West Coast Trail (75k Backpacking Trail)

20160621_064344.jpgJ and I met in 2015 in the Rocky Mountains on an Outward Bound Women of Courage trip. That trip really awakened the awareness that I am hugely capable and braver than I ever knew. Not only did I try amazing things like a tree-top ropes course and via ferrata and ziplining and walking over waterfalls—but I was emotionally present and vulnerable about abuses I’ve suffered. I cannot thank Outward Bound—or the universe, or whatever was behind it—enough for rooming me with J, another lesbian and outdoorswoman. She and I became incredibly bonded under the circumstances and after our trip was over, we grieved the loss of our in-person connection but committed to seeing one another again for another adventure.

I had no idea that adventure would end up being the West Coast Trail—an incredibly demanding 75k hike on Vancouver Island, world renowned for its intensity and features like cable cars and 50-storey ladders. I’m not sure I’d even heard of it before J brought it up as an option. I learned that it was actually her dream to hike this trail—and here I was, agreeing offhand because it sounded cool and I wanted her to achieve this goal she’d set for herself. To say I had no idea what awaited me would be a generous understatement. I did some research but the truth is, it was all pretty overwhelming so I just agreed and helped as best I could while J organized most of the trip. I spent a few months training in the gym and making some major purchases like a backpack. Despite feeling like the day would never come—and I was much more excited to see J than I was to hike—it arrived abruptly. I took two planes, first to Vancouver and then a quick hop to Victoria, where J was waiting. It had been 9 months since we’d seen each other, though we texted and skyped frequently.

J had rented a car and we had a hotel room for the first and last nights of the trip because we had to catch a 6am bus for a 4+ hour ride to the trailhead. It all went beautifully smoothly and I owe J major gratitude for arranging everything. We had a blast that night, packing our bags and catching up and just being our ridiculous selves. I doubt either of us got any decent sleep. The next morning we repacked again and returned the rental and made our way to the bus. There were maybe 15 people on the bus, all opposite sex couples or groups. We were the only female pair, I believe. J got some sleep on the bus and I mostly just looked out the window. Because the Pacific Rim National Park, which houses the West Coast Trail, is a temperate rain forest, the humidity is heavy in the air and the trees are dappled in moss hanging from their limbs, with the understory consisting of massive ferns unlike anything we have in Ontario. It was June and green as far as your eyes could see.

Despite our very early morning, we didn’t get on the trail until almost 3pm due to the mandatory orientation. There we met a female solo, and I let her know how impressive I thought it was for her to make that trek alone.

Michigan Creek (12k)20160621_152929

Initially the trail was fairly easygoing, maybe at one point even wide enough to hike side-by-side. Our intention was to get to Darling River that evening, 14k from the trailhead. We came upon ladders almost immediately, and because we were fresh and adorably naïve, we were excited. J was dealing with a fairly fresh shoulder injury and some other health issues, and I was a beginner backpacker with a 44 pound pack, so we knew we had some obstacles to contend with in addition to everything the trail threw at us. The ladders were initially difficult to navigate, with our hiking poles and unwieldy packs.

We ran into a group of three guys finishing the trail and congratulated them—they were not impressed. And on day 6, I would understand why, but at that point, the excitement of the challenge and being with my dear friend kept me energized. We stopped to take photos and enjoy the incredibly unique waterfalls on the trail. I also had a battle with some kind of blue bird trying to get my snacks (we both lost that fight). Someone had built a hammock from fishing net so I was all over that. Unfortunately because of the way humans have absolutely flooded our oceans with trash, there was lots of refuse on the beaches and it broke my heart to see.

However, due to the late start and increasing difficulty of the terrain, we had to stop off trail and make our dinner. It was already almost getting dark and we still had about 5k to go. As we were waiting for the water to boil—her meal was spaghetti and meat and mine was mashed potato soup (hard to gauge boiling water when you’re pouring), I heard the sound of a woman crying. I immediately jumped up and ran toward it—J later told me she thought it was a maimed animal and thought I was not clever for running at it! But it was the female solo, absolutely sobbing. I invited her to sit with us, and she explained how she felt she was in over her head and didn’t realize how difficult it would be. We took in her gear—dayhiking boots, a lifestraw as her only water treatment, a small pack with lots of stuff adhered to the exterior. Yes, maybe she was not prepared. But we did our best to boost her, telling her she was capable of tackling whatever the trail had to offer. And I believe that to be true, but I’m glad when we found out later she decided to camp for a few days and turn back without finishing the trail, because it got exponentially harder from there.20160622_121022

