47 kilometers of West Coast awesomeness!
Last week, John and I went on an adventure in the wilderness. After weeks of accumulating supplies, preparing menus, going on test hikes, and becoming far too acquainted with the staff at MEC, we set out on the Juan De Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. Mentally – and somewhat physically – prepared for the 47 km, 5 day hike, what follows is a daily synopsis of the ups and downs (literally and metaphorically), our observations about community we found on the trail, and some stories and anecdotes that are just, well, funny.
Bear Beach looks good early in the morning.
Day 1: China Beach to Bear Beach
Filled with excitement and anxious to get started, we threw on our packs and headed towards the trail from the China Beach parking lot … only to be stopped in our tracks by a number of minor, let’s say, incidents. Incident #1: John realizing his water bladder, attached to his backpack, is empty … which subsequently made sense when we noticed that the back seat of the car was soaked. Incident #2: Michelle checking her pocket for the map to give it one last look, only to realize it’s nowhere to be found. Good thing it turned up … in her father-in-law’s pocket! Incident #3: Backcountry camping fees? Strictly enforced and payable at the start of the trail? Needless to say, we knew nothing of backcountry camping fees. To add to the confusion, we received five different answers from five different people about how we could pay and how much it was – luckily, the parents-in-law come to the rescue, making up for the near-fiasco with the map. Despite the multiple incidents, we head out on the trail (half an hour later than expected), arriving safe and sound about 4 hours later at beautiful Bear Beach.
This was one of the 15 or so times that Michelle walked up during the Day 2 experience. Also, love the pink!
Day 2: Bear Beach to Chin Beach
By 10am we had packed up our wicked awesome camp site – complete with giant table – and were striking out on the trail behind a group of Japanese tourists, Team Texas and a hardcore young man who was, apparently, doing the entire trail in three days. The kid was moving fast.
For seven hours – over about 12 kilometers – John and I hiked up and over about 15 different headlands. This basically meant walking up for about 150-200 meters, looking around at the gorgeous, lush and spectacular scenery, and then walking down for about 150-200 meters. And then we crossed a creek. And then we did it all over again. Other than expelling a combined 30 liters of sweat and starting to feel our packs weighing on our shoulders in achey new ways, this part of the trail was an achievement of epic proportions with very little collatoral damage to our bodies, minds and/or souls. By 7pm we settled into a delicious meal of quinoa next to a modest little fire and watched seagulls feast on shellfish under a misty sunset.
The 16 kilometer marker was a long, long, long time coming. Mostly because we either missed marker 15 or it's missing along the trail. Needless to say, we stopped for lunch here.
Day 3: Chin Beach to Sombrio Beach
MICE! That’s right. Focusing a lot – perhaps too much – on nefarious bears and cougars, we underestimated the chewy vigour of some other four-legged creatures who live on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. During the night, a gang of wild mice gnawed through our packs in search of delicious treats. Luckily, no trail mix or my candies were harmed.
This hike was similar to – but not the same as – day two. We went up, up, up a lot right away, but there wasn’t as much repetition. Also, a kilometer of the hike took place along about a flat and groomed old logging road. Quite a nice respite!
Arriving at Sombrio Beach, John and I learned a lesson about “maps” and “distances” at Sombrio. The 20.7 kilometers listed on the map got us to Sombrio Point, not the beach itself. No, to get to the beach we hiked with our tired legs (in utter silence, which says a lot) along a sheer cliff, through some slippery, smelly muck and up, over and around two coves. Though the trail wasn’t actually all that technical, this is the place where – because of sheer fatigue – we could’ve died quite easily because of one little misstep (or perhaps because we let our guard down against the roaming packs of radioactive ninja mice that the Juan de Fuca Trail might possibly yield).
Oh, and Sombrio is the place where we started having deeper conversations with our new friends, the Texans, who were particularly impressed by the awesomeness of our campsite and my very pink hiking attire.
John relaxes by our very awesome campsite and even more awesome fire at Sombrio Beach.
Day 4: Sombrio Beach to Payzant Creek
Before leaving Sombrio we stumbled across a family of sea otters.
Waking up to the sound of crashing waves might be the best sound. Ever. Follow that with a delicious Spanish Frittata breakfast (thanks, MEC!), coffee, and a flawless pack-up, and we found ourselves setting out happily for an apparently “moderate” (according to aforementioned “map”), albeit long (13 km), day. The day was, actually, quite moderate – if one were to compare it to the gruelling terrain of the previous two days. Compared to day one, it was definitely harder and almost twice as long.
The hike itself was gorgeous. We left the comfort of the coastline for the more mysterious woods, finding ourselves surrounded by old growth trees and cooler temperatures. Setting up camp in the middle of a rainforest, mist and sunshine streaming through the myriad of trees, was one of the memorable moments of the trip. Team Texas wandered in a few hours after us – we felt a bit better about how incredibly sore we were after seeing them limp and drag themselves into the campsite. As we weren’t allowed fires in the woods, Day 4 was an early night – we were asleep no later than 9:30pm (which was probably a good thing, as it allowed our bodies to recuperate from the pain we had inflicted upon them).
The towering trees around Payzant Creek!
Day 5: Payzant Creek to Botanical Beach
A bittersweet day – a mere 7 km and we would be back in the real world! While we were looking forward to a homecooked meal and mostly, well, not smelling, it was sad leaving the calm, relaxing and awe-inspiring wilderness. This short four hour hike out, with lots of boardwalks and more and more hikers as we got closer to Botanical Beach, included a permit-check by a BC Parks Ranger/Warden/Guide/Hero as well as many fun chats with our Texan friends as well as Jonathan, a lone hiker from Winnipeg who was just downright delightful.
Since monkeys jumped down from trees, crossed the svannah, killed all the dinosaurs, and turned into people we’ve had a very interesting relationship with nature. We’ve worshipped, groomed, destroyed, restored, protected, developed, and celebrated the Earth during our time here. And that might be the coolest thing about getting out into nature and away from so much urbanity – a simple and fun five days in the woods is enough to remind any city dweller that people are a part of the natural environment and it’s a part of us. Taking time to appreciate this relationship is as important as it is enjoyable.
Thanks, Juan de Fuca Trail for being so darn enjoyably natural!