Brew Lake Backpacking Trip

I had one of the best backpacking trips to close out the season this year. I wanted to try and get one more overnight trip in the fall and planned a mid-September hike with Carolyn and our friend Tiiu, who is looking to get more into backpacking. We bounced around a few ideas for hikes and decided on the Rainbow Lake trail in Whistler. You can’t actually camp at Rainbow Lake because it’s the Whistler water supply, but you can camp a few kilometres further at Hanging Lake, so that was the plan.

This was one of those trips where nothing seemed to go right. It was super, don’t-go-outside-you’ll-kill-your-lungs, smoky in Vancouver the week before the hike from the fires in the States, so we decided not to go. Which we regretted a little because the smoke did end of clearing out the night before we were supposed to go, so we probably could have gone, but it was too late to change plans. So we rescheduled for the first weekend in October.

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Again, the smoke started to come back the week before the hike, but it was much lower on the air quality index than the last time, so we decided to go for it anyways. Otherwise, the forecast was great and it was a cloudless sunny day when we left Vancouver. We got to the trailhead and there was a sign saying that the trail was closed because of a bear, but then underneath the sign it said “trails above flank closed, trails below open”. As non-Whistler locals this had absolutely no meaning to us and we spent forever studying the map trying to find the Flank trail and determine what “above” meant (North? physically above on the map? what?). Eventually we decided that Rainbow Lake was below what looked like a flank trail junction and decided to hike up to the junction and see if there was more clear info.

It was a bit less than a kilometre to the junction, where we found the same sign, which was no more clear than the first. However, in this case, there were two trail branches and it was located closer to the Rainbow branch, so we thought that likely meant it applied to Rainbow as well. We couldn’t get a hold of anyone at Whistler Municipality on the phone (they manage the area), so we decided not to risk it and go back. There was a conservation officer at the car park when we returned and it turns out the trail was closed, so we made the right decision and had a good conversation with her about how the sign could maybe be more clear, so hopefully they improve it for future users. She was very nice and gave us some alternative trails to consider instead.

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It’s not mine and Carolyn’s first time having to make last minute adjustments to our plans (see our first snow camping adventure), so we decided to head south on the Sea to Sky highway while I looked up some other trails. We agreed Brew Lake sounded like a good alternative and made for the trailhead.

Brew Lake is a lower trafficked trail near Callaghan Valley, just across the highway from Brandywine Falls. Information on trail length is a bit confusing. According to AllTrails, it’s a 17km trail that’s partially on forestry road and partially on trail. According to my “105 Hikes” trailbook, it’s an 8km trail at the end of a 2WD service road. After doing a bit more research, I’ve seen it listed as several different lengths, so I think everyone just disagrees on what parts of the service road are really driveable.

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The entrance to the forestry road is right next to the Whistler RV park, it’s so narrow we legitimately didn’t see it on our first drive by, so we decided to just park there and walk it. We figured we’d had enough setbacks for one day and didn’t want to get Carolyn’s SUV stuck down there. Having now walked it, I’d say that about 3km are drivable and after that you can make a decision about how far you’re willing to take your vehicle. We passed about 5 other cars at various intervals of the trail, so that seemed to be the common approach.

After an easy 5km along the road, we reached the forest trailhead. It was a very hot day, though still a little smoky. The only people we saw on the road were a family of ATVers, so it seemed that the trail wouldn’t be too busy. Since we’d had a late start from Rainbow Lake, we decided to have lunch soon after we reached the forest. We just picked a little rocky outcropping and settled in for a break.

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Because we’d followed the AllTrails route, we had about 17km of hiking and 1000 metres of elevation gain, however, our GPS clocked it at 18km and 950m, so somewhere around there. We’d done 5km in just over an hour, but only 200m in elevation gain, so we figured we had a pretty steep hike ahead of us. The next 2 kilometres meanders through some really interesting topography in the woods. It’s quite unlike any other hikes I’ve done in the area and reminded us a bit of hiking on Vancouver Island because it was all through the woods with lots of small hills and valleys. But it still wasn’t that steep and we were wondering when we would finally hit the major elevation gain.