I think that event was sobering for J and I. We hiked from there in relative silence, and J’s health issues were giving her some trouble so our pace slowed even more. We decided not to attempt to get to Darling River, and camp at Michigan Creek instead, which was 2k closer. On WCT, you don’t need to book where you camp, everyone camps on the designated beach areas wherever they can find space. It is in no way private on the more popular beaches, but it’s easier on the trail and means more people can hike on any given day. It was getting dark by the time we arrived, and once we took care of our nighttime routines and put our stuff in the bear bins and used the composting toilets, we were so ready to crash. Our feet were aching, our back in agony, our knees stiff. And that was only day one!

Every night in the tent we would go over the guidebook and read what we’d covered that day and what awaited us the next day. We’d made okay time but we really needed to believe that we could do better the next day with an earlier start since we’d added 2k to the following day if we wanted to stay on track for the rest of the hike. We reassured each other that we could do this—that we were having fun—that we were going to be okay. But I think both of us felt a bit like that solo woman: maybe just a touch in over our heads.

Tsusiat Falls (13k)

20160622_102827It took us an average of 2 hours every day to pack up camp from wake-up to on-trail. That included making breakfast and filtering water, as well as packing everything into our bags and making sure our poor feet were taken care of with moleskins, padding, and tape.

We were right back into ladders and intense trail that day, though the first 4k or so were on the beach. Don’t be like me and believe the beach walking will be a joy compared to the interior. It’s a horror, to be honest. Your bag and body weight make you heavy enough that you sink six inches with every step, and the terrain changes from sand to small pebbles, neither any easier than the other. The sand closest to the ocean is packed down a bit more, but you run the risk of getting smacked by a wave. There is no real way to make this less awful—stepping on rocks as they show up or stepping in someone else’s footsteps seems to be the only minor relief. The way we hiked from North (Pachena Bay) to South was supposed to be easier to harder, which is why our plan was to end with shorter days, but we both agreed the North end brought its own challenges, including the fact that we had crazy long days while still adjusting to our heavy packs and adapting to the challenge of hiking after not having done so all winter. Would you rather hike intermediate terrain for longer, or expert terrain but shorter distance? It’s one of those scenarios where the one you would rather do is whatever one you aren’t currently doing…

This day brought amazing lookouts and beautiful sights. I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean img_2165before so it was such a joy to experience that. Yet, this was undoubtedly our toughest day. It was the first real exposure to the infamous mud sucks of the WCT. You’d be making okay time and then be confronted by a lake of mud. Sometimes other hikers had strewn logs or rocks in the mud to give stepping stones, but these were tricky to navigate, slippery, or floating on top rather than stable–and often you’d end up in the mud just as surely as you’d done it on purpose. In order to protect the trail, it is important to stay on the trail—but as a hiker whose priority is dry feet, I’ll admit I would often plough through the forest surrounding the mud bog rather than attempt to cross it. The sheer skill and calculation it took to cross literally countless mud sucks that could easily come to your knees was mentally bracing. The bogs made it impossible to keep a good pace, and there were days we spent more time in mud than out of it.img_2021

We experienced our first cable car to cross a major river—I believe for the first one we went one-at-a-time (J disagrees but I don’t mind being an unreliable narrator). Some cars allow for two-at-a-time—but DON’T. Trust me. So you load the small metal cage with your bag and get in yourself as your partner holds the car in place. Then you let go/get a push and gravity+momentum takes you about halfway, then you need to grab the cable hand over hand and pull yourself the rest of the way, hopefully with your partner helping out and pulling with you. When you arrive at the other end, your partner is holding the cable so the car doesn’t move as you disembark. Then you repeat the process and get your partner over. Always secure your hiking poles! (Just ask J why. One of hers went flying overboard and SOMEHOW—I didn’t see how, just heard her tromping through the bushes—she got it back. Apparently it involved dangling over the river from a tree and using her other pole to snag it.)

