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West Coast Adventures- part II

Day 4 – This day was spent almost entirely on the beach or rock shelves. Starting from Cribs Creek, we did about a kilometre and a half before going inland, up and over the steep headland of Carmanah Point. Along the beach again until we reached the Carmanah Creek crossing. Another cable car, but after checking out the beach, we figured we could cross over two or three rocks without getting wet. And we did. We had some of the more difficult beaches along the trail on this route. Mainly because they are soft sand or fine gravel, and every step takes a little more effort. Lots of power but not always going anywhere. Along the way, there were some spectacular views along the coastline. It started out misty, but it was bright sun when we arrived at the next campsite. The first half of the day was mainly on the sand before the latter half, as the tide receded, was on the rock shelf. Tip: barnacles are best; they provide incredible grip on any surface. The final surprise of the day was trudging along a rock shelf, not knowing exactly where I was going and suddenly, as we rounded a point, there was the next campsite; Walbran Creek. The creek was relatively low but sheltered from the open ocean and was a great playground to explore. The amount of driftwood (or drift logs) was entertaining whenever you had to go anywhere around the campsite. Maybe the funniest campsite for me along the trail. However, I might have spent too much time without a shirt and burned my back and shoulders a little, making the next day's hike interesting. There is an inland route to access Walbran Creek campsite via a cable car, but once again, there was no need even to consider the cable car with the creek level so low. We were one of the earlier arrivals to the Walbran site and chose a fabulous 'fortified' camp surrounded by massive drift logs. It was quite the setup. We covered around 12km that day in just over three hours.

Walbran Creek campsite on the West Coast Trail

Day 5 – This would be our second morning, where we packed the tents a bit damp from a morning mist. And we would not experience any other rain, mist, or such for the remainder of the trip. In contrast to the previous day, being nearly exclusively on the beach, today's route was all inland, forest and marshes. John had warned me that today might be the most physically challenging day of the trip—the WCT's mecca for ladders. However, the day's first major landmark was a massive suspension bridge over Logan Creek. An engineering marvel and makes you think about what it took to get it there and installed. The route had been challenging already, with many twists and turns, stepping up and over roots and logs. There were very few opportunities to get a rhythm started or to continue one. Everything seemed to want to break your pace. Also, when you attach poles to your backpack, ensure they don't stick out beyond your backpack or head. If they do, they will catch onto every tree and tug you back countless times, attempting to drag you to the ground (they were unsuccessful but came close). Then came the ladders. Not that going up or down the ladders for me was the challenge I feared they might have been before the hike, but the number of ladders and elevation lost or gained by the ladders. I read beforehand that there are sections of ladders that, as far as you can see, its ladders. Well, that wasn't an exaggeration. There had been one or two shorter ladder sections earlier in the day, but then we arrived at Cullite Creek. This would be the biggest down-climb section we had yet to take on. It's impressive how long you spend on the ladders to simply walk a few metres across a tiny creek (or at least when we did it, again, there was a cable car but no need for it this trip) before climbing back up the gorge. Then only about a kilometre further down the trail, you do it all again for Sandstone Creek, and this one's nearly as big as well. At least we got a little break from ladders before the next down-climb at Camper Creek. But in between were some of the biggest up-and-overs of downed trees, roots, and steep inclines. There were bridges, boardwalks, fallen logs, (short) step ladders, and steps made from fallen trees. And combinations of all of them. It was never dull, that is for sure. In a few cases, multiple routes or lines through a particular section. Once, I chose to walk over a log suspended a couple of metres over the ground while John walked down, under the same log, and up the other side. We made the final descent down to Camper Creek and to that evening's campsite at Camper Bay (with the creek as low as it was, I got a much bigger cove vibe than a bay vibe). A 'well-sheltered' campsite also acted as a funnel for the wind; it was the first time we stacked the tents from blowing away—our shortest day at about 10.7km, which we did in about three and a half hours.