Turns out most of the elevation gain is in the last 2 kilometres. You hit a giant boulder field that proved to be a bit confusing. The whole trail is pretty well marked, but you definitely have to watch for the markers because the trail itself is not super obvious. We got a little off course in the boulder field – we missed the marker that indicated the trail goes up the edge of the field and instead started hiking up into it. The boulders are REALLY large, so it’s not conducive to hiking over it. Eventually we found our way back to the trail along the edge and went from there.

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Around this section we passed a few day hikers on their way down. They (mistakenly) told us once we finished the boulder field we were pretty much done, so we were very excited. It’s definitely steep though and after you finally get across it, there’s an even steeper rope section up a hill side that we had to take one at a time. After that we figured we should be almost there based on what the other hikers had said, but it really didn’t look that way on my GPS and we had to trundle along through several more uphill sections after that, much to our disappointment.

Because of the trail mix-up, it was turning into a pretty long day and we were all ready to get to the campsite. It was around 4pm and we thought we’d finally reached the last peak, only to crest it and see another peak we’d have to climb before maybe reaching the end. I was starting to get a little discouraged at this point, but the moment we finally crested the last peak and the view opened up, all the other thoughts melted away and I was super pumped to be there.

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The trail is really all in the forest, so it’s a little weird when you finally pop out of the woods to this completely open alpine lake, surrounded by meadows and low mountain peaks. From the lake you can continue up to Brew Mountain, where there’s a hut, but fortunately our plan was to end at the lake.

I LOVE swimming and I’d really been hoping to go for a swim in the lake, but I didn’t dare voice the desire out loud for fear it would be too late or too cold when we arrived. But it had been a super hot day and the sun was still up over the lake when we arrived, so it took barely more than a look between me and Carolyn to agree we were going in the water (she loves swimming just as much). We could tell the sun was soon going to dip below the mountains, so we didn’t waste any time in setting up camp or anything first. When you swim so late in the season you really have to do it right away, before your body adjusts to the temperature and cools off. So we stripped down and were in the water within minutes. We had the real privilege of having the lake completely to ourselves, so we decided to enjoy it in our birthday suits, an rare opportunity in BC, where the backcountry is usually so busy.

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After that we made camp pretty fast. Daylight is so much more limited in October, so we got the tents up and then I started making dinner while Carolyn and Tiiu got to work on a bear cache. We were alone in grizzly bear country, so it was pretty important, though a real challenge with not that many trees around. They were successful, but I am starting to think it may soon be time to invest in a bear canister.

We had my dehydrated chickpea curry for dinner and Tiiu had some chocolates and rye to share, while Carolyn had brought a little dessert surprise. It was a freeze dried ice cream sandwich! I’m not sure where she got it, but it was definitely one of the more bizarre treats I’d had on a camping trip. The whole thing becomes this kind of brittle, almost spongey-chalky type texture, but once you chew it, it really does have all the flavours of an ice-cream sandwich. I don’t know how astronauts stand eating so much of that stuff, but it made for a fun experiment for us.

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We didn’t stay up too late, but since the sun sets a lot earlier now I did stay up and take a few star photos, not my best photos, but still fun to play around with the camera. It was no where near as cold as I was anticipating and I was quite comfortable hanging around outside. I had hiked Frosty Mountain the week before and it had been FREEZING, so I’d come a little over prepared for Brew Lake since we were having much nicer weather. I never bothered with my sleeping bag liner that I’d brought and Carolyn had just bought a new -18 degree bag, so we were toasty warm in her tent. However we forgot to open the vents and I’ve never seen a tent so covered in dew in the morning. Although to be fair, everything was covered in a crazy amount of dew. Must be the season.

Unfortunately, it clouded over in the night and it did drizzle on us a little when we were making breakfast, but not enough to really cause any trouble and the sun did eventually poke through the clouds. It felt mystical with the fog clinging to the tops of the surrounding mountains, but it was clear near the lake.

