Reminiscing … My West Coast Trail Experience

When was the last time you did something for the first time? ~ John C Maxwell

John, Ross and I at the start of the WCT trailhead at Pachena Beach near Bamfield … geared up to begin!

The West Coast Trail, originally called the Dominion Lifesaving Trail, is a 75 km (47 mi) backpacking trail following the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It was built in 1907 to facilitate the rescue of shipwrecked survivors along the coast, part of the treacherous Graveyard of the Pacific. It is now part of the Pacific Rim National Park and is often rated by hiking guides as one of the world’s top hiking trails. The trail is still extremely rugged and requires a high level of fitness, knowledge, and skill to complete, although in the last 10 to 15 years it has been upgraded to facilitate easier hiking and safety for those with less experience. This has changed the nature and challenge of the trail somewhat but has made it easier for hikers to explore the coast. It has been recommended that hikers travel in groups as a measure of safety, but some also hike the trail solo. To cross the larger rivers and streams hikers must ride cable car suspensions, while smaller or slower waterways are bridged only by fallen logs or may even require wading. There are two waterways that require a boat to cross: the Gordon River, at the southern trailhead, and the Nitinat Narrows, near the midpoint of the trail. A ferry service is operated by the local First Nation. The trail includes some three dozen ladder structures, some of them 30 feet (9.1 m) high, that hikers must ascend or descend. Hikers usually take an average of 7 days to complete the trip, allowing visitors to stop at some point for a day, although it has been run in a single day. Approximately 6000 backpackers complete the trail every year, with 1–2% requiring emergency evacuation due to injury, illness, or hypothermia. ~ Wikipedia


It was 10 years this past month that two friends and I stumbled out of the forest after spending six grueling days hiking the West Coast Trail together. It was an exhilarating, enervating, adventuresome and utterly exhausting time for me and my two friends and neighbours, Ross and John. We wouldn’t have traded it for any other experience.

Ross had hiked the trail about eight times before, so John and I felt comfortable and in good hands when it came to him being our guide. I got to thinking about the trail recently, and much has changed since those days in August 2010. Over the past ten years I had thought that I would one day get back and do it again with these two friends. Unfortunately we never did manage to return. It has remained closed during these 2020 Covid times, and it is hoped that it can re-open in 2021.

John passed away in 2015, so even if we had made it back, Ross and I would have had to do it without him. I don’t think I could do it anymore anyway with these old arthritic knees that I’ve now been blessed with.

The three of us spent several months planning our epic hike. It took meticulous detail to plan all the aspects of our trip. Both John and I even weighted down our packs and went on a couple of long conditioning hikes early that summer to prepare ourselves for the coming adventure. There are one of two places that you can begin the WCT, north from Bamfield to Port Renfrew in the south. We decided to take the north to south route.

WCT Simple Map – the north trailhead is at Bamfield and the south at Port Rrenfrew

August 13, 2010 – Port Renfrew to Pachena Beach via Water Taxi

After several months of preparation, Ross, John and I were finally ready to go. We had come into Port Renfrew the evening previous and stayed overnight so we could catch the water taxi to Bamfield early the next morning and then take the bus to the trailhead at Pachena Beach.

We chose to leave the car in Port Renfrew at the south end of the trail and take the early morning water taxi north to the trail head at Pachena Beach near Bamfield, 75 km away. We could then hike back to the car. The trip on the water taxi was very memorable, and our host on the ride also did contract work for Fisheries and Oceans Canada. There were several spots along the way where he would take out his camera and log one of the many whale sightings. He identified the whales by the markings on their back and their tale fluke.

A little morning mist to greet the day!
One of the fishing boats heading out for the day … a gorgeous morning!
Our Juan de Fuca Express water taxi to Bamfield
On the water taxi and on our way with the sun getting higher in the sky
One of the many whale sightings!
One of the many rock outcroppings where the sea lions congregate

WCT Day 1 – Pachena Beach to Tsocowis Creek

WCT – North Trailhead at Pachena (click to open)
WCT Day 1 – Pachena Beach to Tsocowis Creek (click to open)

Bamfield (Pachina Bay Trailhead) to Tsocowis Creek

The start of the trail from the North end and hiking towards Michigan is usually a quick one.  Once John and I completed the necessary WCT orientation we were able to begin the trail shortly before noon. This portion of the trail was quite wide, very well maintained and had only minimal elevation changes along the way.  Points of interest along the way included Pachina Point, where there is usually a large colony of sea lions and the Pachina Lighthouse.  The lighthouse had fresh water and a visitors book to sign. 

