Snowshoeing Hollyburn Mountain

We’re now firmly into the winter hiking season, which means it’s time to take out the snowshoes! I’ve done a decent amount of snowshoeing over the past few years and I’m hoping to do lots of snowshoeing this season, but I haven’t written about very much of it. So I decided to kick off the season by writing about one of my favourite local snowshoe trails: Hollyburn Mountain.

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I have snowshoed Hollyburn on 3 separate occasions, so I’m pretty familiar with it. It’s one of the most well known snowshoe hikes in the lower mainland and with good reason. It’s not the easiest snowshoe trail, but you’ll be rewarded with amazing views and a good workout. I’ve hiked it every year since 2017, but the last time I hiked it was in January 2019, which stands out as one of my favourite times making the trek to the top.

The Hollyburn trailhead is located at the base of the Nordic Ski Area at Cypress (take the right branch before you get to the ski hill). You can rent snowshoes at the base, however if you rent them you will also be forced to pay the trail fee. If you snowshoe within the nordic area, you need to pay the trail fee whether you bring your own snowshoes or not, but since Hollyburn is located outside the trail area, you can snowshoe for free if you bring your own (or rent at the North Van MEC to avoid paying the extra cost)! It’s a popular trail, so you will be accompanied by lots of other snowshoers, but they usually disperse along the trail so it doesn’t feel too crowded.

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The trail started with a steep walk uphill and then flattens out somewhat as you walk along the edge of the cross country ski run. Overall it’s an uphill trail, but the middle stretch has a nice easy grade. It’s the last third of the trail that is the most challenging as you navigate up a wide corridor cut through the trees. Since Hollyburn is so close to the city, I tend to go with larger groups, so we take our time as we head up to the top. On this occasion I was also dogsitting Jordie the Australian Shepherd, so we had a bit of a slow start.

The hardest part of doing Hollyburn is deciding what equipment to use: snowshoes or microspikes. The first half of the trail is narrow and winds through the woods; it sees a lot of traffic so unless it just snowed, it’ll almost surely be packed down, making it ideal for microspikes. But once you reach the wide part of the trail, the defined track disappears somewhat and it’s a bit of a choose-your-own adventure up to the top, so it’s fun to have snowshoes. The last time I went I brought both.

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My backpack has straps for carrying snowshoes, so I carried them up the first half and then switched over. Its definitely easier in microspikes, but maybe not worth it if the rest of your group is wearing snowshoes anyways because they won’t be able to keep up with you. If there hasn’t been any fresh snow in a while, you might be able to get away with spikes on the whole trail, but you never know what it’s going to be like until you get up there and it does give you less freedom to explore.

On this particular day it was a bit overcast, so we couldn’t see much of the view, but it still made for some fun shots as the clouds moved around us. It did eventually clear out at the top and we got a glimpse of the city through the clouds. On a clear day you also get a great view looking back at Cypress Mountain and the uninhabited North Shore mountains, which is my favourite view from the top. Jordie had a great time hiking up the mountain, but make sure to keep your dog on a leash. One time I saw a woman with a small dog who got fined by the park ranger for having her dog off leash.

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The highlight of the day for me though was that Brandon decided he wanted to have a fondue picnic at the top of the mountain. The idea sounded pretty epic to us so we each dutifully lugged a container of pre-cut fruit that Brandon doled out to us up to the top of the mountain and Brandon carried up his stove and fondue kit. I’m not going to pretend like we didn’t all poke fun of him with his full size backpack the whole way up, but we all ate our words at the top when we saw the huge spread he’d brought up for us! He melted a ton of chocolate and before we knew it we were enjoying chocolate covered strawberries, bananas, pineapple, mango, marshmallows, and some other mystery fruit, while the rest of the hikers gaped at us. Definitely one of my favourite snowshoeing experiences, so thanks Brandon!

