Saturday, 02-Dec-2023 16:30:13 EST
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West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, BC (Bamfield to Port Renfrew)
|(With apologies to James Joyce) roots mud up down mud up roots down roots mud mud up down sea lions soft sand sunshine lighthouse ladder waterfall roots mud up down suspension bridge roots mud up down beach drizzle crystal stream ladder roots mud up down boardwalk roots mud nice hard sand zillions of crabs beat the tide ladder roots mud up slippery boardwalk down cable car ladder sunshine waterfall zillions of gulls lighthouse ladder soft sand ladder roots mud up down river otter tracks rain roots mud up down more rain roots mud up down rotting boardwalk mud down roots up mildewing clothes up down ladders cable car roots mud up down sunshine too weak to dry anything....|
At 5AM we're up to catch the boat to Bamfield at 6. We'd all be dog tired except that we're really excited. The dawn is breaking, the air is still, the sky is cloudless. It's going to be a gorgeous day. We find our boat and our captain. One last bit of business - we park where the locals tell us... but then more locals tell us we'll be towed if we park there. Arg. We move the cars onto the front lawn of Stan Medd (near the Port Renfrew hotel) and leave a note on the front door promising to pay when we get back... We leave our keys with a local and (gulp) we're out o' here.
|Port Renfrew Hotel
Beer, music, food...
|Port Renfrew Harbor||Our ride Cap'n G|
At 7AM the water in Port San Juan Bay is flat as a mirror as we depart. The ride is scheduled to take 3 hours or longer if there's stuff worth seeing along the way. You can also take a bus to Bamfield but everyone complains about the long, dusty ride on rough logging roads. This option isn't without it's potential drawbacks - rough ocean, sea sickness, rain, cold... but in fact the trip is pretty much perfect: with great views and zillions of sea lions. The one thing missing - no whales. Cap'n Brian Gisbourne totes around a lot of oceanographers and the latest poop is that the whales are not here this year and nobody knows why.
Hikers seen from the boat
|Sea lions lyin'||Bamfield||Tsusiat Pt from the boat|
Joan catches some zzz while the rest of us deal with 3-4 foot swells !?
We arrive in picture perfect Bamfield about 11 AM and since the next Trail Orientation isn't until 1:30 PM, we have time to kill. While waiting for the bus we beg a ride from a local who gives us a lift to the campground/ranger station for the $8 a head the bus would have charged us. There's a pleasant beach here and I catch a nap in the shade. The orientation itself is required - here you pay for and receive your permit. Keep this. Later, you'll need to show it at the water crossings to get a free ride. The talk lasts about an hour. What I got from it was that the rocks are slippery, you WILL fall down, it WILL be muddy, pay attention to the tides, if you try to cross a surge channel you will surely die (I may be exaggerating this one a bit but only a bit). They also love to tell you that (and I quote) "On average, during the hiking season, we evacuate one person from the trail every other day". Puts the fear-o-god in ya from that one, eh? Oh ya, if you ask, they'll tell you where the latest critter sightings have been.
They do give each member of your party a nifty waterproof map of the trail with a tide table affixed. (The map and the trail itself both have kilometers marked. Very convenient.
At 2:30 PM we are finally (FINALLY) on the trail. I'm so excited my pack (at the high side of 50 lbs) doesn't even feel heavy (kind of). The first 12 KM at this end is all inland. No beach, not even much sight of the ocean. It's very pleasant though. Almost immediately we are on boardwalk and then encounter our first "ladder". This isn't exactly what I was expecting. The "ladders" from my previous trips on the Olympic peninsula are thick wooden ties between cables that are HUNG on the cliff side. They are an adventure to climb as they kind of dance with you as you go up. This ladder. This ladder is more like the Cadillac of ladders, built with construction grade lumber. I almost expect to come around the corner and find a hot tub ! They are REALLY tall though. The rangers told us that this first ladder is the second tallest on the trail. That puts it at over 100 feet I think. I'm wondering how we'll all do with this obstacle and day-1-heaviest packs but no one has any problem.
It is... Chutes and Ladders for grownups.
|Somehow I think we'll be seeing many more of these||Chanterelle||Dr Livingston I presume...|
We are cruisin'. Well sort of. Actually we've gotten a very late start and have heavy packs and Joan is tired and by KM 10 it's clear that we're not going to make it to Michigan beach with any light. The forest floor is very dense and brushy making camping here pretty much not possible. So we backtrack to KM 9 where there's a little trail to a viewpoint to where the sea lions like to hang out. We find a few flat spots in the forest there and make camp, make dinner, make hot chocolate with Jack Daniels and make night night.
