Posts Tagged With: Cape Scott

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.

DSC06424

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.

DSC06435

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.

HOP_4510

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.

DSC06441

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…

HOP_4537

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.

DSC06442

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.

IMG_20200721_233335_738

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.

HOP_4579-2

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 ūüôā

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

 

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

Cape Scott and North Coast Trail: Part I

Prior to the pandemic, my friends and I had already decided we were going to take a week off to do a road trip to the Rockies to hike Mount Assiniboine. I booked the sites back in early March and we were all set to go. Then Covid-19 happened and we weren’t sure what would become of the trip. BC Parks re-opened in June and we were thrilled that the trip would still be going ahead, until about 2 weeks before when BC Parks cancelled our reservation with no explanation. I suspect it was cancelled because they weren’t operating the park at full capacity, but we could never track down anyone to get an explanation and we were frustrated that they waited until mid June to cancel the reservation, meaning that we missed out on any opportunity to try and book something different because everything was booked up. So overall, really not impressed with BC Parks, but that seems to be the general consensus with their new booking system this year.

Anyways, we were determined to do something else instead and we landed on the North Coast Trail. Brandon had already done it once and was trying to convince me to do it again with him at the end of the summer, so we decided to move it up to replace our Assiniboine Trip. We managed to work out all the details and spent the first week of July hiking through Cape Scott Provincial Park.

HOP_3754

Cape Scott is a super well known and popular park, but the North Coast Trail is a relatively new addition that was added to the park in 2008. It was extended as an extension to the Cape Scott Trail and continues up along the entire North Coast of Vancouver Island. The two trail entrances are at San Josef Bay, which is the main entrance for Cape Scott and lies at the end of a 65km gravel road, and at Shushartie Bay, which is only accessible by water taxi from Port Hardy. Most people hiking the NCT start with the water taxi from Shushartie Bay and hike west, but in our case, the water taxi wasn’t re-opening until July 1 and we wanted to start hiking earlier then that, so we decided to do the trail backwards. There were some benefits to this in that the North Coast Trail is much harder than the Cape Scott Trail and so your pack is lighter by the time you reach the NCT, but overall I would definitely recommend you do it the traditional way. It gives you more time to enjoy the less crowded and more technical NCT. We didn’t realize just how slow we would be on the NCT and slightly underestimated how much time we would need to complete the trail, resulting in a pretty rushed final two days.

But let’s start from the beginning. My hiking companions on this trip would be Brandon, Emily, and Lien. Me and Brandon have done lots of backpacking together and he has done lots of multi-day trails, including the North Coast Trail. Likewise me and Emily have done lots of backpacking together, including the Juan de Fuca Trail, which was our reference trail for what to expect on the NCT. Lien was our rookie wildcard. We’ve done lots of day hiking together, but the North Coast Trail was a big jump for him and he was super stoked about it!

DSC05941

We spent a lot of time working on our kit list for the trail and me and Emily were determined to keep our pack weight down. I’ve never done a trail longer than 3 nights and this one was going to be 6 nights, so food was a major consideration. We planned to share dinners, but plan our own breakfasts and lunches. Oatmeal and instant mash potato are my go-to’s for breakfast because they’re already dried, so we spent a lot of time dehydrating food for our dinners, lunches, and snacks – I’ll include our meal plan below for anyone interested in what we brought on our 6 day trip. Food is really one of the most important considerations because it will be the heaviest thing in your pack. My food bag weighed in at about 11-12 lbs, resulting in a total pack weight of ~43lbs with water. This was a lot heavier then I wanted (was hoping to ring in around 36-38lbs), but we really only brought the bare minimum and after having completed the trip, there’s not a whole lot I would have changed. The only way I can figure to reduce my pack weight would be with a lighter tent and that costs a lot of money.

We had a packing party at my house before the trip and then took off bright and early on a saturday morning to catch the ferry to Nanaimo. It was the first weekend after the Phase 3 re-opening, so it was pretty bumping at the ferry terminal. We spent the boat ride napping in the cars and then hit the road for the 4 hour drive to Port Hardy. It went by relatively quickly and we met up with some of Brandon’s friends in Port Hardy for an early dinner. By the time we hit the road again, it was around 4:30pm, which left 90 mins for the drive to the trailhead and enough time to hike an hour in to San Josef Bay to camp for the first night.

It was an admirable plan, but unfortunately it was quickly derailed. The road to San Jo is all dirt and gravel. As far as gravel roads go, I didn’t think it was that bad and have definitely driven on a lot worse. But it seems that the road had recently been graded and the grader had not been back out to remove all the larger rocks from the road. About 30km in Brandon’s tire pressure dropped all of sudden and we got out to discover we had a very flat tire. We didn’t feel any bumps and didn’t seem to have hit a pothole, so all we can figure is a very sharp rock must have punctured the tire. It was a bad flat, but no problem for Brandon who lives for off-roading and has a full spare tire in his 4runner.

DSC05918

Over the past few years I’ve had quite a lot of bad luck with flat tires. Me and Carolyn went out to Sloquet hot spring one year and the guy we were driving with got a flat on the way back and didn’t have the lug nut key for his tires – so we ended up having to abandon the truck on the service road for a tow. I joked when we got out that Brandon better have the right lug nut key for his tires and he reassured me he wasn’t so fool-hardy. But wouldn’t you know, while Brandon’s a pro, his mechanic is not. He had the car serviced just before the trip and the mechanic had put a very slightly different version of Brandon’s lug nuts on the tires. They were the same shape, but Brandon’s key had a curved edge, while the lug nuts had a pointed edge. The key didn’t work and for the second time I found myself stranded on a forestry road with a flat tire that should have been an easy fix.

