Posts Tagged With: explorebc

Howe Sound Crest Trail: Part I

I finally hiked the Howe Sound Crest Trail!

Seriously, I’ve been trying to hike this trail since 2017. We couldn’t do it as planned in 2017 because there was too much snow on the trail, in 2018 it was too smoky, and in 2019 there was an issue with re-routing the trail. But the stars finally aligned and I hiked it in mid August with Carolyn and Emily. It was not at all what I expected – I knew it would be a tough trail, but the topography was so much more challenging than I anticipated. That said, we had amazing weather for it and still had a great time!

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The Howe Sound Crest Trail is a 29km trail that runs from Cypress Mountain to Porteau Cove. It passes by several iconic peaks and is popular among trail runners. The window for hiking the trail is short, which is why we had so much trouble with it – there’s generally still snow up there in June, which is very dangerous because of snow bridges and snow wells. But what makes the hike so challenging is water access. Once you leave Cypress, there’s no water access for 14km, so you either have to bring a lot of water with you, or hike the most challenging part of the trail in a single day. 14km doesn’t really sound like that much, but there’s a lot of elevation gain and it involves crossing many challenging peaks. It can definitely be done, but I think it would make the trail less enjoyable as there’d be less time to appreciate the views. Plus the most challenging part of the 14km is the last 4km, so it’s easy to think you’re making a good pace and then get hung up at the end.

So long story short, we opted to bring extra water. I think this was definitely the right choice for us, but it was a 30 degree weekend and we drank more than we thought and ended up having to conserve at the end, so in future I would bring even more. But let’s start at the beginning. Because we were planning to do the trail over 3 days, we took Friday off work to get a head start on the trail. Generally there is no pass needed to hike the HSCT, but BC Parks has the new day pass system, so I got up at 6am to get passes for us. I managed to snag 3 passes, but they sold out by 6:01am, so you definitely have to be on the ball.

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We arrived at Cypress around 9am and there were a ton of people hanging out in the parking lot. The first stop on the HSCT is St. Mark’s Summit, which is super popular among day hikers, so we think that’s who was taking up most of the day passes. After St. Mark’s the traffic on the trail was drastically reduced. Seth dropped us off and I believe we started hiking sometime around 9:30am. I figured this would give us lots of time, but it was still almost 6pm by the time we rolled into our campsite at the 11km mark, so definitely give yourself lots of time.

Thanks to the early start we were able to hike at a pretty leisurely pace. It didn’t take long at all to get to St. Mark’s, mostly I think because me and Carolyn hadn’t seen each other in a while and we were gabbing the whole way there. We stopped at St. Mark’s for a snack break and then got lost trying to get back on the trail. Overall the trail isn’t too hard to follow, but there were definitely several sections where we ended up off course, so I was glad me and Carolyn both had GPS as we used it more than once to find the trail.

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The second stop on the trail is Unnecessary Mountain – I found this one a little confusing because there were two unnecessary mountains showing up on my GPS, the first of which was marked South. We were getting pretty hungry for lunch, so we stopped to eat when we hit the ridge, before reaching Unnecessary Mountains. Like I said, it was a hot day. We thought it would be cooler up in the mountains, but most of the trail is exposed, so it was definitely hot the whole weekend. I had a large iced tea before starting the trail to hydrate, but Emily forgot and was pretty dehydrated starting out, so she drank her water a lot faster.

The view of Howe Sound and the Lions from Unnecessary Mountain is gorgeous, but after that the trail gets a lot harder. It’s a pretty technical trail, with lots of rope sections, climbing, and steep ascents and descents. It’s a through trail (rather than a loop), so you can hike from either direction, but almost everyone goes from Cypress to Porteau Cove because you’re basically hiking from Cypress Mountain down to the highway and people want to avoid all the elevation gain.