Funny thing about sleeping near a bunch of sea lions. They seem to party ALL NIGHT LONG. My first night on the trail I don't sleep so well and the noise keeps me awake too. After a while I swear I can identify each lion by its bellow. I give them names. There's "heavy breather" and the one that sounds like a chuckling Jaba the Hut, "clogged drain", "wet beer farts". By morning I feel like we're old friends.
Day 2 8/30/07 Thursday
We enjoy a relaxed morning with breakfast, exploring the nearby cliffs and finally packing up. We visit the lighthouse briefly before descending to Michigan beach where "the boiler" in the break water is our first sign of wreckage that this trail is so famous for. It feels good to finally be on the beach. By the time we reach the Darling River the intermittent morning fog is gone. We hike inland along the river to visit the falls. The spot is idyllic with sunshine filtering through the trees.
|Day 1 drinking buddy||Drinking buddy||More drinking buddies|
|Where the sea lions hang||Storm damage from 2006||Christmas?|
|Michigan beach area||...||...|
|...||Darling Creek Falls||Darling Creek|
|East of Darling Creek||Wreckage east of Darling|
Back on the beach we find something... lost Soyuz capsule... canned spam? Not sure what this is but I rubbed it in case it had a genie living inside but no such luck. Sent it back out to sea.
Genie in a bottle?
The beach walking is pretty easy past Darling. We see some big wreckage. The trail goes inland at Tsocowis creek. this is a cool spot - with waterfall onto the beach and stairs and ladders that climb up to a small suspension bridge. We're inland for about 3 KM. past the "derelict donkey engine and grater". back on the beach at Trestle Creek we find more wreckage (the anchor). Here we're walking on sandstone shelf and there are millions of little black crabs. We are clearly invading their territory and every single one of them is prepared to joust to defend it !
|...||Chutes and Ladders E of Tsocowis||...|
|Tsocowis Creek||Joan and Al|
|Honeymooners||Tired Hiker||Beautiful sunset|
En Garde !
We camp at Klanawa in the woods. We have the space to ourselves and didn't see many people today either.
quote of the day:
Joan: "I like the idea of an animal carrying all my gear"
Chris: "Do you have to fart like that on our honeymoon?"
Day 3 8/31/07 Friday
Snafu in the morning. Jeff and I opt to cross the river on the beach while Al and Joan use the cable car. I'm convinced the beach will be easy and faster which is true but then we miss the beach access point back to the trail and spend 20 minutes finding it. For our trouble we do get to see two bald eagles. When we finally catch up with Al and Joan we're only two minutes behind them but everybody is kind of pissed off.
We hike inland for about 1.5 KM, gaining some altitude and meet a lot of hikers going the other way. After a bit we come to a fairly serious river. I don't realize but this is the Tsusiat R of Tsusiat falls. Not far past the river we come to the fork and series of ladders that leads down to the beach. Note - the toilet and the bear cans for this camping area are at the TOP of the ladders! This is usually a most popular spot to camp but it being mid-day there's almost no one here. We visit the falls. Now I've seen pictures of the falls and even saw the falls from the boat on the way to Bamfield but I never really got the scale. The falls are probably at least 40-50 feet high and look like something out of an old Tarzan movie. Another interesting thing - the seagulls are molting which means there are zillions of them on the beach. As you walk close to them they don't fly but rather just walk out of your way. After a while, you feel like Moses parting the "white sea".
|Honeymooners||Tired Hiker||Beautiful sunset|
|A sign...||Ladders down to Tsusiat Beach||Joan at Tsusiat Beach|
There were a few seagulls at Tsusiat Falls
|Artsy||Tsusiat Falls||Tsusiat Pt|
|Jeff at Tsusiat Pt||Chris and Joan at Tsustiat Pt||Al and Jeff at Tsusiat Pt|
|Al at Tsusiat Pt||Artsy|
From here the beach walking is pleasant, past big sandstone cliffs to Tsusiat point. We just beat the tide through the hole. We encounter some more wreckage. Some seems more modern made out of fiberglass? We're 2 KM on sand and then back inland for 1.5 KM through IR 2 (Indian Reserve 2) where the character of the forest changes. At either end of the reserve is a sign that explains that this land is a spiritual sanctuary for the Indians and it's easy to see why. There are beautiful, big, old cedars here, the forest is tall, open, mossy, foggy. It "feels" different and everyone notices. Then another 2 KM or so further on, the trail passes above some really cool little pocket beaches, cliffs and coves. There's only two beach accesses I think, near the middle and near the east end. We didn't have time to explore here but next time this is a must. Hmmm I'm starting to notice that there's a lot of mud here.
