The West Coast Trail

From Pachena Bay to Port Renfrew on BC’s beautiful Vancouver Island

I sat down on a wooden stump I’d found to be flat enough to call my seat, I stretched out my left knee slowly, feeling the stiffness in the joint after a grueling 17km day on the roughest trail I’d ever walked. I looked around at the makeshift clotheslines crammed with dripping wet raincoats and pants. My Dad remarked that it’d been about 15 minutes, meaning that our dehydrated bags of Pad Thai were likely to be ready. We each grabbed our meal, unzipped the lids and dove in as our bellies ached for something warm with flavour. As I looked around at our tent setup with our big greet silicon tarp cascading above I took note that while basically most of our clothing was wet or damp, the camp gear covered in sand, and our bones aching and sore, I was 45km into the West Coast Trail with my Dad, happily eating Pad Thai – I came to the realization that this is exactly where I wanted to be at that moment.

When the rain lets up, you start drying!

When the rain lets up, you start drying!

Originally titled the Dominion Lifesaving Trail, the West Coast Trail (WCT) is a 75km backpacking trail that traverses the beautiful Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. Build alongside the Graveyard of the Pacific this trails original function was to help facilitate rescue operations (hence the lifesaving trail). I will say, after surviving a shipwreck and a swim to shore, good luck hiking even 30km out of this trail!

Just a casual trail

Just a casual trail

The route seems so clear!

The route seems so clear!

The lush forest is filled with a rich understory and trees that could tell of story of a thousand years

Who cut through this?

Who cut through this?

While the beautiful coastline is covered in rough granite and sandstone that set the stage to watch rolling waves gently coast by. Almost all of the campsites are beach setups and a few in particular are set beside a roaring waterfall – looking West after a long day you’re rewarded with the most spectacular sunset (provided you’ve had a break from the rain!).IMG_0675

The beauty of the WCT lies in its struggle. It lies in the fact that amongst that karst scenery and relative privacy that every backpacker secretly strives for, there exists a real and true level of difficulty to make it to the end. Simply put, it’s an adventure!DSCF2202

You’ll sweat, you’ll laugh, you’ll likely curse, and you’ll smile at the end of every day. If it’s in true West Coast fashion you’ll likely see at least 50mm of rain throughout the experience. But it’s worth every enjoyable and grueling minute.

Kilometer 75!

Kilometer 75!

As you hike you’ll pass through the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, Huuay-aht, Nuu-Chah-nulth peoples, who have staked claim to this land for over 4000 years. There are a few enterprises that have been setup along the trail, such as a ferry, a crab shack (yes they serve cold beer), and a burger joint! Providing comfort food when you need it most.

The remnants of crab, salmon, and a baked potato (WHAT!?)

The remnants of crab, salmon, and a backed potato (WHAT!?)

The trail really does comprise everything in one. The inland trail itself consists of a winding path that features many log bridges…IMG_1442

muddy swamps, hundreds of meters of boardwalks…IMG_1409

ladders going down, and of course ladders going up!IMG_1343

If that wasn’t enough, suspension bridges…DSCF2206

cable cars…

Bring gloves, these suckers can really tear up some skin!

Bring gloves, these suckers can really tear up some skin!

and steep inclines that require ropes to climb up also stand formidably in your path.

IMG_1400

If you feel like you need a break from the mess of the inland trail you have the option every so often of taking the beach route (provided that you watch the tides).

The beach route!

The beach route!

The beach trail is not only breathtaking, but it provides a relatively flat surface to walk across. Be warned however, if you’re on the sandy beach a couple hours after the tide has gone out you can be sure to feel it in your achilles tendon at the end of the day! At times you can choose to walk across limestone. If you take the rough limestone path be sure to keep an eye on your feet, as there are plenty of slippery surfaces and small coral life.

Great when the tide is out!

Great when the tide is out!