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The hike back down is where things really get interesting. I’m not gonna lie, the last section of the trail is pretty steep and you’re exhausted by the time you reach the top. Going down is less tiring, but definitely not easier. It’s really hard to go down the trail on snowshoes and most people opt to slide down on their butt instead. My word of advice for this is that if you’re going to slide down, take your snowshoes off. Otherwise they just create a hazard and make it really easy for you to break your leg. Snow pants are a good idea on the way down to stay dry, but don’t bring a sled of any kind. There’s actually signs up now prohibiting sleds and crazy carpets, but I did it once on a crazy carpet before said signs went up and I can confirm it’s dangerous. You pick up too much speed and it’s hard to control. Your best bet is to just walk sideways as much as possible until you get past the steep section, or slide on your butt.

Coming down is fun though because on the right day you get a great view looking down the mountain to the city! So overall a great snowshoe trail that I’ll definitely continuing doing! It’s close to the city, free, and has great views. The only downside is the crowds – if you’re going on a weekend, try and get there early if you want to get a parking spot!

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Flatiron and Needle Peak Backpacking Trip

My scheduled post for this week was supposed to be about Frosty Mountain, a popular Fall hike I did at the end of September. However, the top of the mountain is now under several feet of snow and hiker Jordan Naterer went missing on this trail on October 10, 2020. If you were hiking on the trail on Thanksgiving weekend and saw Jordan, please contact police. If you’re thinking about doing Frosty Mountain yourself, I’d recommend waiting until next year as the season for doing this hike has now passed. In light of this tragedy I’ve decided to postpone that post for another time and write instead about a backpacking trip I went on back in July.

There’s so much exploring to do in the summer, I’m always behind on writing about my adventures, but this summer I had an amazing experience stargazing at Flatiron. I’ve been getting into star photography over the past few years, but Brandon is the real night sky enthusiast of the group. He tries to catch the Perseid meteor shower every year and this year he was really stoked about the Neowise Comet. We decided to make an attempt at stargazing and spent forever trying to come up with a good place to go looking for it. You can’t be too close to the city because there’s so much ambient light, and we wanted to be sure we’d have a good view from our campsite, meaning we needed an unobstructed view looking Northwest. We floated around a few campsites we’d been to before, but nothing was really quite right. Then I remembered Flatiron, which me and Brandon had day hiked in the fall of 2018, and we thought we had a good chance of clear views from the top.

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Since we were camping overnight, we didn’t have the earliest start. Flatiron is located in the Coquihalla Summit Rec Area, so it’s a little over 2 hours from my house with no traffic. It was around 1pm when we pulled into the parking lot – we figured we were going to have a hard time parking, but because we arrived later in the day, lots of people were finishing their day hikes, so we managed to snag a spot no problem. We ate lunch in the parking lot and then started hiking sometime around 1:30pm. Our group consisted of our North Coast Trail crew since we’re all in the same bubble and have gotten pretty good at camping together.

Flatiron isn’t the longest trail, only 11km round trip, but it is definitely a steep one. We’d day hiked Mount Cheam the previous week and I’d had a really hard go of it for some reason (just a bad day I guess), but I was feeling pretty good on Flatiron. Lien was having a hard time with all the elevation gain, but we plugged along, taking short, frequent breaks. The more challenging part was the heat. The summer started off slow, but overall, it ended up being a really hot one. I find it’s usually hot in Vancouver throughout the summer, but then I always end up going to the mountains where it’s a lot cooler. This year I found the mountains felt just as hot, so we were really sweating buckets as we climbed up.

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After about an hour you come out of the woods and start hiking up over the rocks towards Needle Peak. Flatiron and Needle Peak are two separate hikes, but they share much of the same trail. Eventually you reach the junction and you can either start the steep ascent up to Needle Peak, or you can continue on to Flatiron. I would say Flatiron is slightly less impressive than Needle Peak, but a much nicer hike, so I’d recommend Flatiron, but many people do both in the same trip. We wanted to do Needle Peak as well since Brandon and I had already done Flatiron once, so we decided we’d make an attempt at it the next day on our way down. There were a lot of people on the trail and we heard that someone had actually gotten married at Needle Peak that day, so it was super crowded at the summit. There were also a lot of backpackers, most of whom were ahead of us on the trail. I usually like to make an earlier start for this reason, but there’s tons of camping space up at Flatiron, so we weren’t worried about it.