At Ninitat narrows the tide is coming in and there is a noticeable current running north! The crossing is easy though our boat captain says there are times when it's not. This is Carl's Place. He's friendly, tells jokes, talks about the family business - he sells baked salmon & potato or crab dinners ($20)...and beer ($5) !!! We are revitalized.
|Wreckage east of Tsusiat Pt||Bald Eagle||The monkey on our back|
|...||Beaches west of the Narrows...||...|
|Carl at the Narrows||Dinner on the hoof|
After a big break we press on. The terrain changes radically at this point as the next section of trail just east of Carl's passes through a large swamp. The boardwalk is old here and almost melts into a hillside covered with multi-colored moss. Everything is glistening with wetness and more shades of green... and then just when you need it most, the boardwalk... just ends... and the swamp begins with a vengeance. I start to realize that I really haven't experienced mud yet but I'm going to experience it now. Still it is an immensely beautiful place. Then once we've gained enough elevation for the ground to dry the environment changes again and we find ourselves in a pine forest. One of the cool things about the WCT is all the different eco environments you find yourself in.
|Beauty||Swamp west of the Narrows||Beauty|
We reach the Cheewhat river bridge near dusk and we're pretty beat. There's a "volunteer bear closure" here but we're too tired and not volunteering. We camp on the beach at the first access. There are no bear cans here but Carl had told us that the bear is only well upstream and doesn't bother the Indian fishing camp at the mouth of the river. "The forest service just over-reacts" he says. We have the whole place to ourselves. mmmm Cocoa and Jack Daniels tonight. At 4:30 AM I wake up and peek outside. The Auriga meteor shower is supposed to be happening tonight. I don't see nuthin'.
|Chewhat R bridge||Camping at Chewhat|
Day 4 9/1/07 Saturday
We awake to another nice day (and no sign of bear). We get water at the spring back by the bridge. The Cheewhat River is also called the "'River of Urine" and nobody seems to write anything good about it but this morning with sunbeams through the fog it looks gorgeous.
After a lazy start we're on our way around 11 AM. We decide to walk the inland trail east on the recommendation of a ranger who said the sand is slow and the trail is very pleasant... and it is. For the length of the beach, about 2 KM the trail is in great shape. There's some nice spots to camp in the trees here between the trail and the beach too.
|Dare Pt seen from the inland trail||Dare Pt from the inland trail||Trail over Dare Pt|
Then, I remember that yesterday, walking on the beach I saw a hiking boot. A perfectly good, single hiking boot sitting on a log. The reason I bring this up is that right about now, my left boot just up and explodes. The sole and the shank split the length of the shoe and it nearly fall off! I use duct tape and some straps to lash it onto my foot which works but I have zero confidence that it will last for the rest of the hike. We continue to Dare Beach which is a really cool spot with alternating little sandy coves and rocky points.
Dare beach is supposed to have tidal issues but the tide is already really high according to our tables and yet everything looks very passable. We are an hour before a very high tide of 12.1 feet and the map says this area is only passable at 7 feet or lower. Everyone in my group starts to get weirded out that if we continue we're doing something dangerous so I suggest that everyone stop for a snack while I run ahead to scout and find no problems. The group continues grudgingly... We walk a sandstone shelf well above the water to the west site of Cribs beach. Here we scramble down and wade through calf deep slack water to get back to the beach. That was all there was.
At Cribs Creek beach we meet a couple where the woman has horribly bruised legs from crossing the boulders at Owen Point. This totally freaks Joan out. They were a font of scary news: Don't go east on the beach - tide problems, beach access to the east is "closed", there's a slippery clay washout... gak. I just wanted to get away from them. More reason for my group to get freaked. In any case we have an easy solution because there is an earlier beach access ahead that we can use. I'm not sure what's up today but the group seems to have no confidence!
