The beauty of the west coast never ceases to impress. Here's a few images.
It was 7 am at Cribs creek. Over night heavy mist had settled on everything. Andy lay on the sand under a tarp. The exposed corners of his sleeping bag were darkened with moisture. His wool nightcap had sparkling droplets of water clinging to the fibers; and yet he slept peacefully.
On the Walbran gravel bar, thirty feet removed from the nearest log or shelter, three hiking guides lay unmoving inside their "all weather" bags. For them there was no smoothing a spot and erecting a tent. They simply flopped and settled like driftwood. Glistening dew had settled over their gortex covers. Bryce, who we had met two years earlier at Camper, was one of them.
Dave Foster, 1997
Is this a hike for women? Read on!
In the summer of 1996 I was primed and ready to hike the West Coast Trail, but I couldn't interest any friends in coming along on what might be a six day hike in a downpour. So, I made the decision to start solo and hoped to meet people along the way. With just a bit of trepidation, I boated up from Seattle and drove to Port Renfrew to begin my adventure.
Alone? Hey, I didn't make it any further than the restaurant in Port Renfrew alone; six great Canadian guys quickly adopted me over breakfast, and I had six non-stop days of laughter and sunshine instead of solitude and rain. Plus a little gallantry in a couple of rough spots.
The morale of my story is: Ladies; don't be intimidated! Make the decision to GO and to meet people; you'll have a great time and you'll be proud of your achievement.
SEE ALSO: the first story in A Lady and A Rose
How old is too old for this hike? You may find you have a few good years left.
The word came down the trail, moccasin-telegraph style, that a 77
year old woman was finishing her last two days on the infamous and
challenging, 50 mile long, West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island. We
were collapsed behind a log in the late afternoon sun with our
customary aperitif and smoked salmon appetizer, when the other
members of this elderly lady's group, began to arrive. It was the
sixth hiking day for this tour group and several were limping from
blisters or muscle cramps.
"Mrs. Jones is coming with another woman. She's just a few minutes behind." the leader assured us.
I said, "Quite a lady! I can only hope I'll be able to tie my own boots at her age"
Everyone was talking about the "old lady". The sun moved behind the tall trees flanking Camper Bay, casting dark shadows across the beach.
"They better get here soon. It's gonna be dark pretty quick!" someone said.
"No kidding," I added, "I was exhausted four hours ago."
Finally, the young group leader took off up the ladders. About thirty minutes passed. The sun was gone and the air had turned chilly. The forest would be dark and difficult for anyone except the most nimble-footed.
All eyes were turned toward the point, watching. Three silhouettes emerged. One hiker was bent over, obviously tortured by each step. Two packs were piled high on the shoulders of the tallest, who marched out in front.
"There she is!" I said. "Look at the way she's walking. That poor woman!"
The third person was moving close beside the casualty, helping her. We all strained to pick out faces in the darkness. The young guide lumbered past under the packs, looking very fed up. Light from our fire touched the other two faces. A gentle and aged face greeted us with a smile. So this was Mrs. Jones! She was supporting the arm of a stooped and crippled figure about 50 years her junior! Mrs. Jones, it turns out was a gardener, and she was hiking comfortably in her old and sturdy gardening boots. She finished the hike in style!
Dave Foster, 1997
Blisters and Bliss has a section on Food. Consider this an
addendum to that.
My friend Wayne and I love pasta dishes for the dinner. We chop lots of garlic and make a terrific cheese sauce. The freeze dried pre-prepared dinners are great too. Soup is a must. Appetizers can be smoked salmon, smoked sausage, crackers and cheese, smoked oysters. Have a chocolate bar for dessert. For breakfast we usually have individual packs of oatmeal or cream of wheat that need only boiling water. Don't forget the brown sugar and raisins. Lunch is usually on the trail so simple is better. Crackers, tube of peanut butter, tube of jam, squeeze "phoney" cheese, power bars, trail mix with dried fruit. The key to eating on a backpack trip is "lots of small dishes" to keep you busy and keep you eating. Enjoy!
We had met an interesting couple along route and invited them to share a little of our simple backpacker's dinner. The sauteed garlic cloves in our smoking, pasta sauce had been delicately blended with peanut butter, re-constituted milk and a generous portion of crushed chilies. Survival was undoubtedly foremost in the minds of our guests, but still they offered several generous compliments. As we cooled our palates over coffee and chocolate, these delightful folks revealed that they were professors in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Alberta. We haven't heard from them since but assume they are still trying to decipher the ingredients of that memorable sauce.
At Tsusiat we met a group of retirees, about 10 strong, who had dried and packed all their own gourmet meals. We were very impressed with the neatly packaged soups and bean dishes. We were 'blown away' when they explained that many of the ingredients had been harvested from their own gardens.