There are some stretches where you have the choice between beach and interior, but mostly you are forced inland because of impassable headlands or forced to the beach because of impassable interior. We meandered in and out of the forest for most of this day, and we were interior for the final push to Tsusiat Falls. I can’t remember what time this day that it started to rain, but because the temperature and precipitation change so frequently, I’d opted not to put on my rain gear (don’t be like me). I just wanted to power through—but I made myself so miserable doing this, and I became much less useful to J when we arrived as a result.img_1940

It was almost 9pm by the time we got to Tsusiat Falls. We were soaking wet, aching, cranky, and still it rained. We (and by we I definitely mean J) tried to set up a tarp to cook under. I needed a few minutes to recalibrate because I was just in the lowest mood. I was hard on myself for everything I could think of, but especially for letting J down. Eventually I had to leave the tent and try to help with dinner, but because of the rain and the dark we couldn’t get the stove to work. We decided to just eat some snacks and call it a night. J was at her pain tolerance threshold and had to go into the tent, so I took our bear bags and went searching for the bear bins. They are normally fairly easy to find, especially when you see other people filing in that direction, and features like that are marked with washed-up buoys hanging from trees. However, there were multiple access points to the campground from the trail and those are also marked with buoys, so I wandered up and down the site looking for the bins with no luck. It was dark and pouring and I was just beside myself. I actually called out in the direction of some tents, ‘Can someone help me find the bear bin?’ but no one responded (most hikers would have been asleep by then!). There was one spot I was sure the bins would be, so I climbed over massive slippery logs only to find nothing but forest. I sat on a log and cried (now, I tie my paracord to my bear bag and long before I reached that point I simply would have found a tree to hang it up, but that never even occurred to me that night). I saw someone coming and asked them if they knew where the bins were—the guy said they should be just beyond the logs. Sure enough, I follow him into the forest and there appears to be nothing but then I see a knotted rope sitting on a super steep muddy pitch.

I am crying with happiness now. The guy says he can bring my bags up and then I can find a spot for them, but I’m like, nah. I’ll do it! I came that far. So I climb up the pitch with one hand on the rope and the other gripping all our stuff and finally put away the bags. What an brutal night…

When I got back to the tent, J was doing a little better. We comforted each other and I think we were both wondering how the fuck we were going to do this. But we didn’t talk about quitting. We went over the guidebook and went to sleep.

Dare Beach (14k)

Because we made it to Tsusiat Falls the previous night, we had made up the two kilometres we’d lost the day before. That experience prompted us to not try to decide where we would camp the next day (the best options being Carmanah Point and Bonilla Point, about 19k and 22k away, but more likely Cribb’s at about 16k. Maybe you can see where this is going…).

The West Coast Trail has some of the most impressive infrastructure I’ve ever seen on a trail. There are hundreds of bridges and upwards of sixty ladders, cable cars, big composting toilets, and kilometres of boardwalks, all designed to make the trail accessible as well as protect the unique ecosystem. Most trails form as a result of walkers seeking the easiest path, but the WCT is different because it originated as a rescue trail. Shipwrecks dotted the coast and many lives were lost. Lighthouses were eventually created, after which the trail became recreational, but before that, the First Nations in the area created the trail to access the beach and assist those injured by the collisions. So the trail actually follows the paths to the most difficult-to-reach places, which makes it incredibly arduous to hike.

Despite the fact that it was June and the rivers and creeks were swollen with water, at one point J and I got pretty low on water. We knew there was some coming up at the Narrows, so we weren’t too worried. You need a boat ride to cross the narrows, for which a permit is necessary. J had us all set! We raised the buoy to indicate we needed a ride, and I was about to get us some water but the boat didn’t take long at all to arrive so I put the stuff away. There was a little boy on the boat, very curious, so we chatted with him and the driver. On the other side of the narrows there was a restaurant where they served crab burgers and other snacks. As a vegetarian and as non-drinkers, we decided not to stop there, but we sat on the dock to filter water. The little boy comes up to us and asks us what we’re doing—so we explain. J jokingly asks him where he gets his water. “From the kitchen!” No such luxury for us. The kid runs away and comes back a minute later and asks us again what we’re doing and we say we are making drinking water. He says, “But that’s salt water!”img_2075

J and I just about died laughing… I checked—yep, we were filtering ocean water! And the kid was the only person of the MANY who saw us who told us what we were doing. Oh well. We try not to worry, though now the next water source is quite a haul away. One of the hikers stops us on our way out and gives us about half a litre of water, for which we’re really grateful. Then the boat driver comes out and asks us if we’re really out of water. Pretty sheepishly, we admit to it. He takes 2 of our bottles and fills them with that lovely kitchen water—with ICE! We are so grateful, we just got saved. And ice, no less.

