Hiking The West Coast Trail
5 days, 4 nights and 77kms of difficult terrain… through the trees, dodging roots, slugging through the mud, up and down ladders, across cable cars, through the difficult sand and over the rocks… the West Coast Trail certainly challenged me. I may have underestimated it a bit, as you are not climbing tons and tons of elevation like I am use to in the mountains, though its a different type of challenge. The difficulty of the trail, variety of terrain, the views, the campsites and the people I went with, and met along the way made the whole thing worth it.
I had ALWAYS wanted to do the West Coast Trail (WCT) ever since I heard of it years and years ago and it had always been on the bucket-list… sitting there staring at me. Back in February one of my girlfriends texted me and simply said ‘Soooo WCT, want to do it with me this summer!?’ I jumped on the opportunity ‘Well of course!’. Another one of Melissa’s friends (Also Melissa – go figure, so we had two Melissa’s on the trip) joined as well. After we booked it all of us were looking forward to the week trip for months, and planned for it to be a great way to kick off summer 2017. Girls trip!
(My aunt who dropped us off at the start)
We left Calgary on Friday, June 9th and headed for the island (we could have flown but we all love a good little road trip – and plus it was cheaper). We stayed in Nanaimo before departing Sunday for the 5 day trek. There are a few different ways you can arrange to hike the trail. A couple questions most people have when planning the trip is:
Which end is better to start on, the North or the South? In the end it doesn’t REALLY matter… we started from the North (Pachena Bay) and went South (Gordon River/Port Renfrew), though some say starting in the South is better cause you get the more difficult terrain over with first. Which can also be a drawback because your packs are heaviest at the start. Either way you are making a fine choice.
Starting in the middle is also an option if you are not wanting to hike the entire 77kms of the trail.
How do I get my car when I finish the trail? There are a couple answers to this question. If hiking with more than one person and you have two vehicles you can park one at either end of the trail, or if its just one vehicle there are shuttle services provided to and from the North and the South to shuttle you back to your vehicle. You can chose to park your vehicle and start hiking, and then shuttle back after, or park your vehicle at the end you plan to finish on, then shuttle to the start, so you will have your vehicle waiting for you when you finish (which is nice – as the shuttle ride can be quite long after a 5-8 day hike). Or you can do what we did and have someone drop you off at the start and have them pick you up and bring you back to your vehicle (which we left in Nanaimo). There are also shuttle services provided to and from various towns (for a dollar amount) on the island if you want to be picked up, though you would have to check online to see which towns do shuttles.
Can I start the trail at anytime? You have to book in advance (reservations fill up quickly) though there are a certain number of walk-ons allowed per day, so if you are not on a big timeline and aren’t planning on hiking with a LARGE group of people this could be an option as well. There are also orientation times at 10am and 2pm everyday. You must go through an orientation before starting the trail. You can also do the orientation at 2pm the day before, and start bright and early the next day if you wish! There are campgrounds you can stay at (for a price) at either end of the trail also if you chose to camp out before you start hiking.
A good pack that fits you well. The fit of your hiking pack could make or break your trip – make sure its sized to fit you and that you practice wearing it around with the weight in it to get a feel for it (if you haven’t done much back country camping before or long trips with a pack on) as it could really effect your shoulders and hips. I brought a 55+10L pack with me and it was perfect. My pack weighed 48lbs which is way over what they recommend for my weight (they recommend 32lbs) but I had all my camera gear with me and I packed independent from the other girls, as they shared cooking and camping gear).
More gear: Light weight tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent footprint, tarp, rope (to hang your clothes or in case of other emergencies), stove, fuel (make sure to bring enough), pot, matches/lighter, head-lamp or flashlight, utensils (I just brought a spork)
Clothing: I definetely brought to much clothing but I also did not want to be sleeping or hiking the next day in wet clothes!
Water proof jacket/poncho, rain proof pants, mid-layer (fleece or small down jacket), 2 long sleeves (one for sleeping, one for the day), two tank tops, you can also bring a t-shirt to sleep in if you would like, 2 pairs of tights (one long and one capri), 2 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs of good wool socks, a pair of gloves (for the cable cars and ladders) or if it’s a bit chillier at night time. Don’t forget a new pair of underwear for each day!
Other: First aid kit, quick dry towel, face wipes, hand sanitizer, toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, toiler paper, a multi-tool (knife, scissors, etc.), bear spray, POLES – these were a huge life saver – to take a bit of weight off your knees and back when hiking for many kms a day. Also GAITERS – I would say are a must have – when trudging through the mud.
Food: I packed just the right amount of food (planned each day out in advance) to refrainer from carrying to much weight.
Breakfasts: Oatmeal, Starbucks VIA instant coffee, brown sugar
Lunches: Tuna and crackers (which you can buy pre-packaged) and pita bread
Snacks: Peanut butter, beef jerky, clif bars, chocolate bars, dried mangos, a big(ish) bag of trail mix, starburst. I am very happy I brought some treats with me!
Dinner: Dehydrated meals – I had one for each night.
