Get ready for a very different hiking experience! Escape into 75 km (47 miles) of Pacific coastline trail along the western beaches of Vancouver Island in southern British Columbia. A temperate rain forest of massive Douglas Firs, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Western Red Cedar towers above, as you follow this once historical life-saving trail through mostly impenetrable tangles of salal, salmonberry, ferns and moss. It’s home to whales, sea lions, eagles, cougars, deer and black bears. Crashing surf beats upon wide sandstone shelves that brim with tide pools full of sea critters.
The beauty of numerous rocky landscapes will take your breath away. photo “Hole in the wall” How often do you have an opportunity to camp by a waterfall that drops onto the beach? Your boots will leave lonely footprints on long stretches of pristine sand. Hand-operated cable cars span several wider rivers. More than a hundred bridges cross the narrower creeks and endless gullies. Ladders with seemingly endless rungs let you climb steep-walled gorges. Local natives will ferry you across two of the widest rivers. Expect each and every day to bring a new adventure!
Every night you can gather with fellow hikers around a warm and comforting blaze fed with driftwood. Fires are always allowed on the beach and almost all the campsites are on the sand at creek mouth. Hikers come from all over the world to make this famous trek, and I’ve found that they love to tell their stories. As many as fifty hikers will enter the trail each day during the summer season. It’s sharing the rest stops and evenings with fellow hikers that has coaxed me back more than twenty times. Folks going in the opposite direction, will spin a tale of the good and bad yet to come, and for those going your way, there’s the day’s adventures to share.
Some of your adventures may not be so happy and idyllic. Rain may plague you for all your days! Remember it is a rainforest! There are no guaranteed dry months, but, you might get lucky and enjoy a dry week or a few dry days. I’ve been out for a solid week of rain, when you drip, drip, drip from every pore and find no comfort until you settle around the fire at day’s end. Keep your sense of humor and remind yourself you’re building a lifelong memory. I’ve also been out for a week of constant, blazing sun when the hot sand could scorch bare feet. Of course, I’d rather have the heat, but, if you have the right gear you’ll deal with the rain just fine.
I mentioned before that this trail has some interesting history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this coastline earned the reputation and name as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” because ships regularly crashed and sank along the windy, rocky shore. The Valencia, crashed in the winter of 1906, causing the loss of 160 lives and prompted authorities to upgrade- what had previously been a maintenance trail for the telegraph- into a proper road. They never completed the whole route but there’s plenty of evidence of the attempt. Some stretches are still broad and open. There’s rusty, abandoned grader parts and donkey engines. Other metal parts from ships can be found along the beaches at low tide. Long before the ships, natives launched canoes to hunt whales or built salmon traps at the river mouths.
My co-author, Wayne and I first conceived the idea for Blisters and Bliss a Trekker’s Guide to the West Coast Trail, on a hike in 1987 while we were happily traversing a sandstone shelf. We published the first edition in 1989 and now twenty-five years later, after 45,000 hikers have carried them in their backpacks, we are celebrating the 7th Edition.
The book and the equipment have changed enormously, but changes in the hike are mostly changes in the footpath. Ladders are improved, replaced, or get swept away. The same can be said for boardwalks and bridges. Some years there’s more rain and more mud. What never changes is the ocean air, the wonderful beaches and the incredible views. It’s your call! My advice: put this one on your bucket list.
About Dave Foster
DAVID FOSTER spends much of his trekking time checking out the flora and impressing others with his skill in building campfires and driftwood furniture. When not chasing critters out of his backpack, David, a retired teacher-librarian, classifies his collection of mosses in his Japanese shade garden. Visit David on Facebook