The beach here is really cool. It is just long and sandy but it has an interesting sort of geometry to it. Near the shore is a long sort of break water made of a sandstone shelf that parallels the beach. The shelf is tilted at an angle so from the beach it looks like a very broad ramp that rises out of the water. You can't see the waves on the other side of the shelf but every so often one hits with a crash and flies straight up in the air. Even less often a wave will hit that's big enough that it rolls right over the top and becomes a boiling cascade down the other side. Pretty cool to watch.
The sand is firm and makes for nice walking. Joan and I are chatting up a storm and not paying any attention to our feet - for a change... when we almost walk right over the top of a seal pup ! The rangers told us that seal mommas sometimes leave their pups on the beach while they're out looking for food and not to bother them or momma might not take them back. We keep our distance.
|Seal pup on Cribs beach|
We do end up missing the first beach access and walk all the way to where the beach ends against Carmanah Point. It's clear that we've come too far. So we have a brief pow-wow about whether to walk back a kilometer to the previous access. I suggest that we at least check this out and see how bad it is. It turns out that the hillside has a spot that's wet and slippery but there is no sign that the trail is closed and it isn't dangerous and no one has much problem with it. In hind site and after looking at some other TRs I think this actually was the first (western) inland access. I think the beach trail continues east on rocks that looked impassable because of the high tide.
|...||...East of Cribs...||...|
|Joan, Chris & Jeff near west end of Cribs beach||Heading up to Carmanah Lighthouse|
We visit the light house which has immaculately groomed gardens, whale bones, and walk the labyrinth.
We drop back down to the beach to visit Chez Monique where Monique serves up a mean burger ($12). She also sells beer, candy, energy bars, breakfast, fruit, TP and probably other stuff. I wish I had asked about batteries. She's a character (and knowledgeable) and will talk your ear off about just about anything - local politics, world politics, ecology, the logging industries, Indian rights, the park service... From here you can see the Olympic peninsula for the first time. (Just by the way, she has a boat.).
Quote of the day: Joan - "I'm going to die any way, so I'll have my burger with cheese AND bacon".
|Joan and Monique||Get a room||La Grand Dame|
|Chez Monique||The menu|
We tear ourselves away and continue on. Again we run into millions of seagulls. At Carmanah Creek we use the cable car - I'm worried that if I took my boot off to cross the creek I'd never get it on again ! This is my first time in a cable car. It's interesting, fun, awkward, and really hard work. It's immensely helpful, with four in our group, to always have two people at the tower who can help do the hauling. We continue mostly on sand to Bonilla Point. The point itself has some really cool sea stacks. The sunset is gorgeous. We camp near the waterfall.
|Chris and Jeff||Beauty eh?||Bonilla Pt Sea Stack|
Day 5 9/2/07 Sunday
We get a late 10:30 start. It's cloudy and cooler today. The going is mostly sand and pebbles with one stretch of sandstone shelf. We run into a couple fellows in one cove who arrived by Jet Ski to surf. Their propeller got jammed by some nylon fisherman's net and they had no knife with them. They were glad to see us.
|Bonilla Creek Falls||Joan emerges from her den||Flotsam|
|Jeff and interesting wreckage east of Bonilla||More wreckage ?||Denizens of the wilderness|
|The usual suspects|
We arrive at Walbran Creek at 1:20 PM an hour and a half before the high tide of 11.2. The map says there are tide issues for the two kilometers proceeding Walbran and that it is not passable above 9 feet. The only real problem here is crossing the mouth of Walbran creek which is abutted on one side by cliffs so our only option is across the water. The mouth is awash with incoming waves as we arrive. We wait for a break in the wave train and wade across through knee deep water but any later might have been a problem.
It starts to rain. We talk it over. It looks like it's going to last a while so we'll hang out here... It does last a while so we decide to go ahead and camp in hopes that tomorrow will be nicer.
The straps I've jerry rigged to hold my boot together are wearing through from walking on rock so Jeff offers me one of the old, decrepit tennis shoes he brought for water crossings... and which I gladly accept. My alternative was using one of Al's sandals and I just couldn't see doing the WCT in sandals !
We have quite a bit of time to spare so we chat up some of our neighbors. t's a cosmopolitan place - Kiwis, Germans... We are the only Americans we've met on the trail. I also take up whittling.
