SCT Part I: Sarah Point to Manzanita

The Sunshine Coast Trail – I feel like this trail has been dominating my thoughts for the last 2 years. Every time I do a thru-hike I want to stretch the boundaries and the Sunshine Coast Trail is pretty much the pinnacle of thru-hiking in the lower mainland (in my opinion). I wanted to hike this trail in 2021, but I felt really burnt out after doing Assiniboine. I had some PTSD from the heat stroke incident and I was desperate to see my family because I hadn’t seen them in 2 years because of COVID. I had planned to do the SCT in late July, but I ended up going back to Newfoundland for 2 weeks instead.

So in 2022, I was really determined to do it. I wanted to do it with Carolyn and Emily and we did as much coordination as we could to make it happen. We decided on the first two weeks in August. Emily flew into Vancouver and we prepped for a few days before making a 10-night attempt at the trail. Carolyn didn’t have quite as much holiday time as us, so she was planning to do it in 8-nights and catch us halfway through. The Sunshine Coast Trail is 180km of “hut-to-hut hiking” on, you guessed it, the Sunshine Coast. Unlike the West Coast Trail and the North Coast Trail, it’s not really a coastal trail, but rather a mountain trail that takes its name from its location on the Sunshine Coast.

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Things started off very promising. I spent several weeks in July dehydrating food to lighten our loads and we had a full dehydrated menu weighing in at 11 pounds for 10 days (this is actually incredibly lightweight – the average is 2lbs of food per day). We shared our gear among the two of us, with 3 days of food in our packs and the other 7 days in a dry bag for our resupply. There are 2 easy re-supply points at Powell River and Lang Bay. About a third of the way into the trail you pass through Shingle Mill Pub in Powell River, which will store your resupply for you. Two thirds into the trail you can store a second cache at the General Store in Lang Bay, but it’s 2.5km off trail each way, so we opted for just one re-supply. In total, my bag weighed 32lbs when we left, which included 3 days of food and 3L of water – definitely a lightweight record for me!

On Wed, Aug. 3rd, we departed for the trail. There are lots of options to get to Powell River and we opted for one of the cheapest, but longest routes. We couldn’t take my car because Seth needed it for work, so we opted to take public transit the entire way. If you catch the 9:50am ferry from Horseshoe Bay, there is a once-per-day shuttle that will pick you up in Langdale and drop you in Earl’s Cove for the subsequent ferry to Saltery Bay. It’s $55 per person, but allows you to only have to pay to walk on the ferries. This shuttle is the limiting factor if you transit to Powell River because it only goes once a day.

When we got to Saltery Bay, we took city buses the rest of the way. The No. 12 bus does a run from Saltery Bay to Powell River Town Centre, where we jumped on the No. 14 bus (to Lund) and got off at the Shingle Mill Pub. We dropped off our re-supply (and Carolyn’s), charged our devices, and had a delicious meal before the shuttle picked us up at 5:30pm.

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Getting to the Sarah Point Trailhead, which is the far northern part of the trail, is the second tricky bit. The trailhead is only accessible by 4WD and high clearance vehicles, so even if you can drive all the way to Powell River, you may not be able to get to the trailhead in your own car. There’s a wonderful company called the Sunshine Coast Shuttle that will pretty much drop you anywhere (and offers resupplies) for a price. The tricky part is that there’s a 4 person base rate, so you can save a lot of money if you’re able to coordinate with other groups. For the longest time I thought it was just going to be me and Emily on the shuttle, but I managed to find two other women on the facebook group and another group of 2 women joined us, so we ended up with 6 of us on the shuttle.

It would have been a pretty uneventful ride to the trailhead, except that my cheesy pasta from the pub did not sit well once we started bumping around on the gravel roads. So it was a pretty stressful ride for me until I finally had the shuttle pull over so I could use the bathroom in the woods. TMI? Maybe, but I’m committed to honesty on this blog, plus I was none the worse for it in the end and now me and Emily just laugh about it. The highlight was that we saw a mama bear and 2 cubs and a deer on the drive in.