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We took down our tents and said goodbye to Brew Lake, which had been extremely good to us considering the circumstances. As soon as we left the lake though we descended straight into the fog and didn’t catch anymore views the rest of the trip. It was a cooler day than the previous day, but still super humid, so even though it was all downhill, we were sweating a lot. Brew Lake is definitely one of those trails that’s harder on the downhill, so we were pretty cautious as we came back down the boulder field. Always leave space between yourselves on scree as its easy to knock rocks down on your friends.

We finally popped back out of the woods and then had a long walk back along the forestry road. It drizzled on and off, but not enough to warrant digging out our rain coats. Finally we made it back to the car and as soon as we got back on the highway, the rain started for real, so we were pleased with our timing! We decided to finish off the weekend with a trip to the new cider place in Squamish, Geo Cider, where we each enjoyed a flight and some pizzas!

So overall, it was not at all the weekend we’d planned, but I wouldn’t change anything about it because we had such a great time!

Kayaking Gulf Islands

Seth and I have really gotten into kayaking over the past few years and try and go on a 2 night trip once a year. Our first trip was Sechelt Inlet on the Sunshine Coast and the last two years we have been exploring around the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. It’s a huge reserve, so there’s lots to explore! Last year we spent two nights exploring Pender Island and this year we took the ferry over to Vancouver Island and left from Sidney Marina over the Labour Day weekend.

Some of the larger Gulf Islands campsites are reservable, while the smaller backcountry sites are first come, first serve. I decided to book 2 nights on Sidney Spit, which is about an hour paddle away from Sidney. It has ~30 sites and is only accessible by boat, though most people opt to take the Sidney Spit ferry over to the island rather than paddle there themselves. I wasn’t totally sure what itinerary I wanted to follow, so I booked both nights and then played around with some ideas for where we could explore while we were there. Obviously paddling one hour to the Spit doesn’t make for a super exciting kayak trip, so we wanted to explore some of the other islands.

My initial thought was to paddle to D’Arcy Island for the second night. D’Arcy island is about a 10km paddle south from Sidney Spit at the opposite end of the island. However, as it got closer to the kayak trip, it looked like the final day was going to be pretty windy. I didn’t want to risk having a long paddle back in the wind on the final day, so we looked at some other options. It’s a bit far to explore as a day trip (20km), so instead we decided we would spend both nights on Sidney Spit, but day paddle to Rum Island, which is located at the end of a little group of islands on the north side of Sidney Spit, which would be more like 10-12km of paddling.

We left Vancouver on the 9am ferry from Tsawassen and went straight to the marina in Sidney. We rented from Blue Dog Kayaks and while we were filling out the paperwork I had a nice chat with one of the staff about where we were planning to paddle, asking about her favourite places. She said that she didn’t really like Sidney Spit because there are a lot of people and boat traffic, and that Rum Island was her favourite place to camp. There’s only 3 sites and because of its location, it’s great for whale watching. We didn’t make any decisions then, but I started toying around with the idea of staying at Rum Island instead. I knew we wanted to be at Sidney Spit for the second night because it would make for the shortest paddle back in the wind on Monday, but there was nothing stopping us from going straight to Rum Island on Saturday.

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We decided to explore around some of the islands first while we mulled over where to stay for the night. When you leave the marina you can paddle up to the Little Group islands, which is north of the spit. Generally all the islands we wanted to explore kind of circle Sidney Spit, so it gave us time before we had to decide where we wanted to sleep. It was super calm in the marina, but pretty windy once we started paddling up to the islands. Overall I was a bit nervous about this trip because there’s a lot of open water paddling between islands and we didn’t have much experience with that. We stayed close to shore the entire time we were on Pender and while we did cross Sechelt Inlet a few times, it had been a pretty calm day.

It was definitely windier than I liked, but still okay for paddling. It was sometime after noon when we set off, so there was a fair bit of boat traffic zooming back and forth and we did get a bit sloshed around by the wake. Seth had trouble with steering in the waves since he never uses a rudder, and while I didn’t have trouble steering, my kayak seat wasn’t super well designed and I found it hard to get comfortable so that I could engage all the right muscles for paddling. Eventually we figured it out and made it work, but they weren’t my favourite kayaks. I still say Pender Island kayaks have the best rentals I’ve seen to date.

