and start the home-assembly all over again.
The West Coast Trail has this rule that only allows you to make a fire with driftwood found on the beach. The good news is there is plenty of driftwood to go around; bad news is the rain. BUT! We were determined to build a fire and feel real warmth for the first time since we left Port Renfrew.
Hours. We spent hours building and nursing a fire to life. Flasks and makeshift portable containers of craft beer were passed around the fire in the spirit of fueling whoevers shift it was to tend to the fire. The sun has long since abandoned us. The other groups all dissipate into the darkness to get ready for the next day. Not us. We made a fire and we’re going to enjoy it, damnit!
Soon the only light you see is from our fire, the odd headlamp floating out to get water, and the cruise ships seemingly soaring across the horizon. At that moment, we start to reflect on the trip so far and you realize that as hard as it has been so far, it’s only supposed to get harder before it gets better. This is our life now.
We finish the circulating flasks – only on day 2, I know, but we had more – and head to our tents. We’re only two days in but already feel like hardened veterans, maybe it’s thanks to the courage-giving warmth of the fire but who cares.
Bring on the ladders! Bring on tomorrow.
Day 3 – Campers Bay to Walbran Creek; ~9 km
Today was the day. Back in the warm confines of the Parks Canada office, the park ranger showed us the weather forecast, and Sunday (today) was the day of reckoning. Flash flood, river-widening rain.
One would find it impossible to describe what one had walked through because everything will sound like hyperbole. But one can try.
Today was the day that everybody universally changed the way they hiked. Up until this point, we have been trying to avoid the worst of each muddy section by walking on roots or trying to go around and tip-toe along the edges. But there comes a point in every West Coast Trailers’ adventure when you say to yourself, “Well, I can’t get any wetter.”
Around 11 AM, Sunday, September 9th, that was the time everybody decided to go full steam ahead through any kind of obstacle. Flooded muddy section with knee deep water? March right through it. Cable car over a now rushing river? Link up arms and walk across. There is something very liberating about no longer caring anymore. I can’t stress this enough for anybody planning on doing the West Coast Trail with rain in the forecast – start this from day 1. It goes against every fibre of your being to throw walking caution to the wind but the sooner you accept your fate, the better off you’ll be for the rest of the trail.
After some close calls on log bridges, some dicey boardwalks giving out, and a multitude of ladders, we made it to lunch. We stopped beside a river, set up a small shelter, and made some hot drinks while we huddled and forced lunch in our faces. The rain bucketing down.
We stopped for lunch just after a group ahead of us did, who were set up closer to the river’s edge. By the time that group left, they were under water. And by the time we left and made it across the river, we looked back and our lunch spot was completely under water. The river widened by about 20 feet in maybe and hour! This rain was incredible. It was beyond anything I’ve seen before. As Ron Burgundy would say, “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing!”
Logan Creek – remember the name. It was the one part that made us all reconsider what we were even doing on this trip. We heard it before we saw it. You hike along a ridge and the trees start to thin out a bit, yet all you see is sky and more trees in the distance. As you round to your left, with a surprise construction site on your right, you see it. Logan Creek suspension bridge. But first, ladders!
I want you to imagine standing on a cliff looking down at a raging river being spanned by a swinging single-passenger suspension bridge, and the only way down to that bridge is to use one of those tilty ladders from the carnival game where no matter how hard you try, you always end up flipped upside down. That will give you an idea of what it was like descending this cliff face.
Again, I warned that everything about today would sound like hyperbole but I promise you, it’s not.
Now we’ve done many ladders up until this point but the main ladder going down to the bridge was the hands down winner of the “Pant Crappingly Scary” award. It was tilted off to one side, meaning your 50 pound pack was pulling you over to your left as you white-knuckled down. Add a healthy portion of torrential downpour and remove all safety nets and you have a recipe for some racing hearts. Right foot and left hand down a rung. Rest. Left food and right hand down. Rest. Repeat.