WCT Day 1 – Trailhead Start – Aug 13, 2010 @ 11:55 AM
WCT Day 1 – A slight struggle to load my 40 lb pack to begin!
WCT Day 1 – John readies his camera as we approach Pachena Lighthouse
WCT Day 1 – Pachena Lighthouse and a brief rest stop
WCT Day 1 – John and Ross getting ready to get those heavy packs back on!

After our half hour stop to refresh at Pachina Lighthouse and to have an energy bar and a drink, we continued on to our camp for the night at Tsocowis Creek. Ross figured that the two Darling River campsites (near the wreck sites of the Michigan and the Uzbekistan) would be busy with overnight campers, so we decided to carry on. Tsocowis had good amenities and spending the night there gave us us a bit of a head start on the others the next morning. It was great advice. Tsocowis Creek was at the 16 1/2 km mark from the Pachena Beach Trailhead, and wasn’t busy at all.

Tsocowis Creek had a decent beach with an excellent water source. It was a great campsite that was situated on a wide expanse of beach and featured a small waterfall with some collection ponds for showering or cooling off.  There was an abundance of firewood as this site is not heavily used and it had a metal food locker that we used to lock up our provisions from the occasional bear visit.  The Native Guardian Cabin was off limits to hikers.  The outhouse was not the greatest and was about 100 meters north of the falls.  We located our tent behind the logs along the beach so as to get some shelter from offshore winds.  There was wreckage of an old barge on the beach.

Tsucowis Creek Campsite 

WCT Day 1 – Arriving at Tsocowis Creek Camp – Ross and Keith scope it out
WCT Day 1 – Tsocowis Creek Camp – Keith and Ross relaxing after dinner with a much needed drink
WCT Day 1 – Tsocowis Creek Camp – tent set up and preparing to turn in for the night

WCT Day 2 – Tsocowis Creek to Tsuquadra Pt

WCT Day 2 – Tsocowis Cr to Tsuquadra Pt (click to open)

Tsocowis Creek to Tsusiat Falls (Inland) – 11.5 km

Our first night was a restful one after beginning the hike, and we woke on Day 2 to begin the trek to our next rest stop at the 30 km mark, Tsuquadra Point. Today’s hike would take us to our first cable car experience to cross the Klanawa River. It was going to be another fabulous weather day, perfect for hiking.

WCT Day 2 – A quick beach conference with Ross before we begin
WCT Day 2 – Down the ladder at Trestle Creek to access the beach at low tide
WCT Day 2 – In transit to the Klanawa River
WCT Day 2 – Klanawa River cable car crossing
WCT Day 2 – There were lots of great opportunities for pictures

Tsusiat Falls to Tsuquadra Point (Beach Route)- 4 KM

Once we got to Tsusiat Falls, we knew that we would be at low tide so we decided to take the beach route the rest of the way to Tsuquadra. Our original plan was to stop for the night and camp near the guardian cabin at Tsuquadra, but as we were arriving Ross wanted to go about 1 km further to see if Earl Edgar was operating his pop up “restaurant” … “Earl’s on the Beach” which is a little known place to stop and have a meal if Earl is around. Earl’s is owned and operated by Earl Edgar, and there were two choices were on the menu, either a BBQ’d smoky or fresh crab! And … the coldest and best tasting beer you could ever imagine! Ross and I picked the fresh crab, and John the smoky, although we couldn’t understand why. After giving us each our two beers, Earl’s son paddled out on a paddle board to a crab trap out in the water and brought Ross and I each a crab that he would cook for us. Our seafood meal was the sweetest and best tasting crab ever, and the cold beer made a perfect companion to it. It was about a 1 KM hike back to the guardian cabin, but since the light was beginning to fail Earl’s son let us camp on the beach for the night.

WCT Day 2 – getting our table ready for our unforgettable meal at Earl’s on the Beach
WCT Day 2 – dusk setting in after our great meal
WCT Day 2 – Our tents set up at on the beach at Earl’s

Day 3 – Tsuquadra Pt to Carmanah (via Nitinat Narrows)

WCT Day 3 – Tsuquadra Pt to Carmanah (click to open)

Tsuquadra to Carmanah (Inland and/or beach at low tide) – 15 KM

After turning in with our bellies full of that sweet crab, we awoke to another glorious day for day 3 of our hike. Another fairly long day ahead of us to Carmanah, which is well known amongst any of the regular WCT’ers as the home of Chez Monique’s and the absolute best burger anywhere! Ross knew Monique Knighton and her husband Peter well and had pre-arranged our meal at Monique’s with the plan to camp on their beach that evening.