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Anyways, it was a lot of work paddling, so we stopped at the biggest island in the Little Group and had lunch. I admitted that I was feeling drawn to the idea of camping at Rum Island that night instead, but was concerned about the long paddle to get there. We decided to set out towards Forrest Island, which is closest to the end of Sidney Spit, and then make a decision. We saw some seals lounging around the rest of the Little Group islands and made the crossing over to Forrest Island. We were definitely feeling the burn of the wind and not having kayaked in a while, so we mulled over what was the best decision. I was curious about Rum Island because I knew Sidney Spit was going to be very busy and I thought it might be nice to have a quieter night. But with only 3 campsites on the island and it already being 2pm, I was concerned we wouldn’t find somewhere to camp and I definitely didn’t have the energy to kayak all the way back to Sidney Spit after. Seth was more into going to Sidney Spit because he didn’t want to have to put up and take down camp twice, plus his logic was that we could still visit Rum Island as a day trip.

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We agreed it was probably better to head to Sidney Spit, but as soon as we pushed back off the beach I started doubting myself again and even though Seth wanted to go to Sidney Spit, he made the call that we would push for Rum Island. He could tell I wanted to go and said that we were more likely to regret not going, so lets just do it. Aside from one other couple we’d seen at Little Group, there were no other kayakers around, so he reasoned it was likely there would be space for us.

It was a longer paddle than going to Sidney Spit. We had to do a water crossing over to Domville Island and then again to Gooch Island. We did it in one go and then took a break at a beach on the end of Gooch Island. Now that we’d committed, I felt much more sure of my decision and was excited see what Rum Island was like. We’d paddled up the south side of Domville Island, which was one of the hardest sections because a strong headwind funneled down toward us, but it was much more calm when we switched to the north side of Gooch Island. Seth spotted some cool ducks along the way and finally we landed on Rum Island. It’s not really a true island as it’s attached to Gooch, so we beached our kayaks between the two.

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Fortunately for us, there were only two other tents at Rum Island and we happily took the 3rd site. No one else showed up, so it was a pretty ideal evening and we only had to share the island with 3 other people. I do love the Gulf Islands, especially all the arbutus trees. We were surrounded by them at our little campsite and had a great view looking out into the strait. I also love that all the National Park campsites have picnic tables for each site, a real novelty in the backcountry! These remote sites are not monitored full time by Parks Canada, but there were 2 outhouses with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and there’s a self registration box to pay your $10 camp fee when you arrive. There’s no predators on the Gulf Islands, so there’s no bear cache.

The one downside was that the wind was blowing right into our campsite, so while we’d been warm on the water, it was pretty chilly at camp. We decided to go for a little walk around the island to explore. It’s not very big, but you get beautiful views of the water and the little lighthouse at the end of the island. Otherwise, we took it pretty easy for the night. It’s easier to bring more luxuries when kayak camping, so we each had a little camp chair, which we set up to enjoy the view with a cold beer from our small cooler. We had chili for dinner and spent the rest of the evening watching the sun set over the rocks. We didn’t see any whales, but it was still a gorgeous evening. Once the sun went down, we went to bed early, having one of the best night’s sleep in tent, sleeping for almost 11 hours!

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We got up around 8am, but I happened to wake up right at sunrise for a pee break and caught a beautiful glimpse of the sun coming up over the strait. The water was dead calm in the morning and we were excited to start paddling. Everyone got up and departed around the same time because I think we were all anxious to take advantage of the easy paddling after how windy it was on Saturday. My experience over the years has generally been that morning and evening are the best times for paddling. The wind tends to come up in the middle of the day, so I prefer to get up early on kayak trips.

We decided to head back towards Sidney Spit on the south side of Gooch Island this time and we paddled around Rum Island to check out the lighthouse, spotting some oystercatchers hanging out on the rocks. Seth did his Masters thesis on oystercatchers, so we love seeing them in the wild. They’re pretty hilarious with their giant carrot-looking bills and they made this adorable squeaking sound. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with kayaking because paddling in the wind is so exhausting, but there’s really nothing more enjoyable then drifting along on a really calm day. We took our time heading down Gooch Island and saw both a mink and a deer around the edge of the island. We also saw some dolphins swimming along in the Strait, though sadly no whales. We did catch a glimpse of a whale while having breakfast, but it never breached the surface, so we couldn’t tell what kind of whale it was, only see its wake as it swam along.