We usually discussed the next day's plan and where we wanted to end up every evening. We had some favourable tides for the early part of the trip but were headed into an issue. One of the most iconic sections of the WCT is Owen Point. You could almost ask whether you even did the WCT if you didn't get around Owen Point. It requires a tide below 1.8m. The expected low tide would be 1.7m at 16:13. Much less than ideal. And we had thought to stay a day longer to get it in. But the limited margin between low tide and the required low was tight, and any wind that day might make it impossible even at low tide, and we would have to backtrack a long way to take the inland route. Then it came to us that a much lower low tide would occur early that morning. Our math was that if we were around the point by about 8:00, we would be good (and the app someone else had confirmed those calculations). We still had about five kilometres to get to Owen Point, which meant an early start.

Camper Creek campsite on the West Coast Trail

Day 6 – That wasn't my best night's sleep because I was excited and maybe nervous not to miss my wake-up time. Just before 5:00, John woke me up and said we were good to go. There had been a forecast of some mist or fog, but none of that happened. Sunrise was 5:29 that morning, but it was already bright enough out, so we quickly packed our gear. We took it as a sign that it was meant to be. Just before 5:30, we set out from Camper Creek, first inland for about three kilometres before accessing the beach. Maybe it was the excitement, the mood, the lighting, but I think that was the nicest section of the inland trail along the trail. It was a pleasant, calm and relaxing way to start the day. When we reached the beach access, we still had about two kilometres along the water that morning to reach Owen Point. This was also the first time I got to experience bigger surge channels. Some I jumped across, others we had to go around, into the woods, going around before returning to the shelf. We made it around Owen Point in time. It did not disappoint. Fantastic views and coastline, rugged features of coastline. We couldn't make it through the cave at Owen because of some pooled water, and we decided it best not to get wet, so we walked around. Beyond Owen Point was perhaps one of the most challenging sections of the WCT. And I loved it. Massive rocks and boulders comprised the shoreline, topped off with massive driftwood, logs, and downed trees. The ultimate coastline obstacle course! And we had the next two kilometres of it. This was one of my favourite segments of the entire trail. I was built for this. By this time in the trip, I had gotten used to the backpack and was (almost) as agile as without the pack. Moving from rock to rock, tree to rock, rock to tree, route finding, and occasionally finding a dead-end route. I had a smile on my face the entire time. The consequences are real enough here, but I felt amazing moving through this terrain. At 8:30 that morning, after about three hours, we arrived at the tiny Thrasher Cove campsite. We stopped for a bit and made breakfast. Refilled any water we needed. We could have set up camp and spent one final night, but we were now ('only' according to the map) six kilometres from the end, with plenty of time to catch the ferries at the end. As I said, it felt like it was all meant to be today. We stopped for about an hour before tackling what I felt was the toughest ascent on the trail, from Thrasher Cove back up to the main trail. At the top of this, we made the right turn and were on the final stretch, supposedly five kilometres from the end. Yeah, according to my watch, it is more like seven kilometres. Either they don't want us to realize that there are some 'stretched' kilometres, or previous hikers have taken the mile markers over this last section, but after the right turn at the 70km marker, we never saw another marker. We saw a post or two where the markers are usually attached but no official markers. This section was strange because it was like nothing else we had hiked through yet. Big trees, but there was much less ground cover and, at times, almost none. Much drier as we hiked and yet cooler as a breeze could move through the trees. A great feeling of air conditioning as the day was warming. It was harder here to tell where the trail was and wasn't. It is longer than posted, but the psychological part of being almost there. It felt like it took the longest of any section. You think the end has to be around the next bend or at the bottom of this descent, maybe near the top of this hill, and the trail keeps going every time. As I was hiking these final few kilometres, I greatly appreciated the fact that we started at the north end and went southward. The terrain, ladders, and descents (that would be ascents the other way) would be very challenging starting out from the South. We were running into dozens of hikers starting their adventure only a few hours into the trip. In these groups, there were smiles and an upbeat atmosphere, and they were clean(ish), but already a few were feeling the weight of their challenge. We figured we could reach the trailhead by 12:30. Hopefully, catching a supposed 12:45 ferry while missing the ferry meant an undetermined wait on the beach. Then finally, after just over six hours of hiking that morning, we came to the upper platform of the final ladder, after all the worry about the ladders that turned out to be not warranted, as they had all been easy enough with the one hand. I can certainly say that that final ladder was the hardest of them all. It was vertical and one of the longest (tallest). Perhaps adding pressure, as I started down, we could hear the ferry approaching; I didn't want to miss the boat. And so, to continue our 'it was meant to be,' I had only half a dozen rungs remaining as the ferry ramp touched down on the beach. I took a final picture of the ladder and southern trailhead sign before walking directly onto the ferry. We covered nearly 17km on that final day in about six hours. We finished the trail at 12:36, completing the 75km (probably more like 85km) West Coast Trail in 27 hours of hiking and a lifetime of memories.

