We were both optimistic and apprehensive about Day 4. We’d had a great evening, but it was probably the worst night sleeping on the trail. The wind did eventually die down but it was super damp at Laura Creek. Everything in the tent that wasn’t in my sleeping bag with me felt somewhat damp and I had a hard time falling asleep because even my pillow felt wet and it kept sticking to my face. Eventually I did drift off, but I think Emily was up for most of the night. We got up to pee at one point and it was absolutely freezing out.
It warmed up around sunrise and it wasn’t too bad when we got up and walked back to the forest to retrieve our stuff from the bear cache. But it started raining lightly and we were feeling a little weary, so we decided to have a tent breakfast. We boiled water leaning out through the vestibule and had our oatmeal in the tent. I’m sure this isn’t the best practice and I wouldn’t do it for a fragrant dinner, but since we were just boiling water, we took the risk. Since we were carrying the tent on the outside of our packs anyways, we packed up from inside the tent and Emily tended to her feet. They were definitely getting worse – her pinky toes looked awful – she’d gotten blisters on both and they’d since popped, leaving an open wound between her toes and a lot of dead skin on the outside of her toe. She also had several other blisters and hot spots so we taped and moleskined as much as we could. She’s a real trooper, I never could have hiked so far with my feet looking like hers did.
Fortunately the rain moved on when we were finally ready to go. Day 4 was going to be all about beach walking. You’d think that would be easier, but Emily in particular was dreading it because walking along the beach for extended periods of time really wears your feet down, especially if you have to do it for 12km. Walking along the fine sand is difficult because it’s such a hard surface and it’s rough on the soles of your feet, same with big boulders where you have to jump from rock to rock. Cobble has it’s own challenges too, the worst being the medium sized cobble that’s too small to walk from rock to rock, but too large to sink into it. The rocks create a lot of awkward angles on your feet and it gets really tiring. My preferred medium was black sand – it’s not as fine as the golden sand, so it’s a little easier on the feet. I think we encountered pretty much every type of beach surface on Day 4!
I did enjoy the start to the day. My feet were feeling refreshed and we saw lots of wolf tracks running along the beach. We hiked all morning up towards Christiansen Point. The whole time you’re able to look back towards the entire coastline to Cape Scott, which is rewarding when you’ve had the achievement of having hiked that entire distance. But Christiansen Point is the last view of Cape Scott and once you round the bend it’s a new landscape. I did find this to be a bit of a turning point with the waves as well. I guess the currents and winds are different on the other half of the trail and I found, with the exception maybe of Shuttleworth Bight, the waves were softer, particularly on Day 5.
We decided to stop at what we thought was Wolftrack Beach for lunch. Afterwards we realized it wasn’t actually Wolftrack Beach when we went one beach further and found the real Wolftrack Beach, so I guess we just stopped at some beach we didn’t know the name of. I do wish we’d stopped at the actual Wolftrack Beach, which was lovely and sheltered; where we did stop was a bit of a poor choice as we couldn’t find much respite from the wind and it was cold as we sheltered behind some logs at the back of the beach. We were treated to a little show though when a black bear wandered out on to the beach about halfway through our meal. Fortunately it was a positive bear experience. We could tell it was aware of us further down the beach and that it didn’t want to interact with us, so we just chilled and watched on the other side of the beach as we ate. Eventually it finished up on the beach and wandered back into the woods and we continued on our journey.
The weather improved as the day went on, but we started to hit a bit of a wall. As much as Emily thrived on Day 3, she suffered on Day 4. Our feet were all throbbing and our pace slowed down as we trudged across beach after beach. Between beaches we’d pop into the woods for 100 metres or so, but it was never for long and we always found ourselves at the start of a new beach. Emily slowed down as we continued and I found myself starting to become lethargic as well. Emily complained of being nauseous and I was starting to feel a bit lightheaded, which triggered the alarm bells in my head from many years of lifeguarding and first aid training that we were dehydrated. Though we’d been drinking lots of water, we had been hiking exposed on the beach for the entire day. The sun was mostly hiding behind the clouds, but the exposure had finally worn us down. I made us all stop and I mixed up a litre of electrolytes and forced me and Emily to drink a half litre each and we both ate some salty snacks.
I did feel my energy start to bounce back pretty quickly after that. It took a bit longer for Emily, but fortunately we had finally reached a legitimate inland section. We didn’t know if it would be as challenging as the inland section from the day before, but it was only short, so we figured it would be a nice change. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad and we soon found ourselves at our first cable car. The North Coast Trail has 2 cable car crossings located at rivers that are too deep to ford. It’s a pretty simple design – the cable car is attached to a steel cable that it can roll back and forth across and it has a second simple rope pulley system running under that to pull yourself across the river. We had to climb up a big metal structure to get to the first one and then we pulled the cable car across from the other side.