The Walbran cable car
Day 6 9/3/07 Monday
In the morning it's wet and humid but not raining. We're happy and outa here... The trail officially stays inland for 3 KM to avoid Adrenaline surge channel. Somewhere along this stretch my other boot explodes ! OK. So they were really old. Same failure mode: splitting the plastic shank lengthwise and the sole detaching. I contemplate trussing it up like I did the other but it's already too far gone. Luckily Jeff is nearby and loans me his other tennis shoe. I say a few words and commend it's soul to the deep (give it the heave ho). I'm now hiking in tennis shoes... really old... crappy... old... tennis shoes. To even call them shoes does a disservice to all the other shoes of the world. But they're mine.
The next two kilometers have the biggest and tallest collection of ladders on the trail, dropping down to Logan creek to cross a spectacular suspension bridge, then back up, then back down to Cullite Creek and back up again. By the time we get to the bottom of Cullite the sun is out and sparkling through the trees. It looks like a good place to rest and hang out on the rocks and have lunch. An hour and a half later we're on our way again. The creek is low so we cross on foot instead of using the cable car and begin the long climb up the ladders and out of the canyon. It's 4 more kilometers to the next camping spot at Camper Creek.
|Chris and Joan||Jeff's good side?
I counted 40 rungs in this picture.
|Logan Creek suspension bridge
Then it starts raining again, and the mud... gets muddier. I'm wet but I'm warm as long as I keep moving but Joan is wet and going slower. We don't get in till nearly dusk - Joan is discouraged and scared. She even mentions the 'R' word (rescue). We convince her that she should see how she feels after changing into warm, dry clothes, drinking some hot tea, eating some dinner, and having a good night's sleep. Warm, dry clothes make us all feel better.
This place is tent city, pretty much a wall to wall line of tents along the entire edge of the beach. Another cosmopolitan place this. I hear Japanese, Australian and German.
During the night it pours.
Day 7 9/4/07 Tuesday
In the morning it is merely cloudy and damp. Joan is scared and worried that she's going to be cold and miserable... even though she hasn't been so far. She says the "R" word again. We talk a lot after which she's willing, in the face of her fear to at least see how it goes today... especially after I offer to carry some of her weight so she'll be able to move faster ;)
The creek is swollen so we use the cable car to cross. The weather gradually gets better but the trail is pretty much a mud hole. After about 3 KM we come to "beach access A". I am totally psyched to be back on the beach (which is actually sandstone shelf here). We were inland all of yesterday and all this morning. I really want to get out of the mud and into the sunshine - well what there is of it. But the rest of my group is afraid of slippery... and rocks... and the tide. I give up without much argument and we continue inland. We can't do Owens Point because the lowest tide today is 5.9 and the map says you need 6.0. Well, actually the map says that you only need 8.0 feet for the beach and 6.0 for the actual point AND we've been told that if the tide is in at the point you can actually still pass by scrambling over some bigger rocks. But I'm tired of fighting the FUD factor and Joan has been worried about Owens point since the beginning. So that part will have to wait for a future trip.
|Camper Creek cable car||Mud, mud, mud, mud.
Mud, mud, mud, mud.
Three more kilometers and then the trail starts to climb. You'd think this might cause it to dry out and be a little less muddy... NOT. Between "beach access A" and the trail high point near KM 71 there are a handful of nice inland camp sites but not all with obvious water... We meet almost no one on the trail. It's quiet, wet, green, beautiful, very open forest with lots of cedar and Douglas Fir. Reminds us all of hiking at home in the cascades. We pass the fork to Thrasher Cove where steps and ladders disappear in the mist down the hillside. It's obvious we won't get to the exit in time for the last ferry so our plan is to continue to the high point (about 670 feet) where there's supposed to be a camping spot. We find it and make it our home - though the only water is a 1/2 KM back to the west.
We drink the last of our liquor and celebrate our last night on the trail.
Day 8 9/5/07 Wednesday
In the morning we're on the trail at 9, we pretty quickly find the giant donkey engine and finally slog it out to the Gordon River by 1 PM (4 hours, 4 KM !).
The ferryman arrives, plucks the pennies from our eyes and delivers us to the next life.
|The giant donkey engine||The Gordon River ferry|
Miscellaneous Notes (mostly pretty accurate and from 2007):
Links and Resources:
My other beach TRs:
Phone numbers ( I can't vouch for any of these... )
West Coast Trail Express Bus
(Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Bamfield, Nitinat Village, Port Renfrew)
Nitinat Lake Water Taxi (250) 745-3509 (across Nitinat Narrows and to Nitinat Village)
Fees and expenses:
|Our Tide Table|