This section is almost entirely boardwalk for a multiple-kilometre stretch. We’d passed a couple women that morning who’d advised us to make up time on the boardwalks and traverse them as quickly as we could. At first, we enjoyed the relative ease of the boardwalks, not having to worry about where to step every moment, but the impact of our feet on the hard wood actually made the boardwalks pretty painful, and while J made good strides with her long legs, I was missing the cushion of the forest floor.

WCT has markers every kilometre, which I simply didn’t have the eye for. I missed most of them and usually only saw them when J pointed them out. We didn’t really make that great of time on the boardwalks, especially since we stopped for about an hour to take advantage of the sun and dry out all our clothes and gear. The rain and humidity really saturated everything. When we packed up, we were definitely lighter.

It stayed sunny most of that day and though our feet weren’t in very good shape, we were in brighter spirits. However, the day was rapidly winding down, and we didn’t have much left in us. J suggested we stop at a lesser-known beach and camp there rather than tackle another multiple k. It turned out to be the best decision ever because the beach, though it was designated camping, was absolutely deserted and we had it all to ourselves.img_2094

We had a lovely little fire that night and though we struggled with that, and with hanging the bear bag, we got J’s boots slightly dried out (although her insert got a little too close to the fire and warped a bit) and really enjoyed our quiet, early night. Something unusual about WCT is that you are given tide tables and you have to monitor them very closely in order to not get stuck out on the ocean shelf or have your camp wash away in the middle of the night! Unfortunately for J, I didn’t know how to read the tables, and I have an anxiety disorder, so I made her check and recheck and reassure me multiple times that we weren’t going to flood. We didn’t, and I had probably the only good night’s sleep on the trail.

Walbran (13k)

Recharged from our awesome night, J and I set out early for another day of slogging on the beach. Although the beach is beautiful and the sound of the ocean is hypnotic, the sand is rough going and tough on your body, especially knees and hips. But again, when you’re on the sand you’d do anything to be interior, and when you’re stumbling over roots and rocks you crave the sand.

We had a couple near misses this day. Huge logs are scattered everywhere on the beach and you have to scale them. The day was a touch rainy so they were pretty slick. At one point J was trying to make things easier for herself and literally dragged a massive log into a creek so she could try to cross it to avoid the difficult journey I made over a log jam, but I think her shoulder lost her that battle and she ended up trudging behind me.

J is a Calgary woman and a mountain hiker, whereas I’m Ontarian and roots are more my thing. She could hop over the rocks like a freaking gazelle and I’m choosing only the most unstable rocks to place my feet on! So she crossed a rocky ocean creek with no difficult and got a bit ahead of me, and I fell in the creek, hard on my ass (which I didn’t feel at the time). One boot went right into the water, and my water bottle slipped out of my pack. I also lost a hiking pole! My brain when into recovery mode and prioritized for me: stand up (not easy when you’re on all fours with a 40+ pound back), get your foot out of the water, grab your pole and use it to get the water bottle back. I did all this efficiently, terrified that I was going to have a soaking wet foot (few things I hate more, and they can actually be dangerous).

Miraculously, I didn’t have a soaker (thank you waterproofing and gaiters!). I yelled at J to stop so I could elicit some sympathy and give her a pretend hard time for almost letting me get swept out to sea.

It was also that day that I slipped on a rock and hurt my ankle, folding foot to shin. This time, J bounded over rocks and was at my side in seconds. I breathed for a moment and decided it was okay. We took off my boot and stretched it out and I had no significant pain. After a while, I would notice my Achilles tendon getting a little tender, but tightly laced boots helped ease that and I never really noticed any issues. But there were many moments like that throughout the hike that made me realize how very dangerous this trail is and how easy it is to injure yourself.

