Once upon a time, back in 1979 while visiting friends in Victoria (British Columbia, Canada), myself, my boyfriend (now my husband), my brother, and his girlfriend decided that we would walk the West Coast Trail. I had never heard of it before. It was my brother’s idea, but he had very little knowledge of the trail. So we thought, hey, let’s hike this trail and see what it’s like.
We were in our early twenties and ready for any adventure. After one whole day of preparation, off we went. We drove to Port Renfrew, one of the entrances to the trail, and hiked north to Bamfield, which was the main entrance at the time – and the starting point. We got off to a good start by hiking in the opposite direction of everyone else…
Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the West Coast Trail was once a life-saving route established for survivors of shipwrecks along the coast. It became part of the Pacific Rim National Park in 1973 and now the 75 km (47 mi.) long trail is a premier adventure destination for many adventurers.
At the time of our visit, the trail was fairly new and was not the trail it is today – many upgrades have been made since then and lots more people use the trail now. We were not seasoned hikers or backpackers and were ill prepared for this trip.
This was my very first backpacking hike. We packed canned goods to eat, lots of beer, a bottle of whiskey, no rain gear, and no hiking boots. Not realizing how long this hike was going to be we did not pack nearly enough food. Boy, were we green! We did receive a map of the trail before we started out and got more information about it, including the length and difficulty, but since we were already there, we decided to go ahead anyway.
After arriving in Port Renfrew, we took a short boat ride across the Gordon River and camped there for the night. We drank all the booze and had a great time sitting around the campfire. The next morning we did not have such a great time, beginning our hike with hangovers.
The first day we trudged along slowly, not speaking much. The trail was easy so far, and we gradually started to feel better, taking many breaks and drinking lots of water. We only walked about 5 km that day.
Our first supper on the trail consisted of canned corned beef and a head of cabbage. The meal was good, we were tired, and after walking most of the day with hangovers, we all crashed early that night – no alcohol involved!
As the days went by, the trail got harder and harder. The terrain became more difficult with lots of hills, valleys, and bogs to navigate. We had to climb long ladders, walk over scary suspension bridges, and pull ourselves across deep gorges on cable cars that were only big enough for two people and their packs.
Parts of the trail included walking along beautiful sand and pebble beaches with seabirds flying above us, views of the Juan de Fuca Strait to the left, and fresh sea air in our lungs. After a while, it became really difficult walking in the soft sand and sliding around on the pebbles.
At one point, to avoid a surge channel, we had to climb a steep cliff and then rappel down the other side using a piece of knotted rope. My brother’s girlfriend was too scared to use the rope, so she and my brother ended up straddling a log, which just happened to be lying across the channel. They scooted over with us watching. It was quite dangerous, with a strong current and waves from the ocean beneath them, but they made it across okay. I think a few tears were shed, but on we went.
The trail passes by waterfalls, streams, thick patches of deep mud and through the lush rainforest. We saw lots of giant slugs! In some inland, boggy areas, the trail was made up of boardwalks, some in disrepair and covered with moss and mud. As each day went by, we walked a little further and a little faster.
By the third day, we were getting pretty low on food. We did manage to catch a few very tiny trout in one of the rivers and gathered some mussels in the sea. We didn’t meet many other people, but we did ask each one if they could spare some food. Not many had extra, but one kind hiker shared some granola. We knew we weren’t going to make it the whole way without going hungry.
Someone ruined our last meal by accidentally kicking sand into the pot of Kraft Dinner. Needless to say, that meal was a little crunchy! We ate it anyway… I was so sorry and I will never hear the end of that story!
It took us five days to hike the whole way, walking at least a good third of it the last day. At that time, hiking the trail comfortably – with the proper equipment and food – took about two weeks. Today most hikers can walk the trail in 5 – 7 days.
On our last day, when we were near the end of the trail, we were tired, dirty, and very hungry. We met some kind Nuns, who invited us into their camp and fed us. It was the best meal we had ever eaten! We finally made it to Bamfield, and the end of the trail, where we found a motel, had a wonderful shower, and a very restful night’s sleep.
We learned many lessons on this trip and have some good memories. Even though we had tons of difficulties, we still had a lot of laughs, good times, and slept in some of the most wonderful places – near a waterfall, under old growth trees, beside a river, and on the beach.
We set up camp one night on the beach and through the night, we kept thinking how loud the waves sounded. The next morning we realized that our tent was set up just barely above the high tide line. Luckily we didn’t get wet or washed away!
We had great campfires too – my brother happened to have aftershave in his kit, which was great for getting damp wood to ignite. There was a lot of big driftwood on the beach, and we had one huge bonfire. This actually attracted a seaplane. He thought we were signaling for help and circled around until he knew we were OK.
We were very lucky with the weather – the west coast of Vancouver Island is known to be wet and cold, but not once did it rain on our adventure. We have many fond memories of the trail and a few not-so-fond ones. At the Nitinat River, we had to pay a man to take us across to the other side in a small boat or walk inland for miles. He wanted to take just us two girls across first – and come back for the guys later. Right! That was a little bit scary for a while, and of course, we didn’t go along with his idea – he eventually agreed to take us over as couples.
At one point on the trail, after we ran out of food, we kept seeing handmade signs advertising food for sale at a place called Clo-oose. We were so happy when we finally got there, but all he had to sell us were rotten crabs! We were so hungry we considered buying them – but we didn’t!
All in all, we had a great trip, with beautiful weather, fantastic vistas, and no dangerous animal sightings. There are cougars, bears, and wolves in the area but we only saw sea birds, seals – and lots of giant slugs.
It’s been almost 38 years since I have walked the West Coast Trail and I would love to do it again – with proper equipment and lots of food. The trail has changed a lot since we walked it way back then, many upgrades have been made, and it is more controlled now. If you would like more information about the trail just go to this link: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/activ/activ6a.aspx