West Coast Trail 2022 Journal
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Five years ago, in 2017, my youngest son (Josh) and I thru-hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail. Sinced then, he's been looking for another trail to hike and settled on the West Coast Trail this year. He did ALL the planning for this trip and invited his girlfriend (Emi), brother (Kory), mother (Kelly), and father (me) to join him, so I was just a participant on this trek.
It took two days of travel and 7 days of hiking for us to complete the 50 mile trail from July 23 to July 31, 2022.
Following is my hike report. To see a track of our route, you can visit my Trail Map page. Feel free to shoot me any questions you have about our hike - every experience on the trail is different, but our experience will hopefully help you prepare for your journey.
Day0 Day1 Day2 Day3 Day4 Day5 Day6 Day7 Day8
It's a long way from Minnesota to Vancouver Island!
I drove from the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming to Eden Prairie, MN all day Friday, just ending a week-long backpacking trip there. I got home around 8pm, and our plane to SeaTac left at 6:30am on Saturday - not a lot of time to wash clothes and repack, but we got 'er done.
Bright and early on Saturday, we drove to the airport and parked the car. It was surprising how many other people were up this early catching planes. We checked our backpacks and got the plane for an uneventful 3 hour flight to Washington.
Once at SeaTac, we retrieved our bags and hopped on the lightrail to a sketchy Columbia City stop somewhere in Seattle. This is where we were to pick up our Kyte rental car that we reserved online. Josh used his Kyte app to track the car and a few minutes after we got off the lightrail, a guy showed up in the vehicle, gave Josh the keys, and left on the lightrail. Pretty slick and easy!
Good thing we're on Minnesota time still. It turns out that staying 2 hours ahead this entire trek will make for early hiking and longer afternoons to enjoy camp life, so that worked out nice.
This morning, we got up early for a 6 block walk to where the West Coast Trail Shuttle Bus picks up its first hikers on its 6 hour way up to the north end of the trail. We got seats in the back by our packs and settled in for only a 3 hour ride since we start at the southern end.
The gang was then directed to walk down the road to a ferry service for the boat ride across the Gordon River to the actual trailhead. With so many hikers, we waited to be in the 2nd group across, just in case the boat sank or there were bears waiting in the woods.
When our group of 5 were all up, we turned our backs on the beautiful sun-drenched beach and plunged haphazardly into the dense, dark rainforest. Our first day is short, something around 5 kilometers, which is good since we did not get started until about 11:15am after the orientation and ferry ride.
Buoys hanging in trees signal that a beach access, campsite, or other important landmark is there. But, sometimes, they are just buoys hanging in trees.
Our tent is actually a bug nest under a tarp and uses two hiking poles for support. Without anchor points, it does not pitch so I used rocks piled on my tent stakes and that did the job. On this particular trail, the ease of popping up a free-standing tent is probably worth the extra weight.
A main goal we had for our trek was to hike as much on the beach as possible. Having studied the tide tables for the dates we are hiking, we found that tides were low enough to pass most tight spots early in the morning. That worked perfectly for us since we had a 2 hour time difference to make up. Waking at 5:15 and getting on the trail by 6:00 gave us plenty of time to explore our way around Owen Point from Thrasher Cove so we did not have to climb back up those long ladders and use the less scenic and more muddy forest trail.
But, that did not mean the shore route was much easier. Much of this "beach" was made of huge boulders interspersed with large driftwood logs, so it was a slippery, challenging, and slow way for a few kilometers.
The work of traversing the rocks was rewarded with a nice walk on real sand with many tidepools, and then the magnificent cave at Owen Point.
Rounding Owen Point, the trail surface changes dramatically. No longer boulders or sand, but a solid sea shelf of bedrock with small pools and occasional surge channels crossing the way from ocean to cliff face. Some were easy to cross on logs while others required scampering above them at the forest edge. There are warnings on the official maps about the danger of these, but we did not notice anything any more dangerous than the rest of the trail.
Hiking on this sea shelf could be very quick since the footing is flat, firm, and stable - but we spent a lot of time exploring pools and enjoying the wonderfully sunny day. We were fortunate that the rock was dry, but in any wet areas the surface was extremely slick.
The last couple kilometers required us to leave the beach and head back onto the forest trail for the typical mud walking interspersed with boardwalks, bridges, and ladders. Just before reaching Camper Bay campsite, we got to use the first of five cable cars along the trail. The Camper Creek that we crossed could have easily been crossed on foot, but the cable car is lots more fun!
The day remained clear and sunny as we spent the entire afternoon and evening exploring the bay, tidepools, surge channels, and beach. Out in the ocean, we saw the geysers and dorsal fins of a half dozen whales.
Since we arrived so early, we claimed a shaded spot and the entire area around us gradually filled with tents as others arrived throughout the afternoon. It was becoming an enjoyable activity to see the order that hikers arrived and try to guess how their hike had gone based on the time and how they looked. The very first day, a father and son had to turn back due to a faulty shoe. Other than that, every person that started with us finished the trail, as far as I know. Seeing some of the bruises, scrapes, fatigue, and mental weariness that some were going through, I was very impressed that they accomplished their goal of completing the trail.