A guiding light for the past couple days and especially that day was knowing we were going to stop at Chez Monique’s, a semi-permanent structure by Vancouver Pt run by an older woman and her partner. Monique is famous for her ‘spirited’ nature, which we experienced in force. We ordered veggie burgers and I needed mine with no tomatoes, and J with no onions—and we were told in no uncertain terms how inconvenient that was because the mix was pre-made. J is a little tender-hearted so she took this kind of hard, but if I’m paying $22 for a veggie burger I think it should be awesome! And it WAS. And Monique apologized to us for the roughness and chatted with us about her life and experiences, so all was well. It was the messiest, most delicious and satisfying veggie burger I’ve EVER experienced. While at Chez Monique’s, we met a male pair who were getting a boat ride out—it was one of the only points where you could evacuate in a non-emergency. This guy was not even much of a hiker let alone a backpacker. His pack was upwards of 50 pounds and he was a safety inspector, so he had a lot to say about how dangerous the trail was and how we should all be clipped in for the ladders, and on and on. Obviously not the place for him! But J and I were just fine, feeling like we could tackle anything.

We made good time on the ocean shelves when they appeared but the majority of this day was spent booting through sand and pebbles. It was probably 6:30pm when we saw the beach spotted with campers that would conclude our day. Yet, between us and the destination was a creek that we’d have to cross on foot without our boots. We were beyond exhausted and in sheer agony from the feet up. We took a break before the creek to get up some courage. J crossed first and then me. I’d decided, for whatever reason, to go barefoot, and every step almost destroyed me. The current was strong and the water freezing. Wear your camp shoes when crossing creeks, for mercy’s sake! I’m so freaking stubborn.

We actually got applause when we rolled into camp. Because you camp communally, you end up seeing the same people over and over. Most people leave camp by the time J and I would wake up, so we got a reputation for being later starters (well-earned). And it was our habit to take a long lunch break, sometimes even cooking midday. So yes we were often quite late getting to camp, but we always got there! Walbran was a lovely site across from some water-worn caves. We were invited to share a fire with a couple, but J declined on my behalf because I was not in the space for company. We made our own fire and enjoyed one another’s company, but I can tell at that point J is not in a good headspace and I’m slightly worried about our ability to complete this. Her feet were an absolutely wreck and her shoulder was killing her, and that’s just the beginning. Still, I’m thinking one day at a time, and in that moment we were fine because we were ‘home’, we were together, and we were on the WCT! We crashed early, though the other campers were pretty disruptive. I hardly spend any time around men and when you add drinking to the mix, it was very uncomfortable—especially as a large group camped right in the path to the bear bins and bathrooms. Please be respectful when camping communally. If you are drinking or intend to be boisterous or stay up late, seek space far from the rest of the group. And snoring is illegal. Ha!img_2158

Camper Bay (9k)

Every morning we awoke to fog and mist, sometimes enough that it seemed to rain. So we were packing away wet gear and almost never really drying out.

If I haven’t mentioned ladders in a while it’s because I’ve repressed the memory—rest assured there were ladders every day, some more daunting img_1914than others. At one point we could see the tan face of a near-vertical earthen slope, rising up through the trees. We would have to descend before we could cross a suspension bridge and climb up the longest assemblage of ladders on the entire trail. We spent a long time taking photos and goofing off on the bridge (though I convinced J not to try to swing her legs up onto the rails—come to think of it I feel like I spent a good chunk of time trying to stop J from doing things that could result in our evacuation). But inevitably the climb had to be tackled. My routine was usually to take our poles and climb up, stopping halfway before finishing, breaking on the plateau and waiting for J, and then going up another set (or she’d go first, similar routine). There was nothing to do but scale the ladders. They weren’t difficult in and of themselves (speaking for myself; J’s shoulder injury img_2185obviously made them quite painful), it was more the knowledge that you don’t get kilometre credits for going straight up. Some ladder sections were so intense we were making about an hour per kilometre. This is why a short distance day could still mean we didn’t make it to camp until 5pm. It was long after the monstrous ladder section that we came upon another cable car.

Around here we attempted to go two to a car. Our impressive weight carried us pretty far but that weight also worked against us in a big way. It was exponentially more difficult to bring ourselves across the creek together than it was one at a time.

We enjoyed some stunning waterfalls and had a nice long lunch at Cullite Cove beneath another cable car. Because the location was so lovely, with pebbled water access and glorious sunlight, we saw a few other hikers, including an older couple who caught out J while she was ‘having a bath’, and a younger couple blasting music loud enough that we heard them before we saw them. It takes all kinds on the trails…

Despite the challenges of the trail and the physical discomfort, J and I have a blast together and are absolutely unstoppable once we get going. I did ask her at one point if she was thinking of having to bail out, and she said it was ‘50/50’ at that point. But we continued to check in with each other and that percentage never swayed to the majority; I think we just needed to acknowledge how very difficult it was and how significant the pain was. Actually after that, I think the trail let up on us a little. We both agreed that the second half felt like a relief compared to the first. We are very strong women and skilled hikers—it was the relentless distance that really did us in. Now the trail had become more technical but covering less distance, so we were in a better place.