What an opportunity! What an experience!

We signed off the trail so they wouldn't come looking for us. We got back to the truck and, after a quick change, hit the road back to Victoria and Swartz Bay to see if we could get back to the mainland that afternoon. We did hit up the grocery store for a Coke and a popsicle. The road between Port Renfrew and Sooke is impressive. There might have been other reasons, but we laughed so hard witnessing what appeared to be a driver smashing his forehead into the steering wheel while his rental RV got airborne after hitting a pothole. The road had some enormous potholes and dips, but the twists and turns could make it one of the best driving roads I've been on. It could even be a fantastic cycling road, but I might want to do so on a closed road rather than coming into traffic unexpectedly. Once I was back to cell reception, I tried to reserve a spot on the next ferry, but all reservations were already taken, but there was space left on a 16:00 ferry crossing. We figured we would head to the terminal, and maybe our luck would hold to get on. If not, it would be the following ferry. We made it not knowing which crossing we would be on and only waited maybe ten minutes before they started loading. We made this 16:00 crossing. We had a late lunch, early dinner on the ferry. What a day! It might have been the finest example of how everything that could have gone well did so for us on this trip. The weather, trail conditions, ourselves, our gear, the timing of the tides, and everything else. It all added to one fantastic experience. If this is how every trip goes, sign me up. I joked that I needed to do it again, but in the rain, and mud, just to balance out my experiences.

For my first hiking experience, I loved it. To accomplish completing one of Canadian's top rating hikes is uniquely special. I'm very proud I had the chance even to consider it, let alone achieve it with friends' help. I'll admit I may have googled the best Canadian thru-hikes somewhere on Day 3 or 4 to inspire the next adventure, perhaps? I want to share a considerable Thanks to John, first for offering this opportunity to me, next for taking me along and letting me embrace and enjoy one of my most memorable experiences and offering to climb the ladders twice to take my pack if they proved more complicated than they were. We did solve the mystery of the missing starfish. I loved the idea of hiking in the past, and now I know I have a deep-rooted passion for it. The only problem now is that I have now had a nibble, well, a helping (it was the West Coast trail, after all) of what hiking could be. And I want more! I might need to slow the wheels from turning, figuring out what might be the next hiking adventure. First, I must practice my sack stuffing before any next trip.

I got to enjoy a week in Canmore, unpacking, then repacking, and getting ready for the next trip on my whirlwind summer tour (Incheon, South Korea; Vancouver Island; Torsby, Sweden; the Netherlands, and Ruhpolding, Germany). I head over to Torsby, Sweden, for some invaluable on-snow time at the Torsby Skidtunnel (ski tunnel). A challenging trip to pack for with both summer and winter-like (-4°c, on-snow) conditions and various activities. I think I packed everything, but we'll see.

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