Life in British Columbia

My life in Vancouver since moving to BC in 2014

Cape Scott and North Coast Trail: Part VI

Woohoo! We made it to my final post! If you’re just joining us, start at Part 1.

After a week on the trail, we finally reached our final day. Day 5 was really long and tiring and unfortunately, we never really had enough time to recover. We’d strolled into the campsite at 8:30pm the previous night and had to get up at 5am to give ourselves enough time to catch the water taxi. Because we never really had any down time, we all had trouble falling asleep and it was a really restless night. We woke up feeling unrested for the long hike ahead of us. We’d collected water the previous night, but it was salty tasting and not thirst quenching, so I went back to the river at low tide to collect more. When I saw how different the river looked from high tide to low tide, there was no question the river was tidally influenced and that we’d been straight up drinking filtered salt water the night before. The river had shrunk to about a 10th of the size of the previous night and instead of a huge river, it was now a tiny creek flowing down. I collected a little bit of water from it, but the whole area is covered with salt water debris, so despite the fact that it was definitely freshwater flowing down, it still tasted brackish from flowing across the tidal riverbed.

I drank a big mug of hot chocolate for breakfast because it was the only way I could stomach the water and we concluded that we would have to get water at Skinner Creek 2km later. It wasn’t ideal because it would blow a lot of our critical time filtering 3 litres each, but obviously we had no choice as we couldn’t be drinking salt water all day. We learned later that you’re supposed to get your water at the cable car crossing when you camp at Nahwitti River. I read the entire North Coast Trail guidebook and knew about pretty much everything else we encountered on the trail, so I’m really not sure how I missed this.

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Day 6 was the most beautiful day on the trail. The one benefit of waking up at 5am is that I got to watch the sun rise over the ocean and up into the cloudless sky. It was beautiful walking along the rest of the beach, but it was going to make for hot hiking weather. As I said in my last post, I carried the group through Day 5, but I did not have the energy for it on Day 6. I’m a very type A personality and I wanted to make a quick hike to Skinner Creek to refill our water and hit the rest of the trail to the end. We left the campsite by 7am, which had been our goal, but we were moving pretty slow because no one was properly rested. I was kind of cranky cause I wanted to move faster and frankly I was really thirsty, so I pushed on ahead mostly on my own through the woods. I think I needed a bit of time on my own, so it was better I just continued on.

It’s 2km to Skinner Creek, about 1km of which is in the woods. It was muddy, but fortunately not too difficult and we did the 2km in an hour. The last section before you reach the beach though is crazy steep and you have to scale a rope about 20metres down this gully to reach the beach. It took a while for us to get down because we each had to wait for each other before the next person could use the rope, but when we finally reached the beach we were treated to one of the most beautiful views! I’m sure many of the other beaches were just as beautiful, but coupled with the beautiful blue sky and clear weather, Skinner Creek just seemed so much more beautiful. It’s a black sand beach that stretches for about 2 kilometres. I can see why everyone decided to camp at Skinner and Sutil and skipped Nahwitti (as beautiful as Nahwitti was, it couldn’t compete with Skinner). Like I said in my previous post, if I could do the trail again, I would add an extra day and camp at Skinner and Sutil instead.

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It was a relief when we finally reached the creek at around 8:30am. We were all so thirsty and we dumped out our water bladders and gave everything a good rinse in the river before refilling. Unfortunately we killed a lot of time because we had to filter 12 litres of water, but it was obviously necessary so we just enjoyed the view while we waited. There were several campers having a lazy morning at the campsite, though less than we expected. It seems like a ton of people had been dropped off on July 1 when the taxi started running, but that the traffic had immediately dropped off after that. Most people were continuing on to Sutil, but there was one group of guys that was doing the same thing as us. The only difference was that they were camping at Shushartie Bay and getting picked up the following morning. That had been our original plan, but there’s no water source or beach at Shushartie Bay, which means you have to lug a ton of water there, so we’d been lucky to get our pickup time changed to the afternoon. The guys informed us there was another group doing the same thing as us, but with a 2:30pm pickup, so they had already left.

It was 9:30am by the time we finally had enough water and took off again. It looked like the trail continued up behind the outhouse and crawled back up the bluff, so we headed up that way. After about 10 minutes it became pretty obvious we were going the wrong way and we think we’d gotten on the high tide track back towards Nahwitti River. There was a lot of confusion after that. The creek is filled with a ton of log debris, so we spent a lot of time poking around the area trying to find the trail head before Emily and Brandon finally discovered it up past the debris. They called out to me and Lien and we started climbing over the logs to catch up with them. There’s no obvious trail, so we were kind of bushwacking our way around the edge of the creek – I found Emily and Brandon and Lien was right behind me, but in the confusion he stepped on a bad branch and I watched almost in slow motion as he tried to recover his balance after the branch snapped under him and the momentum of his backpack pulled him over the edge. He rolled about 6ft over the edge of the bank and landed flat on his back in the creek. I jumped down immediately to help him – he was bleeding from several scratches, but fortunately he was otherwise uninjured, although I’m sure he had a few new bruises the following morning.