Then the bridge. Ahhh, the bridge. It bounces, it swings, it freezes some in their tracks. Everyone had their own way of crossing the bridge as most weren’t a fan of any part of it. My favorite style was used one in our group, who admitted to keeping his eyes forward, pretending he wasn’t on a bridge and singing his way across.
After the swinging bridge, you face a series of very long ladders to get back to the top of the cliff ridge that Logan Creek had interrupted. Not only has all of this rain widened rivers but it’s also created new waterfalls, with one said waterfall cascading straight down the last ladder and directly onto you as you try to climb to refuge.
Everything afterwards was a series of boardwalks, old creek beds, and extreme mud-boggery ending in a ladder descending into Walbran Creek campground. Walbran is a little tricky to get comfy in as most of the sites are tucked within the trees, but we didn’t come all this way to NOT sleep on the beach! Especially after the day we had – soaked, miserable, blistered. Like when your fingers get pruney when wet, but everywhere.
We were the first to Walbran, so we picked the spot closest to the freshwater and furthest from the gang of seagulls patrolling the beach. Camp was set up, fire was made, tarps were deployed. As night fell, our fire’s light attracted random hikers like moth to a flame. Most people seemed to be doing the trail in the opposite direction which gave us some insight into what’s ahead.
“It gets worse before it gets better.” Great. Considering it took our group 7.5 hours to do 9 KM’s, and the second half of our group 9 hours, that was not what we wanted to hear.
All I kept thinking was, “It can’t get any wetter.” Off to bed.
PS – around 3 AM I woke up to the sound of the ocean way too close to our tent – about 4 feet away. Especially considering when we went to bed, we were about 50 feet from a river, not the ocean. Turns out that as the tide came in, it started to overlap the river as well as eat away at the beach that everyone was camped on. So much so, that it eroded the sand that someone in a different group was camping on, and started to sweep away his tent. I don’t think anybody was hurt, maybe a bit wetter. It gives you an idea of just how rainy it was, though.
Day 4 – Walbran to Cribbs Creek; ~12 km
First of all, two things:
- Ho-ly is this 200% better when it’s not raining!
- To the group of ladies going the opposite direct telling us “It gets worse before it gets better”, they are in for a terrible awakening.
Compared to what we just finished, this was a Sunday stroll along the Vedder River. Except it’s along the Pacific Ocean.
Our day started out with the usual – rain. However, it didn’t last all day which was a much needed change of pace.
Immediately out of Walbran campground, we had to cross the river that washed out the tent only a few hours before. It was our first of several river crossings but it definitely the toughest. We lined up along the edge of the river, picked our path, and linked arms. Ice cold, knee-deep water first thing in the morning definitely sets the tone for the rest of the day! We cross slowly and safely.
Most of today was spent walking along the beach across varying types of shoreline – soft sand, compact sand, loose rocks, big boulders, even some impressive coastal shelves that felt like you were walking on the edge of the earth. With a few ladders to bypass the impassable parts of the beach, we covered a lot of ground today. Especially considering we were used to crawling along roots, mud, and miserableness, today was an Olympic spring comparatively.
Normally, today would be the day that we would stop for lunch at the famous Chez Monique’s – a little shanty hut “restaurant” propped up by driftwood and tarps right along the beach. For most, it’s the first actual meal – and beer(!) – hikers have since starting the West Coast Trail. Not for us.
Monique Knighton sadly passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2017. Her husband Peter, died a few months later in a freak boating accident. Their children were operating Chez Monique’s during the summer, but had to shut down when their own children started school. That left us giving a somber salute to Chez Monique’s as we hiked straight through. Tonight, we raised our flasks in their honour.
