In my last blog post, part 1 of this series, I wrote about the start of my 3-day, 75km solo backpacking trip on the West Coast Trail. In today's post, part 2 will cover the section of my trip from Camper Bay.
Finding and Making Tracks
As I hiked on, I cruised along high cliffs with views that extended far off into the sea while on the forest route. Some parts were overgrown, other parts recently restored with boardwalks constructed with newly cut wood planks, especially in the area just past Nitinaht Narrows.
I descended to coastal routes, fording a river, inelegantly elegantly hopping into muddy sand that looked a little more firm than it turned out to be, ultimately ended up walking along the beach in complete solitude in a Pacific Northwest coastal paradise. I did my best to take a few moments to appreciate my surroundings, while not dallying.
At one point, I paused to inspect some tracks I found on the beach. I put my hand next to them, and judging from the size and shape, came to the conclusion that they were cougar tracks. I looked up toward the forest, squinting my eyes to look through the trees in the bright sun. No signs of movement or animal life, but that didn’t mean that it couldn’t be out there. Being alone as I was, I quickly snapped a photo, and went on my merry way, moving with a little more spring in my step.
Pooing with a View and Other Trail Experiences
I was quite happy that every camp area on the West Coast Trail had a raised outhouse for hikers to use. It meant there was never any need to scoop and poop or "go surfing," as described in Blisters and Bliss: A Trekker's Guide to the West Coast Trail (i.e. digging a hole below the tideline, doing your business and letting the ocean do the rest). I finally had to go once I hit Cribs Creek, which apparently is noted for providing users a "poo with a view." As you can see below, it did not disappoint. That being said, I closed the door and did my thing in privacy, scooping the provided cedar chips into the toilet as directed when done.
I stopped by the Carmanah Lighthouse next. No real surprises there, but I wanted to make sure I did all the side trails on the WCT to see everything there was to see. As I got back to the trail, I ran into a small group of weary hikers who were trying to decide whether or not they would check it out themselves. One guy who seemed particularly tired, and wanted to give it a miss, asked me if it was worth it. I was honest: “It’s a lighthouse. Nothing particularly noteworthy, but it’s only 5 minutes off the trail, so not a big deal to make the trip.” Relieved at hearing the latter, they decided to check it out after all. I nodded thinking about how happy I was to have a lighter pack so that I never really felt any urge to skip on anything in order to save energy, while still being able to move quickly.
Soon after the lighthouse, I encountered a silly little ground bird on the trail through the forest. It had its mouth stuffed full of berries and kept trying to flee from me as I walked. Unfortunately, it kept taking the path of least resistance, which happened be the hiking path so I kept catching up to it, at which point it would fly off in a panic yet again. This happened over and over. I felt so bad for the little thing. I even talked to it with a cooing voice, "Just stop flying where I have to go, little one." After its next flight, it froze on the spot as I approached. It stared at me, acutely aware of my presence as I got up to it. I tried to slowly ease by it, trying to cause as little fright to the poor thing as I could. In passing, I managed to snap the photo below. I took a moment to give it my regards, thanking it for letting me pass. I suppose we all fall victim to that sort of folly at some point in our lives, panicked by a situation, not knowing what to do, causing us to flee in the very path of the thing causing us the panic in the first place. I wished the bird well and continued on my way.
I eventually passed the remnants of Chez Monique, a beachside burger shack that delighted so many visitors on the trail with its delicious $25 burgers. I had heard of Monique’s passing earlier this year and lamented having missed out on the experience. It was a little sad to see the bones of the shack that were still there but nary a person to be seen. I could almost smell the charred burger scent that would have been wafting from it enticing hungry hikers. If only I had made the trip even a year sooner...
After passing Chez Monique’s, I got to a cable car river crossing. As I pulled the car toward me, I made a decision; I was going to set up camp at Bonilla Point, rather than try to hike all the way to Culite Creek like I had initially thought. My only real goal for my itinerary on the West Coast Trail was to hike it within 3 days, or 72 hours). I had thought that I might do it in 3 calendar days, making a really big push on the second day, and covering 34.5km, leaving only 17km for the final day which needed to be covered by 3:30pm in order to make the final ferry. It wasn't tiredness kicking in like it was at my last cable crossing. I think I could have handled it, but it would have meant missing out on the sea caves at Owen Point as the tides wouldn’t have lined up. I also would have had a really long day of hiking that second day. I had paid for 3 nights on the trail regardless of when I finished, so I decided to take the second half of the trail a bit slower and milk the experience a bit more. I am so glad I did.
Full-Sized Coastal Bonsai
Taking more time to pause, I lingered a little longer to admire scenery as I walked. The beach walk from Carmanah Point to Bonilla point offered different views from what I had previously experienced. There were these island-like coastal formations that would have looked like bonsai tree arrangements if you shrunk them down. Each one was as pretty as the next as I walked. I couldn't help but wish that I could somehow bottle up what I was seeing, capture it in a way that photography falls short. These photos I took below will have to do.