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As with most accidents on the trail, it was a reminder that there’s not a lot of room for mistakes or complacency. We were getting anxious about struggling to find the trail and in his rush to catch up with us, Lien took a bad step. Fortunately he was okay and no lasting harm done, but it put him off kilter for a while after that. I bandaged up his knee and we continued on. The last 8.5km of the trail is probably the most notorious section on the North Coast Trail. It’s the first section of trail for most people and it’s entirely inland through what can only be described as a swamp. It’s known for its copious amounts of mud and I can see how it would be a pretty rough start to the trail. In fact, a lot of people straight up skip it and start at either Nahwitti River or Cape Sutil (I guess the boat can’t land at Skinner Creek?). On Brandon’s first traverse of the NCT, he skipped it and started at Nahwitti River instead. To be honest, after completing this section, I’m not really sure why they even bothered cutting the trail there. There’s absolutely nothing of value to see along the trail – I wanted to do it just so I could say I did the whole trail, but if I ever do the NCT again, I would skip it.

Fortunately, the biggest obstacle is mud. There’s obviously some other obstacles, but it’s primarily mud. 9km of mud gets pretty exhausting though and we gave up any attempt of trying to stay dry. It would be nice to just tramp right through it, but you do have to avoid it to some extent or you’d legitimately get stuck. Emily took a bad step at one point and sunk down beyond her knees. The only reason she was able to get unstuck is that she sunk into it near a tree that she was able to use to pull herself out. Lien took several tumbles, as did me and Brandon. Brandon was our cheerleader for the last day, which was a relief to me because I didn’t have the energy for it after Day 5. He kept us on task all day, giving us small breaks for snacks, but generally no more than 5 minutes.

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The worst part about this section is that there is absolutely no breaking point. The only landmark on the entire trail is a single trail marker at the halfway point. The marker isn’t even legible anymore, but it was the main thing we were aiming for the first half of the trail. Its along a small boardwalk section, so we allowed ourselves a 10 minute break at the monument, though we never did stop for lunch. It took us 3 hours to reach the half way point (4.3km) and we had neither the time nor the energy to get our lunch out, so we went the whole day on just snacks. I really wish the park would invest in a tent pad or two with some benches at the halfway point. Not so people can camp there, but just so that there’s somewhere on the trail to pull over and have a proper break/lunch. There’s absolutely no where to stop across the full 9km, so we ended up hiking the whole thing continuously, taking a whopping 6.5 hours.

At the halfway point, the group of guys from Skinner Creek caught up with us on the trail. When they’d heard we were on a 4:30pm boat, they decided to hike to Shushartie to try and catch a ride on our boat since we seemed to be the only people on it. They were another group of witches and we gawked at how nimble and clean they were as they passed us. Meanwhile Emily was standing there with mud almost up to her crotch…

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It was another rough day for Emily. She didn’t complain because she knew there was nothing else to be done about it, but she hit her limit about three quarters through the hike. Lien found his stride again during the last section of the trail and him and Brandon were leading us while me and Emily lagged behind. They were waiting for us at a stretch of boardwalk, just before we got there I heard Emily yell, but I continued on to the guys figuring she’d catch up in a minute, but when she did join us there were tears pouring down her face. She’d bumped her head on a tree and while she hadn’t really injured herself, it was kind of her breaking point and she just needed to let out the frustration.

We’d been tracking our pace all day and we were right on time to make it to the boat, so we decided that we were close enough to tell the guys to go on without us. I find it frustrating to have to wait for others when you’re already tired and we figured that if we were a little bit late, the guys could at least hold the boat til we got there (not that it would have left without us). So we set the guys free and actually our mood improved a lot after that. It took away the stress of having someone waiting for you and we ended up having a good sister chat along the way, which took our mind of the trail and our exhaustion.

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Other than the group of guys that had passed us, we only saw 2 other people on the trail all day. It seems no one had taken a morning taxi in and they had come in on the 2:30pm pick up for the other group. We passed them about 45 minutes from the end and I felt really bad for them. I can’t imagine having a late start like that and then having to go through all that mud. Plus neither of them had gaiters and their packs looked really heavy.