While the trail is enough to make one truly content, what comes as a welcome surprise is the camaraderie. From the very first day on the bus from Nanaimo you shoot the breeze with the 20 or so people on board, the usual; weather, sports, where you’re from etc. The first night everyone sets up camp in individual spots. There are many small fires burning on the beach as everyone stays to their own company. The second night however, with some common experiences you begin to share you tales from that trail, “Remember that ladder!?” There are a few less fires, but the few that burn are growing in size. By the third and fourth night you’ve formed a sort of brotherhood with your fellow hikers. Only a couple fires burn and everyone knows each other by name. What draws everyone so close together is that shared struggle and the fact that everyone is still smiling ready for the next day.

Fire always attracts good conversation

Fire always attracts good conversation

There are many styles for hiking the trail. The early risers that enjoy getting as many kilometers in before lunchtime – the late risers that enjoy the slow mornings and instant coffee then head out to reach their camp before dark. There’s no tried and true way to ensure a smooth ride, however, how and what you pack can make a big difference.

What to Pack & How to Pack it

It’s almost unanimously agreed that your pack should not be more than a third of your body weight. However, for this trail and any trail for that matter you should be able to keep your pack around the 40lbs mark. The key is not allowing yourself any luxury items – such as a chair, a fresh pair of socks daily, fresh t-shirts daily, and that fresh pressed coffee you crave.

The packing list I’m going to provide is partially my own, and partially a collaboration with many people that I spoke with on the trail.

Gear

  • Down/Synthetic Sleeping Bag (yes it can be difficult to keep everything dry, some say synthetic is better for that reason, however the weight and space saver a down bag provides trumps that in my opinion)
  • Themarest/Sleeping Pad
  • Lightweight Backpacking Tent (Definitely keep this under 5lbs – and split the tarp from the body between 2 people if possible)
  • Tarp (Cannot stress how key an item a tarp is on this trail, having an area to chill in outside the rain is a big time level booster)
  • Headlight
  • Multi-tool / knife
  • Trekking Poles (We forgot these and made do with some walking sticks we found, however about 95% of people feel they’re as important as a pair of good hiking boots)
  • Gators (Necessary)
  • Camp Towel
  • Water Purifier (we used a UV filter, works amazing!)
  • First Aid Kit (with lots of Moleskin!)
  • Burner (1 per person)
  • x1 450g Isofuel per person
  • One Pot (1.5L is plenty, you’ll really only be boiling water anyway)
  • Spork
  • Bowl
  • Cup

Clothing

  • Rain Jacket / Rain Pants (Just absolutely necessary)
  • Shorts / Bathing suit
  • x1 Light Pants
  • x1 Thermal Leggings / Top (More for the shoulder seasons)
  • x3 Briefs
  • x3 Merino Wool Socks (open the wallet for these, 100% worth it. Alternate between 2 each day and always revert back to the same 1 at the night)
  • Toque
  • Barefoot Running shoes / Flip Flops (Important to let your feet dry at night. We also met a guy who had to end his trip because he cut his foot open on a sharp rock on the beach)

Food

On any hiking trip food truly is an important consideration. We decided to bring our own pasta and pesto sauce in with us, along with some rice and chicken broth before dipping into the dehydrated meals. Had we done it again I would only bring dehydrated meals for dinner. The weight saved, the hassle-free meals, and the lack of dirty dishes just made it a no-brainer for this trail. Plus…some of them are pretty good! (Mountain House Lasagna & Backpackers Pantry Pad Thai!)

Too much food!

Too much food!

My recommendation would be: Oatmeal in the morning, dried food and snacks for on-the-go lunch, dehydrated meals for dinner. Also don’t forget to treat yourself with a nice piece of dark chocolate at the end of the night. A mickey or two of whisky doesn’t hurt either (hike enhancers are always welcome!)

How to Pack

I’m not claiming to be an expert on ergonomically properties of packing a bag. I do know however to try and keep the bulk of your weights on top of your hips is the key consideration to avoid the bag pulling back against your shoulders. Almost everything should be in a water-resistant stuff sack (Sleeping bag should be in a waterproof stuff sack). You’ll want to keeping your food in a separate stuff sack is great since you’ll have to store it in a bear bin along with 20 other campers!

 

So, you’ve read my blog, decided that this is the trail for you. You’ve packed, unpacked, gotten rid of half your gear, repacked and your finally ready to hit the road. So enjoy, and tread lightly my friends!

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