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It may be challenging, but the section of trail leading up and past the Lions is one of the most beautiful parts of the trail. We hiked along the ridge up towards the West Lion. It was a bit of a climb, so we continued to drink lots of water with the sun bearing down on us. You can summit the West Lion along the trail – we hadn’t decided whether we were going to attempt it or not – but once we got a look at it, me and Emily were firmly in the ‘no’ category. Carolyn is much more intrepid than us and I know she would have hiked it in a heartbeat, but it was now after 4pm and the trail started with two steep rope sections, so we all agreed it wasn’t really a wise choice.

Instead we had a break under the West Lion and then started the descent down and around it. For those not familiar with the Lions, they are two iconic mountains located just outside Vancouver. The familiar looking humps can easily be seen from the city and have become a bit of a symbol of Vancouver. I’ve seen them tons of times, from the city, from other trails, and even from helicopter, but I’ve definitely never been so close to them – it felt a little unreal. Both Lions are incredibly steep, I’m not sure if you can physically hike the East Lion or not, but either way, you’re not allowed to because it’s located in the watershed. Metro Vancouver has one of the best protected watersheds and absolutely no recreation is permitted inside it. The HSCT skirts right along the watershed and the trail unbelievably enough, goes right between the two Lions.

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Between the two lions there is another smaller peak called Thomas’ Peak. The scariest section of the trail was definitely traversing down the side of the West Lion to Thomas Peak. You go down a steep section, which isn’t too bad, but then you have to navigate a small ledge around the edge of the Lion and up to Thomas Peak. It’s not terrifying, but you definitely proceed with caution. From there though there’s an amazing view down into the watershed and Capilano Lake. Some of the best city views of the Lions are from Cap Lake, so the same can be said when you’re looking back the other way too.

As we went over Thomas Peak, we were starting to get pretty done with hiking. There’s 3 official campsites on the trail, and one unofficial, which is the one we were aiming for. I couldn’t find its location on any maps and had just seen it listed as “the ridge above Enchantment Lake”. I knew it was located around 11km, so we were planning to just look for anywhere good to camp along the trail once we passed the Lions (which are located around 10km). From Thomas Peak, you can see the trail as it winds over peak after peak, but we couldn’t really see anywhere that looked great to pitch a tent.

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As we started to come down, I noticed a ridge branching off the main trail that looked promising. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far away (less than a km, as we’ve established) and when we reached the branch, it quickly became evident this was the place. We were just confused because we assumed “the ridge” was on the trail, but it’s just off to the right of the trail as you come down Thomas Peak. There’s no easily accessible water source from the trail, but there are some flat spots to pitch a tent. If you’re desperate, you can hike down to Enchantment Lake, but it’s a bit of a trek. There’s also a small pond on the other side, but it’s located in the watershed, so this should not be part of your plan.

We had to do a bit of water assessment after we set up our tent. Emily had drained her 2 litre platypus around the West Lion, but me and Carolyn were still on our initial supply. We had each brought 4litres. It was enough, but only because we put a lot of effort into conserving towards the end. My logic had been 2L for the first day, 1L for overnight, and 1L for the 3km the next day. We had brought sandwiches for lunch to avoid needing water for cooking, but had forgotten to take into account water for our oatmeal (only 150ml a person, so not the end of the world), but we hadn’t taken enough for how hot it was. Also, the 3km the following day was SUPER challenging and ended up taking us 3 hours, so we really could have used more water for that as well. It’s not a great feeling having to conserve water, so if I did it again I would bring 5-6L. We might have had a different experience on a cool day, but always plan for the worst.

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Our campsite was amazing though! We shared it with one other group of 2 women, who we’d been passing back and forth on the trail all day. We were located right under the Lions and it was dreamy to watch the sun set over the Sound and then watch the stars come out around the Lions. I thought there would be too much ambient light for stars, but the stargazing was actually great – though there was still too much ambient light for star photography (at least for a notice like me). So overall, it was a challenging, but fun first day on the trail and we were thrilled with the location of our campsite! You definitely need nice weather to hike this trail though, I can only image how slippery and dangerous it would be in the rain – plus camping would be very exposed in any adverse conditions. But luckily for us, all we had to worry about was heat management.

I’ll end the post there for now – check back in for my next post on the second half of the trail!