A Quiet Evening at Bonilla Point with Mark
I rolled in to Bonilla Point at around 3:30pm or so. I meandered around looking for signs of life. At first, I thought I was the only one there. I was a little surprised since every other camp area I went through was well populated with hikers. I walked around a little more and found a single fellow just getting a fire going.
I greeted him, making an awkward joke about the scenario being a great start for a suspense-thriller type film, which he kindly laughed off. With plenty of time, I rinsed off in the pristine waterfall nearby, then chose a site in a more sheltered area in which to set up my tarp, using some logs to form a back wall. I then returned and set about cooking my dinner, sharing the fire Mark had already started.
No one else showed up at the site, so Mark and I spent several hours chatting, enjoying the fire and company. He too was hiking the West Coast Trail solo. While I was doing my hike with the idea of pushing myself a little, his goal was to take his time with it and spend more time in reflection. He had just quit his job, broke up with his girlfriend, was in ongoing recovery from a concussion, and simply needed to figure out what direction to take in his life. My trip was also part of a personal reflection journey, which I do every 6 months, but the hike was the reward I was giving to myself for all my successes. I wanted to focus more on experiencing the trail than on my life and goals, which I would do after I got back.
It's amazing how much connection you can get with another human being in such a short period of time in this kind of limited time shared experience. I think that being alone in the woods, and knowing we would never see each other again made it easier to talk more deeply and earnestly.
When the fire died down, we packed up our food bags and brought them to the food locker. To our surprise, we found that someone had ditched a mickey of bourbon in the locker, along with a large, completely full, iso-butane fuel canister. For the record, hikers are advised not to leave food or beverages behind to cut pack weight. People who do this think they're doing other hikers a favour, but they say that this just attracts animals to the site.
A Chilly Morning Start
Day 3: Bonilla Point to Camper Bay (14km in 6 hours)
That second night was the coldest night. Midway through, I woke up a bit chilled. I was wearing every layer of clothing I had, and did my best to cinch in my quilt. I made it through the night, but woke up quite chilly. My tarp was covered in dew and the clothes I had hung to dry were also damp. I decided to set up a morning campfire to warm up and give me time to dry off my stuff. Since I had decided to give myself the extra night, I didn't have to rush and get back on the trail. As I finished packing up, Mark got up. I asked him if he had any interest in the bottle of bourbon. Fortunately, he was taking a break from booze and preferred to take the fuel canister. As for the bourbon... well it would have been irresponsible of me to leave that behind and possibly attract wildlife to the area. With my ultralight pack weight, I had plenty of carrying capacity to spare for this inclusion. I said goodbye to Mark and headed on my way.
Ladders, Board Walks and Other River Crossings
The hike from Bonilla Point to Walbran Creek started on the beach. With my later start at 9am, there were already plenty of hiker tracks along the way. I passed a lot more people on the trail in this section. Walbran Creek looked like an idyllic campground with a wide river for bathing, plenty of shady campsites along the river and ocean. If I didn't want to make a lot more distance that day, it would have been a great place to spend a night.
After passing through Walbran Creek, I headed back into the forest where the trail wanders upward then winds through sensitive marsh areas with board walks to protect them. Some board walks were in better condition than others. Sometimes you had to pick your way across muddy sections. This is where trekking poles really come in handy. I quietly thanked the weather gods that I hadn't experienced a drop of rain as even with no rain for a week in the area there were STILL areas that had mud in them. I couldn't imagine how muddy it must get when it actually rains. Even with the decrepit board walks, there was still lots of unique, pretty forest terrain, along with a few high coastal views.
I arrived at Logan Creek and the start of all the really crazy-ass ladders, making for the most challenging section of the entire West Coast Trail. To cross a couple of the creeks, you had go down than up lots and lots of ladders, some with over 200 rungs that climb the equivalent of a 25-30 story building. I was grateful my cardio health was excellent and that my pack was so light. I watched some people, like the chap below, with packs weighing 40-60lbs, having to eke their way up and down the ladders at an exhaustingly slow pace, just to stay safe. I can understand why. There are no harnesses to catch you if you fall, and it's a looooong way down. And just when you think you're done with the ladders... there's more.
Arriving at Camper Bay
I wasn't the first to arrive at the camp area. At 3pm, there were already quite a few groups of people there who had laid claim to some of the primo camp spots. I took a moment to admire the views, get the lay of the land, pick out a campsite with shelter from the wind, and set up my camp. I was very much looking forward to spending the evening, relaxing and getting to know some of my fellow campers.
In my next blog post, Coastal Hiking Bliss: Solo Backpacking the West Coast Trail in 71 Hours - Part 3, I'll finish the story of my hike of the West Coast Trail.