Bannock is a pleasant thing to cook on a cool evening when the fire isn't too busy. Here's a recipe I've found successful. You can also buy premixed packages. This whole thing is 99% better if you have a tube of jam to pass around.
Take along premixed in a plastic bag:
2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Add at the time of cooking:
1/2 cup of margarine/butter
1/2 cup of water
Mix in the margarine until the mix resembles coarse cornmeal. Gradually add the water while tossing the mixture with a fork, until mixture clings together to form a thick dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. (inside of a bowl) Knead until very smooth.
Cook flattened in a pan about 10 minutes on each side. OR roll into a long "snake" and wind around a stick.
Dave Foster, 1996.
In the fifteen years or so, that Wayne and I have trekked the trail together, we have learned to love certain camping spots. Here's our list!
A tiny creek trickles from the base of a high, forested cliff. This is probably the best positioned campsite for your first or last night. There's plenty of firewood and wonderful sand. Some awesome ladders connect the beach to the trail.
For many years this was either the first stop after getting on the trail at Thrasher Cove, or the last stop before ending. The beach gravel mixed with the charcoal of uncounted fires tells the tale. This spot is busy! Almost every hiker stops here. The new composter toilet (circa 1997) is a wonder! Firewood is not plentiful. If you arrive early, wander around and collect piles from the empty sites. If pickings are slim, make a trip across the river to the outer beach before the tide floods. As the bay fills with water, the mouth of the creek makes a great swimming hole.
This is one of our favourite places. The water is crystal clear and deep. On a sunny day after a hot walk on the beach, you won't find a more refreshing place to take a breath-stopping plunge. Eagles often hang around in the trees at the tops of the cliffs, or in the shallows where the creek reaches the ocean. Firewood abounds!
In foggy weather the lighthouse "horn" punctuates the crashing surf. You're in the middle of your hike here, so let this wonderful stretch of sand and open ocean fill you with abandon. If you can't shake your city ways, walk down to Monique's for a beer.
A unique, natural breakwater of wave-carved sandstone stretches a quarter mile across the front of the bay. On the incoming tide, a wide expanse of hard sand slowly fills with quiet seeping water while the waves pound against the outer rocks. The shallow creek trickles across a flat sandstone bottom until it divides near the shore. Several bathtub size pools are perfect for a wash. Campsites and wood abound.
No other place on the trail attracts hikers like Tsusiat Falls. There is something magical about water falling from high and landing on the beach mere metres from the pounding surf. Campsites are plentiful. While you soak your feet in the pool at the base of the waterfall, Mother Nature will impress you with her glory. No matter how hard your day, you will be glad you are there.
The water of Michigan Creek is clear, clean and inviting. At low tide, hundreds of tidepools dot the sandstone shelf. One year we watched a trapped octopus entertain a gathering of hikers with his speed and hiding techniques. Wood can sometimes be scarce, but spaces are easy to find.
"What's the fastest anyone's ever done this trail?" Every year someone asks this question and we usually recall a Victoria running club that claims to have scrambled the whole thing in three days. Three days gets us about half way, but then, we're mere mortals with aching muscles and hot spots on our feet. Two days? Impossible! Maybe not. This story comes from two young men who ran it on a weekend in 1998.
"You should probably plan on more than three days." The park's official was behind her counter at the trailhead advising the two young men. "Most people take 5 or 6 days."
"We feel confident we can do it," Peter said. "We both completed a
triathlon a week ago." "We're in pretty good shape," Paul added.
Neither man let on that they really intended to make the hike in 2
days. They had agreed that 3 days was the minimum they could safely
suggest without raising eyebrows.
"Well, just so you know," the official said. "Very few people can finish 75 km in three days. Make sure you're prepared for at least that long."
In spite of having to wait for a 9am crossing of the Gordon, by early evening, as the sun was disappearing over the trees, they had reached Monique's place at Carmanah.
"You fellas stay here tonight!" she said.
"No we'll go on to Cribs."
"You can't go on to Cribs tonight, it almost dark. Where'd yuh start today?" After hearing they had started that morning in Port Renfrew, the amazed Monique offered no further arguments. Their single night on the trail was spent at the Cribs.
The second day both men endured foot pain. Paul was wearing an old pair of infantry boots he'd borrowed from his father. Peter had a brand new pair of Nike trail runners. Ever stumble over a root when one of your toenails is "hanging by a thread? Paul called it pain "greater than childbirth".
The following day both men were back at work. Paul was using two walking canes and climbing stairs backwards. Peter's grotesquely swollen feet were sock less in an old pair of unlaced sneakers.
"So all things considered, how was the trip?" I asked.