WCT Day 3 – Our morning view after going back up the ladder from the beach at Earl’s
WCT Day 3 – Arriving at Nitinat Narrows
WCT Day 3 – Carl Edgar arriving with his boat to take us across the narrows
WCT Day 3 – Ross stops for a quick drink before we head on
WCT Day 3 – Ross heads down the ladder so we could access the beach route
WCT Day 3 – one final look by me before heading down the ladder
WCT Day 3 – We encountered some fog along the beach route to Carmanah lighthouse
WCT Day 3 – John and Ross trudging along ahead of me
WCT Day 3 – Carmanah Lighthouse
WCT Day 3 – The menu at Chez Monique’s

Chez Monique’s is a legend among the WCT hiking community, and legendary off-the-grid restaurant and store that West Coast Trail hikers call a middle-of-nowhere oasis. It was operated by Monique and Peter Knighton for almost 30 years before Monique passed away due to health reasons in January 2018.

WCT Day 3 – John surveying the surroundings at Chez Monique’s
WCT Day 3 – Nightfall quickly arriving with an appearance by the moon
WCT Day 3 – Some hot chocolate and a singsong with Monique’s WWOOF’ers

Tragically, Peter drowned after his aluminum boat capsized during a storm in June 2019 following a supply run to Port Renfrew. It happened 6 months after Monique passed away, and happened right near Chez Monique … the centre of Peter and Monique’s world and their home. The video below has some wonderful scenes of the West Coast Trail around and near Chez Monique’s, and is well worth the 21 minutes if you have the time …

21 min : 03 seconds

Day 4 – Chez Monique’s (Carmanah) to Cullite Creek

WCT Day 4 – Chez Monique’s (Carmanah) to Cullite Creek (click to open)

The morning of the 4th day of hiking was bright and clear. Our stay at Chez Monique’s was one of the highlights of our hike, and after saying goodbye to Monique and Peter and the WWOOF’ers we began our the next portion of our hike to Cullite Creek.

WCT Day 4 – A quick goodbye to the WWOOF’ers and we were on our way

This portion of our hike would bring a mixture of inland and beach hiking. The sections of the WCT that were along the sand and shelf beaches made the hiking generally easy, especially with the tides out and not much soft sand that we had to wade through. The 3.5 km section from Bonilla Point to Vancouver Point to was entirely on the beach, and was a mixture of sand and shelf. The tide level was low so we were able to cover this section quite rapidly, about 1.5 hours for the 3.5 km.  Throughout the shelf there were some narrow surge channels that need to be avoided but the shelf is always preferred over the sand so that’s the route we took.

The last 1.5 km of this hike was fairly tough slogging through mud, tree roots, swampy bog areas and some deadfall.  There was an increasing amount of boardwalk placed over the more environmentally sensitive areas and these sections that took us through open and sunny parts of the trail that are unlike any others on the way.  This section has the heaviest concentration of ladders on the WCT and the only saving grace is that the ladders are far preferable to a series of switchbacks.  When we reached our Cullite camp we faced the longest two sets of ladders of the WCT, 180 rungs down towards the cable car and then 220 rungs up to the trail continuation.  Since we were stopping at Cullite we just went down and then bushwacked a bit to the beach access and our camping site.

WCT Day 4 – A quick stop for a snack
WCT Day 4 – Ross and I finishing up a little lunch while John checks the map
WCT Day 4 – There was some extensive ladder work going up and down between the beach and inland routes
WCT Day 4 – One at a time, please!
WCT Day 4 – A beautiful area for our Cullite camping spot

Day 5 – Cullite Creek to Thrasher

WCT Day 5 – Cullite Creek to Thrasher Cove (click to open)

Our 5th day of hiking would take us to the longest set of ladders from our Cullite creek campsite back up to the inland trail. We had come down the 180 rungs to get here yesterday afternoon, and now had to take the long 220 rung ladder back up to get on our way to Thrasher Cove.

WCT Day 5 – Up from Cullite Creek to the main trail is a long way up!
WCT Day 5 – Ross navigating one of the many log bridges along this route

We chose to stay inland all the way to Thrasher. The inland route is straight forward but fairly difficult and features some mud, exposed roots and gentle ups and downs.  This brings you to a series of ladders leading down towards Camper Bay, or if you are not staying there you can either take the cable car across or go down like we did and rock hop across the river if dry or relatively shallow.

WCT Day 5 – The river was dry so we chose to do some rock hopping
WCT Day 5 – Picking our way carefully across the river bed

On our way to Thrasher, Ross discussed staying in the forest off the main trail at a clearing he knew that he felt would be better than taking the 1 km route down from the main trail to the campsite at Thrasher Cove. We all decided to follow Ross’s advice so we could have a head start on the most grueling part of the hike we were facing on our final day of hiking.