After such a splendid yesterday down at the water's edge, today's trail kept us up in the rain forest every kilometer from Camper Bay to Walbran Creek. We had our share of mud, ladders, and boardwalks. The general view is that the southern 20 kilometers or so of the West Coast Trail are the worst - so far I completely agree! If we had had to stay up in the forest due to tides yesterday, it would have been even more unpleasant tread.
We began saying "YAL!" whenever we saw Yet Another Ladder ahead. That eventually morphed into YAMP and YAB for Mud Pit and Boardwalk.
By this time, I had discovered the difference between Mud and Soft Dirt. If you can see the tread on a footprint left behind, then it's just soft dirt and walking right through it only gets your shoes dirty. If there are no discernible footprints, then it's mud and your shoes and feet will most likely get soaked and filthy. Also, it only counts as mud if it's more than an inch deep - a thin layer of runny, sluicy, slick mud on firm dirt or gravel doesn't count.
We were blessed with yet another sunny day and I believe the nice days did help dry the trail out somewhat. We took a long break at Cullite Creek and replenished water.
The afternoon consisted of yet more mud, ladders, and boardwalks which brought us to Walbran Creek where a few southbound hikers had already set up. We chose to put our tents way out on the sand spit, hoping to avoid the crowds but it didn't take long for folks to have tents right near us. Oh well, the only time it got a bit annoying was when a couple kids decided to play rock & stick baseball right by our tent just as we were heading to bed.
The water source at Walbran had a landslide by it, so you can not reach it walking. Most people opted to scoop water out of the creek backwater you can see in the background. Unfortunately, that's the same spot that people were swimming and washing clothes and dishes - I even swam there and it was wonderful. Also, the water level rose and fell with the tide, so I expect there was salt water in it as well.
Anyway, Kelly and I loaded up a bag with all our empty water bottles and filters, then headed up Walbran Creek to find fresh water. We walked and swam about a quarter mile until there was obvious, visible flow to the water above the backwater bay. It was quite an adventure making our way on the super slick underwater rocks with over 20 pounds of water, but we made it.
Here's just some pics of the mud, ladders, boardwalks, and bridges of the day...
The day began with a water crossing. We could have taken the cable car but that would have meant about 2 kilometers of hiking in the forest and we had enough of that yesterday. So, a brisk foot bath and we were off for an entire day of beach hiking! As you can see, the sky is no longer that brilliant blue - the fog rolled in overnight. It obscured all views out to the ocean and made it obvious why so many ships have run aground on Vancouver Island. The fog lingered all this day and the next, and then only allowing brief sun breaks for another day. It made for cool hiking weather, but greyed out much of the scenery - better than rain, though!
Our early start let us stay on the beach all day except for a mandatory forest kilometer around Carmanah Point. We enjoyed tidepools, thousands of tiny crabs scurrying away from us, a few eagles, and another shallow water crossing.
We stopped for a break at the Bonilla Point campsite and thought it looked like a terrific place to stay with its beautiful waterfall.
Most of the beach on this day was proper beach - packed sand and easy walking. We also got to take advantage of wide, flat sea shelf rock in some areas. So, our 2 kilometers an hour was a leisurely stroll through the fog.
Throughout the afternoon, both northbound and southbound hikers arrived and filled in all the spots. There were a couple dozen tents pitched by evening. It was fun having so many hours to notice the change of sea level with the tide.
Yet Another Foggy Day - and terrific for hiking. We started early as usual and the tide was out so we headed north along the beach, covering the usual solid sea shelf, packed sand, and rocky sections. The shelf here is tilted and broken, making for small hill climbs and more chance of taking a mis-step. Other than one very short ladder climb around an impasse near Dare Point, our first 6 kilometers were all on the beach.
There were plenty of pools to keep our interest, and even large boulders on the sand with various sealife clinging to them, waiting for the sea to return.
The very nice bridge over the Cheewhat River took us up into the forest for the last 3 kilometers before the Nitinaht Narrows ferry ride and the Crabshack for lunch. Boardwalks made most of this distance fly past.
I could finally get rid of the wad of Canadian bills I had been carrying specifically for our lunch. The Crabshack only takes cash. Arriving at 11:00am, there were already a dozen orders ahead of us, so we conquered a table out of the way and had a very nice rest while waiting for the food.
It was fun to see friends roll in and tell about their morning adventures. The food was ok, but the $3.00 Coke was my favorite! It was a wonderful rest, but we finally gave up our spot to take the ferry across the Narrows.
The ferry ride is very short and you are dumped off on a tiny gravel beach with the trail disappearing immediately up into the forest. For the next 2 kilometers, it's a muddy forest hike around Tsuquadra Point before dropping back to the beach for the remainder of the hike to Tsusiat Falls - but you've seen enough mud pictures.