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It was a much easier paddle back to Domville Island this time and we spent some time exploring the end of the island. There’s a little island called Ruby Island and lots of rocky shelves that were completely covered in seals. We always try to keep our distance with seals, but they always seem to get spooked anyways and drop into the water. One tip is to always approach them from the side and never head on as this makes them nervous, but even doing this, they usually prefer to observe us from the water. We took a break at the end of Domville Island this time and in the interest of switching things up from the previous day, decided to skip paddling up the island again and instead crossed over to the south side of Forrest Island. There’s a bunch of rocks at the end of the island that we thought looked promising. As a kayaker, you learn to always check out the little rock clusters because you’re almost always guaranteed to find wildlife there. Again, we found tons of seals and some cute little terns and a bunch of cormorants hanging around. We followed Forrest Island along the south until we were across from the tip of Sidney Spit and then made our last open water crossing for the day.

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Even after the many open water crossings of this trip, I’m still not really a fan. It was so much easier on the second day, but overall it’s a lot less fun than paddling along the islands. Sidney Spit is definitely an interesting place. I could see why frequent paddlers in the area wouldn’t love it, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to experience both Sidney Spit and Rum Island as they feel like they are worlds apart from one another. Google maps doesn’t show the full Spit as parts of it are underwater when the tide comes up, but when the tide is low, you can walk several kilometers along the spit from the main island to the lighthouse at the end. It was low tide when we landed on the end of the Spit. The inside curve of the spit is super popular among sailboats and yachts and there were tons of people enjoying a day an the beach. There was no one at the end of the spit or down the other side, so we decided to hang out there for a bit and have lunch.

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Even though there was little wind, it was very choppy at the end of the Spit where the water meets from both sides. It was a bit of struggle to push the kayaks back out into it, but only took a minute to paddle back to the relative calm of the inner part of the spit. We continued kayaking up the Spit, stopping again to check out some tidepools and counted 25+ oystercatchers hanging out and scavenging along the low tide. The wind had started to pick up, but once we reached the lagoon part of the island, it was dead calm again and we paddled into the beach next to our campsite.

I’d only made the reservation about 2 weeks prior, so I couldn’t really believe my luck in getting what I would consider prime camp spots. Like I said, most people come in on the passenger ferry, which is about a kilometer away from the campground, so they have to hike their gear in, but we had campsite number 1, which is located right next to the beach, so we were able to just pull up on the beach and unload right to our campsite. Besides us, there was only one other site that had kayaked in. It was a family of 4 and they happened to be right next to us.

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It was still pretty early in the afternoon when we arrived, but unlike Rum Island, it was really hot. The lagoon shelters the campsite, so there’s very little airflow coming in and the sun just beats down on you. We set up camp and then hung out in the shade for a bit. We didn’t want to let the afternoon slip by, so we decided to go on a little hike along the lagoon trail. After having completed this hike, I have to say “lagoon trail” is a bit of a misnomer. It does track around the edge of the lagoon, popping out on the beach on the west side of the island, but there are approximately zero lagoon views. Seth pushed his way through the shrubs to catch a glimpse, but mostly it’s just forested. It wasn’t too disappointing though because the beach on this side of the island is pretty much deserted. All the crowds hang out along the spit, so we had a nice walk along the sandy beach to pass the time.

I wish we could have gone swimming, but the timing wasn’t really right. It was right at low tide when we arrived and the lagoon gets pretty gross at that point. It’s all shallow stagnant water with marshy grass. However, when the tide comes up, it cleans out the lagoon debris and moves up over the sandy beach, making for great swimming – it was just too late in the evening at that point to want to go for a dip. Instead, we decided to take the kayaks out for a short sunset paddle. We paddled across the lagoon to watch it set behind the horizon, and then headed back to the campsite as the light disappeared. This was just before the smoke from the US fires started to move into BC, so it was an amazing orange sky!