Brandon was the only one with experience using a cable car before, so he instructed me and Emily to load up our backpacks and each take a seat in the car while he held it steady for us. It’s a tiny little metal frame box with two seats facing each other and just enough space for your bags in the middle (barely, say goodbye to any leg room). Brandon warned us to make sure our hands were inside the car when he left go and to always pull away from the pulley to avoid pinching any of our fingers. When he let go we rode off at a good clip to the center of the river and then had to pull ourselves to the other side. It wasn’t too challenging because Lien and Brandon were also pulling from their side, so there was 4 of us to share the load. We offloaded and sent the car back to the guys, holding it from our end while they loaded into the car. We did the same thing for them and helped pull them across once the car lost momentum. I just wish I’d taken the time to dig out my gloves because it is hard on the hands pulling the rope.
With everyone safety across the river we had about 500 metres left to the beach. It was a pretty muddy section and we all collapsed in the sand when we finally reached Shuttleworth Bight (okay maybe just me). Of course the campsite was located on the total opposite side of the beach, so we had 1 more kilometre to walk across the beach. We’d passed a few people throughout the day that had camped at Irony Creek the previous night and were now heading all the way back to the San Jo parking lot. One family informed us to be careful where we camped because they’d been hit by the high tide the previous night and had gotten wet! We could see lots of campsites along the edge of the beach when we arrived, but we could also see that the high tide line went almost right up to them. I checked the tide charts and high tide was going to be at 10:30pm and would be higher than the previous night, so it didn’t look like a good place to camp.
Brandon went in search of another site and found a small bit of beach right next to the forest tent pads that looked just big enough to fit our tents. There was another camper who had been there the previous night and she came over to chat with us. There’d been 6 groups the previous night and they’d all camped on the beach. While only the one family had gotten wet, the tide had come up super close to all of them and she’d moved her tent to a forest pad for the night. She informed us the spot we were looking at tenting was probably the only beach site left that wouldn’t get wet, so we decided to take our chances since we would be up late enough to keep an eye on the tide and wait for it to change. The 5 guys from Laura Creek showed up a little after us and started setting up on the beach, but after talking to the same camper, decided to move to the forest tent pads as well. So every tent pad ended up being filled and we had the one beach site. Fortunately no one else showed up looking for a site because the rest of the beach sites did indeed get inundated by the tide.
Shuttleworth Bight is a huge white sand beach – Irony Creek is located on the very end and as the only water source, it’s obvious why the campsite was located there. I really liked Irony Creek – it wasn’t as windy and we had arrived before 5pm for once, so we had time to enjoy it properly. Again, we set up the tents and Brandon got a campfire going while I worked on dinner. It was my night and I had made and dehydrated a coconut curry. It didn’t rehydrate as well as I would have liked, but the flavour was really good and it was super filling. We finished dinner by 7pm, which was super early for us, so we had a really low key evening chilling by the fire. One of the guys came to talk to us because he was having nausea and heart pain and he didn’t know what to do about it, so we offered him some peptobismal because we thought it sounded like heartburn and he didn’t know what pepto was! Me and Emily sang him the symptom song and gave him some pepto chews and he said they did make him feel better. I literally never go anywhere without pepto (one time I got it confiscated by a bouncer at a Vegas club because “no pills allowed” lol), but it helps for so many symptoms, so it’s a great one to bring with you.
The main source of entertainment for the evening was watching the tide. It kept sneaking its way closer and closer to us. We were both on the same patch of sand, but Brandon’s tent was the one more at risk, so we built up a little barrier wall out of logs to protect against any rogue waves. There was more than 1 wave that splashed against the barrier, but fortunately the tent never did get hit. By the time the tide finally turned the wet sand line was only a foot away from the vestibule to the tent, so it was definitely the closest I’ve ever camped to a changing tide! We felt really lucky to be able to camp on the beach, but the one downside was the sea ticks. At Guise Beach we’d noticed that along the tide line at night all these gross little sea ticks come out to feast on sea debris. They look like little shrimps but they jump around on the sand. The closer the tide got to us, the closer the sea ticks moved. They were all over Brandon’s tent and they were creeping around in front of mine and Emily’s tent too. Fortunately none got inside the tent, but every time we would open the door we’d give the tent a big shake to dislodge any and then we’d jump in or out as fast as we could to avoid any ticks making their way inside. Once the tide moved back out they went with it, but it was peak tick time when we finally climbed inside the tents for bed.
So overall, despite the challenges with so much beach walking, it was still a good day. We really enjoyed our time at Irony Creek and we were still looking forward to the next two days. Little did we know the trail was about to get even more challenging – but more about that in Part V!