This section of beach was softer sand and rolling hills of small, loose, round rocks that made us work for every meter forward. The beach was steep enough down to the water, and the tide was coming in, that it was no better close to the water. So, we pushed on.
When we reached Tsusiat Point, just south of the camping area, the tide was too high for us to hike through the Hole in the rock cliff, so we scrambled up and over the muddy passage above. This brought us back down to the last 2 kilometers of beach walking.
Everyone talks about Tsusiat Falls - and it is worthy of the hype. We arrived and, guess what, set up our tents at the edge of the beach. :-) Yet Another Nice Site! The sun was flirting with the fog, occasionally burning through and brightening the sky. This was our longest distance day and we were tired out, but we still needed water. So, I walked down to the pool below the falls and stood under the cool shower while filling the filter bags with falling water. It was wonderful! No one else in our group took advantage of it.
North of Tsusiat Falls, there is a 2 kilometer forest hike to the cable car crossing the Klanawa River, so up we climbed. There were plenty of boardwalks to make this section fairly convenient. At the end, we climbed down YAL to the Klanawa cable car. The crossing was quite an adventure...
Kelly and I were the 3rd crossing, after Josh and Emi, then Kory. We had sent one pack over with Kory so Kelly was holding our hiking poles and her pack was between us. As we whooshed out to the middle of the river, with gravity pulling us along, all was good. Then, I had to start pulling on the rope to move us up the uphill to the platform - Josh was helping from the far side.
At this point, Kelly thought it would be good of her to help pull on the rope. To do that, she needed to let go of the hiking poles. So, she did.
Plop! Plop! There they went into the river.
So, this photo is of her coming out of the Klanawa River after diving down to rescue the two poles. She got them, dried off, got dressed, and we were on our way. Whew!
From there, we had a typical 3.5 kilometer forest walk with not much to mention, except for some artistic boardwalk carving and another old engine. This was followed by a 4.5 kilometer beach walk past Tsocowis Creek, Orange Juice Creek, and Darling River campsites on our way to our evening destination of Michigan Creek.
Since we arrive a little after noon, we had lots of time to relax on our last evening on trail. There were plenty of buoys in trees here, as usual, and the sun finally decided to come back out! So, we again watched the tides turn and looked for our fellow hikers to arrive. I expected this last campsite to be packed, but there were significantly fewer tents than earlier. I imagine some people took a rest day at Tsusiat Falls.
Michigan Creek had only one other person when we arrived. Again, we pitched camp well away from where it appeared most of the community congregates. This put us quite far north up the beach. Around 2:00pm, a black bear wandered out of the forest onto the beach about 30 yards from our tents. The one other person that was here saw it and started raising a real ruckus to scare it away. Seemed like overkill to me, but it worked and the bear scampered back into the woods.
I had found a float on the beach, amongst all the other debris that covers pretty much every meter of coastline. I was going to carry it out in a futile gesture of cleaning the shore a tiny bit. But, I was told that some authorities frown on removing floats, so I carved it like the hundreds of others hanging at the campsites and added left it with them. We did carry out a few pounds of trash that we collected along the trail - wrappers, broken hiking pole parts, plastic bottles, and other bits dropped by hikers.
Our last day on trail was by far the easiest. An early start, just in case we needed the time, got us to the trail's end at a bit after 10:00am with a few hours to wait for the shuttle bus back to Victoria.
The trail itself was like walking through a park much of the time, with a few ladders and mud holes thrown in for fun.
At the end, we met a sawyer getting ready to clear some trail. His name is Kevin and is kinda famous on the WCT since he is one of the Trail Guardians. The Guardians are First Nations people hired to maintain the trail, assist hikers, and share their culture. He is active on the Facebook group and has been cooking and sharing salmon every Thursday this summer.
Kevin maintains the northern 25 kilometers of trail with some other Guardians. There are two other crews that handle the other two 25 kilometer sections. He's the guy that mad the artistic boardwalks. He also drops leaves along the trail with faces cut out of them, just to support hikers nearing the end.
With our time, we walked the 1/2 kilometer down the road to the campground office where there were showers - 1 Loonie for 4 minutes. It was awesome!
The nearly 6 hour bus ride through the forest, past Nitinaht Lake and Port Renfrew to pick up more hikers, and finally to Victoria was just a long, bumpy loss of time. It was fairly comfortable, though, so no complaints since I didn't have to drive. Back at the Helms Inn in Victoria, Kelly and I headed to the grocery store and then the Beacon Hill Drive-In to gather dinner while the rest took showers. Great french fries and onion rings, OK hamburgers, poutine, and cold beer topped off the day.
We finally got to sleep in and take our time this morning since the ferry leaves later in the morning. All of our travel went absolutely smooth with all the transitions between walking, ferry, rental car, lightrail, and airplane. Another beautiful, sunny day gave us a terrific ferry ride back to the United States, even seeing a whale just off the starboard bow! We got home very late at night, losing those extra 2 hours we had while on the west coast.
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