Brandon really beat himself up about it, though none of the rest of us found any fault with him since it should have been an easy fix. Fortunately another car drove by just as we were having this realization and we asked them to call a mechanic or a tow for us (there was no cell service on the road). They took some notes before offering to take one of us back to Port Hardy with them, which was very kind, especially during Covid, so I jumped in the back with them. They dropped me at Lien’s car, which we had left at the end point, and I got on the phone to BCAA immediately to try and find a solution. Ideally we just needed someone with the master set of lug nut keys, but it was 6pm on a saturday night in a tiny town, so our options were pretty limited. Almost everything was closed and it was an hour and a half before BCAA finally found a tow truck that was willing to come get the car the next morning. The only problem of course was that it was going to cost an arm and a leg to get a tow truck up the service road. Either way, the car wasn’t going anywhere that night, so I headed back up the road in Lien’s car to pick everyone up.

DSC05929

Just before this trip I invested in an InReach so that I could get emergency assistance on the trail if needed, and I have to say that as expensive as it was, it was worth every penny. I left the inreach with Emily when I went back to Port Hardy, so I was at least able to communicate with them while I was away. They ended up sitting on the service road for 4 hours before I finally returned, so I can only imagine how bored they all were. Apparently they tried flagging down every car that passed in an attempt to find a matching lug key! The ride back to them was the most intense part for me though because it was dusk and if I broke down, I really had no way to communicate with anyone. So I took my time and fortunately made it back to them without incident. There happened to be a rec site about 2 kms down the road, so we ended up just crashing there for the night since there wasn’t anything else we could do for Brandon’s car.

The next morning we got up early and went straight back to Port Hardy. Everything was still listed as closed until Monday, but we decided to try our chances. The tow truck said it could go out later that morning, but in the meantime we called around to any mechanic we could find. Eventually one mechanic told us to drive over to the OK Tire, which has an emergency number listed on the door. We had gathered OK Tire was our best bet at getting the tire off, but they weren’t open until Tuesday, so our original plan had been to get it towed to the OK Tire and leave it there and drive Lien’s car out. Fortunately, the emergency line came through and the nicest mechanic came and met us to save our asses. He found a bunch of similar keys and then drove back out to the car with Brandon where they finally got the nuts off and replaced the tire. In the meantime, the rest of us chilled in Port Hardy and spent some time soaking in the sun along the waterfront. It wasn’t quite what we pictured for our first day, but the weather was gorgeous, so we made the best of it.

IMG_0330

Brandon made it back in no time and by noon, he had a full spare tire replaced and we were back on the road to San Jo. This time we made it the full hour and a half without incident. The trailhead was absolutely hopping when we finally rolled in. There were a ton of people day tripping to San Josef Bay, as well as a bunch of people backpacking to Cape Scott. There were a few people doing the whole NCT like us, but they were few and far between and we didn’t meet any of them until later in the trip. The way the trail is, there’s a 2km off-shoot to San Jo Bay. We were sad to have to skip it, but we planned to stay there at the end when we returned for Brandon’s car. We had a quick lunch in the parking lot and then started the trail around 2pm, skiping San Jo and heading up towards Cape Scott.

Had we starting hiking in the morning, we probably would have been aiming to make it to Nel’s Bight, a super popular beach about 17km in. Brandon was still super optimistic we could make it to Nel’s Bight, but me and Emily were a little more realistic. The mud started almost as soon as we started hiking (as expected), but otherwise the trail wasn’t too bad. It was a little technical, but there was limited elevation gain and we made a pretty good pace along the trail. The first campsite is Eric Lake at 3km. We had lots of jokes about Eric Lake because Lien had tried to hike to Cape Scott about 10 years ago and had never made it past Eric Lake because his party was so unprepared. So we kept joking that we were going to leave him there and that he was the reason we’d never made it to San Jo Bay, because he was cursed.

DSC05962

Eric Lake sounds like a nice place, but there was really no lake access and the whole campsite was in the trees and very buggy. I was glad we weren’t staying there and we continued on. Eventually we rolled into Fisherman River around 6pm. The whole first part of the trail is straight north and inland towards the coast. So we didn’t see any coastline on our first day. I’m not sure if Fisherman River is an official campsite, it has an outhouse and bear cache, but only has 2 tent pads. We were about 9km in (of the desired 17km) and we all knew it was unrealistic to try and go any further, so we were thrilled to find both tent pads empty. There’s really not much room to camp outside of the tent pads and we were concerned about there being room for us. 2 other groups did show up afterwards and managed to squeeze in along the river and on the side of the bushes. It wasn’t a beautiful beach, but we had an enjoyable evening cooking along the river. Brandon made his infamous thai chicken curry and we had a lazy evening recovering from the first day.

I think that’s enough for one blog post, more to come in Part II!

 

Maria’s Meal Plan

.             Breakfast                            Lunch                                      Supper
Day 1¬† ¬† ¬†Potato and bacon bits¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Egg salad wrap¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Brandon’s thai chicken curry
Day 2¬† ¬† ¬†Oatmeal and trail mix¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Egg salad wrap¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Lien’s dehydrated chili
Day 3¬† ¬† ¬†Potato and bacon bits ¬† ¬† ¬† Salami and cheese wrap¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Emily’s dehydrated veggie pasta
Day 4¬† ¬† ¬†Oatmeal and trail mix¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Salami and cheese wrap¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Maria’s dehydrated chickpea curry
Day 5¬† ¬† ¬†Potato and bacon bits ¬† ¬† ¬† Salami and cheese wrap¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Emily’s thai PB pasta and Brandon’s Paella
Day 6     Oatmeal and trail mix        PB and jam wrap

Snacks: Fig bars, kind bars, apple chips, banana chips, energy bites, fruit leather, granola, trail mix, chocolate

IMG_0347

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.