Hiking Elk and Thurston Mountains

Since it’s Fall, I thought it would be a good time to go back and write about some of my favourite Fall hikes over the years! I grew up on the East Coast, where Fall is easily the nicest season and all of the leaves turn beautiful, vibrant colours. The West Coast is really not the same. Yes, the golden larch trees are beautiful and there are trails where you can find some nice changing foliage, but trust me, as lovely as it is, it’s a different scale than other parts of the country. I spent my first few years here being disappointed by every Fall hike I tried; I’ve since learned to get over it and appreciate what BC does have to offer. You can still find beautiful colours all through the Fall, even if not in the same abundance.

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One of my favourite Fall hikes is Elk/Thurston Mountain in Chilliwack. It’s a popular one for Fall, so aim for an earlier departure, but it’s easy to get to and doesn’t require driving down Chilliwack Lake Road or any off-roading. It’s a 9km round trip hike up to Elk Mountain, but in that distance you climb over 800 metres in elevation gain, so it’s definitely a work out. It’s a steady climb the entire hike, but the first section is definitely the easier part. The trail winds through the woods and it’s a great time to keep your eyes open for changing leaves. There’s one viewpoint looking out through the trees about half way up to the top and after that the trail gets steeper and a little more challenging. It continues switchbacking through the woods until you pop out on a steep ridge. It’s pretty narrow, so take your time, but when you get up to the ridge you are rewarded with an amazing view of Mount Baker! It’s a great place to catch your breath and have a little snack before finishing the last section.

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From there, it’s about another half hour to the top. The trail gets a little confusing and you can either climb up a pretty sketchy rock section, or you can follow the trail up through the woods (I usually take the woods). Shortly after, the wooded trail will reunite with the rock trail and you keep climbing up to the top. Once you hit the top, there’s a few campsites in the woods and lots of room to spread out. I find people tend to congregate at the first grassy section when you crest the mountain, but if you continue on a bit, there are lots more grassy slopes to relax on, all with amazing views of the Fraser Valley.

On my first visit to Elk Mountain in 2018, I went with Lien, Brandon, and Kerrina. We spent a lot of time hanging out at the top and taking fun pictures of ourselves with the beautiful view. I loved the view from the ridgeline and we could see the trail continuing on along the ridge to Mount Thurston. I really wanted to continue on along the trail, but we hadn’t really left early enough or come prepared for a longer hike, so we decided not to push on farther. So the next year, I was keen to go back and push all the way to Thurston. That time I went with Lien and Seth and we made good time pushing up to Elk. We decided to have lunch at Elk before continuing on and I had one of my most random lunches ever in the backcountry. Lien’s family are crab fishermen and he’d just gotten back from a trip out to Tofino, bringing with him about 20lbs of crab for me and Seth! We’d cooked it all up the previous evening and I had made crab cakes, but there was still a lot of crab left over, so we just took crab legs with us to eat for lunch! It was Fall, so they stayed pretty cold in my pack, but it made a huge mess sucking the meat out of the legs and we had a good laugh.

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Hiking all the way to Thurston was an interesting experience. I liked the first part of the trail – you hike the ridge for a little while and then head back into the woods. Eventually you pop out again to crest another small peak, before continuing on to Thurston Peak. To be honest, I found Thurston Peak a little confusing. It’s a forested peak and when you reach the top, you can’t really tell you finished the hike except that there’s a trail branch heading into two narrow wooded trails. So we ended up backtracking a bit until we found a view and then took another break for some more crab legs. As far as summits go, it was a little anticlimactic and I think I’d just recommended ending your journey at the previous peak. There’s a nice view from there and I don’t think we saw anything else particularly notable after that.

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It was a really nice hike back though. We took our time coming down and saw some great wildlife on the way back, most notable of which was a little owl! Seth’s a biologist, so he was thrilled and we hung out watching it for a bit. Elk Mountain gets pretty busy in the Fall, but we barely saw anyone on the Thurston Trail, so it is a good way to escape the crowds. All in all, Thurston is 16km long with about 1050 metres in elevation gain – not too bad an extension considering over 800 of those metres are on the Elk Mountain Trail.

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When we got back to Elk Mountain the sun wasn’t quite setting yet, but it was getting pretty low in the sky and casting a gorgeous orange glow over everything. We decided to hang out for a bit and enjoy it, heading back down to the first viewpoint when you pop out of the woods. We stayed until the sun sunk below the mountains before taking off again, but I wish we’d stayed a little later because it ended up being a really gorgeous night, with the setting sun filling the sky with pinks and oranges.

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We’d brought headlamps with us in the event we had to hike out in the dark, but it was a good lesson for me in double checking your preparedness. I had brought 2 headlamps for me and Seth, but mine was running super low and even though I thought I’d packed extra batteries, it turns out I hadn’t. Seth’s was a new headlamp and we thought it seemed fine when we checked it, it was nice and bright, but apparently it has a weird quirk where it only has one level of brightness, but when the batteries are low it will shut off after 10 seconds. So even though I’d checked it, it died soon after Seth started using it. So between the 3 of us, Lien was really the only one with a proper working headlamp. So he went in the front and we followed with our phone flashlights. Fortunately we still had that option, but it certainly would have been safer with a headlamp. So it was a good reminder for me that even when you think you’re being prepared, you still need to double check.

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But I love this hike and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for fall leaves, a nice view of Mount Baker, and gorgeous views of the Fraser Valley. It’s also a great location for sunset, just be prepared!

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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 I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Maria’s Meal Plan

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

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

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