Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two part article. Find part 1 here.

Our adventure began with a short ferry ride across Gordon River, which marks the southern terminus of the West Coast Trail (WCT). As we took the first few steps of our trek, we met a couple who were just finishing the last few steps of theirs. Their boots were splattered with mud. As they noticed our clean shoes, the man said, “Today you won’t see mud. You’ll think it’s mud, but it’s not mud!” Though it was not raining that day, it had previously rained for a couple of days in a row. We did encounter mud holes along that section of the trail, and our shoes quickly became mud-caked, but in the days to come we would echo the man’s sentiment.

Our main reason for starting in the south was that tidal conditions at the beginning of our trip would be more favorable for taking the coastal route around Owen Point, which is only passable at tides below 6.0 feet (or 1.8 meters).  The low tide predicted for our second day on the trail was well below that. When we planned our trip, we found several sources that described the sea caves at Owen Point as spectacular, and one claimed they are “not to be missed!” We were also impressed by some stunning photos of the caves on Google Earth, so we purposed to make Owen Point a primary objective. The trail map cautions that the coastal route around Owen Point is difficult because of many large boulders south of the point, and one online source we found while doing research claimed that it’s the most difficult portion of the WCT.

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Camp on Thrasher Cove ©Diana Vann

Our first day was a short one.  We hiked only five km to the first campsite, Thrasher Cove. From there we planned to start the coastal route around Owen Point early the following morning.  Along the way we met hikers coming from the north who advised us to take the inland route the next day instead of the coastal route. They warned us that the boulder field is just too slippery and dangerous–especially when it’s raining.

The next morning when we awoke it was cloudy, but not raining. So, in spite of the warning against it, we headed out along the coastal route. Our plan was to be at Owen Point at least an hour before low tide, so we’d have plenty of time to explore the sea caves there. The boulder field was slow going, but doable. Part way through it, light rain began to fall, but we were wearing sticky soled shoes that provided good traction on the rocks, and we made it without mishap. Owen Point did not disappoint. Vivid colors from mineral deposits add to the drama of the caves and holes carved by ocean waves. Reports came to mind about two hikers who had been swept away by large waves and were later rescued from the caves by a Coast Guard swimmer, but the sea state was calm that morning and we were there early enough to linger a while. No other hikers had arrived from either direction, so we enjoyed the magic of the place in quiet solitude.

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Beach Walk ©Diana Vann

North of Owen Point, slippery seaweed and surge channels present a different type of challenge. Most of the surge channels along that section are small enough to be crossed with care, but one of them is too wide to be crossed safely. As we resumed our trek, we came upon half a dozen hikers going to a great deal of effort to retrieve a backpack that had fallen into the surge channel during a failed attempt to cross it. They did this by tying a rope around one member of their party. The rest then lowered him into the surge channel while securing their end of the rope to a heavy drift log and to themselves. Buoys there mark a much safer route a short way inland, and as we scrambled up and around it, we were relieved to witness the pack and hiker being pulled from the water. Both were soaked, but safe. Trying to cross wide surge channels is not worth the risk. When in doubt, look for another way around them.

About three km north of Owen Point the coastal route ends for some distance, and the only option there is the inland trail, which we experienced as a series of deep mud holes that had not dried up after previous storms. Light rain gave way to a steady downpour, ensuring that the trail would not dry out any time soon. Some hikers we encountered chose to stay in the middle of the trail and plod right through the mud. One young woman we met later had stepped into mud she claimed was “up to my knees.” She laughed as she added “and I have the pictures to prove it!” Our strategy was to avoid the mud as much as possible by stepping on roots and logs and the sides of the trail where the mud was not as deep. We were wearing shoes that drain well; even so, the idea of walking through knee-deep mud was not appealing. It was slow going, but we managed to stay out of mud above our shoe tops.

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Sea Cave at Owen Point ©Diana Vann

Our first cable car ride was at Camper Creek. We bypassed the campsite there, and headed for Cullite Creek, infamous for the highest ladder sets on the WCT. A set of roughly 200 rungs leads partway down the bank, where a cable car waits to whisk you halfway across the creek. From that point, you have to pull on the cable, hand over hand, to reach the other side. Another 200-rung ladder set leads to the top of the opposite bank. It was lucky for us that the campsite is located on the south side of the creek. We happily left the creek crossing for the next day, when we would be well rested. We quickly set up camp, ate meals that didn’t require cooking, and headed off to bed. It had taken us 11.5 hours to travel a total of 12 km that day.

It continued to rain on and off for the next couple of days, and we endured our fair share of the WCT’s legendary mud bogs. Then, on day five, the rain stopped and did not return. Though we experienced periods of fog, overcast and wind, the sun came out for at least part of each remaining day. The lack of rain allowed the mud holes to dry up somewhat, and though the trail was never really dry, the mud holes became much easier to dodge.

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Ladder on WCT ©Diana Vann

Our remaining campsites were Walbran Creek, where a large gravel bar forms a good spot for swimming (and washing off the mud accumulated on the trail); Carmanah Creek, a half-hour walk down the beach from the simple, and sometimes controversial, beachfront eatery, Chez Monique; Cribs Creek, located near an impressive natural rock breakwater; Tsusiat Falls, site of the most majestic waterfall on the WCT; and Michigan Creek, where the steamship Michigan sank in 1893.

Our party spent about a week on the WCT. From the time we attended orientation until the day we checked in with the office on the other end of the trail, 13 hikers were evacuated. Periods of overcast added drama to the landscape. Times when the sun came out amplified the amazing natural beauty of the area and brought a relaxed vibe to the camping experience. Rain created challenging conditions, but not overly so. Trip reports can be found that describe trail conditions during times of continuous torrential downpour and serve as a reminder that the WCT can be incredibly treacherous; it deserves to be approached with respect. Hikers should come prepared for all conditions.

Boulder Field ©Diana Vann

In our pre-trek orientation session we had been advised that wildlife we might encounter included bears, cougars, deer, otters and whales. We saw a number of whales. Two of them were feeding so close to shore we were able to see the barnacles on them. We came across several deer, but we did not encounter any bears, although other hikers reported seeing one. We also found many types of fresh animal tracks on the beaches, including some that appeared to be cougar and otter tracks.

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Boardwalk in Disrepair ©Diana Vann

Historic aspects of the trail add to the experience. Remnants of donkey engines, telegraph wires and shipwrecks provide a visual reminder that the trail once provided means for lives to be saved that might otherwise have been lost.

A compelling incentive to hike the WCT, perhaps more than once, is to experience the stunningly beautiful camping beaches. Each has a unique characteristic. We experienced seven of them. Others, especially those located at Dare Beach, Bonilla Creek, Darling Creek and Klanawa River, beckoned as we passed them by. Our brief visit to each left an imprint, and experiencing them more fully may provide sufficient motivation for me to hike the trail again one day.

Here’s more information on hiking the WCT safely.

 

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Coastline ©Diana Vann
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