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

Hiking Cheam Peak

One of my favourite local hikes to date is Cheam Peak – which is interesting because the first time I hiked it was in 2018 and in much less than ideal conditions. Cheam Peak is a well known hike in the Fraser Valley, whose sharp peak dominates the skyline as you drive out Highway 1 past Chilliwack. Though you can easily see the mountain from the Highway, you have to enter the trail from the South on Chilliwack Lake Road. I wasn’t expecting it to be a busy hike because you need 4WD to access to the trail head, and it was a pretty smoky day when we hiked it in 2018, so I was shocked when we arrived at the trailhead to find the parking lot packed with trucks and SUVs. As far as 4WD hikes go – I can also assume this is one of the more popular since the mountain peak is so iconic.

5 of us piled into Brandon’s 4Runner to get to the trailhead – a drive that was a lot more fun for Brandon than the rest of us. The higher we drove along the road, the worse the visibility got. 2018 was one of the worst summers for forest fires and the city was filled with smoke for weeks on end, making it hard to do much of anything outdoors without coughing up a lung. The smoke hadn’t peaked yet, but it was also an overcast day and we were high enough to be up in the clouds – so the smoke and fog together made for some really terrible visibility.

The conditions didn’t impact my enjoyment of Mount Cheam though and even with the poor visibility, between the alpine meadows and cute little Spoon Lake, I was in hiking heaven. The meadows start pretty much at the trailhead and are gorgeous and green, with this tiny little swimming hole that looks like it’s been punched out of the landscape. Plus there’s lots of wildflowers if you go at the right time of year. From the meadow, I think you can see up most of the mountain, but unfortunately for us, the meadow was the only part of the trail not shrouded in fog. As we started to ascend, we immediately entered the clouds and lost all sight of anything around us. I’ve hiked a few times in the fog, but this was definitely the worst. The closer we got to the top, the worse it got. It’s not the longest trail, only 9km round trip, but you tackle a lot of elevation gain in that hike, approximately 650m. So it’s pretty steep for most of the hike, with lots of switchbacks and at times I literally couldn’t see my friends if they were more than 6 feet away.

We weaved our way up the mountain until we reached the ridgeline along the top. It was super creepy in the conditions because the fog was getting caught up on the other side of the ridge (towards the highway), so we could see down the ridge a little bit, but the highway side was just a bank of milky white fog. It’s made weirder by the fact that when you reach the top, you get over the mountain sound barrier, so all of sudden you can hear all the traffic from down on the highway. From the peak, Mount Cheam looks down on the highway, but since we were hiking it from the back, we were totally surrounded by the backcountry. Since you can’t see any of the traffic on the way up, you feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness, it makes for a really weird experience.

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We hung out at the bottom of the ridgeline for a bit and had our lunch. We figured there was no use racing to the top when we couldn’t see anything anyways, so we took our time. The fog did eventually start to thin, so we continued on to the very top, but we never did get a view down into the Fraser Valley. We hung out for a long time taking funny pictures of the fog and messing around, but we eventually gave up on our hope of catching the view and started to head back down again. Despite all the fog and not being able to see the view, I still had a great time on the hike, which I attribute to my companions, who had just as much fun taking photos in the fog as we would have with an amazing view!

The fog continued to thin as we made our way back down again. We could see more of the mountain around us and eventually the fog got high enough that we could see all the way down to the meadow. This was my favourite part of the hike and it made for a nice, scenic walk back. Me and Lien are a bit obsessed with swimming, so we had big plans to take a dip in the little hobbit pond, formally known as Spoon Lake, at the bottom. We didn’t waste any time and both dove right into the water as soon as we got there. It’s a small waterbody and it was the middle of the summer, so it was actually really warm and we had a great time swimming around. From Spoon Lake, it’s just a short walk back out of the meadow and about a kilometre along a gravel road back to the parking lot. So even though the weather conditions weren’t the best, we still had a great time on the hike and will have to keep in on our bucket lists to return on a clearer day!