Eventually we crested the hill and could see down towards the water of Shushartie Bay, which unfortunately still looked a bit far away. The last section of the trail was downhill and while the mud disappeared, it did get a little more technical. We suffered through it and were relieved when we finally saw the tent pads for the campsite sitting up in the trees. The last section of the trail is super steep and we had to take another rope rappel down to the bottom. I can’t imagine starting off the trail with all that steep uphill and then straight into mud for 9km – what a brutal beginning to a week long trail. As we were coming down the rope section we heard the water taxi coming into the Bay. We hollered down to Brandon that we were almost there. Our timing literally could not have been any better. Me and Emily exited the trail at exactly 4:30pm and literally walked straight onto the boat after 6.5 hours of continuous hiking. It turned out the boys were only about 10 minutes ahead of us at the end of the day.

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The other group of guys shared the boat with us and were saved from having to camp at Shushartie. They’d had time to change out of their hiking boots and clean themselves up, but we walked on just as we were and plunked our bags down at the front of the boat. It was a little jarring boarding the boat. I’d honestly forgotten about Covid while we were on the trail (it was lovely), but we were quickly thrust back into it and asked to don face masks for the journey.

It’s about an hour back to Port Hardy and we had a pretty magical boat ride to end the trip. About half way back we stumbled upon a group of 20-25 orcas making their way through the pass. We could see them swimming all around us and several breached right in front of the boat (photo cred to Brandon)! They gave us an amazing show – it was nice to have some kind of reward after hiking through all that mud. It was hard to get up from the seats when we arrived at Port Hardy and we were super stiff when we exited the boat. Our original plan had been to camp at San Jo since we had to go back for our other car anyways, but we pretty much all knew that was not going to happen after the last two days. Until Day 5 we’d still been on board with the plan, but the last 2 days were just too much and we walked off the boat and straight into the first hotel we saw. We booked two rooms, peeled off our smelly clothes, showered, and then hit up the local pub for dinner.

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So it was a bit of a rough end to the trip, but as I learned on the Juan de Fuca, there’s still something so rewarding about these long coastal hikes. It’s the longest hike I’ve ever done and it really does beat you down, but honestly, as brutal as the last two days were, the second I stepped off the water taxi, I still thought, “I would do that again”. I would do it totally differently, but I would definitely do it again. First I’ll need to do the West Coast Trail, but I still wouldn’t be deterred from returning to the NCT. Hiking really challenges you in ways you don’t expect, but the challenge is part of what adds to the accomplishment. Sure, it would have been idyllic to have had an easier hiking plan, or it would have been harder had it actually rained on us, but we did what we did. The trail beat us all down, but we still finished it. If you’re thinking of doing a multi-day coastal through-hike, maybe don’t start with the NCT, but get out there and challenge yourself on the Juan de Fuca, because it is a uniquely rewarding experience.

I’m going to finish of this series with a description of our trip plan and how I would plan the trip differently if I was to do this trip again. So the first column is what I did, but the second column is what I’d recommend for everyone else 🙂

Day What I did What I’d Recommend
Day 1 Ferry to the island, drive to Port Hardy, flat tire and camp on service road Ferry to the island, drive to Port Hardy and stay in hotel overnight
Day 2 Hiked 9.5km to Fisherman River Water taxi to Nahwitti River, hike 2km to Skinner Creek and pretend like you hiked the 9km mud pit (or do the mud pit if you must)
Day 3 Hiked 12km to Guise Bay and 5km day trip to Cape Scott Hike 7km to Cape Sutil
Day 4 Hiked 17km to Laura Creek Hike 8km to Irony Creek
Day 5 Hiked 13km to Irony Creek Hike 13km to Laura Creek
Day 6 Hiked 13km to Nahwitti River Hike 17km to Guise Bay
Day 7 Hiked 11km to Shushartie Bay, water taxi back to Port Hardy and stay in hotel 5km day trip to Cape Scott, Hike 12km to Fisherman River
Day 8 Drove back to Vancouver Hike 12km to San Josef Bay
Day 9 Drive back to Vancouver

 

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Cape Scott and North Coast Trail: Part V

So I know a 5 part series about the North Coast Trail is probably a little indulgent, but I really love story telling so you’ll just have to bear with me (click here for Part I). As much as I love growing this blog and appreciate all my readers, I do write primarily for myself to document my adventures and give myself a writing outlet. So if you’ve made it this far in the series, thanks for sticking along! My subscribers have been increasing with every post, so I assume there are people out there somewhere reading my blogs – if you are I’d love to hear from you in the comments! As far as I know Carolyn and my Dad are my most dedicated readers – Lien pops by when I write about him, Brandon occasionally reads a post, and Seth and Emily never read anything I write. So to the rest of my readers – I appreciate you! If you read my blog for posts about the backcountry and trails in BC, please let me know what you like about them and anything you’d appreciate seeing added. I really am curious and like to encourage others to get out exploring. I see myself as a bit more of a storyteller than as a place to come for information on trails, but I do try and include both.