The campground that night was lovely; a creek meandered through it and we were adjacent a massive cliff wall with the forest behind us and the img_2211ocean to our front. J had my back again when a couple men asked if they could camp next to us—she told them she thought the tide would hit them so better not! We had a glorious fire again that night. I felt pretty emotionally drained and I took a few moments to myself in the tent. When I am solo, this is part of my routine—to set up my tent and sleeping area and just stretch out and think, let my feet recover a bit before making dinner and doing the evening chores. However, J’s routine is to power through all that and then relax at the end of the night, so we did run into some conflict there—all resolved with communication. All told, J and I work really well together. We are gracious with one another’s ‘faults’, very supportive and communicative, and have a foundation of love for one another that makes it easy to spend time together. If you want to know what someone is really like, hike the WCT with them.

That night was really indicative of J’s love (and patience) with me. She was beyond exhausted and I made her calculate the tide tables at least twice to assure me we could spend the next day on the beach without getting stranded. There was one spot, Owen Point, that you had to make it through by a very specific time, as it was the lowest point and the tides could catch you out. We had the option of hiking the next day interior, and that had been our plan all along because I’d been so nervous about the tides, but I got an urge to go oceanside and J accommodated that, indulging my need to hear over and over that we would be okay. We crashed hard that night, knowing we had only one more full day on the trail.

Thrasher Cove (7k)

The first challenge of the morning was a cable car, and now that we knew solo was the way to go, we had no trouble. I loved the cable cars because they were different, like I loved the ladders before I did eight thousand of them. But like the ladders, you don’t get credit for very much distance in the cable cars compared to the time it takes to get across!img_2228

After a couple kilometres mucking through the woods, we moved out to the beach. Much of the day was spent on the ocean shelves, and it was a sunny, beautiful day. We made good time crossing it and saw all kinds of marine life that I’d never seen before. J entertained herself by pretending to fight the crabs that scurried everywhere, and I just tried to keep my feet dry. The issue with the shelves was you could get soimg_2242 far and then have to turn around to find another path because it was suddenly become impassable. So it was not exactly a direct route. We had to cross surge channels as well, which J leapt across and I hemmed and hawed and passed her my pack and paced back and forth to find the narrowest part. I have short legs, okay! And an affinity for staying alive.

We also saw a precious baby seal stuck in a tide pool. Other hikers were scaring it by approaching it and I told them to leave it alone, that the tide would come and free it eventually.

img_2259We reached the absolutely stunning Owen Point in time and I was so, so glad I’d changed my mind and we could experience the utter beauty and unique segment of trail. Well, at that point I was glad. My existential crisis was just around the corner. We had another long lunch break, on the beach this time. J set us up with the tarp for shade and we rested and made food and relaxed. We’d weaved through huge caves carved into the shore by the waves, and the trees and rocks were so special here. It was the moments like those that made it easier to forget the roughness of the rest of the days. It’s so important to remember why you’re hiking—what’s in it for you? Do you just want to be able to say you did it, or do you want to find presence and gratitude and connection?img_2283

After Owen Point we were hiking over medium sized rocks. If you’ll remember, rocks are not my forte. The rocks became boulders and became even less my friends. With my short legs and uncertainty, my brain was constantly engaged and calculating. Truthfully, it was more the exhaustion of my brain than my body that got to me. Because I had to go slow in order to feel safe, the day wound down and the tide started to move in. Yes, we’d passed the important low point, but the tide was inexorable and we still had to make it out of there by a certain time. Afterward, J would take issue with what the trail guide called ‘passable’, because eventually the tide pushed us up against the inland wall and we were scrambling over the highest, most awkward and dangerous boulders, with all the easier options now underwater. Logs were perched across many of the boulders, but I would often opt to dip down and go the hard way rather than cross a log atop pointy rocks. There were places we were straight-up scrambling boulders bigger than houses. At one point, I finally made my way up a particularly tough segment and I had to sit down and cry. J asked me what I was feeling and I answered, ‘Tired and scared.’ I was tired of having to calculate every potential path, and I was scared of falling and getting hurt. It was relentless for many hours and I’d had enough.