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Fast forward to 2020. 2 years after our first hike to Mount Cheam, we decided to return and see if we could actually catch the view. It was Sunday morning back in mid July and it was one of the hottest days of the summer. Me and Emily spent all Saturday trying to get into any of the lakes in the lower mainland and were rejected from Buntzen and Sasamat, so we figured cute little Spoon Lake would make for a great end of hike swim the next day.

Even though I never saw the view the first time, I’d loved everything about Mount Cheam, particularly swimming in Spoon Lake, which looks like its been carved out of the hillside. So I was excited to return, this time with Emily, Seth, and Sadie in tow. We drove separately and then all piled into Brandon’s 4×4 for the 9km ride up to the trailhead. I remembered there being some pretty bad waterbars along the forestry road the first time, but I also remembered us driving up it pretty fast. I don’t know if I mis-remembered or if the road has gotten worse, but it seemed in much poorer condition then the last time. It ended up taking us over an hour just to go the 9km! I wasn’t sure how well Sadie would do on the drive. As a puppy she had really bad car sickness, but has mostly grown out of it. Fortunately she seemed to love the 4×4 road! She was running back and forth across me, Seth, and Lien in the back seat to look out the windows as we drove up.

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It was a slow year for the snowpack melting, so there was still quite a bit of snow on the trail when we visited in mid-July. Fortunately we had microspikes, but since the snow was so sporadic, it’s a pain constantly taking them on and off, so we mostly went without. Sunglasses are a must with so much snow though – Emily sunburned her eyes crossing the snow fields. Walking into the meadow from the parking lot we could see there was a fair amount of snow left and we were concerned the lake might still be frozen. You can’t see it until you’re pretty much on top of it, so we were anxious as we approached, praying we’d be able to swim in it. Unfortunately, the lake was a real mess. The whole area coming down to the lake looked more or less in shambles. Since our last visit, it looked like there’d been an avalanche in the area. There’s several trees knocked down and a ton of debris coming down into the lake. It looked like there was a bunch of debris from the slide that had been knocked into the lake and was now covered with snow and dirt. We were convinced it would never be swimable again, but I’ve since seen photos of the lake on Instagram later in the summer, and it looks totally fine now, so most of it must have been snow, or the debris suck to the bottom. So we were quite sad at the time, but thrilled to see it more or less seems to have recovered.

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The hike ended up being more challenging than I remembered. Like I said above, it’s a short hike, but has a lot of elevation gain. I’m not sure if I was having a bad day or if I’m just out of shape from the pandemic, but it was a challenging hike, even after completing the NCT. I’m inclined to blame it on the heat though because it was well over 30 degrees. From the lake it’s a steady climb for the rest of the hike, the main difference being that this time we got to enjoy the views! A lot of the hike is going back and forth across exposed boulder fields, some of which were still under snow, so caution is definitely advised. On our way down we saw a few people trying to take shortcuts up the boulder field, don’t do this, it’s deceivingly hard, it’s dangerous (loose rock and steeper) and it damages the landscape.

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It was a slog, but we reached the top to gorgeous blue sky views of the surrounding area. Looking north you can see Highway 1 all the way out to Harrison Lake, and south is a cacophony of snowy peaked mountains all the way to the States. We sat at the very peak to enjoy our lunch before heading back down again. This was Sadie’s first major hike, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but she LOVED it. She’s definitely an outdoor dog and has a ton of energy. She thrives on steep difficult trails, so she was right in her element on Cheam. Also, she’s obsessed with the snow and loves playing it. I’m not sure if it’s just because it was so hot, but she couldn’t get enough of running around throughout the snow fields. She was totally pooped by the end of the hike though. She was all wet and muddy from running around and we didn’t want her sitting in our laps, so we made her sit on the floor in the back seat and she immediately lay down and fell asleep for most of the car ride back (a feat for Sadie who rarely settles down).

So despite the setbacks with the lake, it was still a great day! It’s a challenge to get to, but well worth the visit, my only recommendation is to leave early to avoid the crowds and go prepared for any condition because you will be a long way from help! Happy hiking everyone!

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Categories: Exploring New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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