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Day 5 is where it started to all go down hill. In my opinion Day 5 was the most beautiful part of the trail and we got excellent weather for it, but the trail got really hard. Our goal for Day 5 was to hike 13km to Nahwitti River. Cape Sutil was located at the 8km mark of the trail, so we figured that would be a good spot to reach for lunch. It was a mix of beaches and inland trails along the way. The morning started out great with some lovely walks along the beach. The trail would pass into the woods for short periods between beaches and nothing was too strenuous, so we were having a good time. Like I said in my previous post, this section of the trail is a lot less windy. The ocean topography must be different because there are no large waves, it’s just gentle beaches with shallow waves coming in. The sun had finally come out and it was really tempting to stop and swim, but we were still making a pretty slow pace so we figured we’d better not.

About halfway to Cape Sutil the trail got really difficult. We finished the longer beaches and did an inland trail followed by pocket beaches. All ‘pocket beaches’ really means is that you have to climb up and down a steep, technical trail to get from each small beach to the next across. In my opinion, this was the hardest section of the entire trail. The trail is both steep and has an inordinate number of obstacles along it. Instead of just battling mud and tree roots, there were a lot of large trees and branches we either had to climb over or crawl under. I literally did several parts of the trail on my hands and knees. At one section, I was crawling on my knees to go under a tree, but when I started to try and stand up again, there was a second tree that I hadn’t seen that literally knocked me right back down into the mud on my belly.  In addition, Emily was really frustrated because there were a lot of really tall stumps to climb over and she is so short that she had to climb up most of them on her knees, which is obviously painful on the knees when you’re also wearing a huge pack. This was the one section where being smaller was somewhat beneficial though as I think Lien had a hard time navigating some of the obstacles with his large pack.

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Day 5 was another bad day for Emily. I could tell she was starting to lose it from the repetitive obstacles. There was one really hard section up out of the gully from one of the pocket beaches and as she was trying to pull herself up I told her to just yell to express her frustrations and she let out a truly terrifying scream as she hauled herself up. For anyone who knew Emily as a child, we used to call her Shrieky after the character in care bears because she had such a high pitched scream, so you can imagine what that sounded like. Had I not just told her to scream and heard it I definitely would have come running!

When we finally finished the pocket beaches, Emily was ready to stop for lunch, but we all encouraged her to push through the last section to Cape Sutil where we could at least get more water at the same time. Cape Sutil is actually the most northerly point on Vancouver Island, but it’s also a sacred first nations site, so while you can camp at the beach, access to the cape is restricted. So the last section of the trail before the beach was an inland trail bypassing the cape. Fortunately the only obstacle along this trail was mud, which we had long ago made our peace with, so we pushed through faster than expected since it was at least flat. We all celebrated when we finally popped out on the beach, but it was a weary celebration because it was already 3pm and we still had 5km to go. We knew it would be a late night.

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The one thing I liked about doing the NCT backwards was that since the water taxi hadn’t started running, there were few people on the trail. However, the taxi had started running the previous day and we’d heard that they were dropping off a whopping 40 people on the first day. Cape Sutil is when we finally encountered the crowds. Everyone seemed to be on the same track – they’d all hiked into Skinner Creek on the first day (9km) and then had hiked 7km to Cape Sutil, where they’d be spending the night. A lot of them were arriving at the same time as us, which wasn’t a great indicator for the condition of the rest of the trail. If I had my time back, I would have done the same thing, added an extra night and camped at Sutil and Skinner Creek. But when I’d planned, hiking 8km followed by 7km just seemed like too short a distance, so we’d instead planned to do the 13km to Nahwitti River, the campsite between the two.

Cape Sutil was beautiful and aside from the crowds, I would have loved to stay, but we already had a water taxi booked for the next afternoon, so we were committed to continuing on. Taking the water taxi at the end was the downside to doing the trail backwards because it left you less flexibility. If we’d been going the other way, we had enough food that we could easily have decided to stay another night if we’d wanted.