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From the junction, the trail continues down and back up to a glacial lake at the foot of Flatiron. Flatiron is so named because it’s basically a mountain with a huge flat top. The lake is located just under the Flatiron and it’s where all of the backpackers were camping. It makes sense seeing as that’s where the water source is, but because we wanted an unimpeded view, we’d decided to camp on top of the Flatiron. From the lake it’s another 20-30 min climb up to the top. It’s not too challenging, but it is steep. When we got to the top, there were lots of day hikers around, but no other campers.

Despite all the space, we did have to walk around for a while to find a good spot for the tent. A lot of the top is just rock, which we could set up on, but obviously isn’t super comfortable, and we were going out of our way to avoid trampling any sensitive areas. There’s a lot of wildflowers up there and we didn’t want to destroy anything. Eventually Brandon found a nice little flat spot that was mostly free of vegetation, so we set the tents up there. We had a perfect view looking west and knew we’d be able to catch both the comet and the sunset from that location.

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After setting up the tents and having a snack, we decided to head down to the lake again to get drinking water and have dinner. It was somewhere around 4:30-5ish and me and Emily wanted to go for a swim while the sun was still up above the mountains. We hiked back down and set up on a little peninsula in the middle of the lake. It feels somewhat like two lakes with rivers flowing between them. It’s not the biggest lake, so we were cognizant to make sure we same in the downstream section. Our effort was wasted really as we later saw people swimming upstream as well, so something to keep in mind when you’re in the wilderness. Sometimes, depending on the source, it’s best not to swim at all (if it’s a really small source or there’s no river), in this case we got our water upstream where it was flowing heavier. Overall it’s probably not the end of the world where people were swimming because there were several flowing sections to get your water, but be as considerate as possible.

As expected, the water was absolutely freezing. There was still snow all up along the slope melting into the lake, so we knew it was pretty much all snow melt. We ran into the water as fast as we could and then ran out again, but it felt really good on the muscles! After our quick dip we set into our normal routines, with Brandon and Emily getting drinking water and me and Lien making dinner. Our North Coast Trail trip had been cut short by one evening, so me and Lien both had meals already prepared, so I made a rice dish for me and Emily and Lien made ramen for him and Brandon. The rice dish was a new one for me and it wasn’t my favourite, but it was definitely filling! Then we all had tarts for dessert, which Lien has surprised us with, lugging them all the way up to the top!

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After we’d had our fill, we made our way back up to the top for one of my favourite evenings in the backcountry. Brandon and I get a bit giddy sometimes when we hike together, and we were each making good progress on our flask of fireball, so we decided to have a little dance party up on the mountain. First Emily led us in yoga stretches, and then brandon played music from his speaker while we all danced around waiting for the sun to set. Since the trip was all about stargazing, Brandon and I both lugged up our tripods and set them up for later, with Brandon doing a timelapse on his.

Eventually all the campers from the lake made their way up to the top for sunset as well, but save for one other group of 2, we were the only ones camping at the top. I’m still a bit amazed at how lucky we got with the weather. I feel like it’s easy to plan these idyllic trips, picturing cloudless skies and millions of stars, but they so rarely work out like you intended. But this trip actually did. There were absolutely no clouds and we had a perfect 360 degree from which to watch the sun go down over the mountain and the stars come out.

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The challenging part about stargazing of course is staying up late enough for it. We’d read the best time to see the comet was just after sunset, but we didn’t see any sign of it. However, as it got darker, the milky way became more and more impressive. Brandon and Emily were working on tracking down the comet, but in the meantime, I had a nice little photoshoot with the milky way and got some pictures that I’m pretty proud of. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but the conditions were good for messing around. No ambient light, so the stars were showing up really well. Eventually Emily spotted something moving that she thought might be the comet and her and Brandon spent ages debating whether it was or not. Eventually I came over and was like, ‘well why don’t you shoot it and see how it comes out in the photo…’ to which they were like, ‘oh right, that’s what we came to do lol’. We’re no astrophotographers, but it was obvious from the photo that it was indeed the comet. Photo credit to Brandon for this one:

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The comet is one of those things where skilled photographers have made it look a lot different than it does to the naked eye. We thought we’d be able to see somewhat of a trail behind it with the naked eye, but this is not the case, the trail only shows up on photos, at least from where we were watching anyways. It was still cool to see and Lien and Brandon spent a lot of time photographing the comet. It was definitely harder because it was in the Northwest and so because the sun sets west, it look a lot longer to get dark in that direction. Plus the moon was up and pretty bright, so that made it more challenging to shoot as well. I look a few photos and I’m glad I got to see it, but if I’m being honest, I was a lot more enthralled with the milky way. Saturn and Jupiter were both visible on the evening we were out and I managed to capture both in my photo with the milky way!

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Sometime before midnight we gave up and went to bed. Despite how hot it had been in the day, it was pretty cool overnight. Not surprising as we were very exposed and in the mountains. We’d hoped to sleep with the fly off, but it was too dewy, so we popped it back on for the night. Emily had a hard time sleeping and ended up being pretty cold overnight, but I think the rest of us slept okay. Fortunately the sun came up again pretty early and warmed us up. I got to take down a dry tent, which is pretty much one of the best things ever.

We took down camp and set off again, but the day was far from over. Usually we don’t linger too long on the last day, but I was determined to do Needle Peak. The first time I’d hiked Flatiron, we’d actually intended to do Needle Peak, but it was October and there was ice on Needle Peak, so we’d done Flatiron instead. I couldn’t come back twice and not do it, so we planned to drop our bags near the junction and hike up to the top. Lien was feeling pretty tired and decided not to join us, so we did our best to find a shady spot for him and left him with our fly dope. Fortunately it hadn’t been buggy at the top of Flatiron, but it was extremely buggy along the rest of the trail, so I didn’t really envy him hanging out with the mosquitoes.

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Needle Peak is a challenging hike. It starts off with a steep climb up to the ridgeline. Climb is definitely the best word to describe it and there’s one bottleneck rope section that is particularly challenging. While we were doing that part I was kind of wondering if it was really worth it, but it ended up being one of the most challenging parts and it did get easier after that. I believe it’s only about a kilometre, to the top, so we made pretty good time, but it is somewhat slow going. The ridge has beautiful views looking down both sides and the hike ends with one last scramble up the “needle” part of Needle Peak. We decided not to push all the way to the very top. There were a lot of people and you basically have to climb up this rock seam, so we knew it would take a while because of people bottlenecking at tricky locations. Instead we found a nice rock to sit on while we had lunch and we still had an amazing view looking out over the Coquihalla. One hiker, who we’d been passing back and forth was surprised that we weren’t going to finish the hike, “but you’re so close, you can do it!”, to which I wanted to respond that I knew I can do it, but that I am already satisfied with what I have accomplished this weekend. Sometimes I have a bit of an obsessive personality with wanting to see things through and push farther, but I think this year I’ve been getting better at setting limits. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, it kind of sounds like I’m saying it’s okay not to push myself, but that’s never really been my challenge, so I think learning to set boundaries sometimes is just as important.

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Anyways, we had a good hike and I’m glad I can finally say I did it, but I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to go back to Needle Peak. It’s a tougher hike than I think a lot of people realize and I didn’t feel that safe with so many people on the trail. So we hiked back down, getting bottlenecked again at the rope section. As tough as that section had been on the way up, it was soooo much worse on the way down. We took our time and eventually we were reunited with Lien again.

As usual, the downhill back to the car was a real B for me and Emily. We don’t have the best knees and the last section through the trees is super steep. Plus it was even hotter than the previous day, so again we were all a sweaty mess. Finally we reached the car and I gave my feet and face a nice wash in the river before we headed back into town. So overall it was a really successful trip and probably one of my favourite overnights of the whole summer. The only disclaimer I’ll leave if you’re thinking of doing this trip is that there are no facilities at the top, so come prepared for no outhouse or bear cache facilities. Otherwise, this makes for a great trek!

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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