After I hydrated and rested and talked it out, I was okay to continue. It was difficult to gauge how far along we were on the map—we kept thinking the campsite was just around that peak, no, the next peak!

Finally the boulders got smaller and we had more space on the beach to maneuver. Then, randomly, we saw two guys without packs—and they asked us if they could camp where we just came from. I wanted to laugh, knowing that if they didn’t have packs it meant the camp was close. J told them no, there was no camping around the corner, and we finally rolled into camp. People mentioned they were surprised to see anyone come around the corner—and we realized the camp mostly consisted of people coming in from the other end of the trail!

We passed a large group of men and one of them said, “Hey girl!” to me and I ignored it—being a woman, surely he wasn’t addressing me? But he shouted it again and said there was a free area behind his tent that we could camp. I said, “No,” and kept walking, and J told him we were opting to see if we could get a bit more sunlight where we settled down. J and I later had a talk about the repercussions, real or perceived, of being rude to men, and my defense was he was rude to me first, but I regret that she felt it put her in the position of placating him.

We really struggled with the fire that night and another camper actually brought us a log covered in smoldering coals, and believe me I was polite to him! It was really nice and we got our fire going beautifully, and sat with our backs against a log watching the fire, processing the insanity we’d gone through, and watching the ocean breathe with us. We were simultaneously glad the trail was coming to a close, and sad because it meant our time together was almost over.

Trailhead (5k)

This day.

So in order to get to Thrasher Cove there is a one kilometre ‘side trail’, so although there was only 5k on the map, we had to add another kilometre, which was all uphill. It was an intense morning, and my body was just done. I experience this all the time and it remained true on WCT: when your body gets the message that the hike is almost done, it gives itself permission to basically fall apart. So all the pain you weren’t letting yourself feel, all the disorientation and weakness, comes rearing forward. I fell more on the last 5k than the entire rest of the distance and J took a brutal fall as well.

We just kept going up, up, up, and when you thought you were at the high point, you’d dip and then have to ascend still more. We were making like 1-2k per hour, we were muddy and messy and we kept passing pristine, innocent day-one hikers going in, always telling us ‘you’re almost there’. I wanted to scream! We’d pass a marker and my jaw would drop in horror—I’d been sure I’d missed one or two and surely we were farther ahead? And the terrain was really rough, our knees were just aching and swollen and ready to give out.

I won’t belabour it, but that last stretch was a doozy, as they say—the kind where you just resign yourself to it, put your head down and let your body take over. AT LAST we saw the final ladder—the steepest and longest one by far. As soon as I hit the ground, I dumped my pack and sat down. J, a little more mission-oriented, lifted the buoy to signal we needed the boat.

We boated over to the trailhead once a few more hikers showed up, and there we parked our gear. We had some time before the bus was scheduled to arrive. We cleaned our gaiters in the water and saw some seals! Then we bought t-shirts and we told that there was a place that sold french fries! We booked it over there and ordered fries, and J ordered bannock, and we ate like we never had before—and I ate some of J’s bannock and it was literally the best thing I’ve probably ever tasted, so then I ate more (I’m lucky she likes me). I saved her leftover homemade butter and the rest of my fries, and ate it all later.

The bus ride was stressful because there were people on it trying to catch a ferry and they were all in a panic and I wasn’t very guarded due to spending a week with only one other person, someone pretty in tune with my emotions. Now I was back in the other world again, where it felt like the bus was a freaking rocket ship and colours flashed neon and everything was just a bit much.

We made our way to the hotel room and showered and texted our loved ones. Then we ordered pizza and gorged. It was a fantastic way to end our adventure. Especially the clean sheets and fluffy pillows! J and I processed our journey but mostly just appreciated our last moments together.

The next day we cabbed to the airport and heartbreakingly parted ways, not knowing when we would see each other next, but so grateful for the experiences we’d had together. I think, emotionally, I didn’t really walk in that other world solidly for some time, but existed in the liminal space between nature and civilization, never really knowing where to place my feet.

But I figured it out again. Somehow, I always do.

img_2333

One thought on “West Coast Trail (75k Backpacking Trail)

  1. Kathleen , I love, love , loved reading this !Congratulations upon the trail completion and your website. Inspiring ! Much love WOC sister!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s