There are also two restaurants along the way you can stop and eat at, so be sure to bring cash. Each of us brought $100 cash to be safe. The first place is ‘The Crab Shack’ which we hit on our second day (38kms in) and the second ‘Chez Moniques’ which we went to after we left Carmanah creek – so approximatly at the 48km mark, which served delicious burgers! Beer, coolers, wine, apples, treats and more were also available for purchase!
Make sure that whatever you pack in you pack out! There are no trash cans at the campsites or along the way so all garbage comes out with you.
There are also BEAR BINS at each campground – so before you go to bed you must make sure to store your food there. Or if you are going around exploring once you set up camp be sure to store your food and do not leave it in or around your tent.
WATER – there are a few ways you can do this. For the most part the water on the trail is pretty clean, and lots of rivers and creeks to get water from. I brought with me my Lifestraw waterbottle which was easy as I just filled up the bottle, stuck the straw in (which is attached to the lid) and drank right from it. The girls brought water tabs with them, you can also get a gravity bag, and can fill up water at your campsite at night, or when you stop from lunch, which filters your water, or if you have any other water filtration device! It’s important you drink lots along the way, as you are putting in many kms. I can admit to not drinking enough and by the end I could feel the dehydration (headaches etc.)
There are OUTHOUSES at every campground as well, so be sure to use them if you are close enough to them. If you are out on the trail and have to go to the bathroom, just be sure to go well into the woods, dig a good sized hole and cover it back it back up when your done, to be respectful to everyone else using the trail.
We chose to do the hike in 5 days and 4 nights, which is a lot faster then most chose to do it in, I would recommend 5 nights minimum and up to 7/8 if you have the time (to really be able to take it all in). We did the 10am orientation at Pachena Bay, and then started hiking at 11. Two kms into the hike to can say bye bye to cell reception for the entire week! It was so nice being disconnected for an entire 5 days, you really could focus on the trail, one another and just being present. I think this was one of my favorite parts of the trip :p
Day 1: Pachena Bay –> Darling River – km 14
The first day was pretty easy going (starting from the North) its not very technical (a couple initial ladders), you don’t gain or lose much elevation. Its BEAUTIFUL leaving Pachena bay and hiking along the beach, before having to scoot into the woods. The West Coast is just soooo luscious, green and fresh. We took our time hiking, knowing we had so much time to make it to our first camp site, and enjoyed the views along the way.
It was so nice falling asleep to the sound of the waterfall near our campsite that evening, and waking up to ocean views! It’s also very easy to make a campfire every night as there is drift wood that washes up at every campsite. Also its easy to join in on other peoples fires as well, as we found everyone was super friendly and wanting to visit 🙂
Day 2: Darling River –> Carmanah Creek – km 46
This was a LONG day. Originally I planned for the second day to be a lot shorter, though when we got to orientation the lady told us the last few kms of the South end are VERY slow going and difficult – so we tried to allocate more time for that and to get some of the North end kms out of the way (which are easier and flatter).
This was a long day – but beautiful and worth it, as we walked along the coast line, looking down off of the ocean side cliffs. We spent a good chunk of time at Tsusiat Falls (pictured below) where you can swim and bath if you’d like. You can also camp here (which was our original plan) but that changed when we found out the South end was harder.
(One of 5 cable cars along the trail)
Carmanah Creek was a pretty busy campsite, but for a good reason – it was a GREAT place to set up camp for the night. One of my favorite parts of the day was being able to sit around a fire at the end of the night and chat with all the other people out hiking the WCT. Without cell reception everyone is forced to actually talk to one another (crazy right) haha. But on a serious note, it was so amazing getting to know the reasons behind why people chose to hike the trail, where everyone is coming from, their stories etc.
Day 3: Carmanah Creek –> Cullite Cove – km 58
This was a perfect hiking day. Only having to hike 12kms we were also able to take our time and enjoy the trail. To get down into Cullite Cove we had to descend a TON of ladders, and then back out and up the other side the next morning, but up the same amount of ladders. Was quite the way to wake up in the am!
(Chez Moniques – Pictured Above)
Day 4: Cullite Cove –> Thrasher Cove – km 70
We had to take the inland trail the entire 12 kms to Thrashers cove and missed the caves and boulders, which are suppose to be amazing out on the beach – but we didn’t end up timing the tide times right. Due to taking the inland trail we put on an extra 2kms (as Thrashers cove campsite is 1kms off the trail down onto the beach, and having to hike back out the same way the next morning to get back onto the trail)
Day 5: Cullite Cove –> Gordon River – km 75
They say the last 5-6kms of the trail to allocate 1km per hour. We managed to get in 2kms per hour but were hustling! It was POURING rain the last day so we just wanted to get up and out. We were very lucky the first 4 days to have zero rain. Another reason we decided to get in more kms the first couple days – as to not have to spend 5 nights on the trail and get stuck in another day of rain at the end (which was forecasted).
We were so happy to see the end of the trail. After 77kms of hiking with a huge pack, full of mud, with no shower, we were ready to clean up and get a good hot meal in us. We headed right for Port Renfrew – where we celebrated by having Baileys and coffee, along with a great tasting burger and fresh greens.
If you have any questions about the trail, whether it be planning, packing or question about the trail/stops along the way feel free to send me a message and I would LOVE to chat with ya!