The lovely thing about the shuttle is that it drops you right at the trailhead and the first hut it also located right at the trailhead! Like I said, the Sunshine Coast Trail is advertised as a “hut-to-hut” hiking trail, which means you could theoretically stay in huts for the entire duration of the trail, meaning you could leave your tent at home! The only tricky bit is there’s a large gap between huts when you go through Powell River, so you’d likely want to stay in Powell River overnight. However, most people still bring a tent just in case it’s really busy at the huts (which I’ve heard it can be, but was not busy at all in 2022).

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The first hut is the Sarah Point Hut at km 0. We were planning on staying either at Sarah Hut or the Feather Cove campsite at km 3, but it was an easy choice to stay at Sarah Point. It was 7pm when we got there and because of my… ahem… digestive distress, I didn’t have much interest in going further. Plus, it’s an absolutely gorgeous location!

Sarah Point is one of the few campsites actually located on the ocean coast and overlooks the Strait of Georgia out towards Cortes Island. In addition to the hut, there’s a composting outhouse, a bear cache, 4 tent pads, and several benches and picnic tables, as well as a small stream as a water source. It’s a really beautiful spot. Two of the women in our shuttle immediately took off on the trail, but the rest of us opted to stay. One women slept in the hut and the other set up on the covered porch under the hut. It was threatening rain on and off all day and her logic was, she wanted to sleep in her tent without it getting wet.

We opted to take the tent pad closest to the water. Because my tent is a single walled tent, it gets condensation on the inside, so it was going to be wet whether it rained or not and we both wanted to stay outside. It really was an amazing view.

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We checked out Sarah Point and did a little bit of beach walking before playing Scat and 99 with some playing cards we found in the hut. It had rained a little on us earlier in the day, but the rain stayed away after that. It did rain again overnight, but it was over by the time we got up and we didn’t see any more rain on the trip. We packed the tent up wet, unpacking it at lunch where it quickly dried out in the sun.

Our first full day on the trail was really awesome. We had yet to hike any distance, so we were up and ready to go for 9am. Our goal for the day was to hike 16km to the hut at Manzanita Bluff. It wasn’t too hot when we started, but it was humid and the first 3km were a little more tiring than we anticipated. Our legs had to get used to the up-and-down nature of the trail and we were quickly sweating. The first point of interest on the trail is only 0.6km in when you reach the other Sarah Point campground. This Sarah Point is the real one, which is located in Desolation Sound Marine Park and used primarily by boaters (though I’m not sure how they access the camp because there is no beach). I’d definitely give the edge to the first Sarah Point campsite and we quickly continued on.

Our first break was at Feather Cove Campsite (km 3), which is also located in Desolation Sound Marine Park. Of the two in the park, I would definitely say Feather Cove is the nicer site. It has an easy beach to land on and has 9 tent pads spread out between the woods and the bluff. It also has a bear cache and an outhouse, so it would be a nice place to stay (Sarah Point 2 also had an outhouse, but no bear cache, and neither camp has a water source).

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We had a few snacks and kept going. Fortunately, the trail got a lot easier after that. I’ve done the Juan de Fuca Trail and the North Coast Trail, both of which are challenging coastal trails. The Sunshine Coast Trail has a very different vibe and while it is still challenging in its own way, it’s not overly technical, so it’s easier to trek more distance per day. It’s fairly easy walking through the woods from Feather Cove to Hinder Lake and we were thankful for the shade. Hinder Lake is 100% a pond and not very nice, so I wouldn’t plan for a stop here.

The trail meanders a bit after Hinder Lake and you climb up to “the Knob”, which has a nice forested view of Okeover Arm. Then it’s a quick downhill to Bliss Portage Road and Bliss Landing Hut. There’s supposed to be a small seasonal stream at Bliss, but it was dry when we came through. To avoid mentioning every water source on the trail, I’ll just say that a lot of them were dry. The later you go in the summer, the more you’ll have to rely on ponds and lakes.

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Somehow I didn’t know about Bliss Landing Hut. I believe it’s the newest hut, so it was a surprise when we stumbled upon it. It’s located at km 8 and has a composting outhouse, some picnic tables, a bear cache, and a few flat spots for tents. It was empty when we came through and we decided to stop for part 1 of our lunch. Our lunches were all cold soaks and a little on the large side. I don’t like feeling bloated when I have to hike, so we ate most of our lunches over two stops.