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The one thing that hung over us for the entirety of the trip was our Monday morning paddle. I was keeping a close eye on the weather and Sidney had actually issued a wind warning for Monday, with winds gusting up to 70km/h. 20km/h is generally acknowledged as the threshold for kayakers, so I was keen to get out of there as fast as possible in the morning since we had to do a 3km open water paddle. It was still calling for wind early in the morning, but my experience has been that its usually pretty calm if you go early enough. We decided we would get up at 5am, aiming to be on the water by 7am.

It was pitch dark when we got up. There was definitely some wind, but it looked manageable. The trickiest part is that in the lagoon, it’s usually calm and it’s not until you paddle further out that you get an idea of what the weather is actually like. It started to brighten up shortly after 6am and by 6:30am, we were pushing back from the beach to start our paddle. I love paddling early in the morning, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve been on the water before sunrise.

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It was a bit of a struggle to paddle up out of the lagoon. We followed the sandbar to the edge of the spit and although it wasn’t very wavy, we did have a pretty strong headwind to push against on our way out. It wasn’t too strong that we couldn’t push through it, but strong enough to give us an early morning workout. According to Seth though I was super speedy, which tends to happen when I’m anxious about something and my adrenaline kicks in.

We stopped for a break at the end of the spit to prepare ourselves for the paddle across to Sidney. Our plan was to assess the crossing from the end of the Spit and we had come prepared for the event that we wouldn’t be able to make it (brought enough food and water for an extra night), but fortunately it wasn’t looking bad yet and we were optimistic it might be a bit easier than paddling out of the spit since we’d no longer be paddling into a headwind. We were right. It was a bit choppy pushing off the spit, but the water was pretty calm going across the strait. It was certainly easier than it had been when we’d started paddling on Saturday and we had the advantage of being ahead of all the other boat traffic, so there was no wake on the water. It ended up being one of our nicer open water paddles. We took our time to avoid tiring ourselves out in the event the wind did pick up, but we ended up doing the crossing in about 45 minutes and pulled into the wharf in Sidney at 8am.

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Since it was still early in the day, we decided to stick around Sidney for a bit. We had a nice second breakfast at an outdoor patio on the main street and then did a bit of shopping. I had no idea that Sidney is also known as “booktown” and has a ton of bookstores lining the main street! So we ended up visiting two shops and I went home with my bag a little heavier and my wallet a little lighter. We had a 4pm ferry reservation, but we didn’t want to wait that long, so we tried to catch the 12pm instead. It was super busy at the ferry terminal with all the long weekend traffic, so we did not make the 12pm ferry, but we did get the 1pm and were happy to have a few more hours to relax at home!

So overall, it ended up being another great kayaking trip! I probably wouldn’t rank it as my favourite because of all the open water paddling, but I’m glad we decided to stay at two different campsites and I had a lot of fun adventuring around the area. There’s still a lot more campsites and islands to explore in the Gulf Islands, so we’ll definitely be back!

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Cape Scott and North Coast Trail: Part IV

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

We were both optimistic and apprehensive about Day 4. We’d had a great evening, but it was probably the worst night sleeping on the trail. The wind did eventually die down but it was super damp at Laura Creek. Everything in the tent that wasn’t in my sleeping bag with me felt somewhat damp and I had a hard time falling asleep because even my pillow felt wet and it kept sticking to my face. Eventually I did drift off, but I think Emily was up for most of the night. We got up to pee at one point and it was absolutely freezing out.

It warmed up around sunrise and it wasn’t too bad when we got up and walked back to the forest to retrieve our stuff from the bear cache. But it started raining lightly and we were feeling a little weary, so we decided to have a tent breakfast. We boiled water leaning out through the vestibule and had our oatmeal in the tent. I’m sure this isn’t the best practice and I wouldn’t do it for a fragrant dinner, but since we were just boiling water, we took the risk. Since we were carrying the tent on the outside of our packs anyways, we packed up from inside the tent and Emily tended to her feet. They were definitely getting worse – her pinky toes looked awful – she’d gotten blisters on both and they’d since popped, leaving an open wound between her toes and a lot of dead skin on the outside of her toe. She also had several other blisters and hot spots so we taped and moleskined as much as we could. She’s a real trooper, I never could have hiked so far with my feet looking like hers did.