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Anyways, we had a late lunch at Cape Sutil and filtered some more drinking water. It was a hot day and we’d all drank a lot already. Unfortunately the filter decided to clog and it took forever to filter, so we didn’t treat quite as much water as we probably should have. It had taken us 5 hours to go 8km and we still had 5km left, so we needed to get going. There’s one tidal section on all of the North Coast Trail and we were approaching it. Shortly after Cape Sutil there’s a pinch point that can only be crossed around low tide. Fortunately, low tide was at 5pm, which is almost exactly when we got there. When we’d checked the tides in the morning we figured we’d probably be getting there around 2pm and if anything we’d have to wait for the tide to drop further, but that obviously ended up not being a problem. Even with the tide at it’s lowest though it was a pretty tight window. We were able to pass through this pretty neat area full of sea stacks, but it was still tight at the very end, so you really do need to get your timing right. There did look to be a high tide trail, but it pretty much involved scaling a vertical cliff with one rope, so I’m glad we didn’t have to do that with our packs on.

But that was the end of the beaches for the day. From there it was 4km of inland trail to the campsite at Nahwitti River. I do think the longer inland trails were slightly easier than the short ones to the pocket beaches, but the length of them really does wear you down. We started the inland section at 5pm and never arrived at Nahwitti River until 8:30pm, so it was a painstakingly slow pace. The inland section starts with a lengthy climb up stairs to the top of the bluff. Poor Lien hates the stairs and he was just so done at this point, I think everyone was. Like I said in one of my previous posts, we had the benefit of all breaking down on different days and Day 5 was my day to play the cheerleader. I was feeling generally tired, but overall it was definitely one of my better days on the trail and I did my best to propel the team through our longest day.

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The rest of the trail was long and pretty unremarkable. Fortunately it was more mud obstacles than climbing obstacles, but it was still pretty bad. Unfortunately, Lien drinks like a packhorse and he ran out of water several kilometres in. There were a few water sources marked on the map, so when we did find one, we had to stop and refill again. By the end of the day Lien had drank 4 litres of water! Eventually the path starts to head down and then continues along Nahwitti River. The campsite is just across the river, but it’s not possible to cross it, so we had to follow the river back to our second and final cable car. We were faster on the second cable car and I was thrilled to see a black bear fishing upstream on the river while me and Emily were riding across.

There was one last easier section through the woods before we finally reached the Nahwitti River campsite. Based on the number of people at Cape Sutil, we were wondering what tenting options would be left to us at Nahwitti and we couldn’t believe it when we strolled in to a totally empty campsite. It’s a beautiful site with several tent pads in the woods and room for a few on the beach. Unlike Laura Creek and Irony Creek, the forest is much more airy at this location and you can see the beach from the trees. There was space on the beach, but it was still pretty close to the high tide line, so me and Emily decided to tent in the forest rather than take the risk since there wasn’t enough room for 2 tents. Brandon and Lien slept on the beach, they did have to build up another log wall, but they never got wet.

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It was 8:30pm when we finally rolled into the camp, so our last night was more about surviving then thriving. The biggest concern was that we still had 11km to go the following day to catch our 4:30pm ferry, so we decided a 5am wakeup call would be required to give us enough time the following day. We skipped the campfire and I put the tent up while Emily immediately started on dinner and Brandon got water. We ate pretty quickly and spent the rest of the evening collecting enough water for the following day. There’s a water source at the Skinner Creek Campsite 2km away, but then there’s nothing for the remaining 9km, so we planned to bring 3 litres each with us.

Unfortunately the water source at Nahwitti River was not great. The river is a lot bigger than any of the other creeks and it flows into the ocean. The tide was up and Brandon commented that the treated water was tasting a little salty and we wondered how much tidal influence the ocean had on the river. Brandon’s assessment of “a little salty” was pretty tame – me and Emily struggled to drink it at all and decided to get more water in the morning when the tide would be on the way out.

Since we had an earlier morning, we hit the sack as early as possible. It was a little creepy in the woods with no one else around and we’d seen a lot of wolf tracks on the beach, so we agreed that everyone would take a bear horn on any nightly pee breaks and that if either tent heard a bear horn, we would all get up to check on it. We’d only been in the tent 10 minutes when we heard a horn from the boys tent. We’d been making fun of Lien the whole trip because he had accidentally set the horn off along the trail at least a dozen times, but we dutifully crawled out of the tent with our bear spray only to hear Brandon hollering up from the beach that “it was an accident! Abort!” We laughed and crawled back into the tent for the rest of the night.

I still have enough material for one more post (Part VI), so tune in for my final entry next week! I’ll finish with this excellent picture of Emily at her wit’s end on the trail:

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | 1 Comment

Cape Scott and North Coast Trail: Part IV

Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to read about our full adventure on the trail.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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