All of the huts are slightly different, but Sarah Point and Bliss were very similar. They were both fully enclosed huts with large covered porches. Some of the huts are open on the bottom and have picnic tables and counters for cooking. Most have covered sleeping lofts which can be accessed by a step-ladder. They’re all empty in the loft so that 6-12 people can sleep in them. Both were extremely clean and well take care of.

From Bliss Landing, it was another 4km to Wednesday Lake. The trail had lots of ups and downs, but wasn’t overly difficult. It was getting very hot though, so we were hoping to have a good swim at Wednesday Lake.

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Wednesday Lake was not what I was expected, but was lovely nonetheless. There is a very poor outhouse in the woods there and enough space for maybe 2 tents, but otherwise it’s not much of a campsite and there’s no other facilities. The lake itself is lovely and it made for a great lunch break, but I’m glad we didn’t camp there. The trail stops at the lake and there’s a small knoll with a bench overlooking the lake. There’s no beach, so it’s not very easy to get in and you pretty much have to jump in off the rocks (they are not high though).

We hadn’t seen a single person since we left Sarah Point, so we opted for a swim in our birthday suits – the water was so warm and I took my first shower of the trip! It was the perfect way to cool down and we finished our lunch on the bench while the tent dried. Before leaving, we walked a few metres further to the outlet stream and filled up our water bladders. It’s the last water source until after Manzanita Bluff, so we needed enough water to see us through the next morning. We opted to take about 4.5L each, which is about 10lbs in weight, so not light! We probably could have taken less, but we’re both overly cautious after the time we almost ran out of water on the Howe Sound Crest Trail, so we always take extra!

We had 4km more to go to our campsite for the night at Manzanita. This was the most challenging part of the trail in that it was a steady uphill and it was hot, but it wasn’t technical, so we managed it in about an hour and a half, arriving at the bluffs just before 5pm.

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Manzanita Bluffs is awesome! The main downside is that there’s no water source, but it’s totally worth it because the views are amazing! What I loved most about day 1 were all of the arbutus trees and Manzanita Hut is constructed right on the bluff, surrounded by arbutus trees and a beautiful view looking out to Vancouver Island, with Cortes and Savary Islands in the foreground. There were a few day hikers at the hut when we arrived, but otherwise we were the only campers there.

The Manzanita hut is a partially open hut, with no wall on the front and several picnic tables inside. There’s not much room for tents at Manzanita, maybe 2-3 good spots and a handful of okay ones. We were still in the mood to tent, so we took the best spot and starting soaking our supper while enjoying the view. Of our two companions from the night before, we knew one was planning to camp at Wednesday Lake, but we weren’t sure about the other one. She ended up showing up at Manzanita around 7pm and we had a lovely chat with her while watch the sunset over the bluff.

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In addition to the hut, Manzanita has a composting outhouse and several picnic tables and benches, but no bear cache. Me and Emily had brought Ursack bear bags with Opsaks to store our food for the trip. We left them in the cache on the first night, but on this night we tied them to a tree away from our tent to stop a bear from walking off with them. Fortunately they weren’t tested.

Bear safety is a big subject on the SCT. Some people stick to the caches and others commit to doing bear hangs. However, handmade bear hangs are often pretty ineffective and not always possible, so most people bring some kind of bear can or bag. The bear can is definitely the most foolproof method and the one I’d recommend, but the cans do weigh about 2lbs empty. I couldn’t stomach that extra weight, so we brought Ursack bear bags, which weigh 0.5lbs. They’re made of kevlar, so bears can’t get into them, but they’re not as reliable as the cans. This is because with the sack, a bear can’t get your food, but could still carry it off or crush it. The can’s are designed so that they’re pretty much impossible for the bear to carry off and your food won’t get crushed. We took our chances with the sacks, but that’s why we always secured them to a tree (looping the rope around the trunk of the tree rather than hanging it).

I’ll end Part 1 there, but I have lots more to write about it Part 2!

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