From Chez Monique’s, we made it to Pachena Point Lighthouse for an extended lunch break in the sun. One of the lighthouse keepers came out to talk to us for a bit and gave us an update on trail and campground conditions. The campground we’re planning on staying at for our last night just reopened because bear activity “returned to normal” (yay…). Pachena Point Lighthouse is perched high up on the cliff side, while the lighthouse grounds themselves are bizarrely manicured. After hiking for 4 days in wild backcountry, seeing a nicely mowed lawn and pavement sidewalks made me feel like Robin Williams coming out of Jumanji after 25 years.
Re-energized after lunch and water bottles refilled, it was 45 minutes or so to Cribbs Creek campground. We arrived before 4 PM! It gave us a ton of time to set up clothes lines, gather firewood, dry out, and relax. Like I said before, today was a walk along the Vedder compared to the first few days. The trail is starting to look like what you think it would look like – beach for miles, beautiful rock formations, and lighthouses. Beautiful.
Tomorrow, the Crab Shack! And more leisurely beach walks. Apparently.
Day 5 – Cribbs Creek to Tsusiat Falls; ~ 18 km
Up to this point, Cribbs Creek has been the nicest campsite. That title now belongs to Tsusiat Falls. The big story of the day has to be the Crab Shack!
Our weird string of luck of packing up without the rain has continued because as soon as we were about to put the packs on our backs, it started to pour! We must’ve had 30mm+ just in the first couple hours of our hike – torrential! Nothing we haven’t experienced already on our trip so maybe this is just regular life on the West Coast Trail?
The AM hike was gorgeous, going through the usual forest, back to the beach, up and over big rocks, more of the edge-of-the-world rock shelves, the only crappy part was the rain. Today was fairly uneventful as far as injuries or dicey situations – we’ll take it!
The guiding light for everyone today was the prospect of the Crab Shack, a little hut on a Nitinat Dock. Our first real meal in 5 days!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m very food motivated. So when we hit the trail coming off the beach and back inland, we knew it was a fairly-flat home stretch to a hot lunch. Groomed trail and boardwalks were all that stood between me and cold beer and hot, buttery dungeness crab. I – admittedly, selfishly – almost ran. I got to the Crab Shack about 20 minutes before everybody else, but waited for everyone else to order the food because I’m a gentleman.
Note: Nitinat/Crab Shack is the halfway point of the trail, distance wise. You can take a boat up the river that takes you to town if you decide you can’t take it anymore. It definitely crossed my mind! We asked the guy in charge of keeping the fire stocked up and he said that 20 people opted out and took the boat into town yesterday alone! And all of the “luxury cabins” by the Crab Shack were full, which means those people were leaving the following day. There’s a part of me that thinks they’re quitters, but there’s another part that doesn’t blame them at all.
It was pouring as we all huddled around the wood stove under the little shack, everyone desperately trying to dry out and warm up while waiting for our food. The plus side of having a seafood “restaurant” right on the ocean is the food is fresh. Real fresh! They literally pulled up a crab trap out of the water and onto the dock and there was your lunch. The downside is that because it is the only place for a hot meal on the whole trail, they can charge you whatever they want. I ordered a beer (…they didn’t have any Old Yale beers!!), a whole crab, and a plain baked potato that totalled $50! While it seems expensive, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay that again. I tore into that crab like a bear fresh out of hibernation! My only regret is that I didn’t have enough cash for seconds! Others in our group had BBQ’d salmon, halibut, fancy baked potatoes with all the fixings. It’s ridiculous how delicious such simple meals are at this point.
After we stuffed our faces and bought some more beer for the trail, we took a boat across the inlet to continue our hike. Traversing some more muddy sections that led us to a cliffside trail with views of whale spouts off in the distance. Now THIS is what the West Coast Trail is supposed to be!
Most of the afternoon was spent on the beach basking in the sun. It felt like taking that ferry across the river landed us in a different country – from the rainforest to a tropical beach in a matter of minutes!
A few hours of incredible(!) beach trekking got us to Tsusiat Falls around 6 PM. A little later than we would have liked but with just enough daylight to get everything set up. Tsusiat is the Instagram location of the entire West Coast Trail. Considering its popularity, the campsite was fairly quiet with only a few other groups set up. About 50(?) feet high, Tsusiat Falls is dramatically wide and curtainesque. A perfect cherry on top of an unforgettable day of hiking. Today has made the first rainy few days of the trip feel like a different trip entirely!
Tomorrow, the skies are supposed to be dry and the trail flat, as we head to Darling Creek for our last night on the WCT. For now, I’ll just enjoy this beer. By this fire. On the beach. By a waterfall! I mean, come on.
Day 6 – Tsusiat Falls to Darling Creek; ~12 km
If I had to relive one day of the hike over and over again for the rest of my life, it would be today. That might be because of the sunshine, though.
Leaving Tsusiat Falls was bitter sweet. I felt like we didn’t spend enough time on what is the most stunning campsite on the trail. That kind of natural beauty deserves to be admired for a little longer than usual.
To get out of Tsusiat, it is immediately a series of ladders to take you to the cliffs edge and you work your way back inland a bit. By now, we are seasoned veteran backwoods men and women. It’s actually weird how routine things started to feel by this point in the trip. Like a nomadic tribe that doesn’t know any other way of life. Instead of waking up and going to work, you wake up, pack up all of your worldly belongings, throw them on your back, and walk.
Weather-wise, today was the best day of hiking we’ve had. Not a single drop of rain fell from that infinite source of misery we call a sky. Sunshine all day, baby! The actual hike itself was gorgeous as it took us on a journey of equal parts relaxing beach walking and fairly easy inland trails. A few steep parts here and there but nothing we West Coast Trail pros couldn’t handle!
We arrived at Darling Creek – the campsite that was closed because of bear activity less than 48 hours ago – around 3:30. Considering we left Tsusiat Falls just before 10 this morning, that’s still a pretty full day of hiking. Granted, it was fairly leisurely terrain, but 12 km’s is 12 km’s. It was a good measuring stick for our hike tomorrow because we have to cover 14 km’s before lunch in order to catch the one-and-only bus back to our vehicles in Port Renfrew. A little daunting.
Darling Creek campsite is…meh. I mean, they are all incredible places to stay and we’re lucky to be able to sleep safely on a shoreline that looks over the infinite Pacific Ocean. BUT. To spend the night at Tsusiat Falls the night before, compared to Darling, is a difference of a few stars on the ol’ Yelp review. However, the sun was shining, we were set up early, and had time to break out the hammocks and camp chairs and sip on our specialty drinks we’ve been saving for such an occasion. Fancy rum cocktails, the remnants of whiskey flasks, and the prized possession – beer. OYB’s West Coast IPA, as it seemed the most fitting of our circumstances. Sun, drinks, and naps. As far as I’m concerned, that’s paradise.
The one downside to the sun coming out is that it started to dry out our boots and socks, and as any hiker knows, damp socks means blisters. For some reason, having our boots filled with water didn’t give anybody problems, but damp socks gave everyone blisters almost immediately. Almost made it the entire trip blisterless. So close…
Aside from the bubbling feet and puffy knees, we made it this far in fairly good shape. The rest of our evening was spent making sure we were ready for our early departure and race to the finish line. Our biggest concern was leaving early enough. If today was almost 6 hours to cover 12 km’s, we have to plan accordingly to finish the remaining 14 km’s tomorrow morning. There is a 1:15 bus that we have to catch, so early morning it is!
Tomorrow, civilization and real food.
Day 7 – Darling Creek to Bamfield; ~14 km
5:30. That’s when we were awoken to our tent shaking as the one keener in our group started yelling at us to get up.
We packed as much as we could the night before to expedite our morning a little bit, but it still took us 90 minutes to eat, pack, and hit the trail. I don’t know how anybody else can do it any faster than that, and if you claim that you can, I demand proof.
We were officially underway by 7:05 AM and we could practically taste the burger and beer waiting for us in Bamfield. The trail was a literal walk in the park. More like a sprint in the park. We flew through the first 8 km’s! The blisters eventually took their toll on our pace as we stopped for a brunch of whatever food we had left. Momentum is a very real thing on the trail, once you start, stopping seems like a terrible idea only because you have to get going again.
However, we were making such good time we figured we could add a couple of stops on our last day of the trail. One of which, included the Pachena Point Lighthouse, the last remaining wooden lighthouse in Canada/North America/the entire West Coast. Don’t fact check that. It was while touring the grounds of the lighthouse that conversation of ‘end of the world’ scenarios started.
“What if we get to Bamfield and there was a zombie apocalypse and we didn’t know about it?”
“Well, we ate all of our food already, we’d have to take over the lighthouse.”
Things only got darker from there. It was time to go.
The rest of the trail was groomed, flat, and leisurely. Filled with hikers who were only a few kilometers into their 75 km trek. Some looked like they’ve done it before, while some looked like they would be in some real trouble, as they were already huffing and puffing after only 4 km’s of sidewalk like trail. If I weren’t so close to the finish line, I might have been more concerned. My blisters were screaming, my knees were throbbing, it was time to go home.
The last 0.5 km or so was along the beach – we skipped the last ladder because of low tide – and the entire walk was apparently spent following a bear and wolf duo. Bear and wolf tracks were all over the sand leading into the Parks Canada office just past the treeline. That would be such a cruel way to go, so close to the finish line…
We made it to the little A-frame office around 11:30, just over 4 hours! Ahead of schedule yet it couldn’t have come sooner. We did it.
The packs, boots, and gators came off of everybody as if they were blown off in an explosion. Some articles found their way into the garbage immediately. Victims of the West Coast Trail.
With the taxi van on it’s way, we were all weighing our bags on the scale suspended from the A-frame. Everyone’s packs were 10-12 lbs lighter than when we started, and incredibly, everyone’s body was about 10-12 lbs lighter as well! So if you’re ever looking for a fast weight loss program, just hike 75 or so kilometers with 50 lbs on your pack over a week. Simple.
The Ford Econoline van arrives, we load in our gear, and we pile in.
“You’re going to have to roll down the windows, you guys stink.”
Yes, Mrs. Taxi Van Driver, we do stink. Bad.
A quick drive to the town of Bamfield and we grab some burgers and beers at a/the only restaurant in town. Good lord that was delicious! We finished our lunch just as the bus to Port Renfrew pulls up and we pile in again, this time for about 4 hours.
From Bamfield to Port Renfrew is all backroads and mostly gravel. All I remember is the sound of deafening and constant rattling before I woke up and we were stopped at a little gas station for snacks and bathroom breaks in a town called Youbou. Look it up.
Turns out most of us slept for a few hours, despite the noise and jostling. From Youbou, which looked to have an elk-to-human ratio of 2-to-1, to Port Renfrew was just under an hour. There, we’ll hop in the truck and drive to Sooke, where we’re staying for a night of civilized comfort. Note: turns out we were too exhausted to go out and celebrate once in Sooke, so we ordered pizza and were in bed by 9. Party animals, I know.
Am I glad that I hiked the West Coast Trail? Of course. It has been a bucket list hike since the day I heard about it. Would I hike it again? No way. Portions of it, maybe. But I’m happy to say that I’ve done it and have the pictures to prove it. The WCT is a hike to remember and will be the talking point of many other get togethers with the same group we hiked with. I’m proud and impressed of everyone that hiked it, and even more impressed that we came out of that hike even better friends than when we started, because too often it can go the other way and everybody needs a little break.
Do the West Coast Trail. You might get a little pruney, you might get some blisters, you might even end up regretting doing it, but I guarantee that you will definitely regret not at least trying.