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Fortunately the rain moved on when we were finally ready to go. Day 4 was going to be all about beach walking. You’d think that would be easier, but Emily in particular was dreading it because walking along the beach for extended periods of time really wears your feet down, especially if you have to do it for 12km. Walking along the fine sand is difficult because it’s such a hard surface and it’s rough on the soles of your feet, same with big boulders where you have to jump from rock to rock. Cobble has it’s own challenges too, the worst being the medium sized cobble that’s too small to walk from rock to rock, but too large to sink into it. The rocks create a lot of awkward angles on your feet and it gets really tiring. My preferred medium was black sand – it’s not as fine as the golden sand, so it’s a little easier on the feet. I think we encountered pretty much every type of beach surface on Day 4!

I did enjoy the start to the day. My feet were feeling refreshed and we saw lots of wolf tracks running along the beach. We hiked all morning up towards Christiansen Point. The whole time you’re able to look back towards the entire coastline to Cape Scott, which is rewarding when you’ve had the achievement of having hiked that entire distance. But Christiansen Point is the last view of Cape Scott and once you round the bend it’s a new landscape. I did find this to be a bit of a turning point with the waves as well. I guess the currents and winds are different on the other half of the trail and I found, with the exception maybe of Shuttleworth Bight, the waves were softer, particularly on Day 5.

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We decided to stop at what we thought was Wolftrack Beach for lunch. Afterwards we realized it wasn’t actually Wolftrack Beach when we went one beach further and found the real Wolftrack Beach, so I guess we just stopped at some beach we didn’t know the name of. I do wish we’d stopped at the actual Wolftrack Beach, which was lovely and sheltered; where we did stop was a bit of a poor choice as we couldn’t find much respite from the wind and it was cold as we sheltered behind some logs at the back of the beach. We were treated to a little show though when a black bear wandered out on to the beach about halfway through our meal. Fortunately it was a positive bear experience. We could tell it was aware of us further down the beach and that it didn’t want to interact with us, so we just chilled and watched on the other side of the beach as we ate. Eventually it finished up on the beach and wandered back into the woods and we continued on our journey.

The weather improved as the day went on, but we started to hit a bit of a wall. As much as Emily thrived on Day 3, she suffered on Day 4. Our feet were all throbbing and our pace slowed down as we trudged across beach after beach. Between beaches we’d pop into the woods for 100 metres or so, but it was never for long and we always found ourselves at the start of a new beach. Emily slowed down as we continued and I found myself starting to become lethargic as well. Emily complained of being nauseous and I was starting to feel a bit lightheaded, which triggered the alarm bells in my head from many years of lifeguarding and first aid training that we were dehydrated. Though we’d been drinking lots of water, we had been hiking exposed on the beach for the entire day. The sun was mostly hiding behind the clouds, but the exposure had finally worn us down. I made us all stop and I mixed up a litre of electrolytes and forced me and Emily to drink a half litre each and we both ate some salty snacks.

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I did feel my energy start to bounce back pretty quickly after that. It took a bit longer for Emily, but fortunately we had finally reached a legitimate inland section. We didn’t know if it would be as challenging as the inland section from the day before, but it was only short, so we figured it would be a nice change. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad and we soon found ourselves at our first cable car. The North Coast Trail has 2 cable car crossings located at rivers that are too deep to ford. It’s a pretty simple design – the cable car is attached to a steel cable that it can roll back and forth across and it has a second simple rope pulley system running under that to pull yourself across the river. We had to climb up a big metal structure to get to the first one and then we pulled the cable car across from the other side.

Brandon was the only one with experience using a cable car before, so he instructed me and Emily to load up our backpacks and each take a seat in the car while he held it steady for us. It’s a tiny little metal frame box with two seats facing each other and just enough space for your bags in the middle (barely, say goodbye to any leg room). Brandon warned us to make sure our hands were inside the car when he left go and to always pull away from the pulley to avoid pinching any of our fingers. When he let go we rode off at a good clip to the center of the river and then had to pull ourselves to the other side. It wasn’t too challenging because Lien and Brandon were also pulling from their side, so there was 4 of us to share the load. We offloaded and sent the car back to the guys, holding it from our end while they loaded into the car. We did the same thing for them and helped pull them across once the car lost momentum. I just wish I’d taken the time to dig out my gloves because it is hard on the hands pulling the rope.