WCT Day 5 – Almost at an end with only 1 km to go to our campsite near Thrasher
WCT Day 5 – Our makeshift campsite just off the main trail

Day 6 – Thrasher to Gordon River (Port Renfrew)

WCT Day 6 – Thrasher to Gordon River and the trail exit (click to open)

The trail from Thrasher to Gordon River is considered the most difficult of the entire route and consists of mud, roots, lots of up and down, log bridges and some ladders.  Once we reached the highest point on the WCT we were close to the donkey engine and than began a long, slow descent back down to sea level.  We could only accomplish this by constantly going up and down. This part of the trail is considered one of the most arduous sections of the trail and, although only 5 KM in length, usually takes as much time as the more northern sections twice as long or more. Depending on speed, energy levels and trail conditions, we were told to expect this stretch of 5 KM to take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours. This portion of the hike took us through second growth forest and was entirely inland due to impassable headlands on the coast. There was lots of deadfall, salal, skunk cabbage, salmonberry thickets, and heavy underbrush off the main trail combined with some wide open sections where it would be very easy to lose sight of the trail. Two things that kept us on track were the trail kilometres markers that appeared every one or two kilometres and the old, fallen, wire telegraph line that parallels the route.  We had occasional glimpses of the ocean through the forest on our right hand side but these are minimal due to the trail’s distance from the water’s edge.  We had to exercise lots of caution when crossing the various log “bridges” that spanned the many gullies.  Although some were fairly wide and all had been shaved flat at the top, they were very slippery and a fall would have been painful. Especially so close to completing the trail.

WCT Day 6 – A quick pose near the derelict donkey engine near KM 72
WCT Day 6 – many parts of the trail were arduous and required some monkey like skills to navigate the deadfall
WCT Day 6 – Nearing the end and another bear siting notice
WCT Day 6 – As we neared the Gordon River exit we caught glimpses of civilization

After a final climb down a gully like trail we arrived at the Ferry landing which is the southern start to the West Coast Trail.  We put the float that was there to signal the water taxi to give us a short ride across the Gordon River. The ferry took us toa dock located on the Indian Reservation (next to Nora’s General Store) and it was not far from the Parks Canada Information Office which was a short hike down the road to the west. The ferry operator was Butch Jack and the trip was quick and comfortable.

After signing out at the Parks Canada Office we asked the Ranger for information on how to get into town and we headed into Port Renfrew for food, refreshments and much needed showers.

WCT Day 6 – The Gordon River Trailhead to go from south to north and our exit out
WCT Day 6 – Our official time and date off of the West Coast Trail
WCT Day 6 – The Gordon River waiting area for the ferry
WCT Day 6 – The signal float to be picked up by our water taxi
WCT Day 6 – Our water taxi to the Parks Canada office to officially register as off of the WCT. On board were hikers beginning the trail from the south end.
WCT Day 6 – Standing in line at the Gordon River Parks Canada office

Ross and I had plans to get back to the West Coast Trail, but they never materialized for the two of us. He and John did get back in 2011, but unfortunately though, their hike was shortened when John broke his ankle on the trail before Carmanah and he and Ross had to be evacuated off of the trail. The three of us had intentions to get back one day, but then John then passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 2015.

It turns out that my first time doing the WCT was also my last time, but I am grateful that I had the chance to do it.


Keith

13 thoughts on “Reminiscing … My West Coast Trail Experience

    • Absolutely! It is a cherished memory and I am pleased that I did it as well. Hopefully you can make it there next year, once we get past this Covid thing!

  1. All I can say is wow…. it looks awesome. I’m so glad you got to do it, and that you actually did it!!! The views are worth it…
    Love, light and glitter

    • I am surprised I did it too, Eliza! I was still getting up there in age at the time, and although I was fairly fit, I never really was much of a hiker. Doing the trail was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time and it would be so much harder 10 years later as a senior citizen! Hope all is well with you …

  2. Wow that was one long journey and story. Thanks for sharing your memories with us. It was beautiful, we got to catch glimpses of the Trail ourselves from our own homes. Camping sure sounds a lot of fun and I have only done it twice for a very short period of time in my life. My latest poem also ties up with the tent and camp vibes… but this was an edperience I’m sure very few of us get to really have. Kudos to you 🖤🖤

    • Yeah …it was one long story and one long journey for sure. At least there were lots of pictures to see. I’ll make sure I get over and read your poem as well. Thanks, Shruba!

    • Thanks, Karima. It was a such a long time ago now, and I have so many great memories from the trip. It’s not one that I feel I could do again 10 years later, so I am glad that I did it when I could!

    • Thanks, Geri, and thanks for the follow as well. It was an amazing trip for sure, and one that I am so glad that I was able to do. I’ll have a look at your site in the next few days as well! Be safe in these pandemic times.

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