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With everyone safety across the river we had about 500 metres left to the beach. It was a pretty muddy section and we all collapsed in the sand when we finally reached Shuttleworth Bight (okay maybe just me). Of course the campsite was located on the total opposite side of the beach, so we had 1 more kilometre to walk across the beach. We’d passed a few people throughout the day that had camped at Irony Creek the previous night and were now heading all the way back to the San Jo parking lot. One family informed us to be careful where we camped because they’d been hit by the high tide the previous night and had gotten wet! We could see lots of campsites along the edge of the beach when we arrived, but we could also see that the high tide line went almost right up to them. I checked the tide charts and high tide was going to be at 10:30pm and would be higher than the previous night, so it didn’t look like a good place to camp.

Brandon went in search of another site and found a small bit of beach right next to the forest tent pads that looked just big enough to fit our tents. There was another camper who had been there the previous night and she came over to chat with us. There’d been 6 groups the previous night and they’d all camped on the beach. While only the one family had gotten wet, the tide had come up super close to all of them and she’d moved her tent to a forest pad for the night. She informed us the spot we were looking at tenting was probably the only beach site left that wouldn’t get wet, so we decided to take our chances since we would be up late enough to keep an eye on the tide and wait for it to change. The 5 guys from Laura Creek showed up a little after us and started setting up on the beach, but after talking to the same camper, decided to move to the forest tent pads as well. So every tent pad ended up being filled and we had the one beach site. Fortunately no one else showed up looking for a site because the rest of the beach sites did indeed get inundated by the tide.

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Shuttleworth Bight is a huge white sand beach – Irony Creek is located on the very end and as the only water source, it’s obvious why the campsite was located there. I really liked Irony Creek – it wasn’t as windy and we had arrived before 5pm for once, so we had time to enjoy it properly. Again, we set up the tents and Brandon got a campfire going while I worked on dinner. It was my night and I had made and dehydrated a coconut curry. It didn’t rehydrate as well as I would have liked, but the flavour was really good and it was super filling. We finished dinner by 7pm, which was super early for us, so we had a really low key evening chilling by the fire. One of the guys came to talk to us because he was having nausea and heart pain and he didn’t know what to do about it, so we offered him some peptobismal because we thought it sounded like heartburn and he didn’t know what pepto was! Me and Emily sang him the symptom song and gave him some pepto chews and he said they did make him feel better. I literally never go anywhere without pepto (one time I got it confiscated by a bouncer at a Vegas club because “no pills allowed” lol), but it helps for so many symptoms, so it’s a great one to bring with you.

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The main source of entertainment for the evening was watching the tide. It kept sneaking its way closer and closer to us. We were both on the same patch of sand, but Brandon’s tent was the one more at risk, so we built up a little barrier wall out of logs to protect against any rogue waves. There was more than 1 wave that splashed against the barrier, but fortunately the tent never did get hit. By the time the tide finally turned the wet sand line was only a foot away from the vestibule to the tent, so it was definitely the closest I’ve ever camped to a changing tide! We felt really lucky to be able to camp on the beach, but the one downside was the sea ticks. At Guise Beach we’d noticed that along the tide line at night all these gross little sea ticks come out to feast on sea debris. They look like little shrimps but they jump around on the sand. The closer the tide got to us, the closer the sea ticks moved. They were all over Brandon’s tent and they were creeping around in front of mine and Emily’s tent too. Fortunately none got inside the tent, but every time we would open the door we’d give the tent a big shake to dislodge any and then we’d jump in or out as fast as we could to avoid any ticks making their way inside. Once the tide moved back out they went with it, but it was peak tick time when we finally climbed inside the tents for bed.

So overall, despite the challenges with so much beach walking, it was still a good day. We really enjoyed our time at Irony Creek and we were still looking forward to the next two days. Little did we know the trail was about to get even